Serafim Smigelskiy, the cellist in the Tesla Quartet, playing alone in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Photo by Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Olivier Messiaen: L'Ascension, 4 meditations for orchestra – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

The Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra performs Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension, 4 meditations for orchestra, I/12a. The concert was recorded at Glendale City Church, California, United States, on February 28, 2016.

Although it may well be better known in its version for organ, Olivier Messiaen's L'Ascension of 1932-1933 is the most famous of his early orchestral scores (early in this case meaning pre-Turangalîla-Symphonie). Messiaen had in 1931 been appointed organist at L'Église de la Trinité, and by 1935 an organ version of L'Ascension had been finished; in truth, the work's conception seems to lie midway between the two media: one passage may seem wholly orchestral in design and execution (even in the organ version), while another may have trickled from Messiaen's fingers as he sat at his beloved La Trinité organ. That is not to say that the orchestral version of the work is anything but masterfully and magnificently scored, only to say that, try though he might, at that point in his life Messiaen could not wholly disassociate his music from the organ-bench upon which so much of it was first played. One major difference between the two versions must be noted: the third movement of the organ version is a completely different piece of music than the third movement of the orchestral version.

In the orchestral version, the four meditations, each of which testifies to the depth of Messiaen's Catholic faith, are: 1. "Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père", 2. "Alléluias sereins d'une âme qui désire le ciel", 3. "Alléluia sur la trompette, alléluia sur la cymbale", and 4. "Prière du Christ montant vers son Père". Each movement has attached to it a sacred quotation. The first movement is marked Très lent et majestueux (Very slow and majestic), and is scored entirely for the wind instruments, who speak out boldly and clearly. No.2 begins in like fashion (though now Bien modéré, clair), but soon allows entry to the strings; when the opening music of the movement is reprised after a very flexibly-written middle portion, the winds are reinforced in dramatic fashion by the full contingent of strings, triple-forte. The third movement hustles and bustles along, Vif et joyeux (Fast and joyfully), beginning with a trumpet fanfare and then bursting into a veritable perpetuum mobile into which the cymbal figures prominently (as one would expect from the title). The solemn, slow final meditation is a complete contrast.

Source: Blair Johnston (

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

♪ L'Ascension, 4 meditations for orchestra, I/12a

i. Majesté du Christ demandant sa gloire à son Père / Majesty of Christ Beseeching His Glory of His Father [00:00]*
ii. Alléluias sereins d'une âme qui désire le ciel / Serene Hallelujahs of a Soul Desiring Heaven [05:33]
iii. Alléluia sur la trompette, alleluia sur la cymbale / Hallelujah on the Trumpet, Hallelujah on the Cymbal [11:30]
iv. Prière du Christ montant vers son Père / Prayer of Christ Ascending to His Father [17:38]

Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra

Glendale City Church, California, United States, February 28, 2016

(HD 1080p)

* Start time of each part

Olivier Messiaen, in full Olivier-Eugène-Prosper-Charles Messiaen, (born Dec. 10, 1908, Avignon, France – died April 27, 1992, Clichy, near Paris), influential French composer, organist, and teacher noted for his use of mystical and religious themes. As a composer he developed a highly personal style noted for its rhythmic complexity, rich tonal colour, and unique harmonic language.

Messiaen was the son of Pierre Messiaen, who was a scholar of English literature, and of the poet Cécile Sauvage. He grew up in Grenoble and Nantes, began composing at age seven, and taught himself to play the piano. At age 11 he entered the Paris Conservatory, where his teachers included the organist Marcel Dupré and the composer Paul Dukas. During his later years at the conservatory he began an extensive private study of Eastern rhythm, birdsong, and microtonal music (which uses intervals smaller than a semitone). In 1931 he was appointed organist at the Church of the Sainte-Trinité, Paris.

Messiaen became known as a composer with the performance of his Offrandes oubliées ("Forgotten Offertories") in 1931 and his Nativité du Seigneur (1938; The Birth of the Lord). In 1936, with the composers André Jolivet, Daniel Lesur, and Yves Baudrier, he founded the group La Jeune France ("Young France") to promote new French music. He taught at the Schola Cantorum and the École Normale de Musique from 1936 until the outbreak of World War II in 1939. As a French soldier he was taken prisoner and interned at Görlitz, where he wrote Quatuor pour la fin du temps (1941; Quartet for the End of Time). Repatriated in 1942, he resumed his post at Sainte-Trinité and taught at the Paris Conservatory. His students included Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Jean-Louis Martinet, and Yvonne Loriod (whom he married in 1961).

Much of Messiaen's music was inspired by Roman Catholic theology, interpreted in a quasi-mystical manner, notably in Apparition de l’église éternelle for organ (1932; Apparition of the Eternal Church); Visions de l'amen for two pianos (1943); Trois Petites Liturgies de la présence divine for women's chorus and orchestra (1944); Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jésus for piano (1944; Twenty Looks upon the Infant Jesus); Messe de la Pentecôte for organ (1950); and La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ for orchestra and choir (1969). Among his most important orchestral works is the Turangalîla-Symphonie (1948) in 10 movements – containing a prominent solo piano part and using percussion instruments in the manner of the Indonesian gamelan orchestra, along with an ondes martenot (an electronic instrument). Also notable is Chronochromie for 18 solo strings, wind, and percussion (1960). Le Réveil des oiseaux (1953; The Awakening of the Birds), Oiseaux exotiques (1956; Exotic Birds), and Catalogue d'oiseaux (1959; Catalog of Birds) incorporate meticulous notations of birdsong. He composed an opera, St François d'Assise, which premiered at the Paris Opera in 1983.

Messiaen's method of composition is set forth in his treatise Technique de mon langage musical (1944; "Technique of My Musical Language").


More photos

See also

Genesis: a concert performance of Martin Fröst – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Olivier Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps – Martin Fröst, Lucas Debargue, Janine Jansen, Torleif Thedéen (Download 96kHz/24bit & 44.1kHz/16bit)

Olivier Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps – Trio Oriens, Richard Nunemaker (HD 1080p)


Yuan-Chen Li: “Wandering Viewpoint”, Concerto for Solo Cello and Two Ensembles – Michael Kaufman, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Samuel Barber: Knoxville, Summer of 1915 – Maria Valdes, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Leoš Janáček: Mládí (Youth), suite for wind sextet – Members of the Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.6 in F major "Pastoral" – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Sergei Prokofiev: Symphony No.1 in D major "Classical" – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.4 in G major – Janai Brugger, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.7 in A major – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending – William Hagen, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Aaron Copland: Appalachian Spring – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No.39 in E flat major – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.3 in C major – Irene Kim, Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.5 in C minor – Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (HD 1080p)

Kaleidoscope: Meet a different, colorful orchestra

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Alfred Schnittke: Concerto for Viola and Orchestra | Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.5 in E minor – Antoine Tamestit, SWR Symphonieorchester, Teodor Currentzis (HD 1080p)

Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis, an "eccentric super-talented maestro", conducts SWR Symphonieorchester in Alfred Schnittke's Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (viola plays Antoine Tamestit), and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64. The concert recorded at Liederhalle Stuttgart, on December 14, 2018.

1985 was a watershed year in Alfred Schnittke's life, in good ways and bad. It was a tremendously prolific year, seeing the composition of some of Schnittke's most famous, personality-defining works – his String Trio, his Third Concerto Grosso, the first two movements of his First Cello Concerto, and his Viola Concerto. However, these works seem to have come at a cost: soon after the completion of the Trio, Schnittke suffered his first serious strokes. This catastrophic turn would have immense effect: just as Schnittke's work was entering a kind of "archetype" stage, it would shift radically. Everything after that fateful year, as Schnittke remarked in 1988, would now be different.

This proclamation, coming after such a blow, leaves those works of 1985 with an inevitable hue, an unsettling force of premonition and farewell. Certainly this tone hangs heavy over the Viola Concerto, perhaps Schnittke's single most famous work. Its success was due in no small part to the advocacy of its dedicatee, Russian violist Yuri Bashmet; Bashmet's extraordinary performances of the concerto achieved a certain fame on their own. However, Bashmet also seems to have captured a new, confessional desperation of tone; he played the part of an great actor, in a work which comes closer to theater than almost other musical work of Schnittke's.

The Viola Concerto revisits many of Schnittke's standard concerto formulae. There is its three-part form, the role of its three movements-a slow, loose introductory movement, presenting the work's main materials, a second movement which hurls violently toward fatality through an array of styles, and a lugubrious lament-finale, which assembles the previous shards into a painful farewell-plaint.

The materials Schnittke uses contain a new depth, and a hint of biography as well. After the famous opening motive, based on Bashmet's name, we hear a wide arching melody on viola accompanied by low strings (Schnittke does this work without violins). In its throaty, charred tone, its bottomless and searching sorrow, it treads the mire like the blacker passages in Dostoyevsky; it's shot through with Russian excess, pathos, and pride, and testifies nobly to that side of Schnittke's heritage. After a cataclysmic outburst, we also hear a small cadential figure, a fairy-tale from the Viennese woods right out Schubert; and this confession comes from Schnittke's other side, his German heritage. These sides, the Russian-confessional and the German-constructive, will determine the trajectory of the rest of the concerto.

The second movement is vintage Schnittke, a nightmare-train hurtling towards its inevitable wreck. We encounter garishly colorful characters and episodes: the martial constantly flows into the wanton and reckless. Barracks mix with booze, marches with waltzes, and all veer towards a kind of irresistibly repugnant luxuriance. In one notorious passage, the violist is seduced, then coerced, into revisiting the Schubert-passage from the first movement; the little motive spins and spins from nostalgic reminiscence into noxious souvenir. Seldom has Schnittke so well orchestrated the shift from youthful morbidity to withered corpse. Eventually the soloist is dealt his death-blow in a sonic boom both tragic and trashy.

This sad filth overflows into the finale, where the violist weaves out an interior death-song of great scope. The sweep of this movement is clearly epic, a collection of memories and laments for losses. The tone is again Russian, and eventually attains the steady inertia of a funeral procession. The coda is one of the most nauseatingly drawn-out in all of Schnittke, a dwindling out of the flame as oddly effective as it is uncompromising; as Bashmet plays it, it's a Shakespearean death-soliloquy entering a cryogenic coffin.

Source: Seth Brodsky (

Tchaikovsky composed the Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64, between May and the end of August 1888, and conducted its premiere at St Petersburg on November 17 of that year. Eleven years separated the "fateful" Fourth Symphony of 1877 from the Fifth, about which Tchaikovsky expressed ambivalent feelings both during its composition and later on. To his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, he wrote in August 1888 that "it seems to me I have not failed, and that it is good". After conducting it in Prague, however, he wrote "...It is a failure; there is something repellent, something superfluous and insincere that the public instinctively recognizes". Yet by March he could write: "I like it far better now".

