Christian Tetzlaff

Christian Tetzlaff
Christian Tetzlaff. Photo by Giorgia Bertazzi

Monday, May 27, 2019

The best new classical albums: May 2019

Recording of the Month

Gustav Mahler: "Titan", Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform (Hamburg / Weimar 1893-1894 version)

Les Siècles (On period instruments)
Conductor: François-Xavier Roth

Recorded 2018
Released on May 10, 2019 by Harmonia mundi

Forget the Mahler First you know and travel back to the work's second incarnation. This is Titan, a five-movement symphonic poem with a very definite programme, which Mahler later dropped: a man's heroic but ultimately fruitless battle with fate. Playing mainly Austro-German instruments appropriate to the period, Les Siècles make a compelling case for this precursor of Symphony No.1. Beautifully judged, vividly characterised and with a gorgeous range of colours – the later-discarded second movement, "Blumine", is heavenly – this is another triumph for conductor François-Xavier Roth.


Gustav Mahler was not yet thirty years old when he mounted the podium to conduct his "Symphonic Poem" (Sinfonische Dichtung) in the Large Hall of the Redoute (Vigadó) in Budapest on 20 November 1889. The young man, who had recently been appointed director of the Hungarian capital's opera house, was presenting an orchestral composition for the first time that evening. This work, which Mahler thought would be "child's play", was in fact – as he was to admit years later – "one of [his] boldest". It is the crystallisation of his childhood, marked by the successive deaths of his brothers and sisters but also by the brutality of his father. The work also embodies the dreams that this rebellious young student at the Vienna Conservatory had already forged some ten years earlier, with the new generation of artists and thinkers of which he was a member.

In this album, François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles have chosen to present Mahler's First Symphony in its second version, that of Hamburg / Weimar (1893-1894) – a unique opportunity to hear the symphonic poem Titan. By allowing us to follow the genesis of this first large scale work, Titan opens the doors of Mahler's artistic workshop at a crucial moment in the creative process: the transition from the youthful effort of 1889 to the Symphony in D major of 1896, which established Mahler as one of the foremost symphonists of the modern era.


Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony No.1, but the "real" Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg / Weimar performances of 1893-1894. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E. Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

This allows us, as Anna Stoll Knecht and Benjamin Garzia of the Médiathèque Musicale Mahler note, "to follow the genesis of this first large-scale work, (which) opens the doors of Mahler's artistic workshop at a crucial moment in the creative process". Mahler extensively revised his very first version, premiered in Budapest in 1889. For the Hamburg performance, in October 1893, he described it as "The Titan, A Tone Poem in the form of a symphony" in five parts, each with programmatic titles. In Weimar, in June 1894, he adapted it further, so it was no longer a symphonic poem but a "symphony". While the text accompanying the Weimar performance retained the programmatic titles from Hamburg, the score was now devoid of them, heralding the transition from symphonic poem to the Symphony in D major, as the Berlin version from 1896 was to be called. Donald Mitchell has compared this working process to building with scaffolding, which is later removed to reveal the finished structure. Even after publication, Mahler reserved the right to make further revisions, continuing to do so until the last performance he conducted, in New York in 1909.

While the edition of the score is of great interest, the performance itself is superb, definitely worth hearing on its own merits. Roth has conducted the standard version many times, but here he conducts Les Siècles "sur instruments d'époque", using instruments of Mahler's time. They use instruments which would have been used in the pit of the Vienna Court Opera and the Musikverein, and selected Viennese oboes, German flutes, clarinets and bassoons, German and Viennese horns and trumpets, and German trombones and tubas. "These instruments are built quite differently from their French contemporaries", writes Roth. "The fingerings, the bores and even the mouthpieces of the clarinets were completely new to our musicians. The wind instruments have a singular quality that exactly matches the rhetoric of the Austro-German music of that time, with a darker colour than that of the instruments then used in France. Perhaps they are also more powerful, and their articulation is a little slower. In the case of the string section, each instrument is set up with bare gut for the higher strings and spun gut for the lower ones. Gut strings give you a sound material totally different from metal strings, more highly developed harmonics, and incisiveness in the attack and articulation." Each instrument is individually identified, as are the players.

