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

Thursday, August 29, 2019

A Confrontation With Music: Ivo Pogorelich's First Album In 21 Years

Ivo Pogorelich. Photo by Bernard Martinez

By Tom Huizenga

National Public Radio, US — August 22, 2019

Controversy has seemed to follow pianist Ivo Pogorelich at every move, even from the beginning. In 1980, when the 22-year-old whiz kid from Yugoslavia failed to reach the final round of the International Chopin Competition, the revered pianist Martha Argerich, who declared him a "genius", stormed off the jury in protest. Naturally, the dustup helped launch his career. With a brooding pout, movie star looks and a high-powered record deal, Pogorelich was an instant celebrity. He told one journalist he could get a review just by cleaning the dust off his piano.

But Pogorelich became polarizing. Blessed with a dazzling, seemingly effortless technique and a searching mind, the pianist routinely gave eccentric performances, pulling familiar music out of shape. In 2006, New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini closed a Pogorelich review by saying: "Here is an immense talent gone tragically astray. What went wrong?"

Now, at age 60, the mercurial artist is releasing his first album in 21 years, a recording of piano sonatas by Beethoven (Nos. 22 and 24) and Rachmaninov (Sonata No.2, revised version). With such a long hiatus – and Pogorelich's track record – the release demands a certain critical wrestling to the ground, in terms of his once-lauded genius, and of broader questions, including where performers draw the line between artistic freedom and obligation to the composer. Instead of a traditional review, I've called in two experts – Anne Midgette, chief classical critic at The Washington Post, and pianist Patrick Rucker, a critic for Gramophone magazine – who sat around a table with me to explore ideas far beyond the perfunctory thumbs up or down judgement. We started by recognizing our own critical baggage, then listened to the music – compared his performances to other pianists – and by the end, arrived at two clear points of view, but left plenty of questions to ponder.

The young phenom: Ivo Pogorelich, early in his career, when he was regularly
recording albums. He's just released his first album since 1998. Photo by Susesch Bayat

(The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)

Tom Huizenga: What was your first thought when you heard a new Ivo Pogorelich album was coming?

Anne Midgette: The print reviews I had read of his performances in the last couple of years were so shockingly unanimous in their sort of – well, horror is the wrong word. Pity, in just saying, "He's lost his technique; this is not professional". I was thinking of him as a train wreck, and wondering about the motivation behind the album.

So I approached it with a kind of voyeuristic curiosity. And with that in mind, it was not the train wreck I thought it was going to be. It was not somebody who is incapable of getting through a single phrase of the music. There's a lot to dig into. There's also a lot not to like if you don't want to like it. But it's not incompetent in the way that it sounded like it might be, according to past reviews of his 2015 London recital.

Patrick Rucker: I was thinking about what I know of his biography, and the death of his wife in 1996. It seemed to me that she, also being his teacher, was an important element in his artistic personality. I think back on the career as a whole. I was hoping for a development, a flowering or something. Could he have come into his own and become more of his own person?

Huizenga: I was pretty excited to hear of a new album. In the early 1990s, I was a fan of his Brahms recording, even though he played some of the music twice as slowly as what you'd consider a normal tempo, such that the architecture nearly collapsed. Going back to that album now, I can't say I'm as much of a fan as I was.

What about Pogorelich's choice of repertoire for this album? We've got a pair of arguably undervalued – maybe even unloved – Beethoven sonatas, Opp. 54 and 78, along with the Rachmaninov Second Piano Sonata in its revised version.

Midgette: It did seem to me he picked pieces that already had in them a certain tendency to wildness. Some of the stuff he does in music fits very well with the tender and explosive elements of these pieces. They're a good place to have a tantrum, if you will.

Huizenga: Right. In the opening measures of opus 54, Beethoven unfolds this beautiful Haydn-esque melody and then a sudden turn towards violence, with pounding double octaves and punchy accents. Patrick, these are Beethoven sonatas you've played yourself.

Rucker: It's true. Two less familiar Beethoven sonatas, certainly. The opus 78 is a gem, a masterpiece, particularly. But Beethoven and Rachmaninov is an unusual coupling. I think you could see, say, Chopin and Rachmaninov, or Rachmaninov and any of his compatriots perhaps. But it's an unusual thing. Maybe it's to show the variety he's capable of.

Huizenga: Now let's hear some of your overall thoughts after listening to the album closely.

Midgette: Once I was past the thing of, "OK, it's not the train wreck that those reviews led me to believe", I can't say that I was enraptured. But I thought, "It's legitimate". One of the painful things about hearing some of these interpretations in general is that the urge to put your own stamp on music that's been played 5,000 times almost necessarily leads you to be eccentric and excessive, because everything's been done. His feelings are all over this: It's very loud and then it's very poetic. He can do really, really slow, too. But I found a poignancy in the reading beyond my impulse to say, "That's not how it goes. That's not right".

The other sad thing is that, almost always, these individual, quirky readings lack all lightness or humor. There's this furrowed-brow insistence on getting your personality out there, and that's not what the music is really about.

Huizenga: We often find these eccentricities in younger players who are just emerging, just coming into their own, trying to stand out from the crowd. And we chalk it up to youth and figure they will mature. But listening to Pogorelich's album, I thought that the willful, very eccentric way he deals with tempos and dynamics has really been his path from the beginning.

Rucker: I find the approach to these performances so eccentric. If you want to have a really original focus on a piece of music, to make it completely your own, there's a process that goes into that – which is, you have to try like crazy to push everybody else's ideas out of your mind, and then look at the notes and so forth. But there are so many instances, particularly in the Beethoven Sonatas, where the rhythms are even misread. It's just so much a personal take, an eccentric take, on what's on the page.

Quite apart from the interpretation, I found the piano playing to be very brutal – ugly sounds which I don't think are necessarily a part of Rachmaninov. And that's the piece I was most focused on because I thought it had the greatest potential for personal expression for him. Also, I noticed that the life of the phrase – you can pull it just so far. It couldn't possibly be sung.

