Saturday, October 31, 2015

VIVALDI The Four Seasons

James Ehnes takes a break from the 19th and 20th century repertoire and has recorded for the first time in his career four of the most famous baroque violin concertos – Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the first four works in his set of 12, Op. 8. James also directs the Sydney Symphony. Vivaldi provided his own sonnets as prefaces to each of the concertos and these are available from the Onyx website. The Vivaldi is prefaced by two famous violin sonatas – Tartini’s 'Devils Trill' in the skilful arrangement by Fritz Kreisler which is very faithful to the original text, to which Kreisler adds the famous cadenza in the finale. Release date: 2nd Oct 2015

Leclair, one the few composers to have been murdered, was known as ‘The French Corelli’. Of his Op. 9 set of 12 sonatas for violin, the third has become the most popular for its ‘Tambourin’ finale, depicting a pipe-and-drum dance with drone effects - all good fun!

LIVE from Teatro Colón

Live from Teatro Colón captures the long-awaited reunion of legendary pianists Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich in their home city of Buenos Aires, in concert with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Release date: 31st July 2015

En 2014 la pianista Martha Argerich y el pianista y director Daniel Barenboim, regresaron a su Buenos Aires natal para ofrecer un concierto monumental en el Teatro Colón fabulosamente acompañados por la West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Tras una versión imperial del primer concierto para piano de Beethoven, el programa continúa con obras de Ravel, la primera suite de Carmen de Bizet y un animado tango del compositor argentino Mariano Mores.

BRAHMS Works for Solo Piano Volume 4

“Douglas achieves a magnificently orchestral textures. This is big, broad-boned playing of a high order: powerful but never noisy; grand but never grandiose; texturally lucid and tonally rich.” --BBC Music Magazine, August 2015 ****

“Douglas comes fully alive throughout the C major Sonata. His proportioned rubatos in the first movement's second theme and broodingly sustained Andante imbue the unwieldy textures with colour and variety.” --Gramophone Magazine, May 2015

Barry Douglas (piano)

This is Volume 4 in Barry Douglas’s monumental project to record the complete works for solo piano by Johannes Brahms. Each volume has been released to critical acclaim, the first one, in 2012, being seen by BBC Music as ‘a triumph of Brahmsian thought, with playing that gets right to the heart of the composer’.

Once again, the album is presented as a stand-alone recital, prominently featuring the C major Sonata, which was Brahms’s first published work. The influence on Brahms of his early romantic predecessors Beethoven and Schubert is obvious here, not only in the virtuoso demands on the performer but also in the opening, which recalls both Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata, Op. 106 and Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy.

Two other works are much more than simple sets of variations. The Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann highlight the close relationship of Brahms with Schumann and his wife, Clara, to whom the work is dedicated ‘with intimate reverence’, and demonstrate Brahms’s skill at ‘thematic actualisation’, whereby latent potentialities of a theme are gradually revealed throughout the variation process. In the Variations on a Theme by Niccolò Paganini – the first of two books originally published in 1866 as ‘Keyboard Studies’ – each variation explores a distinct figural pattern or keyboard technique.

The recording also features short keyboard character pieces, abundant in the second half of the nineteenth century and especially in Brahms’s later years.

STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring

Destined to become one of the ultimate reference recordings of Stravinsky’s iconic work, Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna give the Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) the authentic Russian treatment - stripping back the Western European symphonic traditions of the past century, to return to the intended Russian folk origins of the piece. The musicians used scatting and singing in order to practice the rhythms and phrasing of the folk tunes entailed in Le Sacre. Le Sacre du Printemps is also a landmark piece in Currentzis’ professional career, having had his first success in Russia with the work in 2002 in Moscow. Release date: 9th Oct 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015


In 1956 Glenn Gould’s first Columbia Masterworks release, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, took the music world by storm and immediately established the 23-year-old Canadian pianist as one of the most brilliant, original, charismatic and provocative classical performers of his time. Sixty years later, Gould’s prolific recorded output remains a stimulating presence, thanks to Sony Classical’s newly remastered collection of his complete authorized recordings in an 81-CD limited edition. The Sound of Glenn Gould presents highlights from this definitive presentation of the legendary pianist’s discography. Release date: 11th Sept 2015