This approach to instrumentation infuses the performance, giving it an invigorating sense of vitality. Given that Mahler was embarking on new adventures, Roth and Les Siècles capture the spirit of the piece with extraordinary expressiveness. The first movement of the first part, "Frühling und kein Ende" comes alive from the start. Period horns emerge from the rustling strings to create an earthiness entirely in keeping with the idea of Spring and burgeoning new growth. The woodwinds call the "kuck-kuck" motif with such purity that they sound like birds. The movement builds up to a crescendo so joyous that it seems to explode with energy and freedom. In the song "Ging heut' Morgen über's Feld" the protagonist hears the birds sing "Ist's nicht eine schöne Welt? Ei, du! Gelt? Schöne Welt!". Though the song ends on a minor key, Mahler ends the movement with a punch of an exuberant timpani.

In the past, the "Blumine" movement has been attached to what is now known as Mahler's Symphony No.1, even though the composer himself pointedly removed it. The result is neither sympohony noit "symphonic poem" but a hybrid. Mahler dropped the piece, finding it too "sentimental", a "youthful folly" (Jugend-Eselei), and it does inhibit the flow of the symphony. "Blumine" includes passages from "Der Trompeter von Säckingen", incidental music to a play he'd written in 1884. Hence the prominent trumpet part, which here is particularly beautifully played: almost as evocative as the post horn in Mahler's Third Symphony, though "Blumine" is a much slighter piece. The mellowness of the instruments Les Siècles employ enhances the section's function as a throwback to past times. There's not much point in including it as an add-on these days when the full symphony is so well known, so it's better to hear it in proper context, as this new edition offers. It operates as an andante to the much more sophisticated scherzo of the (third) movement here. Originally titled "Mit vollen Segeln", it's played here with ebullient verve: the trio part earthy Ländler, part cheeky waltz.

Part Two of the Titan was titled "Commedia humana" (Human Comedy). It begins with "Gestrandet", a Totenmarsch inspired by an illustration of hunted animals following the cortege of a dead huntsman: the worldly order of power in reverse. Again, the usee of instruments Mahler himself would have known adds colour to this performance. The rhythms reference the folk tune Bruder Jakob: hence Mahler's comment that it should sound quaint "as if slaughtered by a bad orchestra". Ländler values again, with echoes of the motif "Auf der Straße steht ein Lindenbaum" from the song "Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz" with which Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen ends. The dark humour of this Dantesque "human comedy" comes to the fore in the last movement, an allegro furioso originally titled "Dall'Inferno". Such energy in this performance – proof that instruments of the right period can sound powerfully animated. Roth and Les Siècles perform with intense conviction. Each section of the orchestra sounds alert, aware of what's evolving in the music: the triumph of some heroic force of life, blasting away death and venality. Hence the term "Titan", refering to Jean Paul's Bildungsroman, where wisdom is won through fire, in search of higher purpose. 

Source: Anne Ozorio (

George Frideric Handel: Messiah, HWV 56

Giulia Semenzato, soprano
Benno Schachtner, countertenor
Krystian Adam, tenor
Krešimir Stražanac, bass

Collegium Vocale 1704, Collegium 1704
Conductor: Václav Luks

Recorded March 2018 at Rudolfinum, Prague
Released on April 19, 2019 by Accent

Handel's Messiah is already very well represented on the market with dozens of existing recordings and new productions appearing at regular intervals. Yet this is a very special version, carefully crafted by the Prague-based Collegium Vocale and Collegium 1704 under the baton of Vaclav Luks, founder of the ensemble and one of the most exciting conductors of the Baroque and Classical repertoire. The fine young singers Giulia Semenzato, Benno Schachtner, Krystian Adam, and Krešimir Stražanac joined the ensembles for two moving live performances in Prague's Rudolfinum in March 2018, and those performances are now presented here. Collegium 1704 and the Collegium Vocale 1704 were founded in 2005. Since 2007, Collegium 1704 has been ensemble in residence of the St Wenceslas Music Festival in Ostrava and a regular guest at leading European festivals and concert venues in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and more.