Huizenga: It's almost as if every short passage and/or phrase is under a microscope and has no relation to the phrase or passage before or after it.

Midgette: Which is, again, an ill of our time. Conductor Christoph Eschenbach does that. You're so focused on making the music of this phrase that you end up with a pile of ashes – of just phrases piled on top of each other.

Rucker: And I'd like to return to something you said, Anne: Not only is there no humor to it, there's no relief to it. It's relentless in its – I can't say urgency because it doesn't really sound urgent to me, but relentless in its intent.

Midgette: I felt Pogorelich's attempt to rip the skin off these things and sort of remind you of what it would sound like new, when Beethoven was first playing: the assault on the ears that it represented to people and the shock of that back then. I did think of deaf Beethoven pounding at the piano, and how people learning the music internalize the idea that Beethoven is clawing at the piano to make music. I think Pogorelich is getting at something in the pieces that is there. He wasn't totally off the rails in the way he approached it.

Huizenga: In the final movement of the Rachmaninov Sonata, especially, there are passages that rely on meticulously building tension, but in Pogorelich's hands that tension seems to vanish.

Midgette: He's building the tension in a different way. I don't think he feels the tension any less – he's kind of digging inside it. And it seems to me he's sort of pursuing his own thoughts about it rather than worrying about the effect it's going to make on the audience. The point of what he's doing is exploring himself, and anybody who wants to come along with him will come with him. But maybe the biggest drawback of the interpretation is the degree to which it's deliberately willful.

Huizenga: But are these willful interpretations valid?

Midgette: If you get up and play, it's valid. Pianist Tzimon Barto said this great thing to me once: "If I go up on the steps of the Acropolis and slit my wrists and yell and scream and pour red paint around, the Acropolis is fine; they can mop up the paint and it's not going to hurt the Acropolis. It's just me up there making a fool of myself". So that piece is not damaged by what Pogorelich does it to it. People may not want to listen to it; is that invalid because people don't like it?

Huizenga: Pogorelich is not certainly not the first eccentric. Look at all the opera singers from the pre-World War I era who put their very individual stamp on interpretations and did whatever they wished with tempos and added extra notes. Even closer to today, there are people like Glenn Gould. Personally, I can't bear hearing the first recording of the Goldberg Variations; it sounds like a sewing machine playing Bach. And then you've got wonderfully eccentric conductors like Teodor Currentzis and violinists like Patricia Kopatchinskaja.

Rucker: But Kopatchinskaja is communicating. There's no question that she is trying to say something to the audience. With Pogorelich, I don't get that. I feel like he's got this jigsaw puzzle in front of him and he's picking up each piece and staring at it. It doesn't sound to me like finished work.

Midgette: I feel like I'm hearing him find things. It doesn't all come together in something neat; I don't think he wants it to. He doesn't want to give you a big, finished, nicely put together jigsaw puzzle. Whether that's something everybody wants to listen to is another thing.

Now, does it represent the composer's intentions? We have so many directives about how we're supposed to play music. Look at the historically informed performance movement: One reason people are drawn to it is that there's more freedom – freedom to improvise and move within a wider spectrum and still be within the rules of how it's played. With the 19th-century repertoire, the rules are very codified.

Huizenga: And then there's the idea that you're not supposed to color outside the lines. In classical music we have these pieces written down and accepted as masterworks. Musicians are taught to play them within these strictures, and if you venture outside of them there's going to be a problem. Of course, there's nothing like that in jazz, where there's so much more reliance upon improvisation and individuality.

In the slow movement of Pogorelich's Rachmaninov, at one point I feel like we've just walked into a piano bar because the tempo is so relaxed. It takes on a kind of improvisatory feel, like, "Where is he going to go next?" But I don't exactly hate it.

Rucker: Maybe it's worth pointing out that we're so far removed from Beethoven, but with Rachmaninov, we know what he sounded like. We have recordings – not of this particular sonata – but we have an idea of what his ethos was as a performer and as a composer.

I remember a teacher of mine once said, "The beauty of Bach is that you can play it at any tempo". Well, no, you can't. It's a dance, or it's an aria, or it's one of these things that are recognizable from the depth of your understanding of the style. So does that matter? Are we redefining it for ourselves for a new age, which of course every age must? What's our obligation to the original?

Midgette: You say we know what Rachmaninov sounded like. But in jazz, if you know what Louis Armstrong sounds like and you want to play a Louis Armstrong song, the whole point is you take it over and make it your own rather than slavishly emulate. In classical music, the emphasis is all on slavishly emulating. And then we get very cookie-cutter performances and we wonder why audiences aren't coming.

Huizenga: And that's what a lot of people complain about today: There's a certain sameness to not only, say, violinists, but to orchestras as well. We're looking for individuality. So the question is, where are those lines between individuality, eccentricity and artistic failure? Patrick, I sense this album may be closer to an artistic failure in your mind.

Rucker: You know, in a way it is. If we want to use this music as a springboard, why don't you call it a "Fantasy on the Second Sonata of Rachmaninov?" I ask this sincerely, not sarcastically. I think there's a question of authorship and a question of curatorial responsibility. I also believe that you can hew the line down to the tiniest detail of what we have in the score and still have a vibrant and vital interpretation that will have people standing on their seats.

Midgette: Oh, there's no question that's possible. But the question is, when presented with something different, does one rule it out on the grounds of not playing by the rules? Last spring, I heard a mashup of the Verdi Requiem with Shakespeare's King Lear, with Lear played by a woman and the Requiem performed by eight voices. It was very honorable and fascinating. Now, it wasn't Lear because it was a one-woman monodrama; it wasn't by any of his rules and it wasn't the play. But I think in theater we have no problem understanding that it was Shakespeare. So to say it's inauthentic because Pogorelich is taking tempos slower – this is the kind of thing that makes people who are outside the classical field say, "Oh for God's sake!" If somebody new comes to it, whether or not they like it, it is a thing. It's a reading of Rachmaninov, an eccentric reading of Rachmaninov.