By no means did Tchaikovsky neglect the orchestra between 1877 (when he committed, in his words, the "rash act" of marriage) and 1888. He composed four wholly charming and fanciful suites, of which the second and third could have passed as symphonies had he chosen to call them that. Furthermore, he wrote the unnumbered but inspired Manfred Symphony in 1885. Yet Tchaikovsky never found symphonic structure as congenial as opera or ballet. His method was closer to Liszt's tone-poem procedure than to the Austro-German heritage, continued by Brahms and Bruckner among his contemporaries. Tchaikovsky favored sequences (in his case, the iteration and reiteration of four-bar cells) over enharmonic evolution. Listeners who've sometimes found his music as irritating as he found Brahms' tend do so because of sequence overload, finding that such repeated gestures result in an overblown effect. His greatest gifts were melody and orchestration: witness the popular songs plagiarized from his music, such as "Moon Love", cribbed from the slow movement of Symphony No.5.

Like the Fourth, the Symphony No.5 is unified by a six-measure "Fate" motto, heard straightaway in a darkly colored Andante introduction until, after a pause, the body of the opening 4/4 movement becomes a sonata-form Allegro con anima (with "soul" as well as spirit). It builds to a ferocious fortissimo climax before ending gloomily. Tchaikovsky marked this melodically rich slow movement Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza (songfully unhurried, with some freedom). In D major basically, it is a 12/8 sonatina (exposition and reprise), with an elaborate three-part song structure replacing the development section. Its special glory is the solo-horn arietta looted by "Moon Love", although the ominous motto theme from the first movement interrupts twice – like the Commendatore's Statue answering Don Giovanni's invitation to dinner.

The quasi-scherzo third movement is a waltz in A major out of Tchaikovsky's top balletic drawer, with a trio in F sharp minor plus a long coda that reprises the motto, now in 3/4 time. Germanic academics were scandalized by the presence of a waltz in a numbered symphony, but not Brahms, who stayed over in Hamburg to hear a rehearsal, and during a bibulous lunch with Tchaikovsky the day after praised the first three movements.

The motto launches the last movement as it did the first, but now in E major, Andante maestoso, leading to another sonata-allegro construct – this one vivace rather than moderato, with an alla breve meter that keeps it moving. At the end of the reprise, Tchaikovsky writes six B major chords – a false cadence that invariably provokes applause – before the motto, now bedecked in alb and fanon, launches a major-key coda as long as the entire development section. It quickens to a Presto dash for the double bar before broadening at the very end for a triumphantly sonorous tetrad of "end-of-file" chords.

Source: Roger Dettmer (

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)

♪ Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1985)

i. Largo
ii. Allegro molto
iii. Largo


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

♪ Sarabande

Antoine Tamestit, viola

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

♪ Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64 (1888)

i. Andante – Allegro con anima
ii. Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza
iii. Valse. Allegro moderato
iv. Finale. Andante maestoso – Allegro vivace

SWR Symphonieorchester
Conductor: Teodor Currentzis

Liederhalle Stuttgart, December 14, 2018

(HD 1080p)

Antoine Tamestit is recognised internationally as one of the great violists – soloist, recitalist and chamber musician. He has been described as possessing "a flawless technique, and combines effortless musicality with an easy communicative power" (Bachtrack). In addition to his peerless technique and profound musicianship, he is known for the depth and beauty of his sound with its rich, deep, burnished quality. His repertoire is broad, ranging from the Baroque to the contemporary, and he has performed and recorded several world premieres.

In the 2018-2019 season, Tamestit is Artist-in-Residence SWR Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart with which he will perform the Schnittke, Walton and Hoffmeister concerti. He will also play/direct the orchestra in a programme of Bach, Hindemith, Britten and Brahms. Elsewhere this season, he will tour the US with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and will appear as Gardiner's soloist with the orchestra of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. He returns to the London Symphony Orchestra, and will perform with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Dresden Saatskapelle, Orchestre de Paris in Paris and on tour, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra. In recital and chamber music, he will appear at the Berlin Philharmonie, Wigmore Hall, Vienna Konzerthaus, Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels and the Prinzregententheater in Munich.

Since giving the world premiere performance of Jörg Widmann's Viola Concerto in 2015 with the Orchestre de Paris and Paavo Järvi, Tamestit has given performances of the concerto with the co-commissioners, Swedish Radio Symphony and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, both under Daniel Harding, again with the Orchestre de Paris, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stavanger Symphony, and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Tamestit has also appeared as soloist with orchestras such as the Czech Philharmonic, Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich, WDR Köln, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Philharmonia, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra of Europe. He has worked with many great conductors including Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Valery Gergiev, Riccardo Muti, Daniel Harding, Marek Janowski, Antonio Pappano, François-Xavier Roth and Franz Welser-Möst.

Antoine Tamestit is a founding member of Trio Zimmermann with Frank Peter Zimmermann and Christian Poltera. Together they have recorded a number of acclaimed CDs for BIS Records and played in Europe's most famous concert halls and series. Other chamber music partners include Nicholas Angelich, Gautier Capucon, Martin Fröst, Leonidas Kavakos, Nikolai Lugansky, Emmanuel Pahud, Francesco Piemontesi, Christian Tetzlaff, Cédric Tiberghien, Yuja Wang, Jörg Widmann, Shai Wosner and the Ebene and Hagen Quartets.

Antoine Tamestit records for Harmonia Mundi and released the Widmann Concerto, recorded with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Daniel Harding in February 2018. The recording was selected as Editor's Choice in BBC Music Magazine. His first recording on Harmonia Mundi was Bel Canto: The Voice of the Viola, with Cédric Tiberghien released in February 2017. Tamestit's distinguished discography includes Berlioz's Harold en Italie with the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev for LSO Live; for Naïve he has recorded three Bach Suites, Hindemith solo and concertante works with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and Paavo Järvi; and an earlier recording of Harold in Italy with Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre. In 2016 he appeared with Frank Peter Zimmermann and the Chamber Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on a new recording of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante (Hännsler Classic).

Tamestit's other world premiere performances and recordings include Thierry Escaich's La Nuit Des Chants in 2018, the Concerto for Two Violas by Bruno Mantovani written for Tabea Zimmermann and Tamestit, and Olga Neuwirth's Remnants of Songs. Works composed for Tamestit also include Neuwirth's Weariness Heals Wounds and Gérard Tamestit's Sakura.

Together with Nobuko Imai, Antoine Tamestit is co-artistic director of the Viola Space Festival in Japan, focusing on the development of viola repertoire and a wide range of education programmes.

Born in Paris in 1979, Antoine Tamestit studied with Jean Sulem, Jesse Levine, and with Tabea Zimmermann. He was the recipient of several coveted prizes including first prize at the ARD International Music Competition, the William Primrose Competition and the Young Concert Artists (YCA) International Auditions, as well as BBC Radio 3's New Generation Artists Scheme, Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award and the Credit Suisse Young Artist Award in 2008.

Tamestit has taught at both the Cologne Hochschule für Musik and Paris Conservatoire, and regularly gives masterclasses worldwide.

Antoine Tamestit plays on a viola made by Stradivarius in 1672, loaned by the Habisreutinger Foundation.


More photos

See also

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 in B minor, "Pathétique" – MusicAeterna, Teodor Currentzis (Download 96kHz/24bit & 44.1kHz/16bit)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major | Igor Stravinsky: Les Noces – Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Nadine Koutcher, MusicAeterna, Teodor Currentzis (Download 96kHz/24bit)

Dmitri Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No.1 in E flat major, & Symphony No.1 in F minor | Benjamin Britten: Sinfonietta, Op.1 – Steven Isserlis, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Teodor Currentzis (HD 1080p)

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The best new classical albums: October 2019

Recording of the Month

Domenico Scarlatti: 52 Sonatas

Lucas Debargue, piano

Recorded at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin-Dahlem, on September 15-23, 2018
Released on October 4, 2019 by Sony Music

"Since Glenn Gould's visit to Moscow and Van Cliburn's victory at the Tchaikovsky Competition in the heat of the Cold War, never has a foreign pianist provoked such frenzy." — Le Huffington Post, 2015

The uncommon talent of Lucas Debargue was revealed by his performances at the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow in 2015. Though placed fourth at the final round, he was the only contestant across all disciplines to receive the coveted Moscow Music Critic's Prize as a pianist "whose incredible gift, artistic vision and creative freedom have impressed the critics as well as the audience".

Following this breakthrough, Lucas was invited to play solo and with leading orchestras in the most prestigious venues: Theatre des Champs Elysées and Philharmonie in Paris; London's Wigmore Hall and Royal Festival Hall; Berlin Philharmonic and Prinzregententheater in Munich; Stockholm's Konzerthuset; the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; the Milan Conservatory; Carnegie Hall; Chicago Symphony Hall Kennedy Center in Washington; Maison de la Musique in Montreal, the Royal Conservatory of Toronto; the concert halls of Mexico City, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Seoul; and of course the legendary Grand Hall of Tchaikovsky Conservatory and the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow, the Mariinsky Concert Hall and the Shostakovich Philharmonic Hall in St Petersburg.

Lucas Debargue regularly collaborates with Valery Gergiev, Mikhail Pletnev, Vladimir Jurowski, Andrey Boreyko, Yutaka Sado, Tugan Sokhiev, Vladimir Fedoseev, Bertrand de Billy, and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. His chamber music partners include Gidon Kremer, Janine Jansen, and Martin Frost.

In the 2019-2020 season, Mr. Debargue will make his mainstage Carnegie Hall debut with the American Symphony Orchestra and Leon Botstein. He will also perform in Boston, Toronto and Montreal. A tour with the Russian National Orchestra and Maestro Pletnev will take him to the Middle East and Switzerland, while Berlin will welcome him back to the Konzerthaus with Shostakovich First Concerto and music by a living Russian composer, Leonid Desyatnikov.

Born in 1990, Mr. Debargue forged a highly unconventional path to success. He began to study music when he was 11, but soon switched to literature and graduated from Paris Diderot 7 University as a Bachelor of Arts. In his teens, he continued to explore piano repertoire on his own.

At the age of 20 Mr. Debargue decided to re-dedicate himself to the piano and started his professional training at the Paris Cortot Music School under the guidance of the celebrated piano teacher Rena Shereshevskaya. It was her vision and support that helped him make a commitment to music for life. In 2014, Mr. Debargue won the First Prize at the Gaillard International Piano Competition (France), which gave him the confidence to paticipate and, eventually, to become one of the prize winners in the Tchaikovsky Competition.

A performer of fierce integrity and dazzling communicative power, Lucas Debargue draws inspiration for his playing from literature, painting, cinema, jazz, and develops very personal interpretation of a carefully selected repertoire. Though the core piano repertoire is central to his career, he is also keen to present works by lesser-known composers like Nikolai Medtner, Nikolai Roslavets, or Milosz Magin.

He also composes and performs his own music. Orpheo di camera concertino for piano, drums and string orchestra was premiered with Kremerata Baltica in Latvia in 2017. A Piano Trio was created later that year under the auspices of the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.