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 in B minor "Pathétique", Op.74

Berliner Philharmoniker
Conductor: Kirill Petrenko

Recorded March 22-23, 2017, at the Philharmonie Berlin
Released on May 10, 2019 by Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings

When Kirill Petrenko performed Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony with the Berliner Philharmoniker in March 2017, one critic was "stunned at how beautiful and breathtakingly exciting this music can be". This first audio release of the orchestra and its new chief conductor reflects the whole sonority and intensity of the interpretation – and offers a taste of an exciting new beginning.

The orchestra's musicians, audiences and journalists had high expectations of the concert. After all, this was their first appearance together since the Berliner Philharmoniker had elected Kirill Petrenko as their chief conductor two years earlier. In the end there were loud cheers, and the press's verdict: "A triumph". In fact, all the qualities of this artistic partnership which had led the orchestra electing Kirill Petrenko came together here. While the rehearsals were still characterised by concentrated work on sound, colouring and phrasing, during the concert itself, musicianship took over, born entirely of the moment, full of commitment, energy and emotion.

With its both finely balanced yet uninhibited expressiveness, the interpretation perfectly meets the requirements of Tchaikovsky's last symphony. In this work, the composer not only reveals the pain and drama of a troubled soul, but also his whole compositional art – with sophisticated inflections and formal concepts, including a waltz in a complex 5/4 beat.

The high-quality hardcover edition presents the recording on a CD/SACD which can be played on all CD and SACD players. It allows playback in either best CD sound or, when used as SACD, in high-resolution audio quality plus in surround sound. The extensive booklet includes an essay which, among other things, reflects Kirill Petrenko's view of Tchaikovsky's symphony and this recording.


Edward Elgar: Caractacus, Op.35

Elizabeth Llewellyn (Eigen), soprano
Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Orbin), tenor
Roland Wood (Caractacus), baritone
Christopher Purves (Arch-Druid, A Bard), bass
Alastair Miles (Claudius), bass

Huddersfield Choral Society
Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor: Martyn Brabbins

Recorded April 11-13, 2018, at Huddersfield Town Hall, England
Released on March 29, 2019 by Hyperion Records

Although the London performance of the Enigma Variations under Richter in 1899 is invariably cited as the composer's "red letter" day, Elgar's cantata Caractacus, written for Leeds in 1898, was in many ways equally if not more important as the stylistic confluence of his mature voice (even if Ackworth's rather dated libretto occasionally sticks in the craw). A coming together of his Wagnerian enthusiasms, the work amply illustrates his fertile use of leitmotif technique (one that was already incipient in his earlier choral works, The Black Knight, King Olaf and The Light of Life). But, more significantly, it was only one conscious step for Elgar to translate his instinctive musical thought in instrumental terms into a fully fledged Wagnerian symphonic process in which the orchestra became the dominant vehicle. This is compellingly evident in Caractacus, in many ways a one-act nationalist opera, and points the way to those operas-manqués of The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles and The Kingdom, which represent the pinnacle of his interpretation of the British oratorio paradigm.

Martyn Brabbins, a true specialist of late Victorian repertoire (as we know from his interpretations of Parry and Stanford), is very much alive to these aspects of the work (perhaps encouraged by his experience at ENO). He brings an electricity and Straussian Schwung to the orchestral sound throughout this recording, whether in the vibrant marches of scene 1 ("Watchmen, alert!"), the processional march of scene 4 (the best-known part of the cantata) or the delicious "woodland interlude", a forerunner of "Dorabella" in the Enigma Variations and the immutable miniatures of the two Wand of Youth Suites.

There are some fine performances here from the soloists. Roland Wood is very much up to the weighty role of Caractacus, especially in the big soliloquies of scene 1, scene 4 (the moving lament "O my warriors") and the historically renowned eloquent address before Claudius and the Senate in scene 6. Christopher Purves's euphonious, rich bass tone is admirably suited to the well-meaning if deceitful Bard in scene 2 (at times thoroughly redolent of Parsifal) with its splendid march theme ("Go forth to conquer"), and Alastair Miles plays an authoritative Claudius in scene 6. Elizabeth Llewellyn lends some lyrical respite to much of the forceful rhetoric of the work's warrior spirit, one abundantly supplied by Caractacus's impetuous son, Orbin, played by Elgan Llŷr Thomas. Both are also passionately equal to Elgar's enthralling love duet in scene 3, a section that avidly confirms the operatic character of this rich score. The well-prepared Huddersfield Choral Society, appropriately attuned to their role as turba, provide a range of sensitive light and shade, as well muscular tone, to the varying dramatic contexts, and a crisp counterpoint to the orchestra, with which they often participate as part of the larger instrumental canvas. This is particularly memorable in the opening chorus of scene 1 and the stirring music of the triumphal march in scene 6.