Huizenga: What value does the album have if it is presented to someone who has never before heard any of this music?

Midgette: I was wondering that as I was listening. It's quite close to home, too, because I have a 7-year-old and he likes contemporary music. He doesn't like my stuff at all and makes snap judgments about things.

One of the things people respond to – and people think is part of classical music, which drives me kind of crazy – is the "itness" of it all. And by that I mean the idea that classical music expresses only grand thoughts and grand feelings and needs performances writ large in capital letters. In a sense, Pogorelich's interpretations push that to a certain height. But I think that's something that new audiences who don't know much about classical music are also primed to want. And they're certainly going to find it in this recording.

Rucker: As far as the vitality of the expression we talked about in violinist Patricia Kopachinskaja: I'm there, I'm buying it. I don't care if she plays barefoot. Somehow she has internalized the message in a broad range of repertoire. She's internalized it that so it can just come out and speak. Pogorelich doesn't sound that way to me. It doesn't sound to me like he's internalized it. It sounds like he's not owned it, and he doesn't really love it.

Huizenga: It's hard to know what it means for an artist to chase an idea and document it in an album. We can't get inside Pogorelich's head, but you'd think he must have had some broad idea about what he wanted to say with these pieces – even if it was just, "I need to play them my way, and play them very differently".

Midgette: Patrick, what you said – it was such a beautiful way you put it – about you don't hear that he really loves it, that resonates with me. I think of hearing Evgeny Kissin play, and the way Kissin's mind works as an artist. He is dazzling and amazing; I don't always get that he loves what he plays. But as a criterion, while there is no question that Kopachinskaja has it, and that that's a wonderful thing, it does manifest differently for different people, especially for somebody who's been through this whole prodigy thing.

Huizenga: I want to read a recent quote that's right in line with what we've been talking about. In the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the pianist Igor Levit was asked: "So, you are opposed to the widespread ideal according to which the interpreter is primarily the servant of the musical text?" And Levit answers: "I do not feel like a servant, not even a master of anyone. For me the question is not what would we be without the composers, but what would the composers be without us? The interpretation is my personal response to the information provided to me by the score".

Midgette: That's a really healthy way to look at it, because this state of servitude to the composer's wishes is fine if you really feel it, but it's become a template for the classical field – a field that needs more creativity and is really hungry for it.

Rucker: I think your diagnosis of the field is 100% right. We really need some fresh thought. I also have a quote I wanted to read, from the New Yorker critic Hilton Als, who recently wrote: "What you look for is just how committed players are to connecting with the audience through their craft, the skills that allow them to exhibit and illuminate the awfulness and the lushness of what it means to be a person in the world".

And I guess that's what I'm looking for. I'm not looking for the "correctness" of it. But I would like also to feel that if musicians are saying, "Here's Beethoven", "Here's Chopin", that somehow those characters are recognizable and not just a suit of clothing the musician puts on for their own pleasure. I want their motivation to be my pleasure.

Midgette: Although I did feel in this album that you're hearing somebody who's been through a lot, as far as "the awfulness" of being in the world.

Huizenga: You can hear the struggle?

Midgette: That's part of the "itness" of it all that I roll my eyes at. But yes, I think you can hear a kind of confrontation with the music. He's not taking any easy answers and he's not accepting it at face value. I thought a lot about why I respond to this more warmly than a concert I heard last year by Fazıl Say, who had some of the same characteristics in terms of sort of assaulting and redoing, and I find Pogorelich a lot more simpatico. Because Say was just loud, and Pogorelich does have poetry, even if he's stretching it like taffy.

Huizenga: Where does this all leave Pogorelich? It's been 21 years since his last album. Is there some of that "genius" – as Martha Argerich said of him in 1980 – left in his playing? Maybe flawed genius?

Rucker: I would love to hear more curiosity. I would love a deeper look in his music-making than I think he is willing to give us at this point, at age 60.

Midgette: Genius is a word that gets so thrown around in this field. Is he a serious piano player? Yes. Is he going to scale the heights and become a world phenom the way he was and be booked by every orchestra? No.

As a critic we're supposed to come up with thumbs up or thumbs down. I think the fact that we're sitting around the table discussing the album means that if you care about piano playing and you know anything about Pogorelich, you'll probably want to hear it. Is it a huge success, is it something you want to listen to again and again? I'm not sure. And I'm not sure where it leads him. I would hope he'd make a couple more albums before we write him off or hail his return based on this.

Rucker: Well, Anne is the wave of the future and I'm the old fuddy-duddy! [Everyone laughs]

Midgette: But it's actually really good to have the two perspectives. I think we had two clear points of view, and people will agree with one or the other.


Ivo Pogorelich's new album of sonatas by Beethoven and Rachmaninov released on August 23 by Sony Classical.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The best new classical albums: August 2019

Recording of the Month

Carl Maria von Weber: Oberon

Libretto by James Robinson Planché

Clemens Kerschbaumer (Oberon), tenor
Mirko Roschkowski (Hüon von Bordeaux), tenor
Dorothea Maria Marx (Rezia), soprano
Grga Peroš (Scherasmin), baritone
Marie Seidler (Fatime), mezzo-soprano
Dmitry Egorov (Puck), countertenor
Roman Kurtz, narrator

Chor und Extrachor des Stadttheaters Giessen
Choral Conductor: Jan Hoffmann

Philharmonisches Orchester Giessen
Conductor: Michael Hofstetter

Recorded Live December 2016 and January 2017, at Stadttheater Gießen, Germany
Released on July 12, 2019 by Oehms Classics

For the specific atmosphere of Oberon, Michael Hofstetter found it crucial that the performance was played on the period instruments Weber composed for. In Giessen, he worked with four natural horns, natural trumpets, finely tuned trombones and not least flutes made of wood instead of metal. This produced an inexhaustible wealth of acoustic colors, enabling us to sensually experience what might really be meant by the concept of "German Romanticism" on the musical level.