From the old central Europe to explorations of the New World, Dvorák and Dohnányi composed luminous string quartets, oscillating between glorification of nature and sublimation of the Romantic period. Bartók’s darker composition, in 1915, bears witness to anguish at the imminent apocalypse. After recording the great Romantics and the Classical splendours of Haydn, after opening the gates of the twentieth century with Ravel and Debussy, the Quatuor Modigliani now traces the connections between the Danube, the Vltava and the Mississippi. Release date: 2nd Oct 2015


"Moniuszko offers not so much Chopin and Szymanowski’s missing link as amiable filler in the style of Schumann and Weber, while lacking any of those composer’s melodic inspiration. Excellently played." --BBC Music Magazine, February 2014 *****

"…this is attractive music that demonstrates both inspiration and craft... There is a lovely grace and elegance to much of this music, and Wit captures it with a lighter touch than others. The Warsaw Philharmonic is a front rank orchestra, and this music is in their blood. In sum, this is a delight." --Fanfare, May 2014

Stanisław Moniuszko was Poland’s leading opera composer in the 19th century, his work said to ‘bridge the gap between Chopin and Szymanowski’. His skill as a born melodist is apparent in the ‘beautiful and inspired’ overture to Paria, while the dramatic Halka was the work which brought him national acclaim. An affinity with Liszt’s tone poems can be heard in the substantial overture Bajka, while the scene for The Haunted Manor is set with an atmospheric Intrada.

LOVE'S Dreams

The most important composers of keyboard music are represented, including Felix Mendelssohn,  Franz Schubert,  Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy, Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt, Modest Mussorgsky and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. An even greater number of performers are presented, such as Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Evgeny Kissin,  Emil Gilels, Mikhail Pletnev, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and other important pianists.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


“Outstanding” --Gramophone Magazine, April 2013

L’Arpeggiata, bajo la dirección de Christina Pluhar, publica el álbum Mediterráneo, un crucero musical por la cuna de nuestra civilización con grandes voces españolas, portuguesas, italianas y griegas. Es una travesía desde Portugal a Turquía recalando en las costas españolas de Cataluña, Grecia y Italia, al son de instrumentos tradicionales de la región mediterránea (qanun, saz, lira griega, lavta, oud, guitarra portuguesa…) y las cuerdas barrocas de L'Arpeggiata. El álbum Mediterráneo es la nueva odisea, llena de luz, sol y poesía, de Chistina Pluhar.

“Misia is not exactly representative of traditional fado, and that is to the advantage of this collaboration, but paradoxically her singing here is the most traditional I have heard from her and she complements the rest with her very different timbre...Outstanding” --Gramophone Magazine, April 2013

“L'Arpeggiata's precision plucking is lovely, but its music Mediterranean is a fantasy...This is not a voyage in a humble fishing boat, sampling real folk music at ports from Portugal to Turkey; we are on a tourist cruise - not a brash one, but a refined tour where we avoid any hard edges or uncomfortable truths.” --International Record Review, February 2013

“There is nothing fusty here and the playing and singing wear their sophistication lightly...Feel the heat and the cool in an anthology that treats these lovely blooms with respect. Nothing of the jealous scholar or the ivory turret here - only a renewing vibrant charm.” --MusicWeb International, 23rd April 2013


"All told, a highly recommended disc, for its unfamiliar repertoire and the high quality of the performances." --FANFARE

"All three works on this recording were written in 1946, one of the darkest years for Russian culture. There was a real pogrom in Soviet literature that year, which only served as a dress rehearsal for the pogrom of Soviet music two years later, when Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Miaskovsky, Khachaturian and many other Soviet composers of the highest rank were officially and publically reprimanded for writing 'formalist' music." --Yuli Turovsky

Titled Shostakovich’s Circle , this fascinating program is tied together by a pair of conceptual threads: All three works were composed in 1946, and both German (or Herman) Galynin (sometimes Galinin) and Galina Ustvolskaya were students of the maestro’s at the Leningrad Conservatory. Galynin is by far the lesser known. He studied with Shostakovich from 1943 to 1948, while he was in his early-20s, and later received a Stalin Prize for his Epic Poem on Folk Themes , but apparently had mental difficulties throughout his life and died in 1966 from causes related to his schizophrenia. Though his catalog of works is small, Melodiya did record several pieces during the 78-rpm and LP eras, including his piano trio, two string quartets, and at least three versions of this concerto, none of which are currently available. Barry Brenesal reviewed a recent release of solo piano pieces in Fanfare 32:2, citing his “imaginative” use of less-than original materials. There’s nothing particularly original about the concerto, either, but despite the fact that it was a student work it is well made and exhibits passages of serious expression in the slow middle movement. The shift to a dark and introspective mood after a bold and boisterous first movement no doubt reflects the influence of his teacher, and there are some familiar Shostakovich touches in the orchestration, such as the prominent xylophone and the piano’s suggestion of tolling church bells. The lighter mood returns in the scampering finale; Shostakovich called this movement “somewhat superficial,” but it might have been composed earlier, when Galynin was studying with Miaskovsky.