Source: Jeremy Dibble (

Ivan Bessonov plays Frédéric Chopin & Ivan Bessonov

Ivan Bessonov, piano

Recorded November-December 2018 at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory
Released on April 5, 2019 by Ars Produktion

"I like the way the world reveals itself in Chopin's music: Very pure, very subtle, lyrical, often even tragic, but sometimes light and cheerful, with a belief in something very good. I think that Chopin will always be a reason for me to love life even more. [...] Why these compositions? Of course they shaped my soul when I heard them for the first time, and afterwards I really wanted to continue playing them." — Ivan Bessonov

Ivan Bessonov is fascinated by Chopin's works, which not only manifests itself in his performance, but also encourages him to create his own works. In them little details and intonations of Chopin's music are heard. Born in 2002, Ivan Bessonov comes from a family of musicians in St Petersburg. He started taking piano lessons at the age of six. Since 2012 he has been studying piano at the Moscow Central Music School for particularly gifted children of the Conservatory in the class of Professor Vadim Rudenko.


The Yiddish Cabaret – Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Erwin Schulhoff, Leonid Desyatnikov

Hila Baggio, soprano

Jerusalem Quartet:
Alexander Pavlovsky, violin
Sergei Bresler, violin
Ori Kam, viola
Kyril Zlotnikov, cello

Recorded December 2018 in Teldex Studio Berlin
Released on May 17, 2019 by Harmonia mundi

The disc's program is the result of a work by the Jerusalem's Quartet around the music of Yiddish cabarets in Poland between the two world wars. For nearly two years, the four musicians, assisted by the musicologist Gila Flam, started doing research in the archives of Jerusalem's National Library. After a long task of selection, they held back five Yiddish songs that were sung in the Jewish cabarets of Warsaw and Łódź between 1919 and 1939. The first one is a nostalgic song about Warsaw (Varshe), the second one is a parody of an American song which tells about the fate of a Jewish prostitute (In a hoyz vu men veynt un men lakht). The third (Ikh ganve in der nakht) and fifth song (Ikh vel shoyn mer nit ganvenen) come from the repertoire of Yiddish "thiefs songs" of the Jewish mob. The fourth song (Yosl und Sore-Dvoshe) is a duet between a man and a woman who live in poverty but dream of having a big family and live happily in a big town. These five songs served as the "raw material" for a creation by Israeli composer Leonid Desyatnikov (1955) who made an adaptation for vocals (performed here in Yiddish by the Israeli soprano Hila Baggio) and string quartet. As it is precised by Desyatnikov in the booklet of the disc written by Gila Flam: "This cycle is a serie of free transcriptions for this music, commonly qualified of ‘low value’. It's the eclectic culture of the proletarian and foreign, the culture of the cheap posh, and, in the same time – in its best ways –, an insolent and talented culture, full of self-irony and of waiting despair". Gila Flam adds that "the Jewish musicians and performers played a leading role in Poland's popular music, contributing in helping widening the repertoire of Polish and Yiddish songs. With this, they influenced all the European cabaret's music as well as Hollywood's film music, and music of theatres on Broadway in America".

And it is precisely in Hollywood that the Jewish composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) did most of his carreer. Born in Brno in Austria-Hungaria on the 29th of May 1897, child prodigy, sometimes compared to Mozart, he is one of the last representatives of Viennese romantism. In 1925, he is the most played composer after Richard Strauss in the German speaking countries. In 1934, he makes a first trip to the USA, where he writes essentially film music for Warner Bros company. After a short return to Vienna in 1937, he settles down definitively in 1938. During twelve years, he writes eighteen film music, two of them (Anthony Adverse and Robin Hood) awarded with Oscars. His String Quartet No.2 Op.26, in four movements, was composed in 1933 and created in Vienna by the Rose Quartet on March 16th 1934, just before the composer left for the USA. According to Jerusalem's String Quartet, this work by Korngold expresses his deep nostalgia of Central Europe's musical traditions.