Michael Hofstetter conducts at many well known opera houses, orchestras and festivals, include the Bavarian, the Hamburg, the Hanover and the Stuttgart State Operas, Theater an der Wien, the Royal Opera Copenhagen, the Welsh National Opera, the English National Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Canadian Opera Company Toronto and many others. Future engagements will see him again at the International Handel Festival in Halle, with Orchestre national d'Île-de-France in Paris and at the International Gluck Festival Nuremberg.


Mari – Vladimir Martynov, Max Richter, Philip Glass, Pēteris Vasks, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Johann Sebastian Bach, Christian Badzura, Peter Gregson, Vladimir Martynov, Brian Eno & Jon Hopkins & Leo Abrahams & Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Dieter Moebius, and Clark

Mari Samuelsen, violin (G. B. Guadagnini, Turin 1773)

Konzerthausorchester Berlin
Conductor: Jonathan Stockhammer

Recorded October 2-6, 2018 at Konzerthaus, Berlin, and November 2-3, 2018 at Teldex Studios, Berlin
Released on June 7, 2019, by Deutsche Grammophon

Norwegian violinist Mari Samuelsen's debut for the Yellow Label is entitled simply MARI, and is set for international release on 7 June 2019. Recorded with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin and conductor Jonathan Stockhammer, the album explores the contradictions of contemporary life – the fact that, despite the excitement of city life and the convenience of instant communication and express travel, many of us still feel a need to ground ourselves in the peace and quiet of the natural world. Mari herself was born in rural Norway and goes back to the family farm as often as her schedule allows. She was keen, therefore, to choose a selection of music echoing the conflicting pulls on our time and energy.

At the emotional heart of the album is Bach's Chaconne in D minor, whose serenity Samuelsen has chosen to counter with the nervous agitation of "Knee Play 2" from Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach. The rest of the programme of her DG debut grew organically from the seeds of Bach and Glass, tracing themes of change and renewal, from the increasingly complex variations of the Chaconne to the expansive melodic development of Clark's Mammal Step Sequence. The album also combines familiar repertoire with brand-new pieces from some of today's leading composers and musicians.

Mari tested different combinations of compositions, carefully considering the ways in which they related to one another and to the whole. The finished recording contains pieces as diverse as Vladimir Martynov's The Beatitudes, Peter Gregson's Sequence (Four), arrangements of Jóhann Jóhannsson's Heptapod B and Brian Eno's song By this River, and Pēteris Vasks' Vientulais Engelis (Lonely Angel). The mix also includes four works by Max Richter, with whom she collaborates on a regular basis, including Vocal, for solo violin, and the wonderfully hypnotic November.

As MARI reveals, Mari is an artist with a fresh and intelligent vision of the world. She respects the masterpieces of the past but is fearlessly adventurous when it comes to new repertoire and innovative musical partnerships. An advocate of creative communication and attentive listening, she understands that we all yearn for moments of quiet contemplation. "The need to go into a room and just listen to sound – almost like sound therapy – is bigger than ever", she observes. "People are hungry for it, and I wanted to use my creativity to collaborate and experiment with some of the great people living today. Slowing down, and people leaving their busy lives behind, is only going to become more important, so there will be more room for this type of collaboration, and this type of music, in the years to come."


Claude Debussy: String Quartet in G minor | Germaine Tailleferre: String Quartet | Maurice Ravel: String Quartet in F major

Stenhammar Quartet:
Peter Olofsson, violin
Per Öman, violin
Tony Bauer, viola
Mats Olofsson, cello

Recorded May 19-21 (Debussy) & September 27-29, 2016 (Tailleferre), and March 30-31, 2017 (Ravel) at the Petruskyrkan, Stockholm
Released on July 5, 2019, by Alba

On this new release one of Scandinavia's foremost string quartets, the Swedish Stenhammar Quartet, perform pieces by Claude Debussy, Germaine Tailleferre and Maurice Ravel. The quartet's previous recordings have been internationally praised by critics, and this new album will certainly be no exception. "The Stenhammar Quartet produces a clean and vibrant sound, they use a range of well-judged dynamics and the articulation is exceptionally good throughout". (MusicWeb International)

Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) was a member of the French group of composers known as Les Six. She composed only one string quartet, in 1917-1919, when Les Six were just making a name for themselves. The Tailleferre String Quartet is a sonatina-like work in three movements and has the gracefulness and understated languor of Ravel's Neoclassicism and Les Six. The first and second movements are vigilantly dreamy and at the end return to the beginning without more ado. The last movement tells a richly eloquent story with bizarre situations, dry humour and ambiguous sentiments.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) both made one excursion into string quartet territory, producing a pair of works that both became highly popular items in the repertoire. As the model for his Quartet of 1902, Ravel took the one by Debussy completed some ten years earlier in 1893; hence the excitingly non-identical twins are mirrors of music described as impressionistic. The two quartets come closest to each other in their impishly saucy pizzicato scherzos, their down-to-earth tempo underlining their groovy sardonicism. They also both have slow movements with deep, deep pools and finales that, instead of being conventionally jubilant, draw together the work's thematic threads and leave a lasting impression of sullen intransigence.

The Stenhammar Quartet has been active since 2002. The works of Wilhelm Stenhammar naturally play a central part in the ensemble's programmes, but their repertoire ranges from Baroque to contemporary music. The quartet regularly commissions works from Nordic composers such as Sven-David Sandström and Bent Sørensen, and has also been the dedicatee and given first performances of works by composers from the USA and Great Britain. The SQ has recorded extensively for Swedish Radio and various record labels and the ensemble's previous discs have received nominations for the Swedish "Grammis" Awards. In 2009 the ensemble was commended by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music for its contributions to Swedish music.


