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

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Cosmos Quartet plays Joseph Haydn (String Quartet in E flat major, Op.64 No.6), Béla Bartók (String Quartet No.3, Sz.85) & Johannes Brahms (String Quartet No.3, Op.67) – 8th International Joseph Joachim Chamber Music Competition 2019

The Spanish string quartet Cosmos Quartet – 3rd prize winner of the 8th International Joseph Joachim Chamber Music Competition 2019 – plays Joseph Haydn (String Quartet in E flat major, Op.64 No.6), Béla Bartók (String Quartet No.3, Sz.85) & Johannes Brahms (String Quartet No.3, Op.67). Recorded live at the Festsaal Fürstenhaus, University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar on April 6, 2019.

"Here is an ensemble with a personal sound and approach that merits every bit of attention and assistance." — Alfred Brendel

The Cosmos Quartet was established in 2014 from the friendship and mutual interests of four young Spanish musicians. Each of them has had an international trajectory as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician.

They have received coaching from professors such as Alfred Brendel, Rainer Schmidt, Johannes Meissl, Hatto Beyerle, Miguel da Silva, Oliver Wille, Jonathan Brown, Anita Mitterer, Krzysztof Chorzelski, Patrick Jüdt and Quartetto di Cremona among others.

Despite the fact that it is a recently formed ensemble, the Cosmos Quartet has already gained an international career winning recently the First Prize at the 2018 Competition Irene Steels-Wilsing Foundation in Heidelberg and the 13è Premi BBVA de Música de Cambra Montserrat Alavedra. In 2016 the quartet has been semifinalist in the string quartet speciality of the prestigious "Concurs de Genève" celebrated in the city of Geneva. They also achieve the Third Prize at the "Carl Nielsen International Chamber Music Competition", First Prize at the International Chamber Music Competition "Mirabent i Magrans" in Sitges and the "Kammermusik Preis" and "Artis Quartet Preis" both at the International Summer Academy ISA in August 2014.

Since the beginning, they have played at venues such as festival "Emergents" during the 2017-2018 season in l'Auditori of Barcelona, the Quincena Musical in San Sebastián, the Schubertiada de Vilabertran, the "MUHBA" in Barcelona, "Fundación Juan March" in Madrid, "Auditorio Miguel Delibes" in Valladolid, Santa Cristina d'Aro Summer Music Festival as well as concerts in Austria during the "ISA 2014" and a Live broadcasted concert at the "ORF Kulturhaus" of Vienna.

They have been invited to participate at the "East Neuk Festival" in Edinburgh, at the "Festival de Monteleón" in León, and the "Académie Musicale de Villecroze" in France, held by Johannes Meissl (Artis Quartett) in 2015.

During the 2016-2017 season, Cosmos Quartet has been one of the selected groups to form part of "Joventuts Musicals de Catalunya", having the opportunity to play in many places around Catalonia.

Currently they are former members at European Chamber Music Academy "ECMA" held by Hatto Beyerle and Johannes Meissl. Also, they are in a Master degree in the University of Hannover with professor Oliver Wille.

Among the upcoming projects, we stand out the concert in the Heidelberg Strichquartettfest 2019, the Wigmore Hall in London and Temporada 2019 Ibercamera in Girona.

The quartet is based in Barcelona and plays four instruments builded specially for them from the catalan wellknown violinmaker David Bagué.


Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

♪ String Quartet in E flat major, Op.64 No.6 (1790) [00:34]*

i. Allegro

ii. Andante
iii. Menuet & Trio: Allegretto
iv. Finale: Presto

Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

♪ String Quartet No.3, Sz.85  (1927) [18:32]

i. Prima parte: Moderato

ii. Seconda parte: Allegro
iii. Recapitulazione della prima parte: Moderato
iv. Coda: Allegro molto

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

String Quartet No.3, Op.67 (1875) [35:00]

i. Vivace

ii. Andante
iii. Agitato (Allegretto non troppo)
iv. Poco Allegretto con Variazinoi

Cosmos Quartet:

Helena Satué, violin
Bernat Prat, violin
Lara Fernández, viola
Oriol Prat, cello

Festsaal Fürstenhaus, University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar on April 6, 2019

(HD 720p)

* Start time of each work

8th International Joseph Joachim Chamber Music Competition 2019, Prize winners:

1st Prize: Barbican Quartet
2nd Prize: Marmen Quartet
3rd Prize: Cosmos Quartet

Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in E flat major, Op.64 No.6

Growing with calm intent from its sole theme, the first movement of No.6 in E flat major – a mellow key for strings – is predominantly lyrical and inward-looking. The widely modulating development works the main theme in gliding imitative textures before becoming mesmerized by a little cadential figure that migrates from instrument to instrument against tick-tock quavers from the second violin. Haydn then slyly reintroduces the theme in the far-flung key of G flat major, fooling his less musically sophisticated listeners into thinking that the recapitulation has begun. When the "real" recapitulation does arrive a few bars later, Haydn continues to develop the ever-fertile theme in new textures and contrapuntal combinations. Everything in this endlessly inventive movement is re-thought rather than simply re-stated.

The lyricism deepens in the B flat major andante, the expressive heart of the quartet. Whereas the slow movements of Nos. 4 and 5 are essentially accompanied arias, this is another true democracy. In the outer sections the rising arpeggio figures sounded by each instrument in turn create an exquisitely interwoven texture, with gentle dissonances that grow more piercing as the music unfolds. In the central episode, in B flat minor, the first violin mines the same impassioned gypsy vein Haydn had explored in the slow movements of Op.54 Nos. 2 and 3.

The earthy minuet leaves its courtly model far in the background, though rusticity, typically, goes hand in hand with Haydnesque unpredictability: in the irregular phrasing (4+2 bars in the opening section), the disruptive sforzando accents that ram home the dissonances, and the nonchalant touches of canonic imitation in the second half. The lolloping ländler trio features peasant-style glissandos that were duly excised by squeamish nineteenth-century editors. At the end the bucolic tune is transferred to the second violin beneath a stratospheric staccato descant for the first – a delightful touch of exotic colour.

Even by Haydn's standards, the finale of Op.64 No.6 is a tour de force: a dazzling sonata-rondo that matches the finales of the London symphonies in wit, theatrical surprise and lightly worn contrapuntal virtuosity. On its last appearance the contredanse theme becomes derailed, then, after two pregnant pauses (shades here of Haydn's games with silence in the Op.33 finales), transforms itself into a toy march-on-tiptoe, before the quartet ends with a whooping surge of energy. A few months later Mozart would pay overt homage to this coruscating movement in the finale of his E flat major string quintet, K.614.

Source: Richard Wigmore (

Béla Bartók: String Quartet No.3, Sz.85

After the fiendish winds of the First World War had finally blown themselves out in 1918, there came into music a new invigoration and an eagerness by composers to stretch the forms and language of the ancient art. Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Copland and other of the most important modern masters challenged listeners and colleagues throughout the 1920s with their daring visions and their brilliant iconoclasms. It was the most exciting decade in the entire history of music. Béla Bartók, whose folksong researches were severely limited geographically by the loss of Hungarian territories through the treaties following the war, was not immune to the spirit of experimentation, and he shifted his professional concentration at that time from ethnomusicology to composition and his career as a pianist. He was particularly interested in the music of Stravinsky, notably the mosaic structures and advanced harmonies of the Diaghilev ballets, and in the recent Viennese developments in atonality and motivic generation posited by Arnold Schoenberg and his friend/disciple Alban Berg. A decided modernism entered Bartók's music with his searing 1919 ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin, and his works of the years immediately following – the two Violin Sonatas, the piano suite Out of Doors, the First Piano Concerto and the String Quartets Nos. 3 and 4 – are the most daring that he ever wrote. He was reluctant to program them for any but the most sophisticated audiences.

Bartók wrote the Third Quartet quickly in Budapest at the end of the summer of 1927, immediately following a concert tour of Germany during which he performed his new Piano Concerto No.1 with Furtwängler in Frankfurt and his Piano Sonata in Baden-Baden. In December 1927, Bartók began his first visit to the United States, concertizing from coast-to-coast for three months after making his American debut with the New York Philharmonic and Willem Mengelberg in Carnegie Hall on December 22nd in his own Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra. (It was one of the ironies of Bartók's life that both his last home and the hospital in which he died in 1945 were just across the street from the famed auditorium that hosted his introduction to this country.) Before returning to Hungary in February 1928, Bartók learned of a lucrative competition for new chamber works sponsored by the Musical Fund of Philadelphia, and submitted his Third Quartet for consideration after he arrived home. He heard nothing for some time, however, and so sent a copy of the Quartet to Universal Edition in Vienna, inquiring if that firm would be willing to publish the score and help promote its first performance. Then on October 2nd, news arrived that Bartók's piece and a string quartet by the Italian composer Alfredo Casella had been chosen by a panel (which included Mengelberg, Fritz Reiner and Frederick Stock) from more than 600 entries to share the considerable first prize of $6,000. In view of the international recognition accorded the work, Universal agreed to issue the score immediately; the piece was premiered at London's Wigmore Hall by the Waldbauer Quartet on February 19, 1929.

Bartók's Third Quartet is among the great masterworks of modern music-brilliant, challenging, cathartic, one of the most difficult yet rewarding pieces in the entire chamber literature. Though the music is Bartók's furthest adventure into modernity, it is founded solidly on the confluence of two traditional but seemingly opposed musical streams-the folk music of Eastern Europe, a subject on which Bartók was a scholar of the highest accomplishment, and the elaborate contrapuntal constructions of Sebastian Bach and other Baroque composers. By 1927, the time of the Third Quartet, Bartók had so thoroughly absorbed the quirky intervals, tightly circling motivic phrases, snapping rhythms and ornate decorations of indigenous Hungarian music into his original work that his themes constitute of virtual apotheosis of native folksong. "The melodic world of my string quartets does not essentially differ from that of folksong", he said, "only the framework is stricter". For the working-out of his folk-derived thematic materials (Bartók never quoted existing melodies unless specifically noting that they were arrangements), he turned to the highly organized models of canon and fugue postulated by Bach and his contemporaries.

The Third Quartet therefore represents a marvelous synthesis of West and East-the structural integrity and emotional range of Bach wedded to the melodic and rhythmic exoticisms of Slavic folksong.