A Sony recording artist, Lucas Debargue has released three solo albums with music of Scarlatti, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, Medtner and Szymanowsky. He collaborated with Janine Jansen, Martin Fröst, and Torleif Thedéen on a recording of Messian's Quatuor pour la fin du Temps. The coming season will be marked by the release of Mr. Debargue's monumental four-volume tribute to Scarlatti, containing 52 of his sonatas.

In 2017 Lucas Debaruge was awarded a prestigious German prize "ECHO Klassik". In the same year, a documentary following the pianist right after his Tchaikovsky Competition break-through was released by Bel-Air Productions.


Lucas Debargue breathes new life into the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and presents works outside the standard piano repertoire. The Parisian pianist has already climbed the pinnacle of piano artistry with Beethoven, Liszt and Ravel and unleashed full-blown romantic thunderstorms with Schubert's A minor Piano Sonata No.14 and the madcap finale of Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit. Now, on his new album, Debargue devotes himself completely to Domenico Scarlatti. He already played four of this Italian masters sonatas on his highly acclaimed début album. Germany's Der Spiegel waxed ecstatic: "Debargue's Scarlatti recalls his mighty predecessors. He displays the subtle touch and feeling once bestowed on these miniatures by Vladimir Horowitz and imparts new sound to Scarlatti's keyboard music. Debargue touches the outer limits of expression between joylessness and rapture: one may find it overwrought, but its never less than gripping. And then theres the gentle Glenn Gould touch". Debargue is excited at his new project: "Scarlatti is inspiring. He is the centre of my musical thought as regards music for keyboard instruments". He goes on: "I took it as a sort of personal mission to finally do something with him. Though Scarlatti generally lacks a firm place in the repertoire hes not heard very often and is almost never the mainstay of a recital hes one of those milestones that every pianist must turn to".


Sergei Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3

Daniil Trifonov, piano

The Philadelphia Orchestra
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Recorded in Philadelphia, Kimmel Center, Verizon Hall, November 2016 (Concerto No.1), April 2018 (Concerto No.3, live recording), in Berlin, Philharmonie, February 2, 2019 (The Silver Sleigh Bells, live recording), and at Princeton University, Alexander Hall, Richardson Auditorium, January 1, 2019 (Vocalise)
Released on October 11, 2019 by Deutsche Grammophon

The album, set for international release in October 2019, unites the acclaimed Russian-born artist's account of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto, one of the most difficult and demanding in the repertoire, with his searing interpretation of the composer's First Piano Concerto. It also includes Trifonov's solo piano transcription of Rachmaninov's "The Silver Sleigh Bells" and his arrangement of the evergreen Vocalise. Eighty years ago, Rachmaninov himself created benchmark recordings of these two concertos with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Now both works occupy the heart of Trifonov's latest Deutsche Grammophon release, the second in his series of the composer's piano concertos with the Philadelphia Orchestra and its Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Reflections on the musician's itinerant life and the historic forces that have uprooted countless creative artists run through the Rachmaninov journey undertaken by Daniil Trifonov. His two-disc Destination Rachmaninov project, he explains, bridges the gap in time and space between Rachmaninov's early years in late Tsarist Russia and his life in exile after the Russian Revolution.

"The Third Piano Concerto is a unique example of one unending melody", Trifonov observes, "one continuous flow of musical consciousness – a single, rhapsodic journey. Above all, there is nothing banal in the expression. Even in its heights of lyricism or virtuosity, every note is devoted to a higher purpose". That purpose, Trifonov suggests, involves nothing less than what he calls "a spiritual probing of the mysteries of the soul".

It takes a performer in total command of the Third Piano Concerto's mighty technical challenges to penetrate deep beneath its surface. Daniil Trifonov's interpretation treats virtuosity not as an end in itself but as the means to propel a fearless spiritual adventure. The work, the pianist concludes, "has a unique kind of emotion – a solemn intimacy. It is like a prayer – the composer's inner conversation with himself, and with God".

Trifonov draws further comparisons with prayer when he talks of Rachmaninov's Vocalise. The piece, written in 1912 as a wordless song for high voice and piano, proved so popular that it was soon arranged by the composer for soprano and orchestra. Countless other arrangements have followed since for everything from jazz ensemble to solo theremin. "It's so pure and sincere, and there's a simplicity in it that is very touching", notes Trifonov. "So it feels almost like a prayer, and there is this meditativeness that is perhaps so typical of Rachmaninov's music."

Rachmaninov's First Piano Concerto is an early work completed soon after the composer's graduation from the Moscow Conservatory in 1891. The score, Trifonov says, is the work of someone who had yet to experience tragedy. Its generous, open-hearted spirit survived the revisions Rachmaninov made in November 1917 during the turbulent early days of the Russian Revolution and served as a reminder of youthful optimism throughout his life. "It connected him with memories of home, his roots – of happier times."

Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra have accompanied Daniil Trifonov throughout his journey with Rachmaninov. "From the first moment we worked together on Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini", the pianist recalls, "I realised how much respect these musicians have for Rachmaninov's music and how much knowledge they have of his idiom. To me, it was a great idea to record all his concerti with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick for Deutsche Grammophon". Nézet-Séguin underlines the point: "There's something in the air. It's difficult to explain, but the Philadelphia players are blessed with a mixture of tradition, pride, understanding and value."


Hector Berlioz: Requiem – Grande Messe des Morts

Michael Spyres, tenor

London Philharmonic Choir
Artistic director: Neville Creed

Philharmonia Chorus
Chorus master: Gavin Carr

Philharmonia Orchestra
Conductor: John Nelson

Recorded live at St Paul's Cathedral, London, on March 8, 2019
Released on September 20, 2019 by Erato

We're immediately back on the old concert Requiem dilemma of devotion or drama. Leading candidates on disc from the past (Munch, Beecham, the first Colin Davis, McCreesh) have tended much towards the latter – the work as an acoustic-challenging explosion of sound and space and, inevitably, a test of a recording team's ability to capture that. John Nelson, the relative newcomer in the middle of an occasional but continuous and clearly devoted new Berlioz cycle, goes (perhaps unpredictably) for the first – a Giulini rather than a Toscanini, to take a parallel from another Requiem's recorded legacy.

The result is taken from a 150th anniversary concert for the composer last March in the reverberant honeytrap of London's St Paul's Cathedral. It's a reading with especial attention paid to winds and orchestral brass, which interestingly shifts the focus of one's normal concentration to what a darkly serious – and beautiful – score the atheist Berlioz created. In this impression the carefully prepared singing of the two orchestra choirs, and the detail which Nelson and his assistants have secured from them, play the fullest part.

It also sounds to me – especially on the DVD, where you can almost see it happening – that this conductor has been outstandingly careful about the notorious acoustic. Any complaints registered about its effect in reviews of the concert are hardly apparent on these recordings of it. Are the offstage tenor (Michael Spyres, beautiful) and brass placed nearer in than what has become customary in such a venue? It certainly looks like it; they are heard most clearly, if less operatically. The recording, in general, has lovely brass tone and is most sensitive to Nelson's wide dynamic range. The filming is neatly attentive to the linking of Nelson's (batonless) beat to the singers, with not too much touristic tracking of the building's architecture.

If you believe that a Requiem, this one especially, should be a soundtrack to the Last Judgement, you should listen elsewhere, especially to that first Colin Davis (now on Decca, 9/70). If the text above all, and the atmosphere of an event contemplated, satisfies you, there are few better options around at the moment than this latest arrival, another high point in Nelson's work for the composer.

Source: Mike Ashman (

Berlioz's conceived his Requiem for extraordinarily large forces: the score asks for over 100 stringed instruments, 20 woodwinds, a percussion section with 16 timpani and 4 tam-tams, 20 brass players within the orchestra and an additional 38 brass to form 4 brass choirs placed at the four corners of the stage. The minimum number for the choir is 200-some singers, though Berlioz asks that if space permits it, the number of singers be doubled or tripled. The work's first performance in December 1837 involved over 400 people and this new recording involves 400 musicians. In short, this music is an audiophile's dream, and most likely an audio engineer's nightmare, especially when making a live recording in the cavernous acoustic of St Paul's Cathedral, London.

It therefore seems proper to first congratulate recording producer Daniel Zalay and recording mixer Marvin Wareitting for the sonic excellence of this recording. While the reverberation is impressively caught, it never muddies the performance. Credit also belongs to Nelson's unerring interpretation in which the room itself becomes part of the music, just as Berlioz surely intended. And when you purchase the physical CD, you also get a bonus DVD of the complete performance.

The Philharmonia Chorus and London Philharmonic Choir, trained by Gavin Carr and Neville Creed respectively, sing with outstanding diction, clear articulation and unanimity of tone. Their work is well balanced with the orchestra, even at the loudest climaxes. Recorded before a live (yet thankfully silent) audience, this recording faithfully captures everything, from the overwhelming climaxes of the "Dies Irae" to the mysterious duet between flutes and bass trombone in the "Hostias".

Most importantly, the recording captures an exceptionally moving interpretation, masterfully conducted by Berlioz specialist John Nelson. In his brief introductory note, Nelson writes that Berlioz, despite being agnostic, attended mass every day because "he was overwhelmed by the beauty and solemnity of the Roman Catholic service". Indeed, it is these two qualities that stand out in the performance. While most recordings ensure that the climatic moments are spectacular, far fewer seem to capture the moments of intense beauty and introspection that make up much of the score.

The opening "Requiem" immediately impresses, the men's contrite request for forgiveness gently answered by the sopranos, leading into a gradual accumulation of tension that adds greater desperation to the brass line at 2'25", which then builds to an even more intense cry at 4'50". The men effectively convey the resigned despondency of "Quid sum miser" (track 3), and the final moments of "Domine Jesu" (track 7, 7'09") are exquisitely sung. Tenor Michael Spyres brings a calm assurance to his solo in the "Sanctus" (Track 9), which leads into one of Berlioz's more complex fugues, here clearly and passionately rendered.

This new version rewards repeated listening and will move anyone who hears it, both as a performance and a recording. Yet mention must be made of the live recording of Colin Davis, leading the Staatskapelle Dresden in February 1994. The concerts from which the recording was made were held in the Kreuzkirche, for the first time since its destruction by allied bombing in 1945, and this atmosphere brings a singularly moving performance. Not a perfect performance or production by any means, but under the masterful direction of Davis, the recording should be in the library of anyone who loves this work, right alongside this new Erato recording.

Source: David A. McConnell (

Robert Schumann: Genoveva Overture, Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4

London Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner

Recorded during March 2018 at Barbican Hall, London
Released on September 20, 2019 by London Symphony Orchestra Ltd

Sir John Eliot Gardiner is no stranger to the mid-19th century romantic symphony. Having completed a commendable cycle of Mendelssohn symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra, he now turns his attention to those of Schumann. This is not Gardiner's first cycle; it has been over 20 years since his radical and acclaimed series with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.