I found the Stenhammar Quartet's performance of these three string quartets thoroughly engaging and satisfying. The playing is always well-balanced, always presenting the subtle, nuanced mood of this music. Warmth and sensitivity are offered where appropriate, as well as the occasional rhapsodic abandon.

The sound  quality is excellent and allows the listener to appreciate every detail of the playing.  The liner notes, printed in English and Swedish, are informative.

On the one hand, this CD is yet another edition of the two most famous French string quartets, but on the other, there is the added value in the outstanding offering by Germaine Tailleferre. This latter is a worthy piece of chamber music that deserves to be in the repertoire alongside its better-known companions.

Source: John France (

Dietrich Buxtehude: Membra Jesu nostri

Maria Keohane, Hanna Bayodi-Hirt, sopranos
Carlos Mena, countertenor
Jeffrey Thompson, tenor
Matthias Vieweg, baritone

Enrico Gatti, Maité Larburu, violins
Lucile Boulanger, Mathias Ferré, Salomé Gasselin, Philippe Pierlot, violes de gambe
Maggie Urquhart, bass
Daniel Zapico, theorbo
François Guerrier, organ

Ricercar Consort
Conductor: Philippe Pierlot

Recorded September 2016 at l'Abbaye de la Lucerne d'Outremer, France
Released on April 12, 2019 by Mirare

Over the past four decades, the Ricercar Consort has proven to be a formidable force in early-music performance whose reputation was founded on German Baroque music. It stands to reason, then, that the Belgian ensemble's new recording of Buxtehude cantatas would continue their legacy of excellence – and it does.

Dietrich (or Dieterich) Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707) has until relatively recently been best known for his keyboard works. He was a very well-known organist in his day, and the legend persists that Johann Sebastian Bach himself once traveled for over three hundred kilometers to hear him play. But Buxtehude was also a prominent and influential composer of vocal works, and more than 100 such compositions survive, a fact to be celebrated given that so many of his pieces were lost. Of all these vocal works, only one is dated by Buxtehude himself: The cycle of seven cantatas collectively called Membra Jesu nostri was dedicated to Gustav Düben, an organist, composer, and director of music to the King of Sweden, in 1680.

The fact that it is dated is not the only thing that sets this work apart. While the rest of Buxtehude's cantatas adhered to the Lutheran style of setting sacred works in German, Membra Jesu nostri is entirely in Latin – not a marker of Catholicism, but rather of the kind of musical erudition Buxtehude saw in Düben. Buxtehude wrote or compiled its text himself, largely from the Medieval hymn "Salve mundi salutare". The text of this hymn is divided into seven parts, and thus the work itself is divided into seven self-contained cantatas, each describing a different section of the crucified body of Jesus. In this respect, the piece is a musical counterpart to Martin Luther's sermons on the Passion of Christ, which emphasized both its ecstasy and its anguish.

So does the Consort. They show off their exquisite blend in movements such as the intimate, tortured "Vulnerasti cor meum", the gorgeously intense concerto "Quid sunt plagae istae", or the rocking lilt of "Salve, caput cruentatum", but also their great precision in the agitated off-beat accents of the concluding Amen. The much shorter concluding cantata Gott, hilf mir also gives them a chance to show off their more urgent side, over and against the pathos of the longer first work. If there were such a thing as a drawback here, it would be that the violas da gamba are so sparingly called for by Buxtehude that we only get to hear them in the "Ad cor" cantata.

Having performed the piece myself, there are moments in which their decisions on tempo or phrasing differ from what lives in my mind’s ear, but their choices are effective, suiting well both the works themselves and the particular construction of their ensemble. Vocalists and instrumentalists (and director) alike are to be commended for such a beautifully transparent, luminous performance, which certainly earns a high place in the field of Buxtehude recordings.

Source: Karen Cook (

Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto | Fiddle Dance Suite

Nicola Benedetti, violin

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Conductor: Cristian Măcelaru 

Recorded November 2-4, 2017 at the Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. (Violin Concerto), and March 27, 2019 at the Menuhin Hall, Stoke D'Abernon, Surrey, England (Fiddle Dance Suite)
Released on July 12, 2019 by Decca

Nicola Benedetti's new album on Decca Classics features premiere recordings of two works written especially for her by jazz musician Wynton Marsalis: Violin Concerto in D and Fiddle Dance Suite for Solo Violin.

Benedetti performs Violin Concerto in D with The Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Cristian Măcelaru who has collaborated with the violinist to perform the work six times. The concerto was co- commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), Ravinia, LA Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra Washington, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Benedetti performed the world premiere with the LSO under conductor James Gaffigan in London in November 2015.

Marsalis' Violin Concerto in D is in four movements and draws on the entire sweep of Western violin pieces from the Baroque era to the 21st Century. It explores Benedetti's and Marsalis' common musical heritage in Celtic, Anglo and Afro-American folk music and dance. The work revels in the magic of virtuosity and takes inspiration from Nicola's life as a travelling performer and educator. Each of the four movements reveals a different aspect of Nicola's dream which becomes a reality through the long-form storytelling of the performance.

Wynton Marsalis commented, "Nicky said she wanted a piece that would allow her to inhabit an expansive range of human emotions. Though I have long loved the violin, she schooled me in its august history, in its tremendous expressive capabilities, and in a compendium of old and new techniques. From a very young age, Nicky's dream was to move people with the magic of virtuosity and the warmth of her sound. The concerto begins with her telling us the story of her dream, the playing of it IS the realization of that dream, and it ends with her going down the road to play for the next gathering".

Nicola Benedetti commented, "This project has been a deeply edifying experience – one I will always reflect on with immense gratitude. It has been a privilege to learn and perform these two inspired and unequivocal masterpieces, and to deepen my understanding of Wynton's compositional language, cultural richness and philosophical insights. These compositions take us from the introspection of a Spiritual to the raucous celebration of a Hootenanny, from a lullaby to a nightmare, and from a campfire to a circus. We travel far and wide to distant corners of the world, the mind and the soul. Long-form musical pieces are often described as a journey. This sure has been a rich and fascinating one, and I am thrilled to now share the results with you".