The Third Quartet, one of Bartók's most tightly constructed works, is disposed as a large single span divided into four sections. Part I opens with a mysterious harmonic curtain which serves as an introduction to the work's germinal theme-a tiny fragment comprising a rising fourth and a falling minor third initiated by the violin in measure six, at the point where the lower strings remove their mutes. The first section is largely based on the extensive permutations of this pregnant thematic kernel through imitation, inversion, augmentation, diminution and other processes that Bartók learned from Bach. Part II, which follows without pause, is a free, continuously unfolding variation of an arch-shaped folk-dance melody presented in pizzicato multiple stops by the cello. A passage of dizzying slides and almost brutal dissonance bridges to Part III, which is a thoroughly reworked version of Part I (Bartók marked this section "Ricapitulazione della prima parte", but also noted, "I do not like to repeat a musical idea without change"), a distillation of the essence of the Quartet's earlier material. The concluding Coda starts as a vague, bow-tip buzzing, but soon develops into a furious altered restatement of the folk dance of Part II. The Quartet culminates in a powerful, viscerally compelling cadence.

Source: Dr. Richard E. Rodda (

Johannes Brahms: String Quartet No.3, Op.67

Having hesitated so long over his first two string quartets, Brahms managed to produce their successor without any protracted birth-pangs, and the fact that the new work was again dedicated to a well known physician prompted him to elaborate on the medical analogy. "I am", he told Theodor Wilhelm Engelmann (the husband of the pianist Emma Brandes, and himself a keen amateur cellist) "publishing a string quartet, and may need a doctor for it (as with the first ones). This quartet rather resembles your wife – very dainty, but brilliant! It's no longer a question of a forceps delivery; but of simply standing by. There's no cello solo in it, but such a tender viola solo that you may want to change your instrument for its sake!"

The new quartet was tried out by the Joachim Quartet at Clara Schumann's house in Berlin before it was performed in public on 30 October 1876. Joachim wrote enthusiastically to Brahms: "Even you have scarcely written any more beautiful chamber music than in the D minor [third] movement and the finale – the former full of magical romanticism, the latter full of warmth and charm in an artistic form. But the original first movement and the concise, sweet-sounding Andante should not be overlooked, either!"

Brahms's own simile of the Op.67 quartet as being as dainty as Frau Engelmann was apt: in marked contrast to its dramatic predecessors it is a work of considerable charm, and almost divertimento – like playfulness. In composing it Brahms may have had Mozart's "Hunt" Quartet K.458 (also in B flat major) at the back of his mind – at any rate, it, too, begins with a "hunting" theme in 6/8 time. On the other hand, the cross-rhythm that soon appears, dividing the bar into three slightly quicker beats in place of the prevailing two longer beats, is one of Brahms's favourite gestures. The new rhythm anticipates the ingratiating second subject, with its "rocking" figure, where there is an actual change of time signature, to 2/4. In the exposition's closing bars, Brahms ingeniously manages to combine the two rhythms.

The slow movement has a theme of Mendelssohnian elegance and gracefulness, but there is also a more dramatic middle section that lends the proceedings symphonic tension. Brahms's autograph score shows us that he initially conceived the piece in a straightforward form, with a conventional reprise in the home key. However, a last-minute change of heart led him not only to cast the concluding section as a variation of the opening melody, but also to launch it in the comparatively distant key of D major, allowing the music to regain the home key of F only shortly before the coda. Perhaps the unexpected switch in tonal direction was prompted by the second half of the initial melody itself, which touches momentarily on the chord of D major.

The third movement is the viola solo with which Brahms hoped to tempt Engelmann to change instruments; and in order to make its part stand out, the remaining three players use mutes throughout. As for the finale, it is a piece Brahms clearly remembered when he came to write his Clarinet Quintet in B minor. Like the last movement of that late work, it is cast in the form of a set of variations that gradually works its way around to reintroducing the theme of the opening movement. This, then, like the Clarinet Quintet, and like Brahms's Third Symphony, is a work whose ending returns us, in circular fashion, to its starting-point.

The tiny variation theme itself has a harmonic twist in its tail: its first half cadences unexpectedly into D major, and the sound of B flat is reached again only in its final two bars. The first three variations stick closely to the theme's harmonic outline, but the fourth turns to the tonic minor, and the fifth is in the closely related key of D flat major. Variation 6 moves into G flat major which means that the harmonic "twist" now occurs on the home key of B flat. This, however, does not lessen the shock of the unceremonious plunge back into B flat for the following variation, where the tempo is doubled and the first movement's theme reappears. (The implied tempo relationship between the outer movements would seem to dictate a decidedly quick speed for the first movement, if the variations are not to sound too sedate.) Nor is its initial theme the only material from the first movement to make a return at this point: the passage also recalls a mysterious moment in the minor that in the opening movement had heralded the arrival of the second subject. In the closing bars, the variation theme and the first movement's "hunting" subject are combined with deceptive ease, as though to highlight the hitherto hidden kinship between them.

Source: Misha Donat (

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No.7 in F major, Op.59 No.1 – Danish String Quartet

The Danish String Quartet plays Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet No.7 in F major, Op.59 No.1. Recorded at Parlance Chamber Concerts, Ridgewood, New Jersey, U.S., on April 8, 2018.

Beethoven composed his three Quartets, Op.59, in 1805-1806 for the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Kyrilovich Razumovsky. The count was an excellent amateur violinist, who played second violin in his own house string quartet, except when Louis Sina stepped in so he could sit back and listen. His first violinist was the illustrious Ignaz Schuppanzigh, whom Beethoven had known since 1794 and who premiered many of the composer's works.

The three Razumovsky Quartets represent an entirely different world than Beethoven's six early Quartets, Op.18, published only four years before. In between he had written his never-mailed letter, the heartrending "Heiligenstädt Testament", which dealt with the anguish of his deafness and solitude, and had composed such innovative new works as the Eroica Symphony, the Appassionata Piano Sonata, and the first version of his opera Fidelio. His radical new style, with its expanded sonata forms, epic themes, complexities, and individualities, met with hostility and derision from early performers and critics. "Perhaps no work of Beethoven's", wrote his famed early biographer Alexander Wheelock Thayer, "met a more discouraging reception from musicians than these now famous Quartets".

The first movement of the present F major Razumovsky Quartet is remarkable for its lush expansiveness. This is already apparent in Beethoven's first theme, which unfolds lyrically in the cello over pulsing repeated-note accompaniment, then is taken over by the first violin. The shift in register is something that he explores throughout the work and is one aspect, in addition to length, that gives such a spacious impression. Once this theme peaks, Beethoven instantly changes texture and introduces several new ideas before moving on to his new key area.

When the composer eventually launches what sounds like a repeat of the exposition, he suddenly shoots off in another direction, a grand deception clearly playing on the listener's expectation of that repeat. A famous "first" in the annals of sonata-form, this "non-repeat" considerably alters the structure of the first movement by making it one long sweep and shifting a greater proportion of time and weight onto the development section. Beethoven takes full advantage of the space he created for development by indulging in contrasts of register, new figuration, tension-building, fugal writing, and a mysterious and enormous preparation for the onset of the recapitulation.

Beethoven labeled his second movement "Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando" rather than calling it a scherzo outright, perhaps because he ingeniously adopts a full-fledged sonata form instead of the traditional scherzo-trio-scherzo or five-fold expansion of that form. Placed second rather than in the more typical third spot in the sequence of movements, this extraordinary scherzo ranks as Beethoven's most original in form. Again, expansiveness is the ruling feature of the movement, which grows out of the distinctive repeated-note rhythmic pattern of the opening. This idea generates a remarkable number of miniature themes, which Beethoven treats in wonderfully airy "scherzando" textures.

The composer uses the relatively rare description "mesto" (mournful) in his performance direction for his slow movement, thereby acknowledging its tragic qualities. It was here in his sketches that he made the strange notation: "A weeping willow or acacia on my brother's grave". He may have been referring to his distress at his brother Caspar Carl's marriage to Johanna Reiss, who was six months pregnant, or remembering another brother who died in infancy, but the main melody, featuring the first violin and then the cello in high register, is certainly an expressive lament. The movement closes with a florid cadenza for the first violin, in which the darkness seems to dissipate and which leads directly into the finale, a device Beethoven had explored in other middle-period works.

Beethoven incorporated a Russian theme into each of the first two Razumovsky Quartets, making an audible connection to his patron, though it is uncertain whether the idea and the choice of theme was Beethoven's or the count's. Here the cello merrily introduces the Russian theme while the violin is still trilling. We wonder what Count Razumovsky thought of Beethoven's cheerful rendition of the originally soulful melody. The mood has definitely lightened here, though the scope is still grand – a full sonata form, complete with repeat of the exposition. Beethoven crowns the work with an imaginative coda in which he slows the Russian theme, imbuing it with mock sadness, only to sweep it away with his virtuosic final flourish.

Source: Jane Vial Jaffe (

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

♪ String Quartet No.7 in F major, Op.59 No.1 (1806)

i. Allegro

ii. Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando
iii. Adagio molto e mesto
iv. Thème russe. Allegro

Danish String Quartet:
Frederik Øland (violin)
Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (violin)
Asbjørn Nørgaard (viola)
Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin (cello)

Parlance Chamber Concerts, Ridgewood, New Jersey, U.S., April 8, 2018

(HD 720p)

Embodying the quintessential elements of a fine chamber music ensemble, the Danish String Quartet has established a reputation for their integrated sound, impeccable intonation and judicious balance.  With their technical and interpretive talents matched by an infectious joy for music-making and "rampaging energy" (The New Yorker), the quartet is in demand worldwide by concert and festival presenters alike. Since making their debut in 2002 at the Copenhagen Festival, the musical friends have demonstrated a passion for Scandinavian composers, who they frequently incorporate into adventurous contemporary programs, while also giving skilled and profound interpretations of the classical masters. The New York Times selected the quartet's concerts as highlights of 2012 and 2015, praising "one of the most powerful renditions of Beethoven's Opus 132 String Quartet that I've heard live or on a recording, and "the adventurous young members of the Danish String Quartet play almost everything excitingly".  The Danish String Quartet received the 2016 Borletti Buitoni Trust provided to support outstanding young artists in their international endeavors, joining a small, illustrious roster of past recipients since the Trust's founding in 2003.

