Friday, December 4, 2015

BRAHMS Violin Concerto

"A CD offering less than 40 minutes of music these days is very short measure, but Mullova's is a commanding performance, pure and true throughout, made the more compelling by the spontaneous expressiveness that goes with a live performance. Her admirers need not hesitate, for with one minor reservation the recording is first-rate, and Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic here match the Brahmsian achievement of their DG symphony cycle...The clarity of Mullova's articulation in the finale is phenomenal, the bravura most compelling...Mullova's new disc makes an excellent recommendation." --Gramophone [11/1994]

The surprise is that the recording, made at a concert in Japan in January 1992, has taken so long to arrive. Maybe they were waiting for a coupling, but in any case this is a one-off recording, supervised not by Philips's own engineers but by those at NHK, Japan. The reservation I mentioned is that though the sound in generally warm, well-balanced and well-detailed with a pleasant hall-atmosphere, the prominent placing of the timpani means that the many tremolos in the outer movements, notable at first, tend to cloud the texture. The effect is distracting enough to bring home afresh just how many such tremolos there are. Happily, the audience is extremely quiet, except in the brief gap between slow movement and finale.

The first obvious comparison is with Itzhak Perlman's live Berlin recording for EMI with Barenboim conducting this same orchestra. That was made two months after the present one but in the Schauspielhaus, Berlin with a sound-balance typical of Perlman's recordings, with the solo violin in close-up set against full-bodied orchestral sound. The immediate impact of the bravura double-stopping passages is obviously greater, but Mullova consistently compensates in the extra dynamic range that she can convey, with the many reflective passages in the first movement as well as the central Adagio given a rapt intensity.

The combination of purity and warmth go with a clear purposefulness, heightened by the degree of freedom Mullova allows herself in linking the different sections of each movement. Similarly, instead of storming through the thorny technical problems of the Joachim cadenza (curiously not identified in the booklet), she again allows herself a degree of elbow-room, giving it more than usual the feeling of a spontaneous improvisation, culminating in an exceptionally sweet and pure account of the coda, bringing the most inward meditation of all.

The violin entry in the Adagio is then open and songful, with full meditative intensity reserved for later in the movement. The clarity of Mullova's articulation in the finale is phenomenal, the bravura most compelling. . . . Mullova's new disc makes an excellent recommendation . . . .

-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [11/1994]

ERLEBACH Sonatas, laments & airs

Philipp Heinrich Erlebach was one of the most prolific and highly regarded composers in central Germany in the generation immediately preceding Bach. Unfortunately, little of his extensive and diverse output (several hundred cantatas, 24 masses, and numerous other vocal and instrumental works) remains, due to a devastating fire in 1735 that ravaged the library at Rudolstadt, Thurungia where Erlebach spent 33 years as Kapellmeister. This is a pity, especially if the lovely, inspired works on this program are representative of Erlebach's abilities, which are well served here by the consistently expert, impassioned performances by the European period-instrument ensemble Stylus Phantasticus and bass Victor Torres.

While adhering to the Da capo aria tradition prevalent at the time, Erlebach amply demonstrates his versatility and creativity throughout the six secular arias that comprise the bulk of the program. Torres' sonorous voice beautifully complements Erlebach's skillful settings, with a tone and timbre appropriately suited to the ever-present darkness of the subject matter. Torres' legato is a marvel, and his deft negotiation of some of the more explicitly harrowing lines of "Meine Seufzer" (My Sighs) and in the subsequent passages of "Meine Sinnen" (My Senses) is particularly impressive.

Erlebach's three trio sonatas are equally well crafted and stylish, at times featuring obscure instrumentation and progressive elements utilized by some of his better-known contemporaries. For instance, in the first movement and the Chaconne of the third sonata, Erlebach employs scordatura violin--a deliberate "mis-tuning" for special effects. The fourth sonata also features a rarely heard violino piccolo--a distant violin relative now typically used for teaching children. Stylus Phantasticus' accompaniment in Torres' aria "Schwaches Herz" (Feeble Heart) also includes a double harp strung with twice the usual number of strings for greater chromatic displays. Alpha's sonics are stunning, with realistic in-the-room presence and excellent detail. Warmly recommended. --John Greene,