Even more impressive, however, is the Piano Concerto of Galina Ustvolskaya. A pupil of Shostakovich’s from 1937 to 1941, she quickly developed a modernist slant that some scholars and critics feel may have in turn influenced her teacher—and, in fact, it is said that Shostakovich proposed marriage to her following the death of his first wife. Her starkly textured, succinctly organized, spiritually intense later work finally received some deserved attention in the 1990s, but the Piano Concerto, her earliest work extant, reveals a debt to not only Shostakovich, but Prokofiev and Bartók as well. A single movement essaying several distinct episodes, it pits the brittle, often bitter piano against an orchestra that is seldom comforting or supportive; even in calmer moments the mood is of anguish rather than respite, and melodies frequently lock into a paralysis of repeated motifs. Serhiy Salov does a remarkable job in this concerto—he attacks the toccata-like passages with fervor, and the grit in his tone suits the temperament of the music. He takes more risks than does pianist Oleg Malov in his performance (Megadisc), including the insinuation of an underlying hint of despair that makes the final C-Major chord seem all that more empty and ironic. The filigree of the Galynin concerto holds no difficulty for him, but the Ustvolskaya makes more interpretive demands, and Salov is up to the task.

Completing the program is Rudolf Barshai’s 1990 transcription of Shostakovich’s Third String Quartet for strings, winds, and harp. My preference is for the lean textures and wry demeanor of the original instrumentation, but conductor Yuli Turovsky, himself a graduate of Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory, emphasizes its chamber-music origins and avoids the trap of attempting to turn the music into a full-blown symphony. All told, a highly recommended disc, for its unfamiliar repertoire and the high quality of the performances.

FANFARE: Art Lange

BACH Violin Concertos

Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the most brilliant and influential composers in the whole of Western classical music. His violin concertos contrast brisk and bracing outer movements with slow movements of lyrical contemplation his Double Violin Concerto is one of his supreme masterpieces. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The MOZART Album

The Perfect Mozart Team! Intuitive musical star-pianist Lang Lang meets the legendary pioneer of period performance practice and iconic Mozart authority Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

“Lang Lang makes his entrance with graceful tenderness, every note eloquently weighted, each phrases measured and expressive. There's a new maturity in his playing as he leads the orchestra with sweet suggestiveness...And his cadenza are models of their kind: exquisite displays of lyricism, but staying scrupulously within the bounds of Classical good taste.” --BBC Music Magazine, January 2015

“Of course the technique needs no comment; but the feeling is that Lang Lang has the measure of the music without approaching the impish playfulness of Brendel, the inwardness of Pires...He comes into his own, however, in the cadenzas. Here his touch is breathtakingly beautiful and, let off the leash, he is able to spin the same spells that make certain parts of his live performances so mesmerising.” --Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“Lang Lang isn’t simply a showman. On The Mozart Album he actually seems almost too serious as he picks his way, often careful and reticent, through two famous concertos...But the ear adjusts and spirits rise, for overall these public performances convey much more of Lang Lang’s bouncy personality.” --The Times, 14th November 2014 ***

“At first sight, it’s an unlikely partnership, more a PR stunt than a meeting of minds. In fact, the 84-year-old Austrian Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the young Chinese virtuoso work together well...The performance of the enchanting, harmonically ever-startling G major concerto is a joy.” --Sunday Times, 16th November 2014

PROKOFIEV Violin Concerto No. 2, Violin Sonatas

“Viktoria Mullova's admirers will welcome this chance to hear her latest thoughts on a favourite concerto…don't expect the sweet unflappability of Guro Kleven Hagen in the main work; Mullova's interpretation is made of sterner stuff…[her] sound is as big and well-rounded as ever, not without that familiar touch of steel…competition is fierce, but then Mullova is in a league of her own.” --Gramophone Magazine, October 2015

“Mullova’s playing…is, at all times, utterly faithful to the score and is totally committed to the great Russian composer … the performances of both Sonatas could surely not be improved upon by any artist, and Mullova’s commitment here raises the stature of these works considerable.” --Musical Opinion, October-December 2015