The Danish String Quartet's expansive 2017-2018 North American season includes more than 30 performances across 17 states. The ensemble gives debut performances at numerous renowned venues, such as the Interlochen Center for the Arts, Bravo! Vail and Ravinia summer festivals, Cleveland Chamber Music Society, Ensemble Music Society Indianapolis, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Oregon Bach Festival, and San Francisco Performances, among others. Further season highlights include returns to the Mostly Mozart Festival, UW World Series at Meany Hall in Seattle, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and the Philadelphia and Buffalo Chamber Music Societies. This season, the Quartet features a richly satisfying array of diverse repertoire which includes both giants of the string quartet canon – Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, and Mozart – with lesser-performed works by Sibelius, Schnittke, and Jörg Widmann. Additionally, the ensemble joins the outstanding Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen to perform the Shostakovich Piano Quintet at Ravinia and the Brahms Piano Quintet at CMS Lincoln Center's residency at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where they also collaborate with cellist Jakob Koranyi for the Schubert Cello Quintet. Overseas, they tour extensively throughout Europe in their native Denmark, Norway, Germany, Luxembourg, and Holland as well as Australia and the Far East. The Danish String Quartet continues to expand upon their deep affinity for Scandinavian folk music with several performances of their own arrangements of traditional Nordic music, and with the release of a new recording on ECM Records this fall.

After their highly successful 2016-2017 season, which included debuts at the Tanglewood, Caramoor and Edinburgh Festivals, the Danish String Quartet debuted at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall performing Shostakovich String Quartet in E-flat minor as well as Schubert Cello Quintet with eminent Swedish cellist Torleif Thedéen, in a performance described by New York Magazine as "a raw kind of splendor". In addition to their New York engagement, the quartet's robust North American schedule took them to Salt Lake City, Stanford, Ashland and Portland (OR), Vancouver, Kansas City (MO), Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Chicago, Boston, Orono, Dartmouth, Washington DC, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Kalamazoo, Detroit, St Paul, and Denver, as well as a teaching residency at Dartmouth College. Internationally, they performed throughout Israel, South America, Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland, and their home country, Denmark. As champions of contemporary music from Scandinavian composers, the Quartet premiered a new work by Rolf Wallin titled Swans Kissing based on the 1914 series of paintings, "The Swan", by Swedish painter Hilma af Klint. This work was commissioned by the Quartet for its world premiere in London's Wigmore Hall.

The Quartet's recent debut recording on ECM Records features works of Danish composers Hans Abrahamsen and Per Nørgård and English composer Thomas Adés and received five stars from The Guardian, praised as "an exacting program requiring grace, grit and clarity and the Danish players sound terrific... It's a sophisticated performance". The recording debuted at #16 on the Billboard Classical Chart and continues to earn international acclaim. They also recently presented the US premiere of Danish composer Thomas Agerfeldt Olesen's Quartet No.7 "The Extinguishable" at the University of Chicago. In addition to their commitment to highlighting Scandinavian composers, the Danish String Quartet derive great pleasure in traditional Nordic folk music. Their next album will be released in September 2017.

Since winning the Danish Radio P2 Chamber Music Competition in 2004, the quartet has been greatly admired throughout Denmark and in October 2016 they presented their tenth annual DSQ Festival, a four-day event held in Copenhagen that brings together musical friends the Quartet has met on its travels. Additionally, in 2016 the Quartet curated a new music festival, Series of Four, where they served as both performers and artistic directors, bringing world-renowned artists to the intimate series of concerts in Copenhagen. In 2009 the Danish String Quartet won First Prize in the 11th London International String Quartet Competition, as well as four additional prizes from the same jury. This competition is now called the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition and the Danish String Quartet has performed at the famed hall on several occasions, including their final concert of the 2015-2016 season performing a program of Beethoven, Janáček and Nielsen.

The Danish String Quartet's talents have secured them numerous awards and coveted appointments including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's CMS Two Program, the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists program. They were awarded First Prize in the Vagn Holmboe String Quartet Competition and the Charles Hennen International Chamber Music Competition in Holland as well as the Audience Prize in the Trondheim International String Quartet Competition in 2005. They were the recipients of the 2010 NORDMETALL-Ensemble Prize at the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival in Germany and, in 2011, received the prestigious Carl Nielsen Prize.

In 2006, the Danish String Quartet was Danish Radio's Artist-in-Residence, giving them the opportunity to record all of Carl Nielsen's string quartets in the Danish Radio Concert Hall, subsequently released to critical acclaim on the Dacapo label in 2007 and 2008. The New York Times extolled, "These Danish players have excelled in performances of works by Brahms, Mozart and Bartók in New York in recent years. But they play Nielsen's quartets as if they owned them". In 2012 the Danish String Quartet released an acclaimed recording of Haydn and Brahms quartets on the German AVI-music label, about which The New York Times proclaimed: "What makes the performance special is the maturity and calm of the playing, even during virtuosic passages that whisk by. This is music making of wonderful ease and naturalness..." They recorded works by Brahms and Fuchs with award-winning clarinettist Sebastian Manz at the Bayerische Rundfunk in Munich, released by AVI-music in 2014, and are currently signed with ECM Records.

Violinists Frederik Øland and Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and violist Asbjørn Nørgaard met as children at a music summer camp where they played both soccer and music together, eventually making the transition into a serious string quartet in their teens and studying at Copenhagen's Royal Academy of Music. In 2008 the three Danes were joined by Norwegian cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin. The Danish String Quartet was primarily taught and mentored by Professor Tim Frederiksen and have participated in master classes with the Tokyo and Emerson String Quartets, Alasdair Tait, Paul Katz, Hugh Maguire, Levon Chilingirian and Gábor Takács-Nagy.

Source: /

"They could be grounded in their tone or mystical. They allowed time to stand still, and they could assume the pose of excitingly aggressive rockers. They did it all." — The Los Angeles Times

"They bring a freshness and energy plus a level of sheer accomplishment that I don't ever remember hearing in these works." — Gramophone

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See also

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

Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No.9 in C major, Op.59 No.3 – Quatuor Ébène (HD 1080p)

Friday, September 20, 2019

The best new classical albums: September 2019

Recording of the Month

Julia Wolfe: Fire in my mouth

The Crossing
Chorus Conductor: Donald Nally | Assistant Conductor: Kevin Vondrak

Young People's Chorus of New York City
Chorus Conductor: Francisco J. Núñez

New York Philharmonic
Conductor: Jaap van Zweden

Recorded live at David Geffen Hall, New York City, on January 24, 2019
Released on August 30, 2019 by Decca Gold

Julia Wolfe's Fire in my mouth is one of 2019's most memorable recordings; Donnacha Dennehy's The Hunger, a meditation on the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century, leaves an indelible impression; Derek Bermel's Migrations is a grand celebration of one of America's great living composers at the top of his game.

What makes a new piece of music important? There are many reasons, certainly, but three prime ingredients usually involve: how it breaks new stylistic or technical ground; speaks to the moment in some fundamental, significant way; and, lastly, that it's just good music. Julia Wolfe's Fire in my mouth, a four-movement cantata for women's chorus, children's choir, and orchestra, checks all those boxes.

Wolfe's score takes the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire as its point of departure. 146 workers, most of them Eastern European immigrants to the United States died in that blaze in lower Manhattan more than a century ago. Fire in my mouth doesn't tell each of their stories. Instead, it seeks to paint a broader picture of the plight of immigrants and laborers, past and present, in this country, as well as the continuing work to improve social, working, and living conditions for the least of those among us.

That's a tall order, yes, but Wolfe's a no-nonsense composer. Her musical language is rooted in Minimalism as well as the energy of the best of rock and popular music of the '60s, '70s, and '80s. And it pairs remarkably well with the work's texts, all of which are culled from primary sources.

The first movement, "Immigration", evokes a trans-Atlantic crossing, with widely spaced orchestral sonorities and shimmering, responsive choral writing. In the second, "Factory", the orchestra conjures a mechanistic din, after which a Yiddish lament is paired with a ribald tarantella. "Protest", the third movement, commemorates the efforts of early-20th-century labor activists like Clara Lemlich, while the concluding "Fire" sets the reminiscences of survivors and ends with a recitation of all the victims' names.

So how do those three points from above play out in Fire in my mouth?

Well, even if Wolfe doesn't reinvent herself, stylistically, here, the cumulative effect of her writing in Fire in my mouth is visceral. This is music that grabs you by the collar and commands your attention with its emotional directness and gestural flexibility (like the brilliantly inventive orchestral factory section of the second movement). It speaks to the day with its timeless themes of hope, suffering, perseverance, and tragedy. And, as music, it manages to be both aesthetically honest and totally approachable. In a word, Fire in my mouth is contemporary music that demands to be heard.

Its debut recording, featuring the New York Philharmonic (NYPO), Young People's Chorus of New York City, and The Crossing, leaves nothing to be desired. The Philharmonic hasn't played much Wolfe (Fire in my mouth is only the second big piece of hers they've ever performed), but they dig into this score with complete assurance and command. The vocal element – 146 voices strong – is glowingly precise in balance, diction, and tone. Jaap van Zweden presides over it all with a sure hand, demonstrating his excellence as a purveyor of new music and proving he's a worthy successor to Alan Gilbert in this department as the NYPO's new director.

The bottom line: Fire in my mouth's January premiere was one of the year's most significant. This recording is one of 2019's most memorable. Don't miss it.

Source: Jonathan Blumhofer (

Franz Schubert: Winterreise, Op.89 D.911

Ian Bostridge, tenor
Thomas Adès, piano

Recorded live at the Wigmore Hall, London, in September 2018
Released on August 23, 2019, by Pentatone

When I came back from a press-conference earlier this year with the news that Ian Bostridge was to record Schubert's three great song-cycles for Pentatone, I met with a chorus of "Again?", "Already?", and "Why?". It's barely a decade since the idiosyncratic British tenor completed the trilogy on Warner Classics, where Leif Ove Andsnes accompanied him on a "Winter's Journey" of such pathos and chilly beauty that the recording (released in 2004) quickly became my own personal benchmark for the work.