This latest release on the LSO Live label programs Schumann's symphonies 2 and 4 (1841 version) along with the Genoveva overture. Gardiner's conducting brings freshness, vivaciousness and clarity to these works. All too often the idea that Schumann was a poor orchestrator is mooted, but these latest renditions present no evidence for this. The textures heard on both Symphonies are clean and transparent, the result of having a conductor with deep affinity and understanding of this period.

Gardiner consistently pays careful attention to observe Schumann's markings, executing them diligently. The phrasing throughout is meticulously detailed in all the parts; no detail is overlooked. In the opening movement of the Fourth Symphony for instance, the cello and bass parts have the same degree of shaping as the violins and violas. Whilst in his earlier cycle, the detail is evident, it doesn’t have the same expressive variety, the strings lacking the same undulation and the woodwinds lines are less definitively articulated.

There are some consistencies in tempo between the alternative versions of the two symphonies. The initial two movements of the fourth symphony match almost identically in both recordings, however the general feeling in the earlier cycle is slightly more luminous. The scherzo is marginally faster in the ORR recording which suits the period string timbre; the slower LSO version captures the same vivacity but allows for the bloom of the string sound. The LSO finale is slightly quicker with a hint of rubato, which intensifies the impact of the buoyant and animated climax.

Again, in the second symphony there is a consistency of approach overall with parallels between the two recordings; only one movement diverges from Gardiner's ORR rendition, the slow third movement – Adagio Espressivo. Slower and more emotionally intense, it has moments of tenderness especially in the woodwind solos, whilst the sprightlier London interpretation, despite its beautifully shaped phrasing, lacks the same muted colors.

The London Symphony Orchestra's sound is rich and sonorous throughout. Gardiner brings his period understanding to the orchestral palette. Suitably chosen sticks on timpani bring an appropriate timbre, and vibrato-less strings give a sense of mid-19th-century practice. The brass, particularly in the second symphony, has clarity, cutting through the textures when necessary.

The recordings – made live in London's Barbican Hall on March 2018, are a credit to the LSO Live engineers. They are clearly well-practiced in recording in this less than ideal acoustics, and the capture is excellent. Mastering gives a sense of perspective which is intrinsic to the music and enhances the acoustics. Woodwind and brass are placed appropriately and there is a wide panorama to the strings, giving a wide sense of breadth. Audience noise is negligible.

Christian Thielemann with Staatskapelle Dresden takes a more leisurely approach, his broader tempos thicken the orchestral textures, feeling denser they lack the vigor of Gardiner. Robin Ticciati's second symphony with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle's Berlin Philharmonic have similar tempo choices to Gardiner. Nézet-Séguin is more risk-taking in both works, finding poetry, the second much brisker and fourth more expansive, with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe are on fine form.

An exciting and commendable release, a worthy and intriguing alternative to Gardiner's earlier recordings of these two symphonies. The polished performance of the overture to Genoveva opens this album stylishly. Gardiner is at his most informed here, insightful and intuitive, skilfully tempering his interpretations to match the sound and strengths of the LSO. His previous cycle with ORR is good, but here Gardiner excels himself while fine-tuning his interpretative prowess.

Source: Leighton Jones (

On its face, this 2019 release by John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra seems fairly straightforward and standard, with an overture at the opening and two symphonies by the great Romantic composer Robert Schumann occupying the rest of the program. Yet listeners may consider that it is far from routine on further investigation. The overture to Genoveva is the only part of Schumann's 1850 opera that is regularly performed nowadays, though it remains relatively obscure when compared to other overtures that serve to open concerts. Heard more frequently, the Symphony No.2 in C major has had a fairly stable performance history, though like Schumann's other symphonies, it hasn't achieved the status of greatness accorded to the symphonies of Beethoven or Brahms, and remains in the second tier of 19th century symphonies. The Symphony No.4 in D minor, however, may startle listeners who were expecting the long-established version of 1851. Instead, Gardiner has chosen the original 1841 version, which Clara Schumann described as unfinished sketches, but which Brahms favored over the revised version and revealed it to be complete when he published it in 1891. Chronologically, this was actually Schumann's second symphony, though it was first published after the two intervening symphonies and became the Fourth by default. Schumann's leaner orchestration has not been smoothed over or thickened with the later excessive doublings of woodwinds and strings, and while the form is almost identical to the later version, experienced listeners should note the many differences which are evident in this reading. The live recording by LSO Live captures the orchestra's sound with great clarity and fine details, which certainly makes Schumann's richly scored music easier to follow with pleasure.

Source: Blair Sanderson (

Mieczysław Weinberg: Chamber Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3

East-West Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Rostislav Krimer

Recorded on October 16, 2018 at the Grand Hall of the Belarus State Philharmonic, Minsk
Released on September 13, 2019 by Naxos

Mieczysław Weinberg was born in Warsaw on 8 December 1919, where he emerged as a highly regarded pianist who might well have continued his studies in the United States until the Nazi invasion forced him to flee to Minsk (in course of which his travel documents were inscribed as "Moisey Vainberg", by which name he was "officially" known until 1982).

During 1939-1941 he studied composition with Vasily Zolotaryov, then, after the Nazi invasion, headed further east to Tashkent, where he duly became immersed in numerous theatrical and operatic projects. There he also wrote his First Symphony, which favourably impressed Shostakovich, and resulted in his settling in Moscow in 1943 where he was to remain for the rest of his life. Despite various personal setbacks (his father-in-law, the renowned actor Solomon Mikhoels, was murdered in 1948 and Weinberg himself was imprisoned for alleged "Jewish subversion" then freed only after the death of Stalin in 1953), he gradually gained a reputation as a figure who was championed by many of the leading Soviet singers, instrumentalists and conductors.

Despite receiving various official honours, Weinberg's fortunes declined noticeably over his final two decades – not least owing to the emergence of a younger generation of composers whose perceived antagonism to the Soviet establishment had gained them greater coverage in the West (where Weinberg had never enjoyed more than a modest presence even during his heyday), and his death in Moscow on 26 February 1996 went largely unnoticed. Since then, however, his output – which comprises 26 symphonies and 17 string quartets, together with seven operas, some two dozen song cycles and a wealth of chamber and instrumental music – has secured an increasing number of performances and recordings and is now held in great regard as a significant as well as personal continuation of the Russian symphonic tradition.

Symphonic thinking dominated Weinberg's final decade even more than previously, with his last three symphonies and four chamber symphonies comprising an interrelated sequence that rounds off the overall cycle through its nexus of references to and reworking of earlier works. Weinberg's Chamber Symphonies throw an ambivalent light over almost his whole creativity. That Weinberg began writing them after composing 19 symphonies has itself been noted; he himself admitted "I got a bit lost", stating they differed "...neither in length nor in character from the [strings only] Second, Seventh and Tenth". Aside from his not wishing to equal the 27 symphonies of Myaskovsky, the main reason surely lies in actual content – the first three Chamber Symphonies drawing, in whole or in part, on string quartets written decades before.

Few commentators seemed to notice that, when it appeared in 1986, the First Chamber Symphony was an arrangement of the Second String Quartet (likewise designated as Op.145), which had itself been revised the previous year. Originally composed in 1940 and premiered the following year, this was the first piece Weinberg completed during his two years spent in Minsk, where he studied with Zolotaryov and so made the transition from pianist to composer in earnest. Ironic, then, that this quartet remains seldom heard, whereas its orchestral version, inscribed to the memory of Weinberg's mother and sister (both likely perishing at Trawniki in 1943), has become one of his most performed and recorded works – its formal lucidity and expressive directness helping to make this an undeniably appealing introduction to his music.

The first movement opens with an ingratiating theme whose lilting gait grows more incisive as the exposition unfolds. This is duly repeated, then a compact while eventful development emphasises the theme's latent harmonic acerbity as it builds to a brief climax. The reprise is subtly varied so as to continue a process of intensification which becomes even greater in the coda then ultimately subsides into musing uncertainty, prior to a hesitant final cadence. The second movement begins with a pensive theme over a "walking" pizzicato which gradually reaches a fervent climax, from where a livelier central section (added during revision) takes over. This leads to a heightened resumption of the main theme at the original tempo, though any likelihood of reconcilement is banished by the subdued detachment of the closing bars.

The third movement (added in its entirety during revision) is an intermezzo of refinement and finesse – its wistfully undulating theme constantly turning back on itself, while finding little contrast in either the Apollonian trio section or speculative coda. The finale breaks out of any impasse with its vigorous main theme, the music taking on renewed momentum as it hurtles through a brief if related central episode toward a heightened restatement of this theme, then on to a coda whose clinching chords effect the sudden yet decisive key change from G to C.

Weinberg continued this thinking the following year with the Second Chamber Symphony, drawn largely from his Third String Quartet. Then in 1990 came the Third Chamber Symphony, first performed in Moscow on 19 November by the USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra with Vladimir Fedoseyev. This takes as a starting point the Fifth String Quartet, composed in 1945 then premiered two years later, from which Weinberg duly selected the first, third and fourth movements – omitting the second while replacing the original fifth movement with a newly written finale. The relationship between chamber symphony and quartet is thus further removed compared to that of its predecessors, hence the more recent piece can only nominally be considered an arrangement rather than a work in its own right.

The first movement starts with a wandering theme which unfolds unaccompanied for some while before opening out into elegiac polyphony. A secondary theme is richer harmonically but affords little expressive warmth as this reaches a plangent culmination, before subsiding into a haunted recollection of the initial theme. The remaining movements play continuously, beginning with a scherzo, the driving energy of whose main theme is maintained across two subsidiary episodes that bring contrast of texture but no emotional respite. Following directly from its abrasive close, the third movement could not be more different in manner – its initial theme an anguished threnody that dies down before continuing in rapt tones against a sombre backdrop. This reaches a weary climax, then proceeds to fade out uncertainly on solo strings.

The finale duly sets off at a swifter pace, its limpid main theme gradually attracting various accompanying gestures as this pursues its listless course. A secondary theme first heard on divided strings brings a measure of eloquence and poise, though this seems hardly to affect the progress of the initial theme when it returns; these two ideas duly alternating one more time before the music sinks into fragmentary solo gestures then, in turn, a soulful and even hymnal conclusion which sets the foregoing in a more consoling if hardly reposeful light.

The recording of these two Chamber Symphonies in Minsk (the first time any of Weinberg's music has been recorded in the city where it received his first major public performances), by the recently formed East-West Chamber Orchestra with its chief conductor Rostislav Krimer, serves as recognition of the importance of what is now the Belorussian capital to Weinberg's evolution as a composer; also as confirmation of the esteem in which Weinberg's music is now held almost a quarter of a century after his death and in the centenary year of his birth.

Source: Richard Whitehouse (

Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartets Nos. 7 & 8, Op.59 Nos. 1 & 2 ("Rasumovsky")

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

Recorded live and in rehearsal, June 10-11, 2019, at the Mozartsaal, Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria
Released on September 27, 2019 by Erato

Quatuor Ebene writes that early on in their quartet's life, when they were still in the conservatory, they were like "an infant... bottle-fed on Ravel and Schubert". They sound a touch apologetic, but they needn't be; Ravel and Schubert are as good a starting place as any, as evidenced by the quartet's characteristic, rich and unified tone. Their early discography was often no meatier but offered them further chances to develop different sound worlds; to Ravel, they added Debussy and Fauré, to Schubert they added Mozart and Mendelssohn, and two albums of popular music, one with tracks from movie scores and one centered around Brazilian tunes. The quartet brings all this preparation to bear on two of Beethoven's middle string quartets in their newest release.