[...] The second piece, Fiddle Dance Suite for solo violin, reflects the music of traditional dance styles. The five movements – "Sidestep Reel", "As the Wind Goes", "Jones' Jig", "Nicola's Strathspey" and "Bye-Bye Breakdown" – include a hoedown, jig, reel and hornpipe.

Benedetti said, "It has been a privilege to learn and perform these two inspired and unequivocal masterpieces, and to deepen my understanding of Wynton's compositional language, cultural richness and philosophical insights. These compositions take us from the introspection of a Spiritual to the raucous celebration of a Hootenanny, from a lullaby to a nightmare, and from a campfire to a circus. We travel far and wide to distant corners of the world, the mind and the soul".

Nicola Benedetti is one of the most respected violinists of her generation and one of the most influential classical artists of today. She frequently performs with major orchestras and conductors across the globe. Benedetti was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2019 New Year Honours List, for services to music, and was the Winner of the Best Classical Award at The Global Awards 2019.

Wynton Marsalis is an internationally acclaimed musician, composer, bandleader, educator and a leading advocate of American culture. He is the world's first jazz artist to perform and compose across the full jazz spectrum from its New Orleans roots to bebop to modern jazz. He has expanded the vocabulary for jazz and created a vital body of work that places him among the world's finest musicians and composers.

Source: Sharon Kelly (

Changyong Shin plays Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt & Frédéric Chopin

Changyong Shin, piano

Recorded January 22-23, 2019 at Steinway Hall, New York City
Released on July 5, 2019 by Steinway and Sons

Changyong Shin's 2018 solo debut CD on the Steinway & Sons label featured a performance of Beethoven's Op.101 sonata that revealed this young pianist's affinity for the composer's linear aesthetic, if not necessarily the combative emotional subtext behind the notes. One can say the same vis-à-vis Shin's reading of Beethoven's Op.109, the opening salvo on his second Steinway release.

Shin conveys the first movement's improvisatory qualities well. His Prestissimo is contrapuntally aware and mostly clear, but without the litheness and dynamism one hears from Annie Fischer, Freddy Kempf, Igor Levit, and Stewart Goodyear. Although Shin's phrasing of the opening theme of the third-movement variations suggests little of the music's implicit calm and repose, piano mavens will notice his careful voice leading – and does Shin employ the una corda pedal on the repeats? Variation 2's broken rhythms come off uniformly genial rather than tension inducing, while Variation 3 is too sedate and studio-bound for such helter-skelter music. Shin clarifies Variation 5's difficult counterpoint with the utmost technical ease and sophistication. If his long chains of trills in Variation 6 don't reach Claudio Arrau's ecstatic heights, Shin compensates by way of a stronger-than-usual left hand presence.

Of Shin's three Chopin Waltzes, his superbly characterized and pianistically poised Op.42 stands out. By contrast. Op.18 contains a good number of fussy and ultimately ineffective expressive gestures, while Op.34 No.1 is melody-oriented at the expense of strong rhythmic backbone. However, Shin completely connects with Liszt's Bénédiction, unquestionably this disc's high point. He unifies Liszt's potentially sprawling opus with a fluid basic tempo for the outer sections that still manages to suggest spaciousness, while shaping the melodic line and undulating double-note accompanying patterns in gorgeously three-dimensional perspective. What is more, Shin's use of rubato enhances transitions and moments of felicitous harmonic interest. The Bénédiction is vulnerable to its interpreters, and can sound deadly and interminable in the wrong hands, but emphatically not here. Shin should record more Liszt.

Source: Jed Distler (

Passionate, inspired performances and brilliant technique are the hallmark of pianist ChangYong Shin. He brings those qualities to meditative yet virtuosic works by Beethoven, Liszt and Chopin. With performances in South Korea, Italy, France, the UK, and across the United States, and a growing reputation for compelling interpretations, Mr. Shin is developing an international career as a soloist and chamber musician. Mr. Shin released his debut album on the Steinway & Sons label in January 2018. Comprising works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, the acclaimed album was listed as one of the "Best New Recordings of 2018" by WQXR. Shin began piano studies at the Yewon School in South Korea, then at the Korea National Institute for the Gifted in Arts. In 2011, he emigrated to the United States to study at the Curtis Institute of Music under Robert McDonald, where, as a recipient of a Paul G. Mechklin Scholarship, he received his Bachelor of Music in May 2016. In 2018, he earned a Master of Music degree from the Juilliard School, where he is currently enrolled in the Artist Diploma Program.


Richard Strauss: Don Quixote & Sonata for cello and piano

Daniel Müller-Schott, cello
Herbert Schuch, piano

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Sir Andrew Frank Davis

Recorded January 17, 2019, Köln, Deutschlandfunk, Kammermusiksaal (tracks 1-5), & June 21-26, 2017, Melbourne, Hamer Hall Arts Centre (tracks 6-19)
Released on July 12, 2019 by Orfeo

We have rarely heard this work [Sonata] in such an exciting and rhetorical performance. Müller-Schott's and Schuch's playing is unusually free. Both musicians stimulate each other and remain permanently in a lively dialogue. The virtuoso passages sound fresh and with youthful verve, the intimate, beautiful moments of the second movement are very cantabile. In Don Quixote the musicians from Melbourne show an impressive orchestral refinement, and Andrew Davis succeeds in upgrading many passages that otherwise never become so clear. In addition, the conductor's distinct sense of drama gives the piece an immense rhetorical power and a great inner tension. The rich colours are splendid, the nuances are enchanting, the contrasts invigorating. A highlight is the absolutely grotesque fight against the herd of sheep. But it is not only the orchestral playing that fascinates. A determining element in the wonderful, very characteristic performance is the cellist Daniel Müller-Schott, whose playing is beautifully lyric and intensive. In the violist Christopher Moore, he has an excellent and expressive partner.