In a sense, though, it was inevitable that Bostridge would return to Winterreise in different company, as many of his predecessors have done (Fischer-Dieskau, for instance, recorded the work with nearly a dozen pianists); as he muses towards the end of his 2015 book Winter's Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, the idea of "endless repetition" is hardwired into the cycle itself in that the final song sees the protagonist tentatively approaching a new accompanist with whom to repeat the whole sorry saga. Bostridge's companion for this second journey is of course a far more distinguished and respected musician than the destitute old busker of Wilhelm Müller's bleak final poem – the composer, conductor and pianist Thomas Adès, for whom he created the role of Caliban in The Tempest, and indeed there's something of Shakespeare's apparently monstrous outsider in the character they bring to life together here.

So what fresh insights has Bostridge uncovered in the intervening years? Short answer: plenty. One of the remarkable things about this new reading is just how much of the extensive scholarly work which both he and Adès have undertaken translates readily into sound: Bostridge, for instance, spends much of the early chapters of Anatomy of an Obsession exploring the idea of the protagonist as unreliable narrator, and whilst this may sound unduly academic on paper it comes across loud and clear on the recording. From the outset this wanderer is perceptibly less simpatico, more disingenuous than his earlier incarnation: instead of a greenhorn experiencing heartbreak for the first time, the impression is of an older, embittered man who's spent years re-playing this story in his head and occasionally tweaking it to garner sympathy from his imagined audience. Throughout, there's the sense of re-opening old wounds rather than smarting from recent ones, though the pain is if anything more immediate; it helps that the voice itself is rougher round the edges than it was in 2004, and that Bostridge takes more overt expressive risks these days, though there's still some hypnotically beautiful singing in songs like Das Wirthaus and an eerily elongated Die Krähe (taken almost twice as slow as on the recording with Andsnes).

Adès, too, has done much homework on the various editions of the score, and his playing has such clarity that every detail registers: staccatos where we’re used to hearing slurs, dynamic shifts in slightly different places, and appoggiaturas which are usually glossed over all make their presence felt, as do the unsettling cross-rhythms as the post-van rattles its way into town more unsteadily than on most recordings. Much of the overall magic derives from Adès's willingness to play straight man to Bostridge's more Expressionist protagonist: if the singer flirts with Sprechstimme in places (perhaps inspired by his performances of Hans Zender's "composed interpretation" of the piece several years ago), Adès's playing put me in mind of András Schiff's recent Schubert recordings, and some of the colours he draws from the Wigmore's Steinway sound for all the world like they emanate from a Brodmann or Érard. As with Bostridge's endlessly illuminating, enriching book on the subject, the balance between pointing up the work's strange modernity and engaging with its historical context is immaculately judged, and much of the beauty of the interpretation stems from the contrast between the two.

The biggest surprise, though, comes at the beginning of the final song: instead of the bare open fifth which usually announces the presence of the ghostly hurdy-gurdy man, we get a jarringly dissonant chord which I've never come across before on disc or in print. The effect is profoundly uncanny, and I'd love to know its provenance...

Postscript: Pentatone's UK distributor, RSK, very kindly contacted Thomas Adès to answer my final question shortly after the article was published: his answer is reproduced below.

"What I think Schubert is trying to notate with that appoggiatura at the start of Der Leiermann is the ‘tuning up’ effect that you might get with a hurdy-gurdy, as the drone scoops up to the note. It is supposed to suggest instability and ‘poor’ intonation, a ‘poor’ quality of instrumental sound. I found that playing the grace note virtually (though not quite) simultaneously with the downbeat, and releasing it gradually into the fifth, obtains the closest illusion of this effect that a piano can achieve."

Source: Katherine Cooper (

[Bostridge's] voice was superb – the warm penumbra he had when younger is gone, but that is a gain, as out of it has come polished steel. — New York Classical Review

[Adès] has outgrown his status as the wunderkind of a vibrant British scene and become one of the most imposing figures in contemporary music. — The New Yorker 

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.4 in G major

Sofia Fomina, soprano

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski

Recorded live at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall, London, on October 12, 2016
Released on July 19, 2019, by London Philharmonic Orchestra Ltd

A Mahler Fourth as insightful and as individual as we have come to expect from this source. How rarely we hear the opening bars of the symphony delivered precisely as Mahler instructs: Bedächtig. Nicht eilen ("Deliberate. Don't hurry"), the sleigh bells gently out of kilter at the ritardando, a Viennese decorum holding court in Mahler's rarefied nature world.

And yet the eternal child within him is always present, primed to rebel (cue the E flat clarinet) in those quickenings of pulse, those raucous scamperings. Texturally, harmonically and in terms of characterisation (never over-egged), Jurowski achieves a wondrous clarity and transparency. There are eye-popping pizzicatos and subito switches in dynamics designed to catch us off-guard.

The sour note introduced by Death, the Fiddler in the second movement is unapologetically grating and in all the woodwind interjections – not least the spiky clarinet – it's a case of who can shout loudest. Contrasting with all this is that glorious glissando-swathed transformation at the end of the Trio. Indeed, Jurowski's way with all Mahler's portamento has an unaffected spontaneity about it. All credit to the London Philharmonic strings. These things can sound so "dutiful".

As in Adám Fischer's Düsseldorf account, I love the through-phrased fluency and intimacy of the slow movement (never more redolent of the introduction to the Quartet "Mir its so wunderbar" from Beethoven's Fidelio), which eschews the kind of overwrought, over-extended rubatos that sometimes afflict it. It's the way in which Jurowski's phrasing always relates to sonority, the LPO strings intense and "present" from top to bottom – those great sighing, plunging glissandos in the basses especially telling. Even the great "Heaven's Gate" moment is delivered as a sudden fleeting (and glorious) vision, without pomposity or unearned grandiosity. Everything in proportion, in context.

Heavenly life finds approval in the bright and vibrant sound of soprano Sofia Fomina, whose rapid vibrato and lively awareness of the text's high-jinks all ring true. I personally crave more "spin" and floatation in the repeated refrain – but her character certainly chimes with Jurowski's very "immediate" view of the piece, where the close-ups are plentiful and revealing.

Source: Edward Seckerson (

While Vladimir Jurowski isn't recognized as a Mahler specialist, having recorded only three of the symphonies over the course of a decade, his recording of the Symphony No.4 in G major may at least indicate an abiding interest in the composer's work, promising more recordings to come. Previously, Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra recorded Mahler's Symphony No.2 in C minor, "Resurrection", and the Symphony No.1 in D major, released in 2011 and 2013 respectively, and even though these recordings have pleased Jurowski's fans, they didn't raise wider expectations for a great Mahler cycle. This 2016 performance of the Fourth, released on LPO in 2019, is a bit like its predecessors, perhaps too relaxed and subdued to signify deep passions, while the gemütlich interpretation over-emphasizes the symphony's cheerfulness at the expense of its melancholy and macabre aspects. Add to this the shallow sound of the live recording in London's Southbank Centre Royal Festival Hall, and it might seem that this presentation is a bit underwhelming and of little interest to Mahler devotees. Yet for its low-key approach, this performance is consistent and unobtrusively controlled within its own modest parameters, and neither Jurowski nor the London Philharmonic Orchestra overdo Mahler's eccentricities, so this is as straightforward a reading of the Fourth as one is likely to find.

Source: Blair Sanderson (

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23 | Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16

Haochen Zhang, piano

Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Dima Slobodeniouk

Recorded January 2018 (Tchaikovsky) & March 2018 (Prokofiev) at the Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland
Released on July 5, 2019, by BIS

This is not an obvious concerto coupling; but in fact there are at least three others, two of them quite recent: Rana and Pappano (Warner Classics, 12/15), Gerstein and Gaffigan (Myrios, 2/15); from the past, there is Joselson and Ormandy (Sony). Even so, do we really need another Tchaikovsky First Concerto on disc with no fewer than 447 available on different current CDs? Well, the answer in this instance is an enthusiastic "yes".

Haochen Zhang won the gold medal at the Van Cliburn a decade ago. He has yet to make it as a headliner internationally but listening to his way with this old warhorse left me in no doubt that here is an artist of rare talent. Listen to the way he handles the opening pages – those chords above the stave on the third beat with their top F naturals, E flats and A flats ring out emphatically, those that follow are extravagantly arpeggiated, and his phrasing of the solo and cadenza before the return of the opening theme is not just (the usual) empty bravura but thoughtfully shaped as though part of a conversation. In short, Zhang tells the introduction in such a way that you cannot wait to hear the rest of the story. Even if you instinctively shy away from yet another Tchaikovsky First, I think this performance will come as a refreshing surprise. The fast passagework in the central movement and the finale is thrillingly light and swift, and it is only a slight lack of weight in the final pages that, for me, falls short.

The Prokofiev, which precedes it, will do nothing to lessen the growing popularity of this extraordinary work. Again, it is Zhang's articulation and phrasing, precision and power that merit the highest praise. The Lahti Symphony Orchestra and Dimo Slobodeniouk provide spirited support and offer formidable competition even to the incredible Yuja Wang / Gustavo Dudamel live performance in Caracas (DG, 2/14) – just listen to the way Zhang and Slobodeniouk present the peroration of the first movement. Spine-tingling. And all credit to BIS producer Marion Schwebel and engineer Christian Starke for the vivid sound picture. Like many of BIS's recent releases, the disc's sleeve is made of material from sustainable forest management, soy ink, eco-friendly glue and water-based varnish, and is easy to recycle: no plastic is used. Other labels take note. Another tick. In fact, full marks all round.

Source: Jeremy Nicholas (

In a new, pristine recording from BIS, pianist Haochen Zhang takes a big step in his career, presenting on record Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto and Prokofiev's Second. For Zhang, it is his first studio recording of a concerto; previously, after winning the top spot at the prestigious Van Cliburn competition in 2009, he had only recorded a set of intimate solo works, also for BIS. The album showcases many strengths of both soloist and orchestra, but also shows that they still have room to grow.

Zhang possesses a virtuosic technique (his winning repertoire in the 2009 Van Cliburn competition included Petrushka and Gaspard de la Nuit), and here both concertos give him ample opportunity to showcase it. In two striking segments of the Prokofiev, Zhang uses his mastery to profess an interpretation of the concerto that few can credibly attempt: cold, futurist minimalism. This is not Steve Reich's minimalism. It is a minimization of romantic gestures and of warm colors. The first of those two segments is the "Moto-Perpetuo" scherzo. Zhang's playing is simply unforgiving. A second such segment comes at the opening of the concerto's finale; Zhang here is, simply put, vicious, and the results are chilling.