Viktoria Mullova (violin)

Viktoria Mullova’s new ONYX album is an all Prokofiev affair recorded live, with the lyrical 2nd violin concerto joined with the solo violin sonata and the sonata for two violins. Robert Soetens premiered the Duo Sonata in Paris in December 1932, partnered by Samuel Dushkin, for whom Stravinsky had recently composed a Violin Concerto. Knowing of Prokofiev’s rivalry with Stravinsky, Soetens persuaded Prokofiev to write him a concerto. Composed in 1935 just before Prokofiev resettled in Soviet Russia, the Second Violin Concerto includes in its central movement one of his most celebrated long-arching melodies. The Solo Sonata was an official commission towards the end of Prokofiev’s life.

Originally intended for an ensemble of talented child violinists, Prokofiev so wrote the work that it could equally be played by a soloist. Paavo Jarvi and Viktoria Mullova have been close musical collaborators for many years.

“an immensely enjoyable release.” --MusicWeb International, September 2015

HALVORSEN Orchestral Works, Volume 3

“The Bergen Philharmonic under Jarvi respond with commitment throughout, relishing the challenges of the music as much as the opportunity to showcase it...Top-notch Chandos sound completes a splendid, jam-packed disc.” --Gramophone Magazine, June 2011

“Järvi, predictably, inspires splendidly alive and vibrant playing from the Bergen Philharmonic, and the Chandos team (Brian Pidgeon and Ralph Couzens) produce a first-class balance and lifelike sound to delight us. The booklet is highly informative and well produced.” --International Record Review, July/August 2011

Ragnhild Hemsing (hardanger fiddle) & Marianne Thorsen (violin)

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Neeme Järvi

Neeme Järvi is back conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in the third volume in Chandos’ series devoted to the orchestral works of the Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen. They are joined on this recording by Ragnhild Hemsing on Norway’s national instrument, the Hardanger fiddle, and by Marianne Thorsen on violin.

Johan Halvorsen was a highly prominent figure in Norway’s musical life during the first decades of the twentieth century, and the works on this CD are all performed by the orchestra that he himself conducted in the 1890s.

Volumes 1 and 2 have both been CD of the Week on Classic FM radio, and of the latter, Classic FM said: ‘[Halvorsen’s] music is distinctive, expertly written, endlessly tuneful and thoroughly engaging… every phrase pulsates with charm and energy, making even the simplest of gestures feel like musical gold.’

Halvorsen wrote substantial amounts of music for dramas, but most of it was overshadowed by the success of Fossegrimen, which is one of the most performed dramas ever on the Norwegian stage. Described as a ‘troll-play in four parts’, Fossegrimen, by Sigurd Eldegard, had its premier in January 1905. On this occasion, Halvorsen was not just the composer and conductor, but also the soloist on the Hardanger fiddle, which for the first time in history was used as a solo instrument with symphony orchestra. Due to tight schedules, Halvorsen often reused earlier compositions when writing music for the stage. ‘Danse visionnaire’ – inspired by a poem by Arne Garborg and describing a dream vision of girls dancing in the moonlight – was one of these ‘recycled works’. The piece was originally included in Fossegrimen, but later abandoned when Halvorsen realised that this would over time be regarded as one of his main works and as such demanded exclusively original music. ‘Danse visionnaire’, here recorded with the Suite from Fossegrimen for the first time, later gained great success in its own right, not least as ballet music for Norway’s most celebrated ballerina in the 1910s, Lillebil Ibsen.

Symphony No. 3 was described by Halvorsen himself as a ‘lyrical symphony’. It includes the strong Grieg-motif in the first movement, and later scattered references to the First Symphony by Sibelius, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, and Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. Particularly unusual is Halvorsen’s original use of glockenspiel (campanelli) in the Finale, which creates a striking effect. Eventually he reconsidered and crossed out this entire part from the score, perhaps for fear of the critics’ reaction. However, for this recording, Neeme Järvi has chosen to restore the glockenspiel to the orchestra to recreate the sound of Halvorsen’s original idea.

SORABJI 100 Transcendental Studies, Volume 2

When Fredrik Ullén released the first instalment of Sorabji’s 100 Transcendental Etudes the excitement among reviewers was almost palpable. To take on this huge, near-mythic collection of super-virtuoso pieces in its entirety was described as ‘entering a snake pit’ as well as ‘a labour of love’. And the high expectations were met: in the words of the reviewer for American Record Guide, the disc gave ‘a taste of the incredible variety of music Sorabji can conjure up from the piano. It is to Ullén's credit that he can present each study on its own terms; whether in muted impressionist tones, sharp pointillistic flurries, or sheer demonic virtuosity.’