Source: Remy Franck (

During his long and exceptionally fruitful creative life, Richard Strauss composed only a few works for the cello. Only three have survived and small as that number may seem, those cello works are critical to the composer's development. Daniel Müller-Schott sees the early Sonata for cello and piano in F major, Op.6, and the late tone poem "Don Quixote", Op.35, as marking the path that was to lead Strauss within the space of a few years from Romanticism to the Modern era in music. The cellist highlights this watershed in Strauss' artistic development with his own transcriptions, expressly made for this album, of the Lieder "Zueignung", Op.10 No.1, and "Ich trage meine Minne", Op.32 No.1.


Albums that combine symphonic and chamber music are often very popular because they allow you to discover two complementary styles of music that aren't always listened to to the same extent. The marvellous German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott composed his last recording under the guidance of Richard Strauss and has decided to present the works in this series chronologically, beginning with the Sonata Op.6 composed by Strauss at the tender age of nineteen. Two Lieder transcribed for cello and piano are then followed by Strauss' greatest work for cello, his immense poem Don Quichotte for symphonic orchestra (with James Ehnes on lead viola). The cherry on top of the cake would have been the addition of the Romanze for cello and orchestra, a contemporary sonata that would be the perfect addition here.

Source: François Hudry (

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: July 2019

The best new classical albums: June 2019

The best new classical albums: May 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

Friday, August 16, 2019

Santtu-Matias Rouvali extends his contract as Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra

Following an initial four year contract, Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali signs for a further four years as Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, The National Orchestra of Sweden. "I am delighted and excited to continue the wonderful relationship with this fantastic orchestra", says Santtu-Matias Rouvali.

On 21 May 2019, two very happy persons signed an important document.

Rouvali began his tenure as Chief Conductor in 2017 and the new contract extends to 2025. Says Sten Cranner, General Manager and Artistic Director of Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra:

"We are thrilled about the magnificent artistic outcome of this rare partnership which now has a solid ground to stand on for many years to come".

The inspired collaboration has led to a long series of successful concerts, loved by the audiences and praised by the critics. Tours in Scandinavia, Germany and Austria have impressed the international music world and spread the message of the unique rapport between conductor and orchestra. The team's first volume of Sibelius' complete symphonies (Alpha Classics) has received rave reviews and prestigious awards, including the Diapason d'Or, Choc Classica, Gramophone Editor's Choice and Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik.

On Thursday 23 May 2019, Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra at the Grand Opening of the new four-day Point Music Festival in Gothenburg, with Richard Strauss' Sinfonia Domestica and Bartók's Violin Concerto No.1, featuring Patricia Kopatchinskaja as soloist.

In another career move Santtu-Matias Rouvali has been appointed new Principal Conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London (from 2021-2022) where he is presently Principal Guest Conductor. This parallel development will be beneficial to both parties in expanding the musical scope and reach of two orchestras lead by the charismatic Santtu-Matias Rouvali. His first principal conductorship, which he still holds, is with Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra.


See also

Santtu-Matias Rouvali – All the posts

Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – All the posts

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Christian Blackshaw plays Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert (HD 1080p)

British pianist Christian Blackshaw performs Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Sonatas No.14 in C minor, K.457, and No.8 in A minor, K.310, as well as Franz Schubert's Piano Sonata No.21 in B flat major, D.960, and Moments Musicaux (No.1 in C major). The recital recorded at Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg, on October 14, 2017.

British pianist Christian Blackshaw answers 20 questions, including his signature meal, favourite concert hall, and his role models.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue anywhere
— Wigmore Hall, London and also, Mariinsky Concert Hall, St Petersburg

Your first three record store purchases
— Dinu Lipatti recital, Artur Schnabel Beethoven Sonatas, and Clifford Curzon Schubert D major Sonata, D.850

Three pieces, songs or arias that you could listen to on repeat for an hour?
— "Der Abschied" from Das Lied von der Erde of Mahler performed by Kathleen Ferrier, Vienna Philharmonic and Bruno Walter | "Trauere, mein Herz", Cavatina Act 3 from Oberon by Weber performed by Gundula Janowitz, Deutsche Oper Orchestra and Ferdinand Leitner | "An die Musik" of Franz Schubert performed by Fritz Wunderlich with Hubert Giesen, piano

The first album that made you love music?
— Age four, transfixed by The Hebrides Overture, (Fingal's Cave) by Mendelssohn

Your favourite word?
— Yes

Your least favourite word?
— Impossible

What is the title and author of the book closest to you right now?
— A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles)

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you?
— A secret location in Greece

The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years?
— The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame),  Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie),  Childhood, Boyhood, Youth (Leo Tolstoy)

Signature meal to cook at home?
— Slow cooked chicken, potatoes, good oil, lemon juice, fresh oregano, fresh thyme, and seasoning – in one pot

What did you major in as an undergraduate?
— As I left school at 16, I took three diplomas aged 19 in piano performance, teaching, and graduate studies

The different career path that you could have gone on?
— There was never any doubt of my direction, though if I failed, working with wood or stone would appeal

Your three favourite films?
— Fantasia, Some Like it Hot, and The Lady Vanishes (the black and white Hitchcock)

Your role models?
— Musicians I admire include, Sir Clifford Curzon, Maria Callas, and Herbert von Karajan

The historical personalities, both good and bad, that that fascinate you the most?
— There are many, naturally... However, my three have to be: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, and Robert Schumann

What is the best thing about your work?
— Being allowed to inhabit the musical language of composers of genius

What is the worst thing about your work?
— Failing in the above

What are you listening to as you answer these questions?
— Birdsong

If you had a motto, what would it be?
— Forever simpler

Whose musical style do you covet?
— It's not a question to covet. Only to find truth and meaning and the freedom to express


About Christian Blackshaw

"The luminous tone he draws from the keys is a wonder in itself..." — Andrew Clark, Financial Times, September 2013