There are, however, moments where this version of the Prokofiev is less effective. In the opening, marked "Narrante", the phrases and rubatti are jolted and overly calculated. It feels like a glossy, new paint job of an old story, rather than a completely novel "narration". That movement's cadenza is tense and indeed "colossal" where Prokofiev indicates it, but it could have been even more prodigious, with proper space for the music to breathe within and between phrases. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Yundi Li both give more convincing (if traditionally late-Romantic) accounts of the opening and the cadenza.

In the Tchaikovsky, Zhang again gives a technically thrilling, if occasionally emotionally removed performance. Comparisons with other stand-out, recent recordings of the piece are instructive. For instance, at the main, dotted-rhythm theme of the first movement, Zhang's playing is polished and incisive but lacks color compared with, say, Beatrice Rana. When Rana plays this theme, there are three distinct colors: the dance-like phrase, the warmer major-third "commentaries" (as Barenboim might call them), and the upper-register flourishes. The colors are created by changing front and back-end articulations, and with very subtle modulations of the pulse. Zhang's playing is cooler, with the slightest shifting of a pulse. Throughout the first movement, this leaves the performance more emotionally detached than one might expect for Tchaikovsky.

A similar comparison could be made in the Andantino, this time to Denis Kozhukin's recent version of the concerto. Kozhukin uses a whole array of sounds in this movement, starting off straight and present, transitioning to a lighter, fluid touch when he accompanies the celli, oboe, and clarinet. Zhang remains monochromatic throughout the opening, wielding a particularly pointy staccato. Tchaikovsky does indeed indicate "Sempre Staccato" when the soloist accompanies the orchestra, but Kozhukin's staccato is perfectly convincing while managing to be warm as well.

It is in the Tchaikovsky's up-tempo sections, the prestissimo section of the Andantino and the concerto's finale, that Zhang's abilities shine. He plays with momentum, at once graceful and forceful, and his reading of the rondo is quite astounding. The recurring theme is spritely and engaging, if one can put aside the disorienting rhythmic stereotypy. The second theme flows wonderfully, and the final moments are exciting, leaving one generally in awe.

Source: Jonah Pearl (

Prism II – Johann Sebastian Bach: Fugue in B minor, BWV 869 (Arr. Emanuel Aloys Förster for Strings) | Alfred Schnittke: String Quartet No.3 | Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No.13 in B flat major, Op.130

Danish String Quartet:
Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, violin
Frederik Øland, violin
Asbjørn Nørgaard, viola
Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, cello

Recorded May 2017, Reitstadel Neumakt, Germany
Released on September 13, 2019, by ECM

The Danish String Quartet's Grammy-nominated Prism project links Bach fugues, late Beethoven quartets and works by modern masters.  In volume two of the series, Bach's Fugue in Bb minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier (in the arrangement by Viennese composer Emanuel Aloys Förster) is brought together with  Beethoven's String Quartet Op.130 and Alfred Schnittke's String Quartet No.3 (composed in 1983). As the quartet explains, "A beam of music is split through Beethoven's prism. The important thing to us is that these connections be experienced widely. We hope the listener will join us in the wonder of thee beams of music that travel all the way from Bach through Beethoven to our own times". Recorded in historic Reitstadel Neumarkt and produced by Manfred Eicher, the album is issued as the Danish String Quartet embarks on a tour with dates on both sides of the Atlantic, climaxing with a run of Prism concerts on the West Coast of the U.S.  The Quartet plays the full Prism cycle at La Jolla Music Society over five concerts in late November.


This release by the Danish String Quartet is part of a five-album series titled "Prism", each of which will apparently include three works: an arrangement of a Bach fugue for string quartet, one of Beethoven's five late quartets, and a 20th century work that somehow lies in the shadow of both, or, to use the quartet's own words, "a beam of music is split through Beethoven's prism". In this case, the program is unusually coherent, with the String Quartet No.3 of Alfred Schnittke engaging itself directly with the Beethoven String Quartet No.13 in B flat major, Op.130, and Grosse Fuge, Op.133, here played as the finale of the String Quartet No.13 as Beethoven originally conceived the work. Logically, the Beethoven should go in the middle, but after you hear the Danish String Quartet's blistering performance of the String Quartet No.13, you'll agree that it would be an impossible act to follow. The group gets just how radical this quartet was, especially with the Grosse Fuge in place, as sharp contrasts grow throughout the work and explode in the unthinkably intense fugue. The quartet takes the first movements of the six-movement work very rapidly, with the lighter melodic passages seeming like passing thoughts, takes a deep pause with the Cavatina slow movement, and then plunges into the fugue at top power. They are aided by magnificent engineering work from ECM, working on the Reitstadel Neumarkt, a riding stadium with famed acoustics. The Schnittke quartet is a fascinating work in itself, quoting the Beethoven extensively and exploring its sharp contrasts (sample the Agitato middle movement). One awaits the rest of the Danish String Quartet's series breathlessly, but it's possible that this volume, with a Beethoven performance for the ages, will tower over the rest. A bonus is a set of notes by the great Paul Griffiths, writing mostly for ECM these days.

Source: James Manheim (

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Symphony in F sharp, Op.40 – Theme and Variations, Op.42 – Straussiana

Sinfonia of London
Conductor: John Wilson

Recorded 14-16 January 2019 at the Church of St Augustine, Kilburn, London
Released on August 30, 2019, by Chandos

Rumours have been circling for a while of a hush-hush project from John Wilson; of a new super-orchestra hand-picked from the cream of the UK's orchestral players. Now here it is: a radiant new recording of Korngold's orchestral music with an all-new Sinfonia of London, led by Andrew Haveron.

And? Well, for starters, put aside any expectation of the Technicolor studio sound that Wilson draws from his other orchestra (the one that carries his name). Wilson has always been clear that he's interested primarily in the appropriate colour for any given repertoire, and for this Austrian-American exile symphony he evokes a great post-war US orchestra – the weighty, satin string tone, the skyscraping brass and questioning woodwinds that you might find on a 1950s Chicago or Philadelphia disc, though Chandos captures a much mellower general ambience.

And then Wilson runs with it, in one of the most athletic performances of this symphony on record – closer in spirit to Kempe than Previn, but considerably faster than either (even without Kempe's cuts). Rhythms are springy and purposeful; the great Adagio really strives, as well as sings, and I've rarely heard it probe deeper. Every phrase speaks; textures are translucent and detailed (even at the dizzying speed of the Scherzo), and the string sound glows from within, with portamento very much at the service of expression. Wilson clearly sees Korngold's Symphony (rightly) as part of the Viennese classical tradition.

The result is both gripping and sincerely moving; and the two short, sad sweet late works that follow the symphony – written by Korngold for amateur orchestras – receive the same whole-hearted commitment and loving care for colour and style. Stirring, thought-provoking and superbly played, this disc is a tonic. Let's hope it's not a one-off.

Source: Richard Bratby (

However valuable John Wilson's back catalogue, this August 30 Chandos issue might just prove to be his most substantial recording achievement to date. It is by my reckoning the tenth commercial release of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's once-neglected Symphony (Werner Andreas Albert set down the same three works for CPO) but it is indubitably ahead of the pack, setting new standards in several respects. The identity of individual players is not divulged, save that of the leader, the estimable Andrew Haveron, his presence confirming that the hand-picked band will indeed include veterans of the John Wilson Orchestra. Now into its third incarnation, the Sinfonia of London re-emerges as a session orchestra to rank with Charles Gerhardt's National Philharmonic. It helps too that the Chandos sound team has found an ideal acoustic for the music-making, ample yet transparent. DG's channelling of All Hallows, Gospel Oak for André Previn's 1996 recording of the Symphony was more about endorsing deep-pile opulence.

Wilson's own interpretative angle is not always predictable. The makeweights first. Composed in 1953 to a commission from the American School Orchestras Association, these modest scores have surely never been prepared to so exalted a standard. The oddly affecting Theme and Variations is given the upscale "Hollywood" treatment, its slower sections delivered with the intense string vibrato and lavish expressivity associated with studio virtuosos rather than student ensembles. While Korngold presumably felt the need to simplify his idiom so as not to fox younger players, Wilson reveals the widest range of moods in its seven Variations, a sort of pocket digest of the composer's world in what is indeed "a deft, beautifully structured piece" as Brendan G. Carroll's note suggests. If Straussiana is not much more than a Johann Strauss II medley, it is at least delivered with singular panache.

In the Symphony itself, placed first in physical format, Wilson adopts a leaner, meaner approach, insisting on the abstract nature of a concert work whose appropriation of cinematic material is perhaps neither here nor there. The first movement though brisk is probably the most "central" in its pacing, albeit with a uniquely crisp and detailed take on salient details, nothing taken for granted, woodwind solos always carefully placed, the timpani-writing never so audible nor so in tune.

The most controversial part of the reading is likely to be the Scherzo, slightly pruned on Rudolf Kempe's ground-breaking 1972 LP. Here, Wilson still undercuts Kempe's total timing by virtue of adopting a basic tempo far fleeter than that of any rival. The argument now recalls the "maliciousness" of the corresponding movement of Walton's First Symphony never merely jogging along. Its glorious horn-led second theme, so potently realised by Previn's LSO, has to be slightly muted here lest it sap the impetus of the whole. The spectral Trio remains to provide the real contrast.

At 13'40 I am not sure the slow movement quite plumbs the depths – Pedro Halffter (Warner, Spain) goes so far as to break the seventeen-minute barrier – but there are none of the ensemble problems that arise (even for Previn) when its quasi-Mahlerian writing loses momentum. The Finale, almost always Korngold's dodgiest movement, is kept on a comparably tight rein so that the references to earlier material seem more logical than discursive.

The incidentals are glorious but above all Wilson never lets the music sprawl. Is it too much to hope that he will now tackle the Symphonic Serenade, Opus 39? The best of Korngold's late works, it's the one still, perplexingly, neglected by most record companies. Meanwhile, should the Symphony become as ubiquitous as the Violin Concerto, I suspect Wilson's radical reappraisal will have played a significant part.