Beethoven's String Quartet No.7 (Op.59 No.1), the first of the "Rasumovsky" set, is notoriously difficult to interpret and perform, but the Quatuor Ebene gives a wonderfully original and varied account of the piece. Their use of vibrato is particularly noteworthy. It's very subdued throughout the opening, which gives the first theme a very nonchalant feel, as if you’re strolling down a city street. But then, when the second theme rolls around (track 1, 1'33"), suddenly a warm vibrato pervades every note; we've entered a luxuriously decorated building, perhaps. Throughout the development, the quartet employs non-vibrato playing to great effect, for instance when they pass around diminished chords, searching for a stable sonority (3'42"). After finding one, it's non-vibrato again to accompany a simple eighth-note figure in the violin. They are not the first quartet to use non-vibrato in Beethoven, but the artistry with which they use it to sculpt the music’s emotion, with the octaves perfectly in tune, with the right amount of silence between notes, sets the bar very high.

In the piece's Scherzo, the quartet shows off their ability to change the mood of their playing on a dime, shifting quickly from quiet and calm to aggressive and back within seconds. Plenty of cadences feature these shifts (a good instance appear at 0'29"), and it is more than dynamics that change; the articulation of the notes, and their duration, change too. The result is a pleasure to listen to. The Russian theme in the Finale is played well in all its different styles – spoken, whispered, drawn-out and sung – in a rousing close to the quartet.

In the second "Rasumovsky" quartet (Op.59 No.2), the stylistic virtuosity continues, though the music feels slightly less suited to it. The first movement's main theme is inherently full of contrast, and the quartet loses no chance to highlight that. The quiet moments almost give you shivers. But the movement as a whole might actually demand a more unified, less determined sound. The music ventures so hesitantly into major keys, one doesn't really believe it; to hear Ebène play it with such enthusiasm isn't quite convincing. The quartet's adagio is somehow lacking solidity; The quartet's adagio is somehow lacking solidity. Ebène's default adagio sound is ethereal, with soft attacks and ever-evolving vibrato, but one almost wishes for a less sophisticated, more direct sound, like that heard in Quartetto Italiano or the Takác's Quartet's versions. The following scherzo sounds strange played as legato as they do here; the finale is more comfortable in its skin, the dance-like Rondo bouncing along happily. As with all Beethoven, these are issues of taste. The performance is very high quality regardless.

This Razumovsky set compares favorably to well-worn recordings of the quartets, especially if you like your Beethoven on the Romantic side. Quartetto Italiano's version can feel restrained and stiff after hearing Ebène's version; it’s certainly seated more firmly in a Classical tradition. Recorded both live and on rehearsal in Vienna, the sound of the album is clean and of high quality, though the Ebènes continue their practice of capturing the sounds of their breath as they play.

This set of recordings leaves us eager to hear the rest of the cycle. It will be interesting to hear how the group's approach to Beethoven changes as they leave Ravel and Schubert even further behind.

Source: Jonah Pearl (

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.9 in D major "Choral", Op.125

Ann-Helen Moen, soprano
Marianne Beate Kielland, alto
Allan Clayton, tenor
Neal Davies, bass

Bach Collegium Japan chorus & orchestra
Conductor: Masaaki Suzuki

Recorded in January 2019, including a public concert on 24th January, at the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall: Takemitsu Memorial, Japan
Released on October 4, 2019 by BIS

Having completed their fabulous recordings of Bach's choral works, and after a fine version of the Missa Solemnis last year, Bach Collegium Japan and Masaaki Suzuki now turn their attention to Beethoven's final symphony. One of the recording's many strengths is Suzuki's chosen tempi: while still faster than most modern-instrument recordings, this is one of the slowest original instrument performances on record. Giving the music more time to breathe allows the Romantic nobility of Beethoven's music to come to the fore, a quality that is lost in many other original instrument performances.

Suzuki and his orchestra conjure a beguilingly hushed opening that quickly builds to a powerful climax (0'27"). The BIS recording is exemplary in capturing a wide soundstage with warmth and clarity. In comparison, Gardiner's recording is overly bright and analytical, making any music above Forte excessively harsh. More importantly, Suzuki maintains a potent sense of forward momentum throughout the first movement that empowers the explosive climax at 7'49" and continues that intensity right up the end of the movement. Immerseel's performance fails to maintain that momentum, and despite excellent orchestral playing of Anima Eterna, much of the first movement seems to hang fire. Krivine's performance can at times seem episodic, moving from one climax to the next, whereas Suzuki ensures that the music develops and expands from those initial mysterious murmurs into an organic and powerful whole.

In the second movement, Suzuki is again a bit slower (14'03") compared to his colleagues (Gardiner 13'07"; Immerseel 13'28"; Krivine 13'30"; Norrington slower still 14'20"). While the faster tempos provide more overtly virtuosic playing, most especially from Gardiner's orchestra, Suzuki's performance is no less impressive, finding nobility and rowdy humor that is missing in the faster performances. Norrington's performance is also successful at this, although his choice of tempo for the trio (one of Beethoven's most difficult metronome markings to honor) is unconvincingly slow.

The third movement is exceptional, Suzuki once again allowing himself a slower tempo than that indicated by Beethoven's metronome marking. The marking for this movement is a flashpoint of conflict between traditionalist and "historically informed" performers. Norrington, closely follows Beethoven's metronome markings, performs the movement in only 11'08", which is a shock to any listener who knows the interpretations of Klemperer (a "quick" traditionalist at 15'02"); Karajan (Berlin/1960s cycle, 16'30"), Walter (Columbia/Sony cycle 17'41"); Furtwängler (Bayreuth, 19'40"!!). Indeed, Norrington and Immerseel's (12'26") performances do seem content to simply ensure the music is played with rhythmic accuracy and a beautiful tone. Suzuki proves far more successful at drawing out the music's complex web of emotions, and any concerns one might have about original instruments being unable to match the beauty and richness of tone found in their modern counterparts – will find those fears unfounded in this gorgeous and deeply involving performance.

The fourth movement is hugely impressive, from the opening chord, terrifyingly dissonant, to the nuanced and precise playing of the orchestral basses during their recitative, leading into a particularly exciting rendition of the orchestral variations on the "Ode to Joy". The entry of the singers raises the bar still further, soloists and choir uniformly excellent, with near-perfect intonation and crisp diction. A key aspect of Suzuki's wonderful Bach recordings is the complete engagement his singers give to the text, and that quality is also integral to this performance. Choir and soloists passionately embody Beethoven's (and Schiller's) belief in the brotherhood of humanity. Surely it is a message that we need to hear, and believe, now more than ever.

This is an exceptional release, with highly informative and interesting notes by Beethoven scholar Ernst Herttrich. The recording is everything we expect from BIS, and Bach Collegium Japan and their conductor Masaaki Suzuki are proving to be first-rate performers of an increasingly wide range of music. No one recording can capture every aspect of Beethoven's magnum opus, but this one comes close and belongs in the library of every Beethoven lover.

Source: David A. McConnell (

Dame Ethel Mary Smyth: Mass in D | Overture to "The Wreckers"

Susanna Hurrell, soprano
Catriona Morison, mezzo-soprano
Ben Johnson, tenor
Duncan Rock, baritone

BBC Symphony Chorus
Chorus Director: Neil Ferris

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Sakari Oramo

Recorded at Watford Colosseum on January 26-27, 2019
Released on September 27, 2019 by Chandos

My Recording of the Week is an incredible album of two works by Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) which turned heads when we first played it in the Presto office – the overture to her opera The Wreckers, evoking a distinctly Poldark-esque world of Cornish smugglers, shipwrecks and romantic complications, and her hour-long Mass in D, which is nothing short of epic in its scope.

The overture, naturally enough, opens the album – a dramatic beginning, worthy of the silver-screen swashbucklers that would captivate audiences a few decades later, a middle section by turns pensive and ominous, and warm hymn-like sections. It's very much in the tradition of the overture as a medley introducing the main themes of the ensuing opera. This brief overview is not to disparage it as insubstantial; rather, it suffers simply by being placed in the shadow of the majestic Mass in D.

The Kyrie emerges out of mysterious darkness, rising to forceful heights and establishing a similar musical language to that of Beethoven's dramatic Missa Solemnis. Smyth makes great use of insistent melodic lines scored in powerful octaves, with the BBC Symphony Chorus' sopranos and tenors having their top As put to the test. Contemporary male detractors noted this trait disapprovingly – criticising Smyth for demanding, rather than beseeching, Divine mercy. A minority of well-meaning critics did shower praise on the composer for exactly the same qualities, however – believing her to have successfully jettisoned femininity and produced a work they dubbed "virile".

Smyth follows the practice – rare today but relatively common under older Anglican liturgical uses – of placing the Gloria at the end of the Mass. The exultant, rushing opening of her Credo, though, is so evocative of Beethoven's Gloria that one could be forgiven for doing a double-take and checking the track-listing! Some real hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments here; Smyth responds to the text identifying God as Creator with a thrilling and majestic climax on "facta sunt".

Sakari OramoIt's frequently remarked that composers of wavering, dubious or no faith at all seem to find no difficulty responding to the profoundest aspects of religious expression; one thinks of Howells, Brahms and others falling outside the boundaries of the conventionally religious. Smyth's quietly awed setting of "et homo factus est" for the full choir, sotto voce and accompanied by sombre low brass, is a perfect example of this – she may never have regained her faith but her intense response to the Mass text seems to show all the passion and commitment of the most zealous believer.

Eschewing the common cliché of deploying the choral upper voices as ersatz angelic hosts, Smyth has the mezzo-soprano soloist (here a magnificently warm Catriona Morison, displaying the same qualities that won her the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2017) open the Sanctus with a sensitive line that evokes shades of Mahler or Duruflé. It's again backed by quiet low brass – seemingly a favourite sonority of the composer's, and a very effective one. Soprano Susanna Hurrell's moment to shine comes in the Benedictus, with a sense of serene, almost pensive, weightlessness that is only briefly punctuated by moments of transition and moments of revelation. Scrupulously evenhanded to her soloists, Smyth turns next to the tenor to open the Agnus Dei; Ben Johnson's beseeching tone, of which we had a preview in the Credo, is just as effective here, though his pleas for mercy now strike a more impassioned, almost urgent note.

Following this, the grand finale at last arrives in the form of the Gloria – more dazzling D major sunlight (and more heroic top As for the singers, whose tireless physical endurance here is really very impressive and merits a mention in dispatches). In the more subdued mid-section, baritone Duncan Rock finally has his turn, in solo and duet passages once again calling on Jesus to have mercy on humankind. If he lacks some of Johnson's urgency, he makes up for it in presence; indeed Rock's tones are so rich, so assured that he can't quite convince as an imploring, sin-wracked supplicant.