The last piece of music of this disc – slightly eclectic – is from the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942). Born in Prague in 1894 in a Jewish family, Schulhoff was very early noticed and encouraged by Dvořák. His style is characterised by a mix of atonality, of surrealism and popular repertoire. Arrested by the Nazis on June 22nd 1941, he will be interned in the Wülzburg's fortress, in Bavaria, where he will die of tuberculosis the 28th of August 1942. His Five pieces for string quartet (1923), dedicated to Darius Milhaud, were performed for the first time in Salzburg on the 8th of August 1924. They form a succession of dances (waltz, tango, tarentella...) which take their inspiration from popular music of the time.


The Beginnings – Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, Jacobus Kloppers, Krystian Kiełb, Oscar Peterson

Adam Żukiewicz, piano

Recorded May 23-26, 2018 at the European Center Matecznik "Mazowsze" in Otrębusy, Poland
Released on April 19, 2019 by DUX

The intention of Adam Żukiewicz, a Polish pianist developing his artistic career in North America, is to provide the listener of this recording with a unique diversity of musical experiences. Żukiewicz, being an enthusiast of new music, regularly presents contemporary works and performs premieres of new compositions. This category includes, written especially for the purposes of this album, the cycle Images by Krystian Kielb, or Goodbye Old Friend by Oscar Peterson in the arrangement of Don Thompson and Adam Żukiewicz. It is not a coincidence, however, that the album bears an original title The Beginnings – the most classical piano staples with Beethoven and Chopin show how strong and diverse the musical inspirations of the artist are.


Johann Sebastian Bach: Overture in the French style, BWV 831 – Sarabande con partite in C major, BWV 990 – English Suite No.6 in D minor, BWV 811

Nils Anders Mortensen, piano

Recorded January 14-16, 2019, at the Jar Church, Bærum, Norway
Released on May 10, 2019 by LAWO Classics

One thing on which many agree is that Bach was doubtless the greatest composer of them all. Schumann noted in his diary that "Johann Sebastian Bach has done everything completely", and in Mahler's words "In Bach all the vital cells of music are united as the world is in God; there has never been any polyphony greater than this."

Bach's works are universal and essentially independent of the instrument the performer is playing. But the use of a modern grand piano is a challenge and can require an adaptation of resources and ideas. The Overture in the French Style, BWV 831, the Sixth English Suite, BWV 811, and the lesser known Sarabande con partite, BWV 990 are three works in which the original instrument with two or three manuals influences the composition to a considerable extent. Pianist Nils Anders Mortensen uses various approaches to the music, with a nod at times to the historical instruments, or an affirmation of the modern grand piano's inherent possibilities, while at other times he plays with different styles.

The Overture in the French Style represents the culmination of Bach's encounter with French music and captures the most essential elements of French harmony, rhythm, ornamentation and form. The Sarabande variations are appealing and uncomplicated. The English Suite in D minor (with the notation in the score "Written for the English", but not composed in the English style) has a marvellously monumental prelude before the French dance movements.

With his critically acclaimed recordings and his soloist appearances with the principal Norwegian orchestras, Nils Anders Mortensen has established himself as one of Norway's leading pianists. Employed as state musician in Finnmark County, he is also active as a freelance artist. This is Mortensen's third solo album on the LAWO Classics label. In addition, he has recorded eight albums with mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland, and two duo releases with double bassist Knut Erik Sundquist and violinist Arvid Engegård, respectively.


Havergal Brian: The Tinker's Wedding. Overture – Symphony No.7 in C major – Symphony No.16

New Russia State Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Alexander Walker

Recorded January 16-19, 2018 in Studio 5, Russian State TV & Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow
Released on May 10, 2019 by Naxos

Havergal Brian's late creativity is almost unparalleled in musical history – in the last two decades of his life he wrote 25 symphonies. No.7, the last of his truly large-scale symphonies, was inspired by Goethe's autobiographical account of his time as a student in Strasbourg. Symphony No.16 is a tough single-movement work, evoking Ancient Greece and the savagery of the Persian Wars. In bright contrast The Tinker's Wedding is a sparkling comedy overture based on the play by J.M. Synge.