Sorabji composed the set of 100 Transcendental Studies, his second longest work with a total duration of at least seven hours, between 1940 and 1944. As Ullén remarks, with Study No. 26 Dolcissimo ‘we enter a different world. The first longer piece in the cycle is more of a fantasia or nocturne than an étude: a delicate piece of night music, with allusions to Debussy’.

The programme then takes in such varied pieces as the playful No. 29 A capriccio, the mysterious and eerie study in major sevenths, No. 30 Con fantasia and No. 36 Mano sinistra sempre sola – a grand étude for the left hand alone, which includes a fugue that, in Ullén’s own words, “in places borders on the physically impossible”.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Garrick Ohlsson has an unbeaten reputation as the master of the miniature. In this new recital he presents three sets of Études: the twelve by Claude Debussy (so ferocious in their demands they were shunned even by elite pianists for decades), as well as Prokofiev’s revolutionary opus 2 and three works by Bartók. In all Ohlsson excels.

“His powerful technique motors through Prokofiev’s four miniatures with tremendous confidence, relishing their naughty-boy dissonances, and he treats the Lisztian flourishes that occasionally surface in the modernist currents of Bartók’s three pieces with suitable flamboyance. There are some fine moments in the Debussy set, too.” --The Guardian, 23rd July 2015 ****

 "The wonder of this very varied programme is that in Garrick Ohlsson’s hands these 19 Etudes shed their functional aspect (or seem to) and instead emerge as beautifully crafted miniatures. Even the opening Debussy study 'for five fingers, after Monsieur Czerny' parades colour and a sense of play before all else, whereas the Fourth Etude ('Sixths') settles on the sort of focused atmosphere more associated with his Images or Préludes. By prioritizing mood and texture over technical display Ohlsson releases the musical value of these fascinating pieces. Prokofiev’s set of four Etudes approximate chippings from the workbench where the Sonatas were crafted, the first of them a choppy, medium-paced ostinato, the Lisztian second initially slow and dark (though it closes like the Toccata), both superbly played. And then there are Bartók’s three Etudes of 1918, masterpieces all of them, the second and third like cerebral improvisations, the first hinting at the world of boogie, though the fierce frown is unmistakably Bartók’s own. Highly recommended." --Classical Ear, July 2015

Album reviews

Madame et Monsieur DUSSEK

Contemporary of Mozart, Jan Ladislav Dussek died 200 years ago. He came to London in 1789 and in 1792 performed in a number of concerts and got married. His wife Sophia was a singer, pianist and harpist who became known in her own right. Works by both composers are performed by the expert harpist Masumi Nagasawa.

Masumi Nagasawa is one of the few harpists to perform on the modern Grand Harp, the singleaction harp (18th-19th century historical harp), the Irish harp and the kugo or Japanese ancient harp.

2012 was an anniversary year for the Bohemian composer Jan Ladislav Dussek, after 200 years of his death.

Besides his numerous pianoforte music and chamber music, Dussek has composed for the Single-action harp as well. His wife Sophia Corri was a well known harpist of the time and they have been performing together.

Single-action harp has been a favour of the musical gatherings in the time of Dussek. It's silvery light timbre evokes the atmosphere from the music from the age of Enlightenment to Romanticism.

TROTIGNON Piano Concerto 'Different Spaces'

Following the release of 12 jazz albums since the early 2000s, the love story between Naïve and Baptiste Trotignon is given a new impulse through an unexpected project that reflects the pianist s deep involvement in all sorts of music. Baptiste Trotignon s activity as a composer has been constant for 20 years, although it has reached a real maturity recently, marked by the first performance of 'Different Spaces' in Bordeaux in 2012 and that of his trio 'Subterfuges' at the prestigious London Wigmore Hall, by Philippe Cassard, David Grimal and Anne Gastinel.

Baptiste Trotignon s long friendship with internationally renowned Classical pianist Nicholas Angelich resulted in the astonishing adventure of his 4-movement Piano Concerto, full of colours and structured around several sophisticated musical ideas and influences. Commissioned by the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, it received an enthusiastic welcome and Baptiste Trotignon was selected as one of the three finalists of the Composer of the Year category at the 2014 Victoires de la Musique Classique.