It will come as no surprise that, after this, Smyth rolls up her sleeves for an unambiguously positive conclusion; those Beethovenian choral octave doublings are back for one more curtain call, and with the aid of an unusually generous percussion section (how many other Mass settings feature the side drum and triangle?), organ, orchestra, soloists and choir bring proceedings to a triumphant close.

Over the past few months, I've had the sensation that efforts to promote the works of female composers (both living and historical) have at last reached a critical mass – if you'll pardon the pun – and gained a crucial level of momentum. This recording should by rights be front and centre in those initiatives; it's a magnificent, uplifting work that, while far too large for liturgical use, deserves to become a regular of the concert-hall and choral-society repertoire. An exhilarating musical experience, not soon to be forgotten.

Source: David Smith (

Still massively underrepresented on disc, Ethel Smyth's position as a pioneer among British women composers has received significant support over the years from the Chandos label. Although Smyth became the first female composer to be honoured with a Damehood for her services to music, her reputation during her lifetime (1858-1944) was undermined by constant comparison (explicit or implied) with her male colleagues, while in the years since her death her resolutely late-Romantic compositions – including such groundbreaking operas as Der Wald, The Wreckers and The Boatswain's Mate – fell out of step with the tastes of the times. So it's good to welcome, from Chandos once again, new recordings of her Mass in D major (1891, revised 1925) and the Overture to The Wreckers (1902-1904), in excellent, committed performances from the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under the BBCSO's chief conductor Sakari Oramo.

Oramo is well-known for his championing of little-known works, and while neither of these pieces is new to disc, he and his forces do them proud. Proceedings open with a tremendously spirited account The Wreckers overture, its vigorous main theme complemented by a striking transitional idea in bold octaves, and a dreamy, broadly lyrical second subject. Smyth had clearly absorbed the spirit of her times, not least the influence of Wagner (whose Meistersinger gets a nod in the broad, chorale-like episode, complete with organ, that precedes the final appearance of the main theme). The earthy, dance-like coda comes closest to suggesting, in grand tones, the opera's Cornwall setting. Oramo and the BBCSO have a high old time with the piece, and it serves as an excellent curtain-raiser to the disc.

In its original form, the Mass in D is a full decade earlier than The Wreckers, and here the most tangible influence is that of Brahms, particularly in the imitative and declamatory passages of choral writing, which often recall the German Requiem. Smyth designed the work for concert rather than liturgical performance, with large forces including percussion, and recommended that the "Gloria" section be placed last, after the "Agnus Dei", for best effect – an ordering that Oramo follows here. Despite its essentially conservative musical language, there are some really striking ideas here, belying Smyth’s reputation as a composer of tub-thumping, vigorous, "masculine" music. At the end of the central "Christe" section of the opening "Kyrie" movement there's a daringly chromatic suspension which resolves downwards, whose placement and length may well have the hairs standing on the back of your neck. In the ambitiously structured "Credo" movement there are some gorgeous instrumental solos (violin, flute and oboe) as the tenor solo's "Qui propter nos homines" gives way to the soprano's exquisite "et incarnatus est", momentarily calling to mind Beethoven's Missa solemnis.

At the opening of the "Sanctus", the alto soloist (Catriona Morison) is bathed in gentle brass chords, answered by an angelic female chorus, while the ‘Benedictus’ with its radiant soprano solo (Susanna Hurrell) again reminds one of Brahms' German Requiem. In the "Agnus Dei" it is the tenor soloist (the warm-toned Ben Johnson, only slightly taxed in the higher range) who leads proceedings, before the full choir takes over for the central "miserere nobis" section, while the concluding "dona nobis pacem" is exquisitely beautiful. All four soloists (including baritone Duncan Rock) return in the concluding "Gloria", another ambitiously scaled and constructed movement with plentiful contrasts of mood, and a rousing final "Amen" that is surely every bit as thrilling and uplifting as Smyth intended. From the most intimate passages to the most urgently demonstrative, all the forces are captured to perfection by the Chandos team in the venue of the Watford Colosseum, and there are excellent, detailed booklet notes by Laura Tunbridge. This fine disc should be heard by anyone interested in a more complete picture of British music at the turn of the last century, as well as being required listening for Smyth fans everywhere!


Ludwig van Beethoven: Complete Symphonies

Camilla Nylund, soprano
Gerhild Romberger, alto
Klaus Florian Vogt, tenor
Georg Zeppenfeld, bass

Wiener Singverein
Chorus master: Johannes Prinz

Wiener Philharmoniker
Conductor: Andris Nelsons

Recorded in Vienna, Musikverein, Großer Saal, on March 18-23, 2017 (Symphony No.6), October 11-15, 2017 (Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8), May 8-13, 2018 (Symphony No.9), March 25-31, 2019 (Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5), April 1-2, 2019 (Symphony No.3), and April 2-7, 2019 (Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2)
Released on October 4, 2019 by Deutsche Grammophon

There are close to 200 full cycles Beethoven's nine Symphonies, performed by practically all respected orchestras and conductors. On the yellow label alone, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has few notable cycles: Bohm, Bernstein, Abbado (in his early, often overlooked cycle) and Thielemann. There's also Rattle's digital cycle on Warner (originally EMI), not to mention many single Symphonies recordings. In other words, 250 celebrations or not, Nelsons is entering a crowded field, including cycles by the orchestra he chose for this recording.

When conducting the VPO, there is obviously a great tradition of sound and approach to the music, and here you can rest a sure that this orchestra's famous sound quality is alive and well, superbly recorded too. The question that keeps nagging while listening to this set is whether a conductor, any conductor, should let the VPO play as they will or try and inject his or her own interpretation of the music. In most of the performances we have here, Nelsons chooses not to interfere, and it's not necessarily a bad thing.

When it works, there is really no need for obstructive decisions, as in a truly wonderful performance of the Sixth Symphony ("Pastoral"), where the velvety sound of the Vienna Philharmonic's strings is in full display, or in the effortless fast runs of the woodwinds in the final movement of the Fourth Symphony. There are places, though, that one feels a little intervention might have been helpful, even as a discrete way of elevating the music. Unfortunately, this thought presents itself with two of the best-known Symphonies – No.3 ("Eroica") and No.5. The first movement of the Eroica is somewhat tamed, and though nelsons follows the score closely, the music feels lacking in energy. The syncopated chords that precede the celebratory display of the main theme can be observed quietly (as requested by the composer), but without losing tension, as Rattle showed in his version. Here, the hushed playing by the strings, lovely as it is, makes any tension disappear rapidly.

On the other spectrum, Nelsons and the VPO have a tendency to over-emphasis climaxes, getting back to old mono recordings by Klemperer or Furtwängler, but without the strategic thinking of the great masters. And so, in the first movement of the "Eroica", the painful dissonant chords, which finally introduces the late second theme, make it sound deflated. This also happens in the leading up to the recapitulation (11'00" onward), and at the end of the Funeral March's high point (9'45"). And why do the horns suddenly slow down in the trio section of the Scherzo? A moment that should be witty turns into something heavy-handed.

In the Fifth Symphony, any sense of revolution is lost, the orchestra plays without any excitement, again reminiscent of the old-days performances but without the inner tension that compensated for lack of textural lightness. The third movement, so thrilling in Bernstein's and Rattle's versions, is dully performed, and the finale is celebratory but lacks drive.

Things get much better with the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. On both works, the Vienna Philharmonic sounds much more spontaneous, sometimes at the expense of their usual accuracy (the third movement of the Seventh Symphony is too fast even for a Presto). In the first movement of this Symphony, there is no match to the superb handling of the transitions as in Carlos Kleiber's legendary version, but this is a nice Seventh nonetheless.

Contrary to Rattle, and on par with Thielemann, it doesn't sound as if Nelsons shrinks the size of the orchestra in the first two Symphonies. The first, as a whole, sounds somewhat hesitant, but the Second Symphony is nicely done, if one ignores the tendency to give too much weight as a device to make a musical point.

The Ninth Symphony, a piece that should and can be a triumphant ending to a Beethoven Symphonies cycle, is anything but here. It's not the first movement, which is rather predictable, nor the slow movement which, again, finds Nelsons letting the wonderful string players present their greatest asset. It's the finale, a belligerent affair that finds the Wiener Singverein having trouble in loud or high passages, and a group of soloists that vibrate to such an extent that one can't distinguish the main melody.

When conductors with big personalities partner with the Vienna Philharmonic, the results can be electrifying (Bernstein, Rattle) or more tamed (Bohm, Abbado and Thielemann). Here we find a middle of the road approach. It can have fine results indeed, as in the Second, Fourth, Sixth, Seven and Eight Symphonies. With a state of the art sound and luxurious packaging and documentation, this may be a decent purchase and a good listen, but not one of the top cycles from the nearly 200 alternatives.

Source: Tal Agam (

17th Century Playlist – Francesco Cavalli, Stefano Landi, Pierre Guédron, Nicholas Lanier, Étienne Moulinié, Giovanni Battista Fontana, Michel Lambert, Antoine Boësset, Sébastien Le Camus, John Dowland

Ed Lyon, tenor

Theatre of the Ayre:
Elizabeth Kenny, lute, guitar , theorbo
Siobhán Armstrong, triple harp, Irish harp
Reiko Ichise, viola da gamba
Rodolfo Richter, Jane Gordon, violins

Recorded at St Martin's Church, Salisbury, England, on January 27-30, 2019
Released on September 27, 2019 by Delphian

A mixtape of 17th century ear-worms, from the toe-tapping to the plangently melancholy, in highly engaging performances.

Tenor Ed Lyon is one of those performers who seem to pop up in a wide variety of music from 17th century opera (Cavalli's "L'Ormindo" at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) to contemporary (Thomas Adès' "The Exterminating Angel" at the Royal Opera House), Mozart singspiel ("Die Entführung aus dem Serail" at The Grange Festival) to Broadway musical (Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady", with the full Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations, at the Chatelet Theatre), and Britten ("Turn of the Screw" at Garsington this Summer) and he is currently Orpheus (in Offenbach's operetta "Orpheus in the Underworld" at English National Opera). Always musical and always interesting, he is a versatile performer always worth listening to.

Judging by this new disc, 17th Century Playlist on the Delphian label, it is in the earlier repertoire that his heart really lies. Along with Elizabeth Kenny's Theatre of the Ayre, Ed Lyon has devised a recital of 17th century song, Italian, French and English, which engages and delights, small scale pieces which are big on personality and style, by Francesco Cavalli, Stefano Landi, Pierre Guedron, Nicholas Lanier, Etienne Moulinie, Giovanni Battista Fontana, Michel Lambert, Antoine Boesset, Sebastien Le Camus, and John Dowland.

Despite the rather modish title, what we have here is an exploration of an art relatively under represented on disc, the intimate 17th century song. Most of these pieces were written for particular patrons, Kings, Cardinals and more, to be performed in saloons and chambers by a small group of musicians. The works represent personal taste, the taste of the patron, and it is not surprising that Lyon and Kenny have been able to put together such a toe tapping selection.

The thread running through these pieces is that most are "ear worms", whether fast or slow they are based on motifs which holds us by the ears (to use a 17th century phrase which Elizabeth Kenny's lively and informative CD booklet essay elucidates for us). Nothing is sexed up or re-orchestrated for modern taste, it doesn't need to be.

The works here were designed for virtuosi to show off their various talents, and thanks to developments in music and musical notation there is complexity too. The use of the guitar is quite common (thanks to the Spanish influence in Naples, where the two kingdoms were linked) and using mensural notation meant that instrumentalists could play along with the guitar and add complex secondary lines. So we get pieces which are full of interest, lively contrapuntal lines combined with rich textures. And not just the guitar, we have the lute and theorbo of course, but also the triple harp and the Irish harp. This latter has brass strings and was brought to the English court by Irish harpists, and it adds another thread of colour and texture to the accompaniment.

We start with a trio of pieces all based on those fast, ground-bass style 17th century rhythms which always get the toe tapping, as soon as they start you cannot help but smile. Then things get slower and more thoughtful. Throughout, Lyon and Kenny keep things varied, there is space for John Dowland's Time stands still and Etienne Moulinie's haunting Vos mespirs chaque jour alongside livelier pieces, and we move flexibly between France, England and Italy.

So who were these composers? Some we recognise, and one or two of the pieces are familiar, yet many of the composers are little more than names. We open with a piece from Cavalli's unperformed (and rather raunchily near the knuckle) Eliogabolo, written for the Venetian opera house. Stefano Landi's smaller scale pieces were written for Venice too. Landi trained as a boy soprano in Rome, and his books of canzonette were often dedicated to various Cardinals, whilst his brother was in the service of the Medici, playing the harp, so we can imagine this music in a Cardinal's saloon, a few instrumentalists including a harp and perhaps a singer from the Sistine Chapel. Learned, intelligent music and lyrics, but toe tapping stuff too, it flatters the patron and delights the ear. We also get an instrumental piece by Giovanni Battista Fontana, one of many he produced which were intended for flexible scoring, "for violin or cornett, bassoon, chitarone, violoncino or similar other instrument", it was the music itself that mattered.

Over in France the approach was slightly different, the French composers took a very specific view of the way they set the French language, but the results had a commonality. Pierre Guedron started out as a boy in the chapel of the Cardinal of Lorraine and then moved to the Royal chapel becoming surintendant des musiques de la chambre du roi, whilst Antoine Boesset was his son-in-law and also at the cultured court of King Louis XIII (both composers contributed to the ballets du cour, as did the king himself). And Etienne Moulinie and Michel Lambert were amongst the next generation of composers at the court of Louis XIII and his son.

Over in England, lutenist John Dowland was one of the prime composers of song of the time. Whilst he performed for Queen Elizabeth I (notably on one occasion in 1582 under a tree at Sudeley Castle with the singer under an adjoining tree), he never got a post at court (his being a Catholic cannot have helped) and his career was in Denmark working for King Christian IV and then in Jacobean London under King James I. From a French Huguenot family, Nicholas Lanier was the first composer to hold the title of Master of the Kings Musick (under King Charles I). He had links to the Irish harpist Cormac MacDermott, hence the inclusion of the Irish harp on the disc. And he wasn't just a musician, it was Lanier on his visits to Mantua who arranged for King Charles I to buy the Duke of Mantua's famous picture collection.

Ed Lyon has quite a vibrant voice, and one which he uses to colour the music. This is not a pale, bleached sound, but a rich one which is aptly complemented by the playing of the Theatre of the Ayre. Lyon is not frightened of using vibrato for expressive purposes, and does not shy away from making a bigger sound. But he also has a stylish turn of phrase (with a fine array of ornaments), and is able to bring that discreet sense of virtuosity to the pieces which is very necessary. The recording brings the performers quite close, there is an engaging chamber quality to the disc which is emphasised if you listen on headphones.

Source: Robert Hugill (

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

Mary Bevan, soprano
Roderick Williams, baritone
Jack Liebeck, violin
William Vann, piano

Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, from 27 November to 1 December 2018
Released on October 11, 2019 by Albion

Holst and Vaughan Williams enjoyed a long, close and musically fruitful friendship. It's fitting, therefore, that this CD should be a collaboration between the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society and the Holst Society. Actually, it's not the first time that an Albion Records release has paired the music of these composers. An earlier disc, Heirs and Rebels was a programme of historic recordings; this latest album, however, consists of brand-new recordings. The CD includes many first recordings and since VW and Holst were each other's preferred critics of new pieces, it's fascinating to hear one or two examples of both of them setting the same text.

One such instance is the piece entitled Cradle Song by Holst and Blake's Cradle Song by VW. The text is from William Blake's Songs of Innocence. The two composers differ somewhat in their selection of stanzas but there's sufficient overlap to enable comparisons. In fact, the contrast is marked. Holst's music has an air of fresh innocence to it but might almost be described as jaunty. VW, on the other hand, provides a setting which is more in keeping with my expectations given the text; his music is gently reflective. But maybe my expectations were too one-dimensional. Holst's response to the words strike me, on reflection, as equally valid. Mary Bevan sings both items beautifully.

The other case of a comparable response comes right at the end of the programme with settings of a text by Walt Whitman which VW also used for his choral/orchestral work Toward the Unknown Region (1907). These were earlier settings for solo voice and piano and it seems from the booklet notes that this was an occasion when they indulged in "competitive composition". Apparently, when they came to judge the two Whitman settings, they decided VW was the winner, but I'm not so sure. VW's setting is the more direct, confident and melodically memorable of the two but Holst's effort is much more of an art song. His music is more ambitious, adventurous and complex. Furthermore, it seems to me to be more varied in response to the words. VW later made his setting into a unison choral song; in no way could Holst's piece have been re-engineered in that fashion. These are two of the 14 recordings on the disc that Albion claim as world premiere recordings. In the case of the Vaughan Williams piece that may be true of its solo voice version but the unison choral version was included not long ago as the "filler" on Martyn Brabbins' recording of A Sea Symphony.

The programme includes examples of both composers as folk song arrangers. All five examples here are sung by Roderick Williams. The arrangements are skilful – and they're sung with flair by Williams. Two are particularly notable. Bushes and Briars has the distinction that it was the first folk song that VW collected, in 1903. His arrangement was made five years later. The Captain's Apprentice is a particularly choice example of a melancholy English folk song. I've heard the melody before in the context of VW's orchestral work, Norfolk Rhapsody No 1 because it was used as the principal theme in that work. However, I’ve not previously heard the song itself and I must admit I was unaware that the story related therein is such a sorry tale of child abuse. I shall listen to the orchestral work with new ears from now on.

There are four sets of songs on this disc. Roderick Williams offers Holst's Six Songs. These date from 1902-1903 and they include three settings of lines by Thomas Hardy. Two of Holst's songs set texts that are more familiar from the work of other composers. "Fain Would I Change That Note" was set rapturously as Fair House of Joy by Roger Quilter. I don't think Holst's setting is in quite the same league but his music is eager and it's very good to hear the words in the hands of a composer other than Quilter. "The Sergeant's Song", one of the Hardy settings, is better known as "Rollicum-rorum" in Finzi's cycle, Earth, Air and Rain. Holst provides a good, robust response to the poem. "Invocation to the Dawn" is, apparently, the first setting that Holst ever made of Sanskrit verses in his own translation; the music is rapturous and confident. I also liked another Hardy setting, "In a Wood", which is passionate and romantic. However, I couldn't help thinking that the last song in the set, "I Will Not Let Thee Go", to words by Robert Bridges, tries rather too hard. Roderick Williams and William Vann are splendid advocates for all these songs.

Mary Bevan gives us an opportunity to hear VWs set of Housman songs, Along the Field. To my shame, I don't know these songs, though I understand there's been at least one previous recording. These songs are rarely heard and I suspect there are two reasons for that. One is that you require a very good violinist to commit to learning the demanding and important violin part. The other is that the music is spare; indeed, I'd go so far as to describe it as austere in places. In both respects, I'm reminded of the much later Ten Blake Songs for voice and oboe, written in 1957. In terms of the spare writing, more than once I was put in mind of the almost contemporaneous Riders to the Sea, which VW completed in 1927.

For Along the Field VW selected poems by Housman that are less commonly set by composers: three came from "A Shropshire Lad" (1896) and the remainder from the 1922 collection, "Last Poems". These songs are quite unusual, not least in that the vocal lines aren't as melodic as you might expect. The violin part is very important and acts as a fine foil to the voice part; Jack Liebeck plays superbly throughout. I was greatly taken, too, with Mary Bevan's performance. In the highly original song that gives the cycle its title she sings in a way that conveys marvellously the unspoken thoughts going through the poet's head and also words which are attributed to an aspen tree near where the poet finds himself. Her introspective account of "The Half-Moon Westers Low" is ideally done, as is the last song, "With Rue my Heart is Laden" where she captures the regret and melancholy in both words and music. Not all the songs are slow in tempo but even when VW writes a setting in a quicker tempo, reflection and introspection are never far away. This an intriguing set of songs and I'm delighted to have discovered them in such a fine performance.

I've already cited Rob Barnett's review of an earlier recording of Along the Field. I only found that review after I'd completed my listening to this Albion disc and I noted with great interest the following perceptive comment about the VW cycle: "The Housman song cycle was written in 1927 then revised in 1954. It must surely have had its origins in the snowy perfection of Holst's Four Medieval Poems (words adapted by Helen Waddell)". I suspect Rob was referring to Holst's Four Songs for Voice and Violin. If so, the comparison can readily be made now for Mary Bevan sings them here, partnered once more by Jack Liebeck. The songs are indeed, as Rob describes them, "chaste and pure". According to the booklet notes, Holst's inspiration for this composition came when, in 1916, he chanced upon a young female student who was singing while simultaneously improvising on her violin. It seems that Holst's original intention was that this work would be performed by a singer who would play the violin at the same time! When you hear the songs, you'll realise how fanciful a notion that was. Thankfully, Holst quickly thought the better of it. The writing for the voice is more melodic than we find in Along the Field. Given the forces involved there's, perhaps inevitably, a certain sparseness of texture but I don't find the music austere in the way that VWs settings were at times. Mary Bevan sings them most persuasively.

Holst's Four Songs, Op.4 come from much earlier in his career and are less exploratory in nature than the songs for voice and violin. The second of them, "Margrete's Cradle-Song" sets some lines by Ibsen in English translation. The result is a soothing, gentle lullaby. "Soft and Gently" takes words by Heine, again in English translation; here I like Holst's simplicity of utterance. "Awake, my Heart", a Robert Bridges setting, is the only one of the set in a quick tempo. The music is confident but it seems to me that the setting in compound time, at a swift pace, of a fairly wordy poem makes the vocal line seem a bit too "busy" Overall, though, these are attractive songs and they're well done.