Source: David Gutman (

Johannes Brahms: Violin Sonatas

Alina Ibragimova, violin
Cédric Tiberghien, piano

Recorded 9-11 May 2018 at Henry Wood Hall, London
Released on August 30, 2019, by Hyperion Records

When this is released on August 30, Hyperion has a total winner on its hands. Brahms, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien are perfectly cast; these are mesmerising performances wonderfully well recorded by Simon Eadon (Andrew Keener producing) – with intimacy, clarity, faithful dynamics and spot-on balance – after all, these are Sonatas for Violin and Piano, and these artists are such a charismatic partnership; their give and take is palpable, their devotion to the music deep and dedicated, and their insights illuminating.

Take the opening movement of the G major Sonata, at once gorgeous and eloquent. The duo's moderate tempo and shapely phrasing are, frankly, perfect, so too their gradations of volume and their ability to know when one instrument has the limelight without overshadowing the other – the frisson generated is spine-tingling and haunting, even more so in those passages when the depth of Brahms's soul is revealed as something beyond words. The piano introduces the second movement, Tiberghien richly expressive, Ibragimova then confiding and songful; and the Finale is sculpted to a nicety, bowed and touched gently.

It's a similar story for the remaining seven movements (Opus 108 claiming four of them). Whether individually or indivisibly – Ibragimova sporting a wide range of tone, as intense as she is tender, Tiberghien waxing poetically yet not afraid to be demonstrative – the remaining two Sonatas continue on the same exalted level in terms of the music-making itself (and all three works are inspired anyway), persuasively judged all-through, not least the changes of tempo in the central movement of the A major piece; the Vivace sections really dance. How expressive the beginning of the D minor; how "naked" both musicians' subsequent and emotional fortissimo – yet such an outburst is made to belong. By contrast, the Adagio is poignancy itself, and its successors are completely characterised.

Had it been included, one can only imagine the fire and turns of phrase this combo would have brought to the Scherzo that Brahms contributed to the FAE Sonata (although the Finale of Opus 108 is in a similar mould). With there being room for the Scherzo and also the Clara Schumann, then the latter's (first) Romance should not be thought "instead of"; and, anyway, it's a charming miniature played with sweet affection.

Source: Colin Anderson (

August 26, 2019. In this week's Classical Album of the Week, Russian-British violinist Alina Ibragimova continues her long-standing musical collaboration with French pianist Cédric Tiberghien in a new recording including Brahms' Violin Sonatas and one of Clara Schumann's Three Romances.

Ibragimova and Tiberghien met in 2005 as part of the BBC New Generation Artists scheme and began concertizing together in 2007. This duo has covered a lot of ground in the last decade, having recorded and toured the repertoire by Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Ravel, Vierne, Janáček and Szymanowski.

In 2018, they performed the Brahms program heard on this new album in a recital at London's Wigmore Hall. Warmly received, that performance was followed just a year later with the release of this new album ⁠– right on the heels of their March release of the Vierne and Franck sonatas.

Ibragimova's bundling of the Brahms and the Clara Schumann selections may well be musically motivated ⁠– these 19th-century works not surprisingly share a similar soundscape and musical vocabulary. What also binds these together are themes of friendship, song, and summertime.

Brahms' first Violin Sonata in G major is believed to have been written with his friend, violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim, in mind. It was composed alongside Brahms' Violin Concerto in the summer of 1878 while at Wörthersee Lake in southern Austria.

The second violin sonata was written "in anticipation of a beloved lady friend", contralto Hermine Spies, who was also the dedicatee for some of Brahms' beloved songs and who had visited Brahms during the summer of 1886 at a resort near Switzerland's picturesque Lake Thun. Both this and the first sonata are rooted in melodic ideas that originated in the songs he set to poems by his friend, Klaus Groth.

That 1886 stay in the Swiss resort is also thought to be the setting in which Brahms composed his third sonata, even though it was not published until a few years later. This work was dedicated to a close friend, Hans von Bülow – a conductor with whom Brahms enjoyed a warm, lively correspondence.

Bülow championed Brahms to such an extent that not only did he conduct many of Brahms' compositions, he also coined the phrase "the three B's – Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms", elevating him to the loftiest heights in this adage that has persisted all the way into the 21st century.

Another friend of Brahms' made a mark on this third sonata – pianist and composer Elisabeth von Herzogenberg. She received a copy of the manuscript and subsequently provided notes to Brahms – a few of which he took on board and incorporated into the final movement.

The album's last work, one of the Three Romances by Clara Schumann, was also composed in the summertime – more than 20 years earlier than Brahms' three violin sonatas. Like Brahms, she was a friend of Joseph Joachim, and the two performed her Romances frequently on tour after the premiere in 1855.

With the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann's birth just around the corner, this performance by Ibragimova and Tiberghien offers a great teaser for what's to come in September when we mark that bicentenary with a deep dive into her work.

Source: Heather McDougall (

Iberia y Francia – Maurice Ravel, Manuel de Falla, Claude Debussy, Isaac Albéniz, Federico Mompou

Imogen Cooper, piano

Recorded 25-28 March 2019, Concert Hall, Snape Maltings, Suffolk, England
Released on August 30, 2019, by Chandos

Imogen Cooper has been travelling and she'd like us to come along. For an artist whose name is frequently associated with Schubert and Schumann, it is worth remembering that Cooper spent her formative years at the Paris Conservatoire and is just about as steeped in French culture as it is possible for a non-native to be. Appropriately enough, her invitation au voyage in this case is Ravel's Pavane in a performance of insouciant simplicity, guileless and wistfully serene. Any stragglers are beckoned aboard in the morning light with an animated "Alborada del gracioso", less hard-edged than is customary, filled with dancing, rich colours and rhetorical flair. Falla's homage to Debussy straddles the Pyrenees, tapas whetting the appetite for dishes further south.

But first we'll linger a while with Debussy himself, who never made more than a day trip into Spain. Debussy's imagined Iberia, fed by the Parisian evocations of Massenet, Bizet and Charbrier and, more directly, by his friends Albéniz and Falla, stokes our anticipation. Listening to "La soirée dans Grenade", "La puerta del vino", "La sérénade interrompue" and, later in the programme, L' isle joyeuse, it is difficult to imagine Debussy-playing more personal, suggestive or voluptuous. Cooper has lived with this music long and well. Tempting as it might be to declare these thoroughly individual interpretations the highlight of the album, Albéniz is yet to come.

When an artist seems to reign supreme in a particular repertory, as indeed Alicia de Laroccha did in Albéniz for most of my lifetime, alternative points of view can strike as pedestrian. Not here: Cooper gives us an Albéniz entirely her own, all the more vivid perhaps for its vantage from the outside looking in. Piquant, understated, with a sultry heat that smoulders rather than bursting into flame, these are compelling performances informed by the palette of Goya and undergirded with an inerrantly zesty rhythmic élan. An evening stroll through the Arab Quarter of Granada in "El Albaicín" feels a little dangerous and very sexy. The clattering castanets and strumming guitars of "El puerto" gradually give way to the approaching Corpus Christi procession in Seville, teeming with the faithful and a religious fervour only a few degrees from madness. In these selections from Iberia, as well as in "Rumores de la caleta" from the earlier Recuerdos de viaje, for every secret divulged, others remain mysteries. Cooling transition on the return voyage is entrusted to the subtleties of Mompou, whose mother, we recall, was French.

For some bottom-line terrific piano playing and programming that inflames the imagination, I suggest you set your internal default to luxe, calme et volupté and prepare for departure. A wonderful journey awaits.

Source: Patrick Rucker (

Chopin & Liszt: Piano Works

Mariam Batsashvili, piano

Recorded February 2019, Jesus-Christus-Kirche Berlin-Dahlem, and March 2019, BBC Maida Vale Studio 1, London
Released on August 30, 2019, by Warner Classics

Probably the most attractive part of Mariam Batsashvili's latest offering is the Liszt Six Polish Songs after Chopin. These arrangements are a true meeting of minds – between the (hypothetical) folk originals, Chopin's discreet musical embodiments of them and Liszt's typically flamboyant maximalisations of Chopin. The Georgian-born pianist leaves nothing to be desired in the generous warmth of her interpretations.

The balancing set of six Consolations is likewise sensitive and refined throughout. Some phrases could, admittedly, be more daringly shaped. At no point did the playing make me hold my breath. But there is much to be said for the honest sensitivity and singing tone brought to bear here.

Rather less successful, I feel, are the five Études that complete the disc. Not that Batsashvili is technically embarrassed by any of their demands, and not that she isn't able to illuminate them with some personal touches. But there are many alternative recordings with a greater wow factor, and the particular choice of pieces doesn't strike me as in any way revelatory.

Reviewing her disc of transcriptions a while back (Cobra, 2/17), I mentioned that Batsashvili deserved a better recorded environment. This she has certainly been given by Warner Classics, and despite my reservations it's clear that she has much to offer as a recording artist.

Source: David Fanning (

Sándor Veress: String Trio | Béla Bartók: Piano Quintet in C major

Vilde Frang, violin
Barnabás Kelemen, violin
Lawrence Power, viola
Nicolas Altstaedt, cello
Alexander Lonquich, piano

Recorded July 2017, at Pfarrkirche Lockenhaus, Austria (Veress), and August 2018, at Jar kirke, Bærum, Norway (Bartók)
Released on August 30, 2019, by Alpha Classics

If you pan back to 1954 in search of the year's finest music, Vaughan Williams's Tuba Concerto and Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra are among the best-known highlights. But what about Sándor Veress's only String Trio? It flirts with atonality much as Alban Berg did, except that, whereas Berg echoed Mahlerian expressionism, with Veress experimentation encircles Hungarian folk music. Even the Trio's slow-fast binary form recalls the rhapsodies of Liszt and Bartók, though music near the start of the second section recalls the firefly Scherzo from Prokofiev's Third Symphony (here Frang and her colleagues really do play up the resemblance – whether consciously or not I couldn't tell you).

The level of invention is startling throughout, with the players being instructed to rap on the bodies of the instruments with their knuckles. The principal rhythmic "riff" appears in various guises, bowed, plucked and drummed. But what's most amazing is the work's high level of concentration: although a mere 20 minutes in length, by the time you're through with it you feel as if you've experienced an entire Mahler symphony. So much is said, so many varied sounds shared between three. The only work I can think of that has a similar effect is by Veress's principal creative guide, Bartók, his Third Quartet. I'd say with some degree of confidence that this Trio approaches that same level of attainment, vying with Schoenberg's Trio in its profound effect, while Vilde Frang, Lawrence Power and Nicolas Altstaedt grant it a superb performance, the best I've yet heard in fact.