Source: CD back cover

The recorded sound of this disc is joyously impressive: heaps of detail, atmospheric and a sense of a wide open acoustic, even if this is a broadcasting studio. This complements three Brian works of gawky progress and splendid incident here receiving second (or third) recordings. The respective works' disc debuts date back in the case of No.16 to the analogue era in 1973 and for the other two works five years after that to early digital technology; they were issued by EMI on LP, cassette and CD. In humdrum terms these recordings were historical. These were in the vanguard of professional Brian performances to be commercially recorded. The present Naxos disc owes its existence to financial support from the Havergal Brian Society.

Naxos open proceedings with two works from 1948. The first is an affable, bright rather than brilliant eight-minute overture just occasionally showing some kinship with Walton and Berners. It is based on J.M. Synge's play, The Tinker's Wedding and is a sort of obverse in mood to the fantastical melodious Sixth Symphony Sinfonia Tragica. It was also written in 1948 which may well have been a great year for Brian. The Sixth found its genesis in another Synge play, Deirdre of the Sorrows. The latter was also set by Healey Willan, Karl Rankl and Cecil Gray. Synge had impressed Brian as early as 1918. Clearly, his writings held long-term musical fascination because other Synge works have been written from the 1930s to 1990s by Vaughan Williams, Bernard Stevens and Marga Richter. The overture is in step with Brian's much earlier overture, Dr Merryheart.

The two symphonies show contrasting aspects of Brian. The Seventh, seemingly inspired by Goethe, Strasbourg and its cathedral adopts an epic stance across four distinct movements, ending with a completely non-Baxian Epilogue. The Sixteenth, from twelve years later, is characteristic of the later works. It is in a single movement and is only fifteen minutes long.

The Seventh launches out with a jerkily pecked-out fanfare-march of an idea. Brian had a gift for intensely memorable openings: witness the first three symphonies. This purposeful aspect, which is also felt at the start of then second movement, is undermined by many more reflective and disillusioned pages. It's interesting that the term "Allegro" appears in the mood indications for three of the four movements and "Adagio" twice in the third. The third movement – almost as long as the Sixteenth Symphony by itself – can serve as a demonstration piece (as can the overture) for it is accomplished with a flighty and spectral hand. The finale caries the shadow of the opening's fanfare. It includes a part for Nikolai Savchenko's violin but this capricious moment is quite different in stance from the pastoral ecstasy violin solos in The Gothic and the Third.

The music of the Sixteenth is sometimes bleak but it is packed with kaleidoscopic incident, mostly serious but with wind parts injecting humour and grotesquerie. It starts in totally engaging fashion with an oboe/flute/clarinet idea that suggests Narcissus and the pool under leaden grey rain heavy clouds; it returns momentarily at 10:47. Only five years later he was to write what is for me the finest of the late symphonies, Symphony No.22 Symphonia Brevis.

The Sixteenth Symphony came out on a Lyrita LP in the mid 1970s and was reissued with its then disc-mate No.6 on a still astonishingly good Lyrita LP reissued in 2008 on CD; the latter with Arnold Cooke's Third Symphony.

The excellent liner-sheet notes are by composer and Brian adherent John Pickard. They are in English and run to four sides. Although these offer some musical analysis it is counterbalanced with biographical flesh and reflection. The musicology is, for the most part, done with an accessible rather than overly technical hand.

Source: Rob Barnett (

Franz Schubert: Piano Sonata in B flat major, D.960 – Four Impromptus for piano, D.935, Nos. 2 & 3

Stefan Stroissnig, piano

Recorded September 26-27, 2017
Released on May 17, 2019 by Paladino Music

One of Austria's leading pianists grants access to his own and Schubert's inner soul – a recording not to be missed! The Austrian pianist Stefan Stroissnig, born in 1985, studied with Oleg Maisenberg in his native city of Vienna and with Ian Jones at the Royal College of Music in London. He received further artistic inspiration from renowned pianists such as Daniel Barenboim and Dmitri Bashkirov. His concert activity as a soloist has taken him to all five continents and to the most prestigious concert houses in Europe, such as the Royal Festival Hall in London, the Vienna Musikverein, the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Berlin Philharmonic. He has attracted special attention for his interpretations of works by Franz Schubert and the music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Amongst other things, in 2013 he was the soloist in Olivier Messiaen's monumental Turangalîla-Symphonie at the Royal Festival Hall in London.