All the songs on this disc are worth getting to know. I think there's a case to be made that the album does an even greater service to Holst than to Vaughan Williams. After all, quite a number of VWs songs are well known – and over the years Albion Records have brought even more of them in from the cold. However, Holst's work in the genre represents a much less familiar side of his output. Indeed, I was astonished to learn that he wrote as many as 97 songs, but only 42 of them have been recorded – this disc has advanced that number with 10 recorded premieres. Not counting the two folksong arrangements, there are 16 Holst songs here and even now, 75 years after his death, five of these remain unpublished.

Both composers receive splendid advocacy here from Mary Bevan and Roderick Williams. The contributions of Jack Liebeck and William Vann are no less distinguished. Presentation is excellent, with the full texts provided and valuable notes. Deborah Spanton's engineering reports the voices and instruments very pleasingly in the sympathetic acoustic of Potton Hall.

This welcome disc celebrates the friendship between Vaughan Williams and Holst by shining a light on less familiar items from their respective outputs, all of which are well worth hearing, especially in these excellent performances.

Source: John Quinn (

Dance – Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Guitar Quintet, Op.143 | Aaron Jay Kernis: 100 Greatest Dance Hits | Luigi Boccherini: Guitar Quintet No.4 in D major "Fandango"

Jason Vieaux, guitar

Escher Quartet:
Adam Barnett-Hart, violin
Aaron Boyd, violin
Pierre Lapointe, viola
Brook Speltz, cello

Recorded in Sauder Hall, Goshen College, Indiana on September 24-25, 2015
Released on July 19, 2019 by Azica Records

"Dance", the release from Azica Records featuring guitarist Jason Vieaux and the Escher Quartet impresses from the outset with its bounding energy. The musical bond between guitarist and quartet is immediate and tight, playing as one. In each of the three works for guitar and string quartet, there is an enduring sense of elegance synonymous with dance, combined with an intrinsic understanding of the music.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco may not be a familiar name, but his relationship with guitarist Andrés Segovia produced a number of commissions for guitar, his Guitar Quintet Op.143 (1951) is one such shining example. Following an early romantic symphony model of quick-slow-scherzo-quick movements, Vieaux and the Eschers bring exquisite poise and refinement to this uplifting work. The quintet has a rich tonal harmonic language and the string writing has similar parallels with Ravel's string quartet (coincidentally in the same key). Throughout the spirited first movement, there are impressive dialogues between the guitar and members of the quartet, cello in particular. The slow movement ("Andante Mesto") fully captures a dark intensity, while the scherzo (marked "Alla Marcia"), is characterfully executed by the violins, with its repeated notes and harmonics. The finale lets all the players have their moment, in which both Vieaux and the Escher sparkle. Segovia's recording may be considered authoritative, but his relationship with members of Quintetto Chigiano lacks the same high level of unity and rhythmic precision as Vieaux and the Escher Quartet. Together, they bring something far more colorful and musically satisfying.

Composed in 1993, the "100 Greatest Dance Hits" by Aaron Jay Kernis is not, as the name suggests, incorporating 100 pieces, but is a four-movement work. In each of the movements, Kernis evokes his take on a popular musical genre. Opening with "Introduction to the Dance Party" it begins with a range of percussion sounds coming from the guitar. Vieaux also demonstrates his technical skills exhibiting a range of timbres from his instrument. The second movement ("Salsa Pasada") is impeccably balanced, both in terms of ensemble and recording. The quartet's sound in "MOR Easy Listening Slow Dance Ballad" (track 7) is beautiful, as is the rich and sonorous guitar solo and the only moment of introspection in the album. This is short-lived, however, giving way to something more lively. The final movement ("Dance Party on the Disco Motorboat") has some surprising moments as it fuses a range of popular music idioms, all performed with a strong conviction.

"Dances" is concluded with the most famous work in this genre, Luigi Boccherini's 4th guitar quintet, "Fandango". The character of each of the four movements is fully realized and the quartet stands out for the purity of the performer's impeccable intonation. The first movement ("Pastorale") has subtle changes of dynamics, combined with elegant phrasing that enhances Boccherini's sometimes overly repeated segments – a feature which prevails throughout the work. "Fandango", the final movement, has some exquisite and highly evocative playing, capturing all the qualities of the dance. Overall, one of the most convincing renditions available on modern instruments.

This carefully programmed album is admirably recorded in Sauder Hall, Goshen College, Indiana, with an ideal level of reverberance from the acoustic. Each of the instruments (including the castanets in the Boccherini Quintet) is captured from a sufficient distance to fully appreciate the rich tone created by each player, but the sound of the guitar is particularly commendable. The balance throughout is impeccable, a credit to the high level of care and attention taken by the engineers.

Whilst not dances in the "popular" or Baroque sense, Vieaux and the Escher capture the essence of movement. Brimming with vivacious and contagious dynamism, its relentless energy never becomes tiresome, but quite the opposite – completely immersive. The creative program makes for a very approachable album, and with a magnetic charm so strong one cannot resist a repeated listening. Highly recommended.

Source: Leighton Jones (

Clara Wieck Schumann: Piano Works

Domenico Codispoti, piano

Recorded at Westvest Church Schiedam, The Netherlands, on March 13-14, 2019
Released on October 11, 2019 by Piano Classics

Marking the bicentenary of her birth, a major new collection of Clara Wieck Schumann's piano music from a critically acclaimed Italian pianist.

"Domenico Codispoti plays with a warmth and fervour worthy of Cortot himself", according to the veteran Gramophone piano critic Bryce Morrison. "His sonority, too, has an Arrau-like fullness and richness."

Born in 1975, Codispoti has a growing discography of Romantic-era music including the piano works of César Franck on Piano Classics: a "most distinguished and enterprising recital" according to Gramophone, in which "Codispoti gives us an impetus and virtuosity to set pulses racing".

Now he turns his attention to music from the other end of the Romantic era, composed by a figure even more significant in the history of the piano and pianists, Clara Wieck Schumann. A leading pianist of her day, the wife of one great composer and the intimate friend of another, Clara was also mother to eight children, a serious composer and a hugely influential teacher during the course of a career in the public eye spanning over 60 years.

We may view Clara now as a strikingly independent woman, a woman of her time yet one who worked tirelessly against the grain of assumption and prejudice. It is right, therefore, that her art should be so celebrated 200 years after her birth in Leipzig.

Her gifts as a creator that were much admired at the time, not only by her husband but by Franz Liszt, the greatest virtuoso of his day. It was Liszt who had created the modern concept of the solo piano recital in 1840, but he retired from performance soon afterwards, and Clara was the one who created the image of the modern pianist.

On this new album, Codispoti performs a prodigiously accomplished set of Soirées Musicales, Op.6, published while Clara was still a teenager; the strikingly mature trio of Romances written before she turned 20; a G minor Sonata dating from the time just before and after her marriage to Robert; and finally the Variations on a theme by Robert which she composed to celebrate her husband's 42nd birthday in 1853. Thus, unlike many previous compilations of her music, Codispoti surveys her output in the round, and allows us to hear it mature even as she found herself given fewer and fewer opportunities to exercise her own creative gifts. With performances of tremendous sweep and conviction it makes for a highly persuasive introduction to Clara's music.

Clara Wieck Schumann's place in history has long been overshadowed by the fame of her husband Robert Schumann, her main claim to fame was her (indeed superb) piano playing and concertizing. Her own compositions, though influenced by her contemporaries (notably her husband), show an individual and original musical mind, both lyrical and passionate, in highly eloquent and often challenging pianism.

Presented in this new recording are her Piano Sonata, Drei Romanzen Op.11, Soirées Musicales Op.6 and the Variations on a theme of Robert Schumann (the same theme as Brahms later used for his set of variations).

Domenico Codispoti is one of the foremost Italian pianists of today. György Sandor said of him: "One of the finest young concert pianists I know. He has superb technical command, exceptionally fine taste in his interpretation and impressive maturity". Bryce Morrison wrote in Gramophone: "He plays with a warmth and fervor worthy of Cortot himself. His sonority, too, has an Arrau-like fullness and richness". Codispoti also recorded a full Cesar Franck album for Piano Classics.


Dumesny, haute-contre de Lully

Reinoud Van Mechelen, tenor & musical direction

A Nocte Temporis

Recorded in August 2018 at Augustinus Muziekcentrum, Anvers, Belgium
Released on October 7, 2019 by Alpha

Who was Louis Gaulard Dumesny? Dumesny was not the first haute-contre historically speaking, but he was the first to have become famous in his lifetime. Sources agree that he was a cook when Lully discovered him. He made his debut in 1677 and everyone was amazed by his acting, the power of his voice and also his ability to learn everything by ear, since he could not read music. A few centuries later, Reinoud Van Mechelen, star tenor of the international Baroque scene, has decided, with his ensemble A Nocte Temporis, to pay tribute to this "haute-contre" register, a high tenor voice (not to be confused with the countertenor!), by devoting three recordings to it, paying tribute in turn to Lully, Rameau and Gluck. The first part of this trilogy therefore contains the finest operatic airs and suites by Lully, featuring excerpts from Isis, Persée, Armide, Amadis, Acis et Galatée and Achille et Polyxène, but also pieces by Marin Marais (Alcide), Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Médée), Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (Céphale et Procris), Henry Desmarets, Pascal Colasse, Charles-Hubert Gervais and André Cardinal Destouches.


Reissue / archive

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Complete Piano Sonatas

Klára Würtz piano

Recorded Summer 1998, Maria Minor, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Released on September 27, 2019 by Brilliant Classics

"A Genuine Podium Phenomenon" — Zoltán Kocsis

Through her innate musical intuition and imagination Klára Würtz is able to convey the essential musical message of the works she performs, both structurally and emotionally. By her extraordinary charisma she has the rare capacity to keep her audience spellbound. The complete naturalness, the beauty of her tone and her immaculate technical command make her a favourite and beloved artist with audiences all over the world.

Although she has an extensive repertoire her main strength and focus is on the Classical and Romantic repertoire. As prolific recording artist she made more than 40 CDs, ranging from Mozart to Bartók. Her recording of the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas was met with great critical acclaim: "Sensational! Würtz' pianistic finesse, her inclination to let the phrases breathe and ‘sing’, her superb and fastidious equilibrium, and, above all, her inclination to leave well enough alone and let the music speak for itself, represent ‘centric’ Mozart tradition at its attractive best" (Harris Goldsmith in International Record Review). After a concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Bernard Haitink the Boston Globe wrote: "Würtz, who has the best recording of the complete Mozart piano sonatas to her credit, played with the same elegant, spirited style, command of dynamics, and lambent tone that is so admirable on the CD's"...

Source: CD Booklet

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: September 2019

The best new classical albums: August 2019

The best new classical albums: July 2019

The best new classical albums: June 2019

The best new classical albums: May 2019

The best new classical albums: 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