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

♪ Piano Sonata No.14 in C minor, K.457 (1784) [00:08:17]*

i. Molto allegro
ii. Adagio
iii. Allegro assai

♪ Piano Sonata No.8 in A minor, K.310 (1778) [00:31:59]

i. Allegro Maestoso
ii. Andante cantabile con espressione
iii. Presto

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

♪ Piano Sonata No.21 in B flat major, D.960 (1828) [01:20:50]

i. Molto moderato
ii. Andante sostenuto
iii. Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza
iv. Allegro ma non troppo

♪ Moments musicaux, D.780 (1823-1928) [

i. Moderato in C major

Christian Blackshaw, piano

Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, October 14, 2017

(HD 1080p)

* Start time of each movement

Photo by Herbie Knott
A deeply passionate and sensitive pianist, Christian Blackshaw (b. 1949, Cheshire, England) is celebrated for the incomparable musicianship of his performances. His playing combines tremendous emotional depth with great understanding.

Following studies with Gordon Green at the Royal College Manchester and Royal Academy London, winning the gold medals at each, he was the first British pianist to study at the Leningrad Conservatoire with Moisei Halfin. He later worked closely with Sir Clifford Curzon in London.

He has performed worldwide and in festivals as recitalist and soloist with many renowned conductors including Valery Gergiev, Sir Simon Rattle, Gianandrea Noseda, Yuri Temirkanov and Sir Neville Marriner. He is also joint Artistic Director of the Hellensmusic Festival which was established in 2013.

His hugely acclaimed Wigmore Hall complete Mozart Piano Sonatas series was recorded for Wigmore Hall Live and released in four volumes. Critics have been unanimous in their praise, describing these "landmark" recordings as "captivating", "magical" and "masterful". Volume 4 was named as one of the Best Classical Recordings of 2015 in the New York Times in addition to Gramophone Magazine's Top 50 Greatest Mozart Recordings.

Recent notable performances include the Mozart cycle in Tokyo, Shanghai and Beijing, a return to the Stars of the White Nights Festival, St Petersburg and debuts at the Schwetzingen and Edinburgh International Festivals.

During the 2018-2019 season he is an Artist in Residence at the Wigmore Hall. In 2019 he takes the Mozart cycle to Montreal and makes his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

He has been appointed an MBE in the New Year 2019 Honours List.


More photos

See also

Changyong Shin plays Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin & Enrique Granados (HD 1080p)

Alice Sara Ott plays Claude Debussy (Suite bergamasque, Rêverie), Frédéric Chopin (Nocturnes Nos. 1, 2, 13, Ballade No.1 in G minor), Erik Satie (Gnossiennes Nos. 1 & 3, Gymnopédie No.1), & Maurice Ravel (Gaspard de la nuit) (HD 1080p)

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No.2 in C minor, BWV 826 – Ivan Bessonov (HD 1080p)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Obituary: Violinist Christian Stadelmann, 1959-2019

The Berlin Philharmonic's principal second violin for over 20 years has died aged 60 after an illness

The Strad, August 1, 2019

The Berlin Philharmonic has announced the death of Christian Stadelmann, the leader of its second violin section since 1987.

Stadelmann, born in Berlin in 1959, started on the violin aged seven with Charlotte Hampe, to whom he owed "a large debt of gratitude" he said, for guiding him until it was time to enter the Hochschule der Künste. There he learned with former Berlin Phil concermaster Thomas Brandis.

He joined the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie following his studies, before joining the Berlin Philharmonic as a second violinist in 1985 and, two years later, becoming section leader. He also played second violin for, and jointly founded, the Philharmonia Quartett Berlin with concertmaster Daniel Stabrawa, principal viola Neithard Resa and cellist Jan Diesselhorst.

His only long-term project as "first" violin, was as part of the Vincent piano trio.

He was eloquent in explaining the special role of the second violins, and the unique challenges that come with that role: "We second violins always have to find the right balance: on the one hand it's necessary to give our part an independent profile (which because of its lower register is often not easy), but, on the other, we also frequently have the task of mediating between the first violins and the rest of the orchestra in order to foster unity", he said.

"You can actually see that in the two seating arrangements in which we operate: either outside, opposite the first violins, where independence is emphasised; or inside, where it's much easier for us to promote good ensemble playing. And, because it's so hard to reduce these two aspects to a common denominator, not every violinist can become a second."

He died on 26 July after a serious illness at the age of 60.

Berliner Phil colleage Knut Weber said: "The early death of Christian Stadelmann has affected us deeply. Not only was he an outstanding musician, but for more than twenty years he represented the Berliner Philharmoniker as a member of the "Fünferrat" (council of five). In addition, as a teacher of the Karajan Academy, he trained numerous young violinists, some of whom are now members of our orchestra themselves. In Christian Stadelmann, we lose an exemplary musician and a wonderful colleague who will remain in our memory not least because of his warm-hearted, humorous nature".


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

♪ String Quartet No 8 in E minor, Op.59 No.2 (1806)

iv. Finale. Presto

Philharmonia Quartett Berlin:
Daniel Stabrawa, violin
Christian Stadelmann, violin
Neithard Resa, viola
Jan Diesselhorst, cello

Kammermusiksaal, Berlin, 2014

(HD 1080p)

See also

Obituary: Period cello pioneer Anner Bylsma, 1934-2019

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

The “Faces of Classical Music” attacked by hackers

Dear friends

A few days ago, the computers of all the authors of the blog "Faces of Classical Music" were unknowingly and unjustly attacked by hackers. Countless files (the result of years of hard work) suffered serious damage, while others were completely destroyed.

Every day it turns out that the problem is much bigger than it was originally estimated. This situation has caused us great anxiety and indignation.

There is so much that needs to be done again! We know that our worst enemies right now are regret and resignation. So we will not rush to make easy decisions.

At the moment, we are trying to muster all the strength we need to continue where they stopped us.

The authors of the blog "Faces of Classical Music"