Leoš Janáček: String Quartet No.1 "Kreutzer Sonata", String Quartet No.2 "Intimate Letters" | György Ligeti: String Quartet No.1 "Métamorphoses nocturnes"

Belcea Quartet:
Corina Belcea, violin i
Axel Schacher, violin ii
Krzysztof Chorzelski, viola
Antoine Lederlin, cello

Recorded May & December 2018 at Philharmmonie Luxembourg
Released on April 26, 2019 by Alpha Classics

Formed in 1994 at the Royal College of Music in London, the Belcea Quartet already has an impressive discography, including the complete Beethoven string quartets. For this new recording, the ensemble has chosen three quartets by two iconic composers of the 20th century: Leoš Janáček and György Ligeti. Fifteen years after their first recording for Zig-Zag, and after some changes in personnel, they have decided to record again the two string quartets by Janáček . The First Quartet was inspired by Leon Tolstoy's famous novella, The Kreutzer Sonata: the four movement work follows the narrative, including its culminating murder. The Second Quartet is subtitled Intimate Letters, in homage to Kamila Stösslova, with whom the composer had an important relationship expressed through letters, one that influenced both his life and his music. Finally, the First Quartet by Ligeti, subtitled Métamorphoses nocturnes because of its particular form. The composer described the work as a sort of theme and variations, but not with a specific theme that is then subsequently varied: rather, it is a single musical thought appearing under constantly new guises – for this reason the word "metamophoses" is more appropriate than "variations".


Frédéric Chopin: Four Ballades, Polonaises, Valses, Nocturnes

Jean-Paul Gasparian, piano

Recorded November 2018 at the Hôtel de l'Industrie, Paris
Released on May 17, 2019, by Evidence Classics

In his first critically acclaimed CD, Jean-Paul Gasparian demonstrated that his technique allowed him to compete with the giants of Russian music and that his rugged playing was capable of sensitivity. His second opus, dedicated this time to Chopin, confirms these qualities. It must be said that the Four Ballades represent a sacred piece of bravery where Jean-Paul Gasparian shines particularly. And if the French pianist is rigorous, he also willingly surrenders to the lyricism and beauty of these pages, from Nocturnes to Waltzes via the Polonaises. His elegant expression and full sound make this new album a second essential milestone in the discography of the young pianist and, more generally, in that of Chopin.


Ferhan & Ferzan Önder play Fazil Say

Ferhan & Ferzan Önder, piano

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Conductor: Markus Poschner

Recorded February 18, 2019 at Reitstadel, Neumarkt, Germany, & May 29, 2016 at Philharmonie Berlin, Germany
Released on May 17, 2019, by Winter & Winter

The compositions of Fazıl Say belong to the key works of Turkish music of the 21st century. The classical music of the Occident, jazz improvisations as well as elements of oriental folk music and Turkish music inspire his work. Fazıl Say, who lives in Istanbul, celebrates great success all over the world with his very effective, distinctive sounds, both as a composer and as a pianist. Fazıl Say writes numerous compositions for the piano duo of the twin sisters Ferhan & Ferzan Önder. Ferzan Önder: "Since our childhood we know Fazıl Say, he is a highly esteemed friend!".

In 2013 Ferhan & Ferzan Önder presented the world premiere of the composition "Winter Morning in Istanbul" in Berlin. The Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, Op.48, was also created for them under the working title "Twins" in 2013, at a time when protests were shocking Turkey. In 2018 Fazıl Say wrote for Ferhan & Ferzan Önder the Sonata for two pianos, Op.80, for the Fondation Louis Vuitton, this premiere took place in Paris in January 2019. This composition was the missing piece in the mosaic to realize this concept album "Ferhan & Ferzan Önder play Fazıl Say".

Fazıl Say writes his compositions Ferhan & Ferzan Önder on their skin. Their playing full of rhythmic virtuosity, overwhelming expression and artistic maturity brings the music texts to life with intense timbres. They are made for each other. Say's compositions and the art of this piano duo create a special artistic unity that is seldom to be found. For the Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, Op.48, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, conducted by Markus Poschner and Ferhan & Ferzan Önder, work together in a convincing musical understanding and make this album a listening experience.


Chiaroscuro – Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Felix Mendelssohn, Philip Glass, Dimitri Shostakovich, Anton Webern, Leoš Janáček, Georg Gershwin

Schumann Quartett:
Erik Schumann, violin
Ken Schumann, violin
Liisa Randalu, viola
Mark Schumann, cello

Recorded 2019 in Bauer Studios Ludwigsburg
Released on May 10, 2019, by Berlin Classics

We are standing in a picture gallery of music. All around us we can hear snippets of the great works for string quartets, along with unfamiliar things to delight the ear; it is truly a music-lover's paradise. "Chiaroscuro" forms the conclusion of a rather special trilogy of albums by the Schumann Quartett and at the same time marks a journey's end.

After searching for their own roots in "Landscapes" and engaging with their namesake Robert Schumann in "Intermezzo", the four musicians complete their trilogy with the album "Chiaroscuro", which in itself represents an equally exciting journey through time and temperament.

By way of Mozart's arrangements of five selected fugues from Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier II" they look left and right into very different musical rooms. There are two early pieces for string quartet by Shostakovich, Philip Glass's "Company" string quartet, a short fugue by Felix Mendelssohn, and the six Bagatelles Op.9 by Anton Webern. The whole promenade culminates in Janáček's last work, his Second String Quartet.

"A few years ago we were even more inclined to do things ‘the right way’, or to fulfil other people's expectations of us." In recent years, the young musicians have progressively released themselves from these demands. And perfected their own. "We want our music to exist in the immediate moment, as we lose ourselves in it. For that to succeed, each of us must transcend their individual ego." Their focus is on the concert, and that is the way they have approached "Chiaroscuro": "We recommend everyone to listen to the whole album from beginning to end without a break".

"Chiaroscuro" – Italian for "light and dark" – is the name of the programme. The Schumann Quartett combines works that could not be more different. They aim to show that despite the contrasts, the differences and discontinuities between such pairs as Mozart and Webern, Glass and Janáček, there are glimpses of common elements and evidence that many of the composers on display are brothers in spirit. It is a question of the "unity that the album forms", perhaps not in spite of, but just because of the contrasts.

And when at the very end of the album, at the very end of the whole trilogy, we hear Gershwin's "Lullaby", we cannot shake off the feeling that all this is such stuff as dreams are made of.


Paul Müller-Zürich: Streichquartett Op.4, Streichtrio Op.46, Streichquintett Op.2

Felix Froschhammer, violin i
Rachel Späth,  violin ii
Markus Fleck, viola
Andreas Fleck, cello

Razvan Popovici, viola ii (tracks 5-8)

Recorded February 21-22 & June 19-20, 2017 in Studio 1 SRF Zürich
Released on March 15, 2019, by Solo Musica

"For me tradition is not synonymous with adhering to the past, but with growth and transformation. It might seem that a composer who still shows reverence for tonality, and even retains the triad as the foundation of his harmonic language, remains bound to tradition out of comfort, or because he feels a sense of security in long-established principles. During his work, however, he discovers that the striving for tonal order, which cannot be guided by any rules, continually confronts him with new questions and decisions for which there are no recipes." (Paul Müller-Zürich)

With his commitment to tonality, Müller-Zürich seemed to justify itself at a time when the avant-garde after the Second World War vilified all sound and harmony. In fact, however, his works are neither epigonal nor even retrogressive, but have their very own tone, which, a quarter of a century after his death, must be rediscovered. His large-scale string works (quintet with 2 violas 1919 & quartet 1921) are lush, colorful sound paintings full of passion and sophistication that can compete with Reger, Mahler and young Strauss. The later string trio from 1950 shines as a virtuoso, neoclassical bravura piece. With these three first recordings on CD, casalQuartett and Razvan Popovici set a magnificent sounding monument to the great Swiss.

Source: solo-musica

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: April 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

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