Memorable rival recordings include members of the Merel Quartet (Cybèle Records), which, though well played, isn't on quite on the same level, while Ensemble Equilibres (Hungaroton) underline the work's Bartókian roots. Neither threatens the supremacy of Frang et al, though it's useful to know that both are programmed in the context of other chamber works by Veress.

Bartók's Piano Quintet, a product of 1903 and an altogether more modest affair, summons Brahms and Strauss as obvious influences. The composer was in his early twenties when he wrote the work but a couple of decades later, when he performed it as part of a programme including more characteristic pieces, Bartók was incensed by audience members who rated the Quintet highest of all. He even hurled the score to the ground in disgust and was thought to have destroyed it, though fortunately for us the Quintet, an enjoyable piece by any standards, survived his anger. At times the brooding Adagio suggests Bluebeard's shadow before giving way to the temperamental finale, which accelerates gypsy-style (the principal theme harbours a sure reference to Brahms' Zigeunerlieder), and surveying numerous expressive techniques and tempo changes, including a trim fughetta. Barnabás Kelemen and friends keep the camp fires alight with playing that is both intense and dynamic, whereas the slower music has a dreamily rhapsodising quality about it.

Runners-up on CD include Jenő Jandó with the Kodály Quartet (Naxos, 10/95), a good performance though nowhere near as vivid or fiery as the performance under review. Nor does Hungaroton's worthy recording with Csilla Szabó and the Tatrai Quartet prove a formidable contender. So I think it fair to say that Kelemen, Frang, Katalin Kokas, Altstaedt and Alexander Lonquich sell this lovable product of youthful creative excess more securely than any of their predecessors on disc, certainly any that I have encountered. But what makes this CD unmissable is the Veress Trio, a masterpiece and a performance to match. I’ve already pencilled it in as a potential contender for next year's Gramophone Awards. The annotation is excellent, including a fine essay on the Trio by Sándor's son Claudio, also a composer.

Source: Rob Cowan (

Edvard Grieg: Lyric Pieces | Felix Mendelssohn: Lieder ohne Worte

Denis Kozhukhin, piano

Recorded November 2018, at at the Muziekcentrum van de Omroep (Music Broadcast Center) (Studio 5), Hilversum, Netherlands
Released on June 28, 2019, by Pentatone

Once in a while a piano recording comes along that really plucks at the heart-strings. Denis Kozhukhin's compilation of miniatures by Mendelssohn and Grieg is one such. First prize-winner at the 2010 Queen Elisabeth Competition and third prize-winner in 2006 at Leeds, the Russian has already proved – most memorably in his concerto debut recording of Grieg and Tchaikovsky (5/16) – that he has the ability to illuminate familiar, over-played pieces with his imaginative musicality. Now, in deceptively straightforward repertoire, we get a subtler but if anything even more delicious taste of his creative and poetic pianism.

As Harriet Smith has put it, if listened to en bloc, there can be a danger of aural toothache with Mendelssohn's Songs without Words, even when delivered by the finest hands. Well, either I have developed a terribly sweet tooth or else Kozhukhin is even finer than his rivals, because I only wish he had recorded the whole lot, so that I could savour them all in one continuous binge. Kozhukhin has converted even a slight Mendelssohn-sceptic like me (in particular when it comes to these miniatures) not just to yield to them as a listener but to want to take them straight to the piano and play them through. He brings to the table a perfect balance between spontaneity and control, teamed with infinite variety of touch and timbre. Every phrase is imbued with sensitivity and luminous beauty. Even when the textures are apparently similar (as, say, in the first two items on the disc), he succeeds in placing each piece in its own unique expressive world and sonic landscape.

I don't think I've ever heard so much Schubert in Mendelssohn's Songs. In the dreamiest numbers, such as the famous "Venetianisches Gondellied", Kozhukhin keeps a more natural momentum even than, say, Javier Perianes (subject of HS's glowing review: Harmonia Mundi, 12/14), avoiding sentimentality but without ever compromising the mood of reverie. Unlike Perahia (Sony Classical, 3/00) – few finer hands than his, you would think – Kozhukhin doesn't rush in the interests of agitation. Compare his haunting take on Op.30 No.2, where every Schubertian turn is savoured and every phrase allowed to be sung through. And if Barenboim's enthralling account of this Song (DG) seems to come straight out of the feverish world of "Erlkönig", Kozhukhin's has the subtler allure and fatalism of the first of Schubert's late Three Pieces, D.946.

It's not just the interpretations but also Kozhukhin's choice of Songs that is exquisite. It's as though he has devised an overall narrative – a secret neo-Schubertian song-cycle, perhaps. How profoundly touching, for instance, to place the wandering and nostalgic Op.67 No.2 right after the funeral-march Op.62 No.3. And with the brilliant "Spinnerlied" and finally the deceptively naive "Kinderstück", Kozhukhin as it were adds three dots to the finality of death: death as our "wedding with eternity" (who would have thought that these simple, intimate pieces could evoke the most profound of Rumi's mystic odes?). Every choice of timbre, tempo and agogic inflection seems to point up the dramatic and musical connections that hold the entire selection of Songs together.

Kozhukhin's pick of Grieg's Lyric Pieces is equally inspired. Again we have not just a randomly varied assembly of pieces but an over-arching story. Kozhukhin is responsive not only to the Griegian sound world but also to the individual character of each piece, giving due place to fantasy and a touch of the fairy-tale. Even at third or fourth hearing, new expressive turns and visionary interpretative choices emerge. Listen out for the fractional delays in the dancelike numbers, for example, and see if they don't bring a smile to your face. Andsnes (EMI/Warner, 4/02) makes for an interesting comparison here, in that the Norwegian has a somehow more solid, more central conception of this repertoire, but not necessarily a more riveting one. Take, for instance, the Waltz, Op.12 No.2, where Kozhukhin is the more unpredictably capricious. These are performances worthy of a place on the shelves beside the classic Gilels (DG). From the "once upon a time" opening of the "Arietta" to the subtly rhetorical "Elegy", with its constant questioning intonations, to the almost frenzied jubilation of "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen", this is an extraordinary journey, made all the more enjoyable by top-class recording quality and Nigel Simeone's delightful booklet essay.

Source: Michelle Assay (

Reinhold Glière: String Octet in D Major, Op.5 | Reynaldo Hahn: Piano Quintet in F sharp minor | Dmitri Shostakovich: Two Pieces for String Octet, Op.11

(Glière:) Byol Kang, Yura Lee, Gergana Gergova, Florian Donderer, violins – Hanna Weinmeister, Timothy Ridout, violas – Tanja Tetzlaff, Alban Gerhardt, cellos

(Hahn:) Artur Pizarro, piano – Anna Reszniak, Elisabeth Kufferath, violins – Yura Lee, viola – Gustav Rivinius, cello

(Shostakovich:) Florian Donderer, Byol Kang, Yura Lee, Gergana Gergova, violins – Tatjana Masurenko, Hanna Weinmeister, violas – Alban Gerhardt, Tanja Tetzlaff, cellos

Recorded Live June 19, 2018 (Glière), June 24, 2018 (Hahn), and June 19, 2018 (Shostakovich), at Heimbach hydroelectric power plant, Germany
Released on September 6, 2019, by Avi

Of all the major Russian composers, Reinhold Glière is one of the least well known in the West. His life spanned a vast period from the Czar's reign to Soviet dictatorship, and he made it through the Stalin era relatively intact by mostly avoiding conflict without losing face. Such dilemmas were to haunt the lives of Glière's pupil Prokofiev, and especially that of his colleague Shostakovich, 30 years younger, but they were not yet current in 1900, when 20-year-old Glière, still a student, injected all of his youthful verve into composing his String Octet in D major, Op.5. The work soon gained immense popularity in Russia, where, still today, Glière's Octet is sometimes even held in higher esteem than the likewise youthful and fresh String Octet by Mendelssohn. In the words of musicologist Leonid Sabaneyev, "the octet, a fine work, proves that Glière was eminently capable of dealing with large chamber music ensembles. It surprises the listener with its full-bodied timbre and Glière's masterful treatment of the string instruments. The melodies are convincing on all fronts, displaying emotional intensity, sonorous opulence and noble harmonies". The work sets in with a warm, full-blooded Allegro moderato. Both the energetic, optimistic main theme and the tranquil, melodious second theme have an unmistakably Russian color. The second movement, also an Allegro, is an elegant intermezzo with a heartfelt Russian melody in the middle section. A gentle, melodious theme holds sway in the slow movement, Andante. The finale features two contrasting themes that are treated with such profusion that the sonority attains almost orchestral proportions. — Pedro Obiera

Reynaldo Hahn was a fellow student of Maurice Ravel at Paris Conservatoire. He was born in Caracas, to where his father, a Hamburg businessman, had moved. His mother was from Venezuela. Hahn studied composition with several professors including opera composer Jules Massenet. He was in close contact with the Paris art scene and later became a close friend – intermittently also the companion – of author Marcel Proust. Reynaldo Hahn gained considerable renown with his song cycles, operettas, and ballets. He also wrote excellent piano pieces, and worked as a conductor and music critic. After having fled Paris in 1940 because of his Jewish descent, he returned to the French capital after the war and became the director of Paris Opéra until his death. Hahn's Piano Quintet in F sharp minor (1922) is a rhapsodic work in the lineage of French Late Romanticism. The first movement effortlessly keeps a series of expansive, passionately overflowing melodies in constant flow, only held back by certain lyrical passages. Likewise drenched in minor mode, the gloomy, mournful middle movement entrusts its initial songlike melody to the cello, while the piano provides a pulsating accompaniment. Light briefly shines upon the scene in a brief episode in major, suggesting a memory of happier days. The finale begins in a graceful, playful rococo mood; it introduces new themes while also bundling previous ones together to form an elaborate conclusion. This quintet was one of Hahn's most often-performed works during his lifetime, but it only appeared on CD for the first time in the year 2000, in a recording by Alexandre Tharaud and the Parisii Quartet. "Where has this music been hiding for half a century?" wondered Jed Distler in Classics Today. — Matthias Corvin