Thursday, December 3, 2015


The present CD comprises a selection from the popular miniatures of romantic cello literature. However, the concept of romanticism has been slightly extended to also include into this imaginary club Kodály's and Rachmaninov's lyrical pieces. The works are performed by the third-prize winner of the Eurovision Young Musicians 2014 Gergely Devich, accompanied by his mother Mária Kovalszki on piano.
Release date: 8th June 2015

DVOŘÁK String Quartets Nos. 12 & 13

“The Pavel Haas Quartet play with plenty of feeling and they also relish the rhythmic cut and thrust of the Molto vivace third movement, capturing to perfection the more relaxed Trio's sunny spirit.The final opens to a gentle smile then keys up for some dancing exuberance...there's an abundance of varied drama” --Gramophone Magazine, December 2010 *Award Record of the Year 2011

“Throughout, their understanding of the musical argument is every stage the performers respond with both passion and a clear feeling for musical line...In truth, there are so many details that delight the ear it would be almost impossible to list the all” --BBC Music Magazine, December 2010 *****

“there's an arresting energy and atmosphere to the performances and they certainly contain new perspectives...the product is beautifully presented.” --Classic FM Magazine, January 2011 ***

“The freshness of the Pavel Haas Quartet's sound and approach is in the main a perfect match for this music: its wide-ranging palette, from intimate whispers to grander, symphonic gestures, is aptly deployed. Its tone is in general sweetly blended, homogenous and with obvious close rapport.” --International Record Review, December 2010

MANFREDINI Sinfonia da chiesa

“there is no doubting the enhanced expressive and textural range of these highly sensitive performances, whose expertise is matched by a spontaneous ease that captures the spirit of the music as though it was hot off the press. A stunning achievement.” --International Record Review, March 2015

“The two violinists are impressive in their exploration of the expressive traits of these pieces. Through their subtle treatment of dynamics they emphasize the rhythmic pulse. The fast movements are lively and engaging. In short, this disc is a substantial contribution to the discography: nice music, well played and recorded. The liner-notes tell us all we want to know about Manfredini and his op. 2.” --MusicWeb International, 28th November 2014

CHOPIN Waltzes, Nocturnes

This is the fourth volume of Louis Lortie’s highly successful series devoted to Chopin. The recording perfectly illustrates how Chopin elevated the waltz to a genre of musical art, from danses de salon – evocative of a genial milieu – to ‘works’ with proper opus numbers. Growing up in the 1820s, the composer at first viewed the waltz purely pragmatically, as a means to a social end in the dance salon. But after spending time in Vienna and Paris in the 1830s he decided that a waltz might be worthy of the deeper appreciation accorded a ‘work’.

Vol.3 - Vol.2 - Vol.1

From moods of liveliness, in introductory calls to the dance, to more poetical or sentimental sections, the affective achievement in these works is great, whether the mood captured is plaintive (the B minor, A flat major, or F minor ones), evocative of the dance salon (the E major), lilting (the D flat major), reminiscent of a Ländler (the A flat major, the only waltz Chopin composed in 3 / 8 meter), dramatic (the E minor), or brilliant (the G flat major).

The nocturnes also trace their origins to the salon. The genre derives from a type of vocal music, akin to the solo romance, but highly popular among amateurs as an opportunity for singing duets.

With this series, Louis Lortie has made his reputation as a ‘model Chopinist’ (BBC Music).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


“Not only so his [Nick Daniels'] flawless discipline, liquid tone, exquisite chiaroscuro and seemingly superhuman breath control crush the ear, but he also encourages his colleagues to give their polished and raptly committed best ... Excellent sound and truthful balance throughout: this anthology merits a strong recommendation.” --Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone Magazine, May 2015

“[Daniel] tends to let the tempo slacken when the harmonic pulse slows down [on the Vaughan Williams]'s hard to complain when that leaves more space for his consistently golden tone...MacMillan also conducts his One, a luminously scored monody.” --BBC Music Magazine, August 2015 *****

Britten Sinfonia

Two major British oboe concertos featuring soloist Nicholas Daniel with the Britten Sinfonia. Composer James MacMillan conducts the world premiere recording of his own Concerto (dedicated to Nicholas Daniel), as well as his 2012 composition 'One' and the Britten 'Suite on English Folk Tunes: A Time There Was'. The oboist himself directs the Ralph Vaughan Williams concerto, the work with which he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition at the age of 18.

“He is arguably Britain’s most virtuosic and adventurous instrumentalist and as mesmