Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-2020) conducting his oratorio "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, in 2001. Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ray Chen exploring what makes a violin's sound

Ray Chen is looking for violins to be played by the finalists of his Play with Ray competition. Here he pays a visit to the New York offices of Tarisio to try out some instruments.

He writes: "In this video I go and explore the question ‘What is sound?’ by interviewing different people in the business. I've always held a fascination, almost an obsession with comparing instruments and their sounds, being able to describe in words (which can be very difficult!) and processing that information into useful information for the concert hall.

The violins we compare are also simultaneously being vetted to be loaned to the finalists of this year's Play with Ray: Hollywood Bowl competition where the winner will perform Bach Double Violin Concerto with me and the LA Phil in front of 18,000 people on August 8th, 2019. Entries close May 1st!"

Source:, April 24, 2019

Ray Chen exploring what makes a violin's sound

Video by Daniel Jang

Ray Chen and Los Angeles Philharmonic are running a new competition that will see one lucky violinist perform on stage with the Australian virtuoso. Play With Ray is open to nonprofessional musicians from all over the world, and concludes with a concert at the Hollywood Bowl on 8 August.

"I want to provide people around the world a fun, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity", said Chen. "People who have a dream to perform on stage, this project is for you. I couldn't think of a better partnership to help realise everyone's passion for music than the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl."

To enter, violinists have to make a video recording of themselves playing the first movement of Bach's Double Violin Concerto along to a backing track provided by Chen and the LA Phil. The competition website includes bowing and fingering tips from Chen as well as sheet music.

The top three finalists will be flown to Los Angeles to rehearse with Chen, using violins provided by Tarisio. They will also attend concerts and take part in masterclasses. One lucky winner will then perform the Double Violin Concerto with Chen and the LA Phil.

The concert will be live streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

Source: Andrew Anderson, March 28, 2019 (

More photos

See also

Jean Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor – Ray Chen, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano

Felix Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in E minor – Ray Chen, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano

Monday, April 29, 2019

Samuel Hasselhorn, First Prize at Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition 2018 – Interview by Emilie Vanderhulst

27-year-old German baritone Samuel Hasselhorn has won the 2018 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels. He studied at the Hanover and Paris conservatories and is currently working with Patricia McCaffrey in New York. He was awarded the 2018 Emmerich Smola Prize, First Prize in the 2017 Das Lied International Song Competition in Heidelberg, Second Prize at the 2015 Wigmore Hall Song Competition in London, and Third Prize in the Hugo Wolf Competition in Stuttgart in 2016. He is also First Prize winner of the 2015 Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York, captured First Prize in the 2013 International Schubert Competition in Dortmund, and the "Prix de Lied" in the 2013 Nadia and Lili Boulanger Competition in Paris.

Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition 2018:

Second Prize: Eva Zaïcik (30, mezzo-soprano) France
Third Prize: Ao Li (30, bass) China
Fourth Prize: Rocío Pérez (27, soprano) Spain
Fifth Prize: Héloïse Mas (30, mezzo-soprano) France
Sixth Prize: Marianne Croux (27, soprano) Belgium – France


Photo by Christian Steiner
Interview by Emilie Vanderhulst

Samuel Hasselhorn has just been awarded First Prize at the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition, Voice, 2018. The 27-year-old German baritone graduated from the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien in Hanover (Opera singing) and from CNSMD in Paris (Voice), and is currently working in New York under the supervision of Patricia McCaffrey. He had already won many awards at various prestigious international competitions. He specializes in both German and French song repertoire, in which he brings us fresh, brilliant, and intense performances but in our opinion, he should also sing more opera in the future.

“In Belgium, almost everyone watches the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition

Emilie Vanderhulst: Hello, and thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions. How do you feel after this great Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition (QEIMC) Final evening?

Samuel Hasselhorn: It's strange, because someone recognized me after the semi-final, on my way to rehearsals and then there was this lady who said, «Félicitations». I thought she was talking to someone else. Then she said, «C'est bien, c'est bien, félicitations» and then I realised that people were really watching the QEIMC! In Germany, we don't have any competition that is shown on TV. It's really amazing; I've never experienced this before. So, it's great, but it's something new to me.

EV: But the QEIMC is really popular in Belgium; didn’t you know that?

SH: Yes, yes, I knew because I have a good friend who's a pianist. He'll be the official pianist next year for the violin competition and he told me that even the taxi driver knows about the QEIMC. He said that it's a huge thing. And it's crazy, because in Belgium, almost everyone watches the QEIMC. I know there's the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and they have everything on TV but I didn't know anything like it. And we don't have such contests in Germany.

EV: But it's strange, because there's a lively classical music environment in Germany, isn't there?

SH: Yes, that's true but there are many small competitions. You know, one of the biggest competitions that I won was Das Lied, the International Song Competition, with Thomas Quasthoff*, and BBC came to record a documentary about him and the competition, so there was a camera crew there. But here it was something completely different – way bigger. I don't know; even if you came to the first round of the competition, the hall was full! And in the other competitions, it's usually the jury and a few other people, like the host families. That's it... like ten other people. And here, you come in and "Wow, a full audience for the first round! OK!" I asked a pianist who plays almost every afternoon and evening, and he said it's like that every time. I've got friends who wanted to come for the first round and tried to get a ticket in advance. But they couldn't, because it had already been sold out... It's crazy; I had never experienced that before.

EV: Yes; when you reach the first step of the CMIREB**, that's a great achievement.

SH: Yes, it's like a concert. You get heard and you forget about the jury that's sitting in front of you. And you sing for the whole hall because there are so many people... and even if the jury doesn't like it, maybe they can appreciate it. It's a very nice thing to do for us.

EV: That was indeed one of my questions because you've been brilliantly rewarded in so many competitions. Why did you apply for the QEIMC?

SH: Two main things I have to say: first of all, I wanted to sing for this jury, because I really appreciate them. I appreciate all the artists that are there, the singers, but also the pianists and also the classical directors or intendants of opera houses because it's an audition for them, of course. And the other thing is that this competition is so open to various repertoires. So, you can sing art songs, concerts and opera. You could even do this whole competition while singing one opera aria or one art song. You could do that... It's very cool because you're so free and you can show what you do best and what kind of artist and singer you are. And, you know, there are so many competitions, big competitions that I saw: you just give them four arias and that's it. And I mean, I can do that, but it's not the kind of singer I am. I think I wouldn't be very successful in that kind of competition... So, I liked this one because I could do what I wanted and I believe, what I think is my strength, I think Queen Elisabeth was the perfect competition to do that. And, of course, I knew Queen Elisabeth because I have a friend who won the violin session in this competition. But I honestly hadn't really thought about the big deal that this is, with the TV and everything.

EV: Could you tell us something about your work with the orchestra? Yesterday, for the Final, it was quite interesting because from the audience, we had the feeling that at some moments, you almost guided the orchestra, at least towards some nuances...

SH: The thing is that we don't have much time for rehearsals because they have so many rehearsals and then the concerts; they're so busy. So, what I tried to do was to be as precise and quick as possible to show the best I could in rehearsal of what I wanted to do and, of course, I talked to Alain Altinoglu. And in the pieces that I know well, I know pretty quickly one or two things that make the difference in a piece, if you do it really well... or not. Because, of course, this is a very great and professional orchestra. Of course, they'll play in tune, of course they'll play in time but, still, sometimes you think, "Oh, if this could be a little slower or a little more piano, that would be great". So, I knew one or two things. I asked: "Could we make even less sound here? I think that could be very special. Then we go from the Mendelssohn*** to the aria dimension.

I think when it came to the performance, we were really listening to each other, I listened to the orchestra, the conductor; they were listening to me and I could feel during the performance that... not just the conductor, but also the concertmaster were really there. They'd seen me, they'd seen how I breathe, how I do things, they could probably see my face, and I thought that at some point they were really following me. That was a great experience, because that's when I think, singing and music are great. And it's not like a mechanical thing, like "OK one, two, three, here and now, you were late". That's not what my thing is about. My thing is not always being perfectly together, always matching every single detail. I think it's more about the whole picture of music-making, of something that matters somehow to the people.

EV: You worked with Alain Altinoglu, conductor of La Monnaie-De Lunt Symphony Orchestra. Had you already met him?

SH: No, we had a piano rehearsal, here, at the office. I think he realized that for a singer, I'd say I'm pretty musical, in a way. Then I could also follow him, and I always like to take advice from the direction of someone who's more experienced than I am and also, of course, has ideas. Because it's not all about what I want to do in certain things; I think I can adapt pretty quickly. So, it was a really intense time but I think we did our best basically in the limited time we had to rehearse. So, I knew him before but not personally. It was a great collaboration; I really liked it.

EV: May I ask you how you built your competition programs, because they were really consistent***. And it was really interesting in the Final the way you linked the end of the Mendelssohn with the beginning of the Verdi aria. We got the distinct impression that you were proposing a real concert.

SH: I really like that, because it's what I tried to do. Because, quite often, you go into a competition and you hear people and you say "Oh, this is a hard aria, this is a hard aria...". And, first of all, you've got to be a really good singer to sing all those bravura arias that no one can sing. You have to sing for twenty minutes, which is not too long, but you have to sing four, five arias; they are really hard and you've got to do them well.

I have always wanted to have a program that is a program. For this competition, you look for the list of the orchestra works, what the orchestra can play and what's on the list. So, you think: "I need something in this colour, in this mood..." but I also wanted to create something, and I was already thinking about the Mendelssohn and the Verdi aria.

When I checked the order of all I wanted to sing, I saw that the key, the harmony of the Mendelssohn to the Verdi aria, fits perfectly. You know, in the Mendelssohn oratorio, Elias says « It's enough, I want to give my soul to you; please take my soul. It's enough; I want to die..." and the Verdi begins and the character is dying there. So, these pieces have nothing to do with each other and are in different languages. They have different beginnings, different... whatever, but it's quite like a story going on... Then I thought it could be the same story in another language, another style, by another composer; but, if it was a German oratorio or if the first one was in French, it could almost be one piece. So, I thought I could show this. There are so many connections between music from different composers that we can show because the language is music and the poetry is still universal. Basically, I really wanted to do that and I'm glad that people appreciated it. And I didn't want anyone to clap between the two pieces so I talked to the technicians about the lights, asked them not to lower them and they did it really well. I was very happy. Because you can pick up the emotion from the first piece and take it to the next one, and that's special.

Photo by Christian Steiner
“Sometimes, singers forget to really work on their sound„

EV: I saw that you play the bassoon. Does it help you with your singing? Perhaps with the breath, the legato?

SH: I would say not too much for singing but I would say musically, yes, because you've got another background. I can't say that I could play the bassoon really well but I'm an amateur bassoon player, so I know how it works. It probably makes me understand how other instruments work and I know that an orchestra takes a little more time than the piano. The piano plays a chord and it's like "ping" right there; the orchestra is a little later so I understand this kind of thing. I also understand how to play, if it's chamber music, how to play a baseline and you know, how to take the intonation, if it's really high or low or something.

Technically, it can be tricky and I stopped playing the bassoon when I started to study singing and work at the Conservatoire, because the bassoon needs a lot of pressure and that's not really good for singing. But still, in the end, there are similarities, because we are kind of like a wind instrument; we need to breathe or play... I also like to watch cellists because I really admire how strongly they sit back really well. I like to watch them, part lying in their chairs, partly with their instrument, and in their sound. They sit there so strongly. I like to see that because I think that position affects the sound. Singers should see that and learn from it. I think it's also the same for the instrumentalists. I know instrumentalists who say: "Sometimes, my teacher tells me to sing the phrase and then I know how to do it". And it's important that we know how to "bow" our voice, how to play with breath, with melody and everything.

There are so many people who really work on their sound. Sometimes, singers forget to really work on their sound. They just work on... they know by heart how the piece should go but they don't really work on just the pure sound and get rid of the text, get rid of emotions, just work on really vocal technical singing one time! Because it's important and then the rest can come on top of that. But if you don't have that basis, you'll always have limits, I think I also really admire cello and bassoon because they are my voice; maybe it's the same for soprano and violin, I don't know.

EV: You are obviously brilliant in German song repertoire. Could you tell us how you came to those art songs?

SH: When I started to study singing, I was eighteen years old. And, for example, especially for the Verdi aria I sang yesterday, an eighteen-year-old can't sing this aria and I am still too young, vocally too young, to sing the role onstage, I think personally. It's different to sing a single aria than the whole opera... At that time, I was listening to the older singers and thought: "Oh, those beautiful arias!", and when I tried them, I was just screaming and didn't sang that well. So, I thought I need to sing... I wouldn't say something easier, because lieder are not vocally easier, but sometimes they're not as high, and you don't have to care about the orchestra. There's just the pianist. So, I thought, you know, what I'll do is concert arias: Bach (because it's hard enough to sing Bach) and then Schubert.

Schubert wrote nice, cute songs that are not very high and not very low. Let's try them! And you can work on a lot of things in those songs. And then I listened to Bryn Terfel and Malcolm Martineau, who recorded Schubert. I was just fascinated by this music-making and this music in general and I listened to "Erlköning" which, of course, I knew because it's famous, but at some points in this recording, I thought the father seemed to be so mean! The father, I mean, not the Erlköning! And it fascinated me that you can actually listen to a song and the interpretation is personally so different here, the father in some way can sound a little angry, not caring about his child. So I was fascinated by this mix of music and poetry coming together, building this great art of lied or French mélodie, or English art songs. And I always like them. It's cool, I've never been interested in literature so much but through art songs, I thought: "Oh, this is a beautiful poem". I think that's an important point, because we always have to use languages to express ourselves.

My opera singing can grow through my lieder because you actually use the words in a different way. Also, the lieder singing can be beneficial in a lot of opera, even just vocally. They all come together in singing and not in "Oh, this is an opera singer; this is a lied singer...". We all can do certain things better; we probably sing in a certain style. Schubert singers don't sing Bach in the same way. We don't sing them exactly alike. That's how I came to art song. I think the poetry makes them different because sometimes it's great poetry, sometimes it's bad poetry but beautiful music. In Schubert, you have some really bad poetry but it's such great music. And sometimes, you've got gorgeous poetry but the music could be somewhat better, and sometimes they just fit so well together.

EV: You also had a Debussy on your program, so we thought that you were a long-time poetry lover...

SH: Well I tried to show, I thought... if you bring the standard arias to a competition, it's always a little tricky because there might be twenty other people singing those arias, too. Then, if someone sings this aria better, you can still be good, but maybe someone thinks: "Ooh, this person sings it better". So, I think that it's important to sing songs of the repertoire because you know what is difficult about those arias and show "This is what I can do with it". But I thought, first of all, I really like the Pelléas et Mélisande. I like Debussy and I thought perhaps not many people can do it because for baritone it's sometimes very high... Probably no one else will do it and it fits my voice well. The jury is composed of sixteen people. I don't want to sing the same songs over and over again. That aria fits my voice and it fits my personality, the singer who I am.

Photo by Nikolaj Lund
“Over-acting in art songs is a little disturbing because I think it takes away from the music and poetry„

EV: Could you say a word about your on-stage behaviour, your stage presence? Because we thought you show it in such a, let's say, Schubertian way; Schubert didn't want his music to be overplayed...

SH: I think it's important that you show what's going on in each piece of music. In "Erlköning" you have the son and the father, the narrator and the Erlköning. Even if some people don't understand the German words, they see that it's another person speaking and think: "Oh, this is so scary". Even if they don't understand the words, I think they get the story and are scared, and it's exciting. And it's not about what you have done to play the father and then the kid; I think it’s just enough if you look in a certain direction. For me, over-acting in art songs is a little disturbing because I think it takes away from the music and poetry. Even in Bach; Bach, Schubert, they knew what they were doing. There is so much strength in their written music that we should just do what they wrote. Try to do what they wrote because it's hard enough. Just to feel the emotion, I think, is enough and I don't necessarily need to see more. It might be different from opera but I still think that the real emotion is way stronger than anything. If I try to act when I sing a very sad song, and I try to be very sad or happy, it doesn't come across... It can be small but strong inside and everyone can get it.

EV: I wanted to know whether you've got an idea of your next projects. You already have a consistently very busy schedule with recitals and a "Stabat Mater" to come. Now, in addition, there are the great recitals QEIMC will plan for you...

SH: Yes. I want to say I'm busy all next year but my next season is full enough. But, of course, then I know there are the QEIMC concerts. There are always parts that are stressful but I have QEIMC concerts coming up, recitals coming up, one opera project... I like that, because it involves different places, different people and experiences that you learn from.

EV: It's really balanced...

SH: Yes, I like that. I wish right now I could do a little more opera. I need the time. I could say I want to sing right now in big halls... that can also be stressful and if you say "Oh, it's a big room" and you start screaming, that can be dangerous. Slow and steady is better than trying to force something quickly.

EV: Finally, could you just tell us if there is something you try to achieve through the music, for the music, or for some personal objectives?

SH: Well I think it's a hard question but I think I would be happy to sing in a concert, whatever it is, and I don't want to say that the way people are moved or touched is automatic but I want to reach people. I want them to take something from the performance, whatever that is. If it's something positive or negative, happy or sad, I want them to take away something personal. You don't know what they'll take away. When I go to a concert, sometimes I have days when I'm very receptive and I feel something very emotional and all of that really moves me. And if I go to the same concert but I've had a bad day, I'm just not open to anything. So you can't control that but the most important thing is to reach people, and that's what I want to do in a way. It's not always all perfect performing, perfect singing; of course, there are certain steps that you should learn and I think it's important to work technically every day but it's more about reaching the people, whatever the emotion may be.

* Samuel Hasselhorn has been awarded first prize at 2017 Das Lied Competition. Thomas Quasthoff was a juror at that competition.

** Concours musical international Reine Élisabeth de Belgique

*** Samuel Hasselhorn's programme during 2018 QEIMC Final: Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen, Wer hat dies Leidlein erdacht? (Des Knaben Wunderhorn). Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847): Es ist genug (Elias, Op.70 ). Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901): Carlos écoute – Ah, je meurs (Don Carlos). Orchestre Symphonique de la Monnaie, dir. Alain Altinoglu.

Source:, May 22, 2018

Queen Mathilde and Samuel Hasselhorn

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Franz Liszt: Piano Concerto No.2 in A major – Alice Sara Ott, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Santtu-Matias Rouvali (HD 1080p)

Accompanied by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the talented Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali, the German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott, one of the most requested artists at the classical music scene, performs Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto No.2 in A major, S.125. Recorded at Gothenburg Concert Hall, on November 23, 2018.

Concerto No.2 in A major has always been especially beloved of the most musicianly Liszt interpreters who are wary of the temptation of the tradition of performing the First Concerto for empty spectacle and in the shortest time possible (Alfred Brendel has written with typically incisive vigour and wit upon this subject and has noted that it has been whipped through in less than fourteen minutes by someone who ought to have known better) choosing instead the work which, for all its demands and grand gestures, remains fundamentally poetic. Of course, Liszt differentiates the characters of the two concertos clearly: the contrast in tonality is maximum, the openings could not be more unlike, the four-movement underlying structure of the First is replaced in the Second with a single movement which extrapolates the boundaries of the sonata principle in the same way that many of Liszt's symphonic poems do, and the Second Concerto relies on fewer but more distinguished themes than the First.

The first theme is striking for its juxtaposition of distant seventh and ninth chords which nevertheless fail to unsettle the principal key, clear from the opening chord. The piano enters with gentle arpeggios for the second statement, which is then extended into the transition to the second theme in a mellifluous passage with solo horn, oboe and cello. In a reversal of the usual constituents of a sonata exposition, the second theme is powerful and triadic, and is presented in D minor. A second transition presents a new theme which takes the music to B flat minor and a forceful tutti, bringing the exposition to an end. The development may be said to begin from the moment the soloist rejoins the orchestra, when the connection between the tutti theme and the end of the first theme is made manifest, and underlined by the little piano solo which calms things almost to the state of the beginning of the concerto. The tutti theme is then transformed in the orchestra into a gentle introduction extended by a short cadenza, and a reworking of the first theme in 4/4 rather than 3/4, in D flat major, with a solo cello. This is lyrically continued by the piano, eventually joined by oboe then flute in another transformation of the tutti theme, under which the violins play a phrase which at once derives from the first two chords of the concerto and yet outlines the melody (and sentiment) of a Liszt song Freudvoll und leidvoll.

The material of the first transition informs the cadenza which leads to the recapitulation of the second subject, in a robust D flat major, the lower strings playing the tutti theme in counterpoint. The recapitulation continues with a further transformation of the first transition, development of the tutti theme and second subject combined, and a transformed version of the tutti itself. The second transition theme ensues, now in A minor, and the general increase in tempo is finally reigned in with the recapitulation in the original key of the first theme, now transformed into a march and punctuated with fragments of the ubiquitous tutti theme. (Various commentators have been rude about this passage, noting its martial vulgarity and generally failing to see that it is the permissible moment of triumph at the final point of recapitulation of the first theme and the first time we have seen the home key since the opening pages of the work. Even Searle refers to this passage as occurring in "the finale", showing not much appreciation of the structure.) As if to silence potential critics, Liszt uses the second transitional theme again to reintroduce the first theme in the most magical form, running on with a version of the same lyrical extension we heard with the cello solo, and continuing in the same manner through the Freudvoll und leidvoll phrase to a short cadenza. This cadenza, like so much of the binding material of this work, is derived from the alternate falling semitone and tone from the first theme, and these intervals now immediately generate the material of the animated coda. The coda is so superficially appropriate a peroration that it requires a second look to see how well it draws the whole argument together, with every theme represented in one way or another, right to the closing bars.

Source: Leslie Howard, 1998 (

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

♪ Piano Concerto No.2 in A major, S.125 (1839-1857)

i. Adagio sostenuto assai – Allegro agitato assai
ii. Allegro moderato – Allegro deciso
iii. Marziale un poco meno allegro
iv. Allegro animato – Stretto (molto accelerando)


Erik Satie (1866-1925)

♪ Gymnopédie for piano No.1 (1888)

Alice Sara Ott, piano

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali

Gothenburg Concert Hall, November 23, 2018

(HD 1080p)

The 2018-2019 season marks a significant year for German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott (b. 1988, Munich, Germany), one of the world's most in-demand classical pianists. She releases her latest album, Nightfall, featuring works by Satie, Debussy and Ravel, including Gaspard de la Nuit, one of the greatest challenges of piano literature. The album marks ten years since Alice has been signed as an exclusive recording artist to Deutsche Grammophon. She will tour the recital programme across the world, with European dates including Paris' La Seine Musicale, Stuttgart's Liederhalle, Vienna's Mozart Saal, Munich's Prinzregententheater, Baden Baden's Festspielhaus, London's Wigmore Hall and the Klavier-Festival Ruhr in Duisburg. These European dates are in addition to a nine-date recital tour across Japan, including Tokyo Opera City, in autumn 2018.

With her talent not limited to a global career as a high level performing artist, Alice Sara Ott also expresses her diverse creativity through a number of design and brand partnerships beyond the borders of classical music. She was personally requested to design a signature line of high-end leather bags for JOST, one of Germany's premium brands. Alice has also been global brand ambassador for Technics, the hi-fi audio brand of Panasonic Corporation, and she has an ongoing collaboration with the French luxury jewellery house, Chaumet.

A prominent figure on the international classical music scene, Alice Sara Ott regularly performs with the world's leading conductors and orchestras. In 2018-2019 as well as the international Nightfall recital tour, Alice will perform with NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo (Gianandrea Noseda), Philharmonia Orchestra (Santtu-Matias Rouvali), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic (Edward Gardner), London Symphony Orchestra (Elim Chan), St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra (Yuri Temirkanov), and for a European tour with Gothenburg Symphony (Santtu-Matias Rouvali). She continues her collaboration with London Symphony Orchestra via her chamber music residency at LSO St Luke's, where she will give several Alice and Friends concerts with fellow artists including Ray Chen, Pablo Ferrández, Nemanja Radulovic, Alexey Stadler, Dimitri Ashkenazy and Francesco Tristano.

Alice Sara Ott has worked with conductors at the highest level including Lorin Maazel, Gustavo Dudamel, Pablo Heras-Casado, Paavo Järvi, Neeme Järvi, Sir Antonio Pappano, Gianandrea Noseda, Andres Orozco-Estrada, Yuri Temirkanov, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Sakari Oramo, Osmo Vänskä, Vasily Petrenko, Myung-Whun Chung, Hannu Lintu and Robin Ticciati. She continues to perform with ensembles such as Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Washington's National Symphony Orchestra, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Wiener Symphoniker and Dresdner Philharmonie.


Hailed by The Guardian as ​"the latest sit-up-and-listen talent to emerge from the great Finnish conducting tradition", the 2018-2019 season will see Santtu-Matias Rouvali (b. 1985) continuing his positions as Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, alongside his longstanding Chief Conductor-ship with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra close to his home in Finland.

Rouvali has regular relationships with several orchestras across Europe, including the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Bamberger Symphoniker and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. As well as making his debut with the Münchner Philharmoniker this season, he also returns to North America for concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Following a very successful Nordic tour with Hélène Grimaud last season, the Gothenburg Symphony is back on the road in February 2019 for a tour hitting major centres in Germany and Austria with pianist Alice Sara Ott, and percussionist Martin Grubinger who premieres a new percussion concert by Daníel Bjarnason. Rouvali looks forward to other ambitious touring projects with his orchestras in the future, including appearances in North America and Japan.

In addition to the extensive tour, Rouvali's season in Gothenburg opens with Strauss' Alpine Symphony accompanied by Víkingur Ólafsson Mozart Piano Concerto No.24, and he looks forward to collaborations with Janine Jansen, Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Baiba Skride throughout the rest of the season.

As another cornerstone to his tenure in Gothenburg, he is adding his mark to the Orchestra's impressive recording legacy. In partnership with Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and violinist Baiba Skride, a recording featuring concertos from Bernstein, Korngold and Rozsa is released in autumn 2018. This continues his great collaboration with Baiba Skride following their hugely successful recording of Nielsen and Sibelius' violin concertos with the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in summer 2015.

Rouvali has been Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra since 2013. Highlights of the tenure so far include a Sibelius symphony cycle in autumn 2015, and the Orchestra's first tour to Japan in spring 2017 where they were accompanied by an exhibition of original Moomin drawings by Tove Jansson to mark the opening of the new museum at the Tampere Hall. He opens the 2018-2019 season with a Beethoven programme with pianist Javier Perianes.

Alongside an extremely busy symphonic conducting career, as Chief Conductor in Tampere he has conducted Verdi's La forza del destino and most recently world premiere of Olli Kortekangas's My Brother's Keeper (Veljeni vartija) with Tampere Opera in spring 2018.


More photos

See also

Alice Sara Ott – All the posts

Santtu-Matias Rouvali – All the posts

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – All the posts

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Eternal Notre Dame de Paris | Franz Liszt: Via Crucis – Maîtrise Notre Dame de Paris, David Selig, Nicole Corti (Download 44.1kHz/16bit)

Liszt's position as a composer for the Church has always been controversial. The paradox that the most modern composer of the age, the supporter of the revolutionary ideals of 1789, 1830 and 1848, ended up writing music for an institution regarded as a bastion of everything conservative and reactionary, has led to a questioning of Liszt's motives. With the rapidly advancing secularization of culture, Liszt was seen as disillusioned, and his decision to take minor orders in 1865 was considered a startling about-turn for one so worldly.

In fact, Liszt wrote sacred music with reform in mind. The dismal state of church music in the first half of the nineteenth century, when it was common to hear opera cabalettas sung to liturgical words, encouraged him to go back to plainsong and the music of Palestrina for inspiration.

Via Crucis is an extraordinary work. It is a devotion describing the journey of Christ carrying the Cross, divided into fourteen "stations" or stages. Most Catholic churches have pictures or statuettes of these scenes along the walls of the nave, usually seven on each side. The devotion consists of meditations on each scene, usually in the form of prayers and singing. If the number of participants is not too large, they move around the church in a group, stopping at each station. This was what Liszt visualized when he composed the music, and in one of his most deeply personal works, he presents a series of radically expressionistic, intense miniatures.


Eternal Notre Dame de Paris

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

♪ Via Crucis, S.53 (1874-1879)

i. Vexilla regis prodeunt, S.185 (1864)
ii. Ave verum corpus, S.44 (1871)
iii. Station I. Jesis wird zum Tode verdammt
iv. Station II. Jesus trägt sein Kreuz
v. Station III. Jesus fällt zum ersten Mal
vi. Station IV. Jesus begegnet seiner heiligen Mutter
vii. Station V. Simon von Kyrene hilft Jesus das Kreuz tragen
viii. Station VI. Sancta Veronica
ix. Station VII. Jesus fällt zum zweiten Mal
x. Station VIII. Die Frauen von Jerusalem
xi. Station IX. Jesus fällt zum dritten Mal
xii. Station X. Jesus wird entkleidet
xiii. Station XI. Jesus wird ans Kreuz gsechlagen
xiv. Station XII. Jesus stirbt am Kreuze
xv. Station XIII. Jesus wird kom Kreuz genommen
xvi. Station XIV. Jesus wird ins Grab gelegt

David Selig, piano

Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris
Conductor: Nicole Corti

Recorded at Notre Dame de Paris in 2014

Released on February 5, 2015 by Saphir Productions
Released on April 16, 2019 by Armasi

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Photo by Charles Platiau

Liszt composed four settings of the Mass, of which the Missa Choralis is the third (the others are the male-voice Mass of 1848, the Gran Mass of 1855 and the Hungarian Coronation Mass of 1866). The Missa Choralis is the only one for the traditional forces of mixed choir and organ, as such being more frequently performed liturgically than the others, two of which require full orchestra, choir and soloists. It was composed in Rome in 1865, partly in the Vatican where in April Liszt stayed as a guest of the Papal Chamberlain, Cardinal Gustav Hohenlohe, and partly at the Villa d'Este. 1865 was an important year in the religious life of Liszt, as he received the tonsure followed by the four minor orders, and entered the Catholic Church. Henceforth he was known as the Abbé Liszt.

The position of Liszt as a composer for the Church has always been controversial, never more so than in his own day, when the world took his entry into orders as a startling about-turn for a man so worldly. Today, though, with the advantage of hindsight, we can try to see the composer whole, and concentrate on his works independently of his colourful life. We now have a greater knowledge of human psychology, including religious psychology, and it is clear that Liszt, who outside music was very devout, belonged to a religious type found in all cultures and at all times. Our own age is usually called secular – a secular world which in the nineteenth century was quickly gaining ground. To some extent Liszt's career must be seen in relation to this, his reaction giving rise to the paradox whereby the most modern composer of his age, the supporter of the revolutionary ideals of 1789, 1830 and 1848, ended up writing music for an institution regarded by many as still medieval, a bastion of everything conservative, reactionary, and increasingly irrelevant. The advent of Marxism in the twentieth century only contributed to the false notion that Liszt was disillusioned, and the Church itself at an end.

When Liszt met Cardinal Hohenlohe in Germany in 1859, he told him in confidence about his plan to reform church music. As a result, Hohenlohe wrote from Rome inviting him to stay with him in the Vatican should he visit the city. Liszt had last been there in 1839, at which time he had heard music by Palestrina sung in the Sistine Chapel. Liszt's musical reform was not a systematically worked-out plan, but a reaction to the dismal state of church music in the first half of the nineteenth century, when in France and Italy it was common to hear opera cabalettas sung to liturgical words. Liszt was one of the earliest musicians to advocate the restoration of plainsong. Among his sixty or so church works is a collection of plainsong antiphons for Christmas and Easter with added harmony (Responses and Antiphons, S.30). The harmonisation of plainsong was widely discussed in Liszt's lifetime, particularly in France, and to some extent it formed the basis of his church style. It is part of Liszt's genius that such an erroneous concept could have led to the production of masterpieces. The Missa Choralis is built initially on a musical ideal compounded of plainsong and Palestrina, the twin elements of Liszt's imagined reform, which in the 1840s pre-dated the founding in 1867 of the Cäcilien-Verein in Germany, with its not dissimilar ideals.

Liszt referred to this Mass in his letters as "‘a cappella". Another name he gave it was "Messe de Jubilé". The jubilee was the 1800th anniversary in 1866 of the founding of the Holy See in AD 66. Liszt said at the time that he intended to dedicate the work to Pope Pius IX. It seems clear that Liszt had designs on a performance in the Sistine Chapel, the home of the Palestrina tradition and a cappella performance, and the heart of any attempt he might propose at reform. There is, however, no record of a performance there – perhaps he encountered opposition from Salvatore Meluzzi, the choirmaster at the Sistine, who was a conservative musician and outlived Liszt by eleven years. In the event the Mass was published in 1869 by Kahnt without a dedication and with an organ accompaniment.

The key of the work is D minor/D major, though the opening Kyrie has no key signature and is written as if in the Dorian mode, a pseudo-Renaissance conceit on Liszt's part. The Christe ends in D major with two sharps, and the other movements are in G (Gloria), D (Credo), B flat (Sanctus and Benedictus) and D ("Dona nobis pacem"); a genuine D minor with the flat key signature occurs only at the Agnus Dei, one of the most poignant settings in the mass literature. Liszt's emphasis in the work on D major may be a "royal" association (the key for example of the march from the symphonic poem Mazeppa, which has the inscription "Il s'élève roi", and of the motet Domine salvum fac regem – "God save the king") – especially as he told his companion Princess Carolyne von Sayn Wittgenstein that the tonsure "signifies the ‘royal dignity’ of those admitted into the ranks of the clergy".

Although the influence of plainsong on the thematic material is evident, there are only two actual quotations, one a "Credo in unum Deum" intonation used also in the male-voice Mass, and the other an antiphon given fugal treatment at the start of the Kyrie. This antiphon is taken from Vespers on the Feast of Corpus Christi and has the text "Sacerdos in aeternam Christus Dominus secundum ordinem Melchisedech, panem et vinum obtulit" ("Christ the Lord a priest for ever in the line of Melchizedek brought bread and wine"). Clearly Liszt's choice of this material in 1865 was influenced by biographical factors. (In Renaissance England this same melody, with the words "Gloria tibi Trinitas", formed the cantus firmus of the In Nomine.) The Christe is homophonic and in F major, its key of one flat remaining for the reprise of the Kyrie. The word "eleison" is sung repeatedly in D major at the end.

A fortissimo unison phrase heard at the outset dominates the Gloria. Its piano response in four-part harmony for "et in terra pax" illustrates the principle of textural contrast used in the movement, which has no real fugal writing. The vigorous theme is used imitatively at the "Laudamus", and the "Domine Deus", at the end appearing in augmentation at the "Cum Sancto Spiritu". The "qui tollis" is marked "Lento assai" and has expressive chromatic harmony. The original "Animato" returns at the "Quoniam tu solus" with the earlier four-part music, forming a climax at "Jesu Christe". The "Amen" leads effectively from a G sharp minor tonality straight back to the G major of the opening.

The Credo is built mainly as a series of variations on the plainsong intonation, sung fortissimo in unison by the choir at the outset. Liszt casts the melody in triple time, which gives the movement impetus as far as the "descendit de coelis", an Adagio in 2/2 time passing into F sharp major at the "et incarnatus est". The "Crucifixus" returns to the variation technique, restoring the earlier tempo, but putting the theme into the minor mode. Gradually energy is released, taking the music to a climax at "iterum venturus est", with again a 2/2 signature, but no change of tempo. A pause on "non erit finis" leads to the "et in Spiritum Sanctum", where the triple-time rhythm dominates right throughout the "confiteor". "Amen" statements sung in a jubilant 2/2 end the movement, whose final bars repeat grandly the opening unison intonation motive.

The Sanctus, marked "Solenne", is in 6/4 time, Liszt introducing a clever syncopation throwing the second and third "Sanctus" statements off-beat. The solid harmony here is a long way from Palestrina, but the music is superbly imagined. The most active organ writing of the Mass appears at the "pleni sunt coeli" whose energy is released into a captivating change of metre at "gloria tua". The "Hosanna" statements are quiet, a series of triads leading imperceptibly from B major back to B flat major. The Benedictus, marked "Andante quieto", is an example of how Liszt can compose simple music to great effect. The return of "Hosanna", instead of using the earlier music, is the occasion for a passage of real beauty with inner parts moving between held pedal notes in the soprano and bass.

The expressive harmonic ingenuity of the Agnus Dei, marked "Lento assai", is again an example of Liszt's compositional genius in a simple context – nobody would expect such music from the piano virtuoso. The third "Agnus" leads to the "Dona nobis pacem", where Liszt gives the mass a cyclic character by re-introducing music from the Kyrie, spanning out the word "pacem" with pedal notes as in the second "Hosanna". A series of measured "Amen" statements to the earlier "eleison" music ends the work in a resplendent D major.

Liszt began Via Crucis in 1866 when he lived near the Colosseum at the Church of Santa Francesca Romana, and finished it at the Villa d'Este in the summer of 1878. A copyist's manuscript with Liszt's autograph corrections containing three versions of the work, one choral, one for organ solo, and one for piano solo, is dated by the composer "F. Liszt Budapest 26 Février 79". In 1874 he wrote that the work would not be "learned or ostentatious", but "simple reflections of my youthful emotions – which remain indestructible across all the trials of the years!" The texts were chosen by the Princess Wittgenstein, whom Liszt thanked in 1877: "You have arranged admirably the texts for the Via Crucis. I shall try to thank you in my composition..." The work was rejected for publication by Pustet in Regensburg basically because it was too original and would not sell. It remained unpublished and unperformed in Liszt's lifetime. The first performance took place in Budapest on Good Friday 1929, conducted by the composer Artur Harmat, Professor of Church Music at the Liszt Academy (the Department of Church Music was abolished in 1950 and reinstated in 1989).

"The Way of the Cross" is a devotion which describes the journey of Christ carrying the Cross, divided into fourteen stages or "stations". Most Catholic churches have pictures or statuettes of these scenes along the walls of the nave, usually seven on each side. The devotion consists of meditations on each scene, usually in the form of prayers and singing. If the number of participants is not too large, they move around the church in a group, stopping at each station. This was what Liszt visualized when he composed the music.

The devotion originated with the Franciscans, who as guardians of the holy places in Jerusalem began to erect models in their churches, which acted as a substitute for an actual visit to Jerusalem. In the eighteenth century the order was allowed to grant permission for stations to be erected in other churches. The devotion is a form of Passion, and is particularly associated with Lent. The number of stations has not always been fourteen; sometimes as few as eleven were used. Today it is common to add a fifteenth in order to end with the Resurrection rather than with the tomb. Although Liszt set only the fourteen stations, he adds a short epilogue in keeping with the positive ending favoured today.

Liszt wrote a foreword to the work in which he refers to The Way of the Cross as "a service for the souls of the dead". He also describes a Service of the Stations he once attended on Good Friday in the open air at the Colosseum, and suggests that perhaps on another occasion a harmonium could be used to support the music. "I should be indeed happy if some day my music could be sounded there, however, even so it would be insufficient to express my innermost emotion which overwhelmed me when once there, amidst a pious procession, I knelt and several times repeated the words: O! Crux Ave! Spes unica!"

It is clear that Via Crucis belongs among the most personal works of Liszt. In particular its theme of the Cross relates it to other works. Liszt in fact used a three-note musical symbol of the Cross (consisting of a rising tone plus minor third, soh-lah-doh, an intonation from plainsong) in several works, including the male-voice Mass, the Gran Mass, the symphonic poem The Battle of the Huns and the "Dante" Symphony. It can also be found in the two oratorios, The Legend of St Elisabeth and Christus, as well as the Faust-Symphonie, the First Piano Concerto and the B minor Piano Sonata. Here Liszt uses the motif, quite logically, to set the words quoted in his preface: "O crux, ave", sung immediately before Station I.

Via Crucis belongs to the large group of works by Liszt based on pictures or statues. The list is too long to give here, but pianists will think straightaway of Sposalizio, Il Penseroso, and the two St Francis Legends. Among the orchestral works are Orpheus, The Battle of the Huns and From the Cradle to the Grave. As programme music, the interest of these works lies partly in how Liszt added the time element to an art form that does not contain it – a picture is static and unchanging. In many cases Liszt chose the picture for what it symbolized – usually something with a religious content. Although he is credited with formal innovations, his real genius lay in creating musical character – an originality amounting to new coinage, both thematic and harmonic. Liszt renewed the musical language, which is why he was so influential. It is the immediacy of his message which is arresting, and this may explain the visionary nature of some of his early and late music. Liszt does not present a musical argument; he gives statements. This literal cast of mind works well in the religious works. In Christus the storm is a storm (a terrific orchestral noise), the miracle a miracle (the orchestra falls silent at the voice of Christ); the nativity is child-like, the three kings are splendid, the Crucifixion is terrible. In Via Crucis, the same mentality operates, but as if through a magnifying glass, creating intense miniatures. The nailing to the Cross is conveyed in hideous grinding staccato discords. The compassion of Veronica lies in the curve of an unadorned melodic line. The carrying of the Cross produces a heavy mind-numbing trudge. The meeting with Mary is a mixture of anguish and heart-ease in music of great harmonic originality. Liszt is direct, uncompromising – and extremely modern. His method is expressionistic. He says to us: "This is real". In Via Crucis we meet the man who believed.

As a programmatic composer, Liszt was able to provide the musical equivalent of a meditative commentary, along the lines of the texts printed in books of the Stations. An example is his use of the Stabat Mater at the three stations where Jesus stumbles (Nos. III, VII, IX). Here we see Mary with Jesus in the picture at these points. Another striking comment is perhaps theological: when the women of Jerusalem meet Jesus, he tells them not to weep for him, but for their children. Liszt at this point adds a vivid passage for the organ redolent of martial trumpets, but unresolved in its tonality, indeed including fortissimo whole-tone chords. It may be that Liszt is referring to the "tuba mirum" of the Day of Judgment.

Again, tonality here is also a comment. The key of the work is D minor, and this reflects Liszt's "service for the souls of the dead" comment, as nearly all Liszt's D minor works have this association (for example De Profundis of 1834 for piano and orchestra, the "Dante" Sonata, Totentanz, and Mazeppa – who "dies", then rises). The ending in D major restates the music for Mary.

Liszt used two Latin hymns and two German chorales. The Latin hymns are Vexilla regis and Stabat Mater. Both melodies are found in the Liber Usualis, and were used by Liszt in other works. Vexilla regis occurs at Vespers on Passion Sunday, and was used as the basis of an extensive piano piece in E minor in Rome. The Stabat Mater melody is found at Vespers on the Feast of the Sorrows of the Virgin, and was used as the basis of the huge Stabat Mater in Christus, as well as in a piano solo version of the melody in A flat. In Via Crucis only verse I is sung, but three times in different keys. The German melodies are O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, and O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid, both found in a collection of chorales arranged by Liszt for the piano. Both are known in harmonisations by Bach, but here the harmony is Liszt's own.

Source: Paul Merrick, 2000 (

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Friday, April 19, 2019

The best new classical albums: April 2019

Recording of the Month

Musiques du silence – Federico Mompou, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Henri Dutilleux, Alexander Scriabin, Frédéric Chopin, Toru Takemitsu, Claude Debussy, Enrique Granados

Guillaume Coppola, piano

Recorded 2018
Released on April 5, 2019 by Eloquentia

Builded around works by the pianist and composer Federico Mompou, this programme invites other composers who tried to express the return to basics, a stylistic purity, a form of asceticism and mysticism. The works are linked through the ages and styles, resonate with each other, and that creates a continuous journey renewed form of recital, as a work in itself. An incredible sound experience, almost hypnotic.

After five original and unanimously acclaimed CDs, Guillaume Coppola has now "confirmed his prominent place at the heart of the young generation" (Diapason). In addition to a verve and an expressive depth that make each of his performances keenly anticipated, his authenticity and simplicity have won the hearts of music-lovers.

His eclectic and eloquent discography – encompassing Liszt (2009), Granados (2012), Poulenc (2013, with baritone Marc Mauillon), Schubert (2014) and Brahms-Schubert (2016, four hands with Hervé Billaut) – has been enthusiastically welcomed by the world's press, with every release garnering the highest recognition: Diapason d'Or, ffff from Télérama, Selection from Le Monde, Les Echos, the Académie Charles Cros, five stars from BBC Music Magazine, "Maestro" from Pianiste, four stars from Classica, four stars from Pianist and so on.

To date, he has performed in some 20 countries, appearing at prestigious European venues such as the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the Prague Rudolfinum, the Liège Philharmonie, the Reduta in Bratislava and the Liepaja International Piano Stars Festival, as well as in Asia and South America. In France too, of course: at the Musée d'Orsay, the Salle Pleyel, the Piano Festival of La Roque-d'Anthéron, the Folle Journée de Nantes, the Festival de l'Orangerie de Sceaux, Piano aux Jacobins, the Paris Chopin Festival, Solistes aux Serres d'Auteuil, the Radio France Montpellier Festival, the Lille Piano Festival, the Rendez-vous de Rochebonne, the Nohant Festival, the Auditorium de Dijon, the Auditorium de Bordeaux, MC2 Grenoble, the Dinard Festival and more.

In addition to solo recitals and concertos – the latter with the Orchestre National de Montpellier, the Saint-Etienne Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Victor Hugo Franche-Comté and the Orchestre Symphonique de l'Opéra de Toulon, under the baton of Arie van Beek, Enrique Mazzola, Laurent Campellone and Maxime Tortelier, among others – chamber music allows him to engage in fruitful collaboration with the violinists Régis Pasquier, Patrice Fontanarosa and Nicolas Dautricourt, the cellist Antoine Pierlot, the Voce, Parisii, Debussy and Alfama String Quartets.

While he occasionally plays four-hands and two-piano repertoire with Bruno Rigutto or David Bismuth, he has for several years performed as a duo with Hervé Billaut. Invited to accompany the baritone Marc Mauillon in a vocal recital, he also appears with the Latvian National Choir, Spirito/Britten Choir, the Bordeaux Opera Chorus under the direction of Māris Sirmais, Nicole Corti, Salvatore Caputo.

Guillaume is a generous musician who takes every opportunity to perform for audiences in prisons, hospitals and retirement homes. He participates in productions combining words and music, along with Marie-Christine Barrault, Didier Sandre, François Castang and Marie-Sophie Ferdane. His collaborations with composers have included giving the premieres of works by Marc Monnet (Paris, 2015), Isabel Pires (who dedicated a piece to him), Gao Ping, Steven Stucky and Sylvain Griotto.

Guillaume studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, in the class of Bruno Rigutto. Having taken first prizes in piano and chamber music, he proceeded to hone his skills in numerous masterclasses in France and abroad, with Jean-Claude Pennetier, Dmitri Bashkirov, Leon Fleisher and others. At the outset of his career, he received valuable support from sources such as the Radio France Génération Jeunes Interprètes programme, the Lions Clubs, the Cziffra and Bourgeois Foundations, and internationally from the Prix Déclic of the Institut Français and the New Masters on Tour series.

Next season, Guillaume will be performing in recital with his next CD Silence Music, a new 4 hands program with Hervé Billaut (Dreams from Spain), concerts with Spirito, will start a partnership with violist Arnaud Thorette and add Liszt's first concerto to his repertory.


Cello & Orchestra – Dmitri Shostakovich, Mieczysław Weinberg, Vladimir Kobekin

Anastasia Kobekina, cello

Berner Symphonieorchester
Conductor: Kevin John Edusei

Recorded September 24-27, 2018 at Diaconis-Kirche, Bern, Switzerland
Released on April 5, 2019 by Claves Records

This recording almost slipped by unnoticed. It opens with a neither here nor there performance of the first Shostakovich concerto, neither rippled with black comedy the way Slava Rostropovich played it nor invested with loving compassion like the mellifluous Heinrich Schiff. The Berlin-based soloist, Anastasia Kobekina, gives a good account of the piece and the Berne Symphony play well enough under the direction of Kevin John Edusei.

What follows is simply gripping. The 1956 Weinberg Fantasy, of which there appear to be only two extant recordings, has an arresting opening melody and the best atmospherics I can think of outside the moody-blues song book of Jacques Brel. Looking at the orchestration, I see that Weinberg has thrown in three saxophones, tenor, soprano and bass, and a Sarrusophone, which does exactly what its name suggests. And a Hammond organ, to leave you with a sense of unfulfilled longing.

The middle movements are chirpier but the ending goes back to Adagio for the opening theme, by which point you'll be reaching for the fifth tissue. I can't tell you much more about the work since the Claves booklet writes only about the performers and the Internet has yet to catch up on the Weinberg centenary wave. But rest assured that this is an indispensable addition to the cello repertoire and the main theme is one that you'll think you have known all life long.

I don't care what happens in the next eight months. This is my record of the year for 2019.

Source: Norman Lebrecht (

Benedikt Kristjánsson – Drang in die Ferne

Benedikt Kristjánsson, tenor
Tillmann Höfs, horn
Alexander Schmalcz, piano

Recorded August 16-18, 2018 at Teldex, Berlin, Germany
Released on April 5, 2019 by Genuin

It sounds like being in a dreamland when Icelandic tenor Benedikt Kristjánsson sings folksongs from his homeland. For his first Genuin album, the first-prize winner of the Greifswald International Singing Competition and Audience Award winner of the Leipzig Bach Competition has teamed up with the sought-after accompanist Alexander Schmalcz. Schmalcz congenially tunes into in Kristjánsson's nebulous landscapes when the singer juxtaposes the old melodies, sung a cappella, with Schubert's Romanticism. A different language, a different time – but the same feelings and human destinies! Full of deep earnestness, a fine sense of sound and artistic unanimity: a moving duo!


Seconda Donna – George Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi

Julia Böhme, contralto

La Folia Barockorchester
Conductor: Robin Peter Müller

Recorded April 2015 at Palais im Groben Garten, Dresden, Germany
Released on April 5, 2019 by Accent

In all other respects, the primadonnas, the title figures and central heroines, stand at the centre of the spotlight. Handel and Vivaldi also had a special affection for the "women in the shadows" – for the queens, the servants or the spurned lovers, mostly sung in female alto voice. They were given breathtakingly beautiful arias: full of lament, sensuality, vengefulness or fury.

In recent years, the German contralto Julia Böhme has developed into one of the most in-demand performers of 17th- and 18th-century music. Her vocal elegance and expressiveness, historically sourced style and unique timbre are just as characteristic of her as a performer as her dramatic intensity and versatility. Concerts and opera productions have taken her to the Dresden Music Festival, the Vienna Musikverein, Prague, Leipzig, Halle, Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruges, Versailles, the Laieszhalle Hamburg and the Leipzig Gewandhaus.


Franz Schubert: Winterreise

(Adaptation for bass-baritone, clarinet, trombone, accordion, violin, piano, and hurdy-gurdy)

Philippe Sly, bass-baritone, hurdy-gurdy

Le Chimera Project:
Félix de l'Étoile, clarinet
Karine Gordon, trombone
Samuel Carrier, accordion, piano
Jonathan Millette, violin
Roy Rallo, stage director
Doey Lüthi, designer

Recorded November 2018 at Église Saint-Joseph in Rivière-des-Prairies, Québec, Canada
Released on March 29, 2019 by Analekta

Philippe Sly and Le Chimera Project revisit Schubert's Winterreise, and offer a captivating version of this masterpiece. From Schubert's score, only the vocal part remains intact and bass-baritone Philippe Sly's reading of it is touching and impressive. The piano part is replaced by the Chimera Project, an ensemble that comprises of trombone, violin, accordion, clarinet and a hurdy-gurdy.

This delightful instrumentation brings this great work into musical territories that are both familiar and foreign by giving it Klezmer / Roma colours. At once joyous and filled with longing, this form of music is associated with both celebration and a collaborative Roma spirit, making it an ideal genre to explore and highlight the intimate relationship between Schubert’s devastating music and Müller's poetic vision.

French-Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly has gained international acclaim for his "beautiful, blooming tone and magnetic stage presence" (San Francisco Chronicle). Mr Sly was the first prize winner of the prestigious Concours Musical International de Montréal and a grand prize winner Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions singing the varied repertoire of Mozart, Bach, Handel, Stravinsky, and Wagner. Recently, he was awarded Concert of the Year in Romantic, Post-Romantic, and Impressionist Music at the 16th annual ceremony of the Prix Opus in Québec.


Influences – Charles Ives, Béla Bartók, Olivier Messiaen, Johann Sebastian Bach

Tamara Stefanovich, piano

Recorded June 21-24, 2018 at the Teldex Studio, Berlin
Released on March 15, 2019 by Pentatone

On her first Pentatone album, pianist Tamara Stefanovich presents a highly personal selection of solo works by Bach, Bartók, Ives and Messiaen. Influences shows how these extraordinarily original and idiosyncratic composers let themselves be inspired by the exterior world, thereby demonstrating how authenticity comes from looking outside as well as inside. The repertoire spans from Bach's embrace of Italian musical elements in his Aria variata alla maniera italiana, Bartók's incorporation of folk elements in his Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, and Messiaen's use of Hindu rhythms in Cantéyodjayâ to the collage of marching bands, sounds of trains and machinery, church hymns, ragtime and blues in Ives' first piano sonata. In all cases, the exterior influences lead to deeply original and personal sonic galaxies. In that respect, the pieces presented here underline how identity results from a constant dialogue with our surroundings, ever changing and enriching our perceptions of ourselves and the world.


Johann Sebastian Bach: St Mark Passion (Markus Passion), BWV 247 – Picander's libretto, 1744 version

Complete revision by Jordi Savall on the basis of research, reconstructions and adaptations for the choruses and recitatives proposed by Alexander Grychtolik.

David Szigetvári, tenor (Evangelist)
Konstantin Wolff, bass (Jesus)
Marta Mathéu, soprano
Raffaele Pé, countertenor
Reinoud Van Mechelen, tenor

Veus - Cor Infantil Amics de la Unió
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Le Concert des Nations

Conductor: Jordi Savall

Recorded March 26, 2018 at La Chapelle Royale du Château de Versailles
Released on April 5, 2019 by Alia Vox

The discovery in St Petersburg of a full libretto from the second performance in 1744 of Bach's missing Passion set the sleuths to work. And here's the result: Following this revised edition, a full-length creation emerges, the work of Jordi Savall based on research by German harpsichordist and musicologist Alexander Grychtolik. The music, all by Bach, has been borrowed from a host of different places, including the two surviving Passions and some cantatas. Savall's lively musical instincts and his flair not just for reconstruction, but also for imbuing it with vigorous life make this mandatory listening, especially given the quality of the performance.


The existence of a third Passion by Bach based on the Gospel of St Mark had long been known. Numerous studies carried out from the second half of the 20th century by specialist musicologists and musicians confirmed that on Good Friday, 1731, Bach presented this Passion set to a text by Picander, which the latter published one year later at the same time as his third volume of poetry. In 2009, the existence of this Passion was fully confirmed by the discovery at St Petersburg of a later version of the libretto used for a new performance of the work, which took place in 1744. Compared with the 1732 libretto, it contains a number of modifications to the texts, as well as a different ordering of some chorales and arias and the addition of two new arias. Thanks to the new version, we have a very clear idea of the form and content of this third Passion by Bach.


Created in Leipzig in March 1731 and then revised for the Holy Week of 1744, on a text by Christian Friedrich Henrici, aka Picander, the St Mark Passion was composed by Bach using existing works.

The autograph score is lost but recent musicological research shows that some pieces like the Funeral Ode BWV 198 or an aria from the cantata BWV 54 had been recycled.

Every performance is thus a reconstruction by the performing artist. Jordi Savall offers his own vision, made of subtle chiaroscuro, suffused with serenity and meditation.


Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde / The Song of the Earth

Anna Larsson, alto
Stuart Skelton, tenor

Düsseldorfer Symphoniker
Conductor: Adam Fischer

Recorded January 11-15, 2018 at Tonhalle Düsseldorf, Germany
Released on March 29, 2019 by CAvi-music

...From the onset, the music in Das Lied von der Erde is permeated by a special mood. Even the texts, based on Far Eastern poetry, are more mood than content. Mahler repeatedly abandons the words' meaning, but the mood remains. The music implies so much more than the words! For instance, the third poem evokes the reflection of a mirror image in water, but I don't see those images anywhere in the music. Mahler is not concerned with helping us understand every syllable. If the voice, in its anguish, is drowned out by the orchestra, that is what the music is trying to achieve. Throughout a great number of passages, "beautiful tone" is not what is important. To the contrary. In Das Lied von der Erde, the singers are likewise required to declaim, cry, and shriek. I think that even those concertgoers who have no command of the German language have no problem in gaining a quite precise grasp of what is going on...

...It is somewhat surprising that Das Lied von der Erde, premièred by Bruno Walter after Mahler's death, went on to become one of the composer's great posthumous successes and gained immediate popularity. When the Mahler revival took place in the 1960s, only three works were performed on a regular basis, and Das Lied von der Erde was one of them. But already the fact that Mahler was not able to conduct the premiere himself poses a particular, new challenge to us today. In the case of all previous symphonies, he had the opportunity to make corrections after the first performance. But we don't have such marks here. We need to bear in mind that this is the first and only version we will ever have. It is astounding to imagine that Mahler was only able to hear Das Lied von der Erde and the Ninth Symphony with the help of his inner ear. Under normal circumstances, a tactician and technician such as Mahler would certainly have made some modifications after rehearsing them with an orchestra. That is the open question mark that remains. I am so sorry that he bore such secrets with him into his grave.

Source: Adam Fischer (CD Booklet)

Johann Sebastian Bach: Harpsichord Concertos vol. 2

Fabio Bonizzoni, harpsichord

La Risonanza

Recorded September 21-25, 2018 at Pieve di San Donato in Polenta, Forli, Italy
Released on April 5, 2019 by Challenge Classics

Here is the follow-up to the critically acclaimed first volume of Bach's Harpsichord Concertos by Fabio Bonizzoni and his group La Risonanza.

This second volume includes a more varied range of works as it starts with the most famous Brandenburg Fifth, which is the first ever harpsichord concert. After the BWV 1054, we have the rather rare BWV 1057,which is the harpsichord version of the Brandenburg Fourth. To end Bonizzoni's survey of all Bach's harpsichord concertos, we find the famous and beloved Triple concerto, with violin and flute.


Reason in Madness – Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Richard Strauss, Charles Koechlin, Claude Debussy, Henri Duparc, Hugo Wolf, Franz Schubert, Camille Saint-Saëns, Ernest Chausson, Francis Poulenc

Carolyn Sampson, soprano
Joseph Middleton, piano

Recorded January 2018 at Potton Hall, Westleton, Suffolk, England
Released on April 5, 2019 by BIS

Throughout history men have feared madwomen, burning them as witches, confining them in asylums and subjecting them to psychoanalysis – yet, they have also been fascinated, unable to resist fantasizing about them. For their new disc, Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton have created a programme that explores the responses of a variety of composers to women whose stories have left them vulnerable and exposed. As a motto they have chosen an aphorism by Nietzsche: "There is always some madness in love, but there is also always some reason in madness".

Brahms' Ophelia Songs, composed for a stage production of Hamlet, appear next to those by Richard Strauss and Chausson, while Ophelia's death is described by both Schumann (in Herzeleid) and Saint-Saëns. Goethe's mysterious and traumatized Mignon appears in settings by Hugo Wolf as well as Duparc, while his ill-used Gretchen grieves by her spinning-wheel in Schubert's matchless setting. Sadness and madness tip into witchery and unbridled eroticism with Pierre Louÿs's poems about Bilitis, set by Koechlin and Debussy. Sampson and Middleton end their recital as it began, with a suicide by drowning: in Poulenc's monologue La Dame de Monte-Carlo, the elderly female protagonist has been unlucky at the gambling tables and decides to throw herself into the sea.


Joseph Haydn: Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze / Les Sept Dernières Paroles du Christ en croix / The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross

Ensemble Resonanz
Conductor: Riccardo Minasi

Recorded July 2018 at Hauptkirche St Nikolai, Hamburg, Germany
Released on March 22, 2019 by Harmonia mundi

Following a disc of cello concertos and symphonies by CPE Bach (Diapason d'Or, ffff Télérama), the musicians of the Ensemble Resonanz continue their very personal exploration of Eighteenth Century orchestral music.

For several years now, under the direction of inspired conductor Maestro Riccardo Minasi, the ensemble has taken up the challenge of playing instruments with a "modern" setup (violins, violas and basses with metal strings) with complete mastery of historically informed performance practice.

Forty years after what has been called "the Baroque revolution", it's a pleasure to rediscover these nine orchestral movements literally inhabited by the divine words of Christ on the cross – and displaying that rhetorical skill of which Joseph Haydn was a peerless exponent.


Private Passions – Arnold Bax, Harriet Cohen

Mark Bebbington, piano

Recorded September 26-27, 2017 at CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Released on February 1, 2019 by SOMM Recordings

"Truly a remarkable pianist" — The Times

Pianist Mark Bebbington's long association with SOMM Recordings has produced a remarkable array of recordings championing newly discovered British music.

Pairing the piano music of Arnold Bax and Harriet Cohen, his latest disc includes eight first recordings and promises fresh insights into the music of a revered English master and revelatory performances of an overlooked composer who subsequently found fame as a pianist.

The result, Private Passions, is an illuminating dialogue between one of the pre-eminent British composers of the last century and his muse who together shared a 42-year-long love affair.

The eight first recordings here include Bax's vitally contrasted Four Pieces from 1947 and Cohen's evocatively coloured Russian Impressions – the first documented public performance of which Bebbington gave in London in 2015 – a suite dating from around 1913 that variously hints at the influence of Mussorgsky, Debussy and Glinka.

Heard here in its original version, Bax's E flat Piano Sonata of 1921 (which prompted the composer's First Symphony) is as vivid and rich a statement as he ever made. Completing the disc is Bax's In the Night (Passacaglia), an evocative piece that owes much to the intimacy of his relationship with Cohen, and Legend, boasting music of grandeur and poetry wholly suited to its title.

Mark Bebbington's previous release with SOMM featured piano concertos by Grieg and Delius (SOMMCD 269) – "A Grieg concerto the equal of any I have heard, the most enjoyable version of the Delius concerto I know and a novelty world premiere to boot. All round excellence" (MusicWeb International) – and was a CD of the Week for The Times, Classic FM and Mail on Sunday.


George Frideric Handel: Joseph and his Brethren, HWV 59

Diana Moore, mezzo-soprano
Abigail Levis, mezzo-soprano
Philip Cutlip, baritone
Abigail Levis, mezzo-soprano
Sherezade Panthaki, soprano
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Philip Cutlip, baritone
Gabrielle Haigh, soprano
Jonathan Smucker, tenor

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale
Music director and conductor: Nicholas McGegan

Recorded December 18-20, 2017 at the Scoring Stage, Skywalker Sound, Nicasio, CA
Released on April 5, 2019 by Philharmonia Baroque Productions

Nicholas McGegan has been called a "Handel master" by The San Francisco Chronicle and is considered a foremost Handel scholar around the world. So who better to present the rarely performed Joseph and his Brethren than Nic McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale. Handel's unfairly neglected – yet splendid – oratorio depicts the grandeur of Pharaoh's court in an intriguing plot of familial conflict and mistaken identity. With a cast of favorites including Diana Moore and Nicholas Phan, Nicholas McGegan and his historically informed Orchestra and Chorale present a lively studio recording of the program that delighted audiences and critics alike.

"...a beautifully rendered collection of arias and choruses done with characteristic zeal under the leadership of Music Director Nicholas McGegan." — Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

"His [McGegan's] beats – springy and upward-moving – animate his stellar orchestra and chorale..." — Paul Hertelendy, ARTSSF

"...conductor Nicholas McGegan led his period-instrument orchestra in a rhythmically pulsating score..." — James MacBean, The Berkeley Daily Planet

"McGegan's sense of pacing was masterful..." — The Newsletter of the American Handel Society

Among Handel's large-scale works, Joseph and his Brethren is one of the most neglected. This recording is only the second commercial issue of the oratorio, and the first in over twenty years. Yet in Handel's lifetime, the work proved rather popular, with a warm initial reception and revivals for decades to come. Joseph's eighteenth-century popularity was attested to by the simple fact that Handel programmed the work season after season.

This release was recorded at the Scoring Stage, Skywalker Sound, Nicasio, CA, December 18-20, 2017. It marks the Orchestra's 11th recording under its Philharmonia Baroque Productions label and adds to its growing list of rare recordings.


Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonatas for violin and keyboard

Renaud Capuçon, violin
David Fray, piano

Recorded December 17-21, 2017 at the Notre-Dame-du-Liban, Paris, France
Released on March 27, 2019 by Parlophone Records

Pianist David Fray already enjoys a fine reputation as a stylish Bach player: elegant, focused and alive to the rich fantasy that underlies so much of the music. Here, joined by Renaud Capuçon, he plays four of the six sonatas for violin and keyboard with a winning restraint and a songful beauty. Fray is wonderful at the fast-flowing counterpoint, his fingers skipping over the keys and making magic happen. Yet in a movement such as the "Adagio ma non tanto" of the Third Sonata, these two players find a stillness and poise that melts the heart. Heavenly music making.


Franz Schubert: String Quintet in C major & String Quartet in D minor "Death and the Maiden"

Quartetto di Cremona:
Cristiano Gualco, violin (Stradivarius "Paganini", 1727)
Paolo Andreoli, violin (Stradivarius "Paganini", 1680)
Simone Gramaglia, viola (Stradivarius "Paganini", 1731)
Giovanni Scaglione, cello (Stradivarius "Paganini", 1736)

Eckart Runge, cello (Hieronymus and Antonio Amati, Cremona ca. 1595)

Recorded September 18-22, 2017 at the Leibniz Saal, Hannover Congress Centrum
Released on April 5, 2019 by Audite

The Quartetto di Cremona present Schubert's greatest legacy to chamber music, recording on the Paganini Quartet's Stradivarius instruments for the first time. They are joined by Eckart Runge on a rare Hieronymus & Antonio Amati cello.

Quartetto di Cremona's First Recording on the Paganini Quartet: The new album offers the chance to listen simultaneously to four Stradivari instruments and an Amati cello: The Quartetto di Cremona plays the Stradivarius Paganini Quartet, one of the few quartet "sets" completed by Antonio Stradivari and once owned by the legendary violinist Niccolò Paganini. Eckart Runge plays a rare cello made by Hieronymus and Antonio Amati in their Cremonese atelier.

After completing the recording cycle of Beethoven's String Quartets, the Quartetto di Cremona's new double album is entirely dedicated to Franz Schubert, presenting two of his latest masterpieces: the String Quartet Death and the Maiden and the String Quintet in C major, with cellist Eckart Runge.


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

More photos

See also

The best new classical albums: January 2020

The best new classical albums: December 2019

The best new classical albums: November 2019

The best new classical albums: October 2019

The best new classical albums: September 2019

The best new classical albums: August 2019

The best new classical albums: July 2019

The best new classical albums: June 2019

The best new classical albums: May 2019

The best new classical albums: March 2019

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 2019

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