Whereas Shostakovich's well-known 8th String Quartet and 2nd Piano Trio both bear the traces of inner anguish in the face of global and personal tragedies, the Two Pieces for String Octet, Op.11 let us look back upon the beginning of an outstanding musical career that was nevertheless vershadowed by harsh difficulties. These two pieces with the headings Prélude and Scherzo are from the period when Shostakovich was still a student in Saint Petersburg. It was a time of great material hardship, yet filled with hope: Shostakovich obtained his diploma with flying colors. At that point in time he did not yet have to deal with the Stalinist doctrinal intransigence that would make his life as an artist so difficult later on. Shostakovich concentrated on rigorous studies, and he felt protected within his small circle of friends. One of them was the young poet Vladimir Kurchavov, who died an untimely death from typhus. Shostakovich dedicated the first movement, an elegiac Adagio, to his late friend: this music already prefigures some of the impressive "funeral dirges" he would write in his symphonies. The Scherzo likewise shows that Shostakovich had found his own voice as a composer very early on. The maniacal, frantic movement with its farcical contortions was to serve as a true breeding ground for the bizarre, rapid scherzos he would later feature in his orchestral works as a secret satirical weapon against Stalin. The two elements of mourning and the grotesque are fundamental features that would pervade Shostakovich's entire oeuvre, and they are already clearly present in this ingenious piece written when he was still a student. — Pedro Obiera

Source: CD Booklet

Johannes Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem

Christiane Karg, soprano
Matthias Goerne, baritone

Swedish Radio Choir (Chorus master: Marc Korovitch)

Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Daniel Harding

Recorded October 2018, Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, Sweden
Released on September 6, 2019, by Harmonia mundi

When Johannes Brahms composed Ein deutsches Requiem, he chose not to set the established Latin text of the Missa pro defunctis, which had been used by composers from Ockeghem to Berlioz, and selected instead verses from Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible. This marked a shift of emphasis from the Last Judgment and the pains of Hell evoked in the Dies Irae, Domine Jesu Christe, and Libera Me texts to a more humanistic approach of consolation and spiritual ease, more in accordance with Brahms' private agnosticism. To this end, Daniel Harding's interpretation of the score is about as gentle and comforting as could be wished, and the performance by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Swedish Radio Choir conveys genuine expressions of solace and tenderness. Of course, the funereal tread of "Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras" still has the power to strike awe into listeners' hearts, though Harding's measured reading is perhaps less shattering than, say, John Eliot Gardiner's legendary recording with the Monteverdi Choir on Decca. Even so, with compelling solos from soprano Christiane Karg and baritone Matthias Goerne, a warm accompaniment from the orchestra, and exceptional choral singing throughout, this performance will appeal strongly to listeners who prefer a traditional take on Ein deutsches Requiem.

Source: Blair Sanderson (

Gerald Finzi: Choral Works

The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge
Trinity Brass
Alexander Hamilton, Asher Oliver, organ

Conductor: Stephen Layton

Recorded in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, on 9-11 July 2017 (unaccompanied works) and in Hereford Cathedral on 2-5 July 2018
Released on August 2, 2019, by Hyperion Records

What a beautifully crafted disc this is – not just in its quality (and it really is Trinity at their absolute best) but also in its shape and programming. An all-Finzi recital sounds straightforward enough; but in opening with the Magnificat and closing with the monumental anthem Lo, the full, final sacrifice, Stephen Layton transforms it from a collage into a cycle. We move from birth to death, Incarnation to Crucifixion, from the anticipation of the Annunciation to the fulfilment of the Eucharist.

The composer's secular music is also carefully folded into this sacred narrative. The fragility and brush-away slightness of Finzi's Robert Bridges settings and the part-song "White-flowering days" come into their own here – portraits of a world already receding into the distance, the Calvary Cross rising up in the foreground.

He may have given us concertos and anthems, cantatas and chamber music but Finzi is, above all, a song composer. Trinity and Layton never let you forget that in performances in which 30 voices sing as one, where collective statements become private, lyric utterances. There's a lightness to the unisons (a recurring Finzi gesture) and an organic, blossoming quality to the counterpoint that gives these choral works a first-person immediacy. Which makes it all the more startling when the congregation does burst in, reminding us where we are.

You have to hear the filmy, rhapsodic lightness of the Henry Vaughan setting "Welcome sweet and sacred feast" to really startle at the arresting opening of "God is gone up" (where the choir are joined by Trinity Brass, led by no less than David Blackadder on trumpet) – a trick Layton plays again by cutting from the brilliance of the lithe, ecstatic "Wherefore tonight so full of care" into the sober, muttered darkness of Lo, the full, final sacrifice.

Finzi's Magnificat famously lacks either a Gloria or an answering Nunc dimittis. Rather than use Holst's familiar setting of the latter, Layton instead gives us David Bednall's graceful 2016 setting. It's a work with too much of its own voice for straight pastiche, but which is absolutely steeped in Finzi's language – an affectionate, serious musical homage that takes the composer as a jumping-off point for its own lovely invention. Along with the beautiful cover art – an image of Gloucester Cathedral's Finzi Memorial Window – and excellent booklet notes by Francis Pott, it's just another bonus from this outstanding release.

Source: Alexandra Coghlan (

John Williams: Across the Stars

Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin

The Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles
Conductor: John Williams

Recorded April 2019, Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City, California
Released on August 30 by Deutsche Grammophon

"Across the Stars" stems from the collaboration of musical celebrities Anne-Sophie Mutter and film composer John Williams. The exact origins of the collaboration are unclear (Williams writes that Mutter is "not someone you say no to") but what has finally emerged is a set of short concert pieces for solo violin and orchestra, all arrangements of Williams' film music. The album is passionately constructed and fun to listen to. To be cynical for a moment, this can be seen as a set of novelties that lacks a coherent emotional arc. But on balance, it's an exciting anthology of William's musical themes, infused with new colors and recorded by the best of the best. The cynical element disappears when one considers the tracks in smaller sets, so this review will give each set its due separately.

The album opens with three tracks that essentially comprise a concertino – two Star Wars themes, Rey and Yoda, and the iconic "Hedwig's Theme" from Harry Potter. In Rey's theme, Mutter is immediately tasked with soloistic challenges that Williams has clearly enjoyed dreaming up: imitating the earthy sound of the flute's low register for the opening "showdown" motif; multi-octave arpeggios and double-stops with trills on one of the strings; then imitating horn calls in thirds. Mutter effortlessly switches between colors and techniques, and the movement is one of the catchiest on the album. If you squint, it makes a great sonata-form. The concertino's slow movement would be the Yoda theme, whose lyric melody (from Strauss) and contrasting woodwind section (from Tchaikovsky) together make an effective andante cantabile. Unfortunately, the arrangement in this movement is less adept than on most others. Williams transposes the theme from C to G, most likely to let Mutter use her low G string and play the theme in the octave it was written; yet she starts in the violin's second octave and rises to its third, never playing the theme in the tenor range, where it is most transcendent. The underlying accompaniment has also shifted from steady quarters and eighth notes to tremolo and off-beats, depriving Yoda of some of his stateliness. Still, the movement works as a Romantic interlude. The finale is indeed "Harry Potter meets Paganini", as the pair describe it, with Williams again gleefully challenging Mutter to sextuplet runs, pizzicato arpeggios, an extended, fully-diminished cadenza, and a finale, again after Tchaikovsky. The result approaches theme and variations, in which case a harmonics-based variation would have been nice, to take full advantage of the violin's potential. Nonetheless, after the final chord, this listener did have to pause for a breath, and to acknowledge the awesomeness of a Star Wars and Harry Potter concerto.

"Across the Stars", the love theme for Anakin and Padmé and probably the most iconic Star Wars theme on the album, loses some of its emotional power as a solo. The tension between the threat of the impending war and the depth of the duo's romance, embodied in the soundtrack by foreboding low brass against full-throated tutti renditions of the love motif, disappears to allow Mutter more soloistic discretion in the love sections; the war motif is downgraded to the role of transitional material.

The middle section of the album is quite enjoyable, with three upbeat numbers that show both Williams and Mutter at their best. The "Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles" is also at its best on these tracks. "Donnybrook Fair" (from "Far and Away") is a fun romp through the English Isles that proves Williams can write tutti moments without upstaging the soloist. The orchestra provides color changes on a dime and woodwind solos with the right touches of sarcasm. Despite a challenging violin part, Mutter's sense of humor comes through as well, with exaggerated gestures and articulation and teasing chromatic lines. This is her and Williams' virtuosity on full display – it takes a strong composer to write music that is at once powerful and playful, and a technical expert to perform it. "Night Journeys" (from "Dracula") is a tense showpiece that borrows ideas from Shostakovich and lets Mutter show her dramatic side. The orchestra also sounds great on this track, but the music is better suited to a full symphonic concert hall, and the recording compresses its range of colors. In "The Duel" ("The Adventures of Tintin"), Mutter parries back and forth with the orchestra, trading glissando swipes with the celli, and playing her part as if twirling her sword to intimidate her adversary. She also handles 32nd-note runs with stunningly precise bow bounces, as if to demonstrate her superior agility. The cadenza lacks a real show-stopping moment, but the track is nonetheless superb.

The album closes with the main theme from "Schindler's List", which was scored for violin and orchestra to begin with. It is a fitting closer, emotional and cathartic, but there are better recordings of it available, either on the soundtrack itself with soloist Itzhak Perlman, or Renaud Capuçon's rendition with the Brussels Philharmonic. Mutter's playing is a bit overwrought; each note often inhabits a totally different world than the previous one, with different speeds or colors of vibrato, or seemingly randomly-placed glissandi. The overall effect makes the melody lose the smooth, legato quality that makes it so haunting in the other versions.

This album will surely appeal to fans of Williams' music, especially those who can picture the movies in their mind while the music plays. To have new versions of old standards is always a treat. To classical fans, and followers of Mutter, it may have slightly less to offer, but few of the more exciting tracks will sneak into their rotation of frequently played pieces. Recommended listening for sure.

Jonah Pearl (

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: August 2019

The best new classical albums: July 2019

The best new classical albums: June 2019

The best new classical albums: May 2019

The best new classical albums: 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


Julia Wolfe: Fire in my mouth – The Crossing, Young People's Chorus of New York City, New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zweden (Audio video)

Anne-Sophie Mutter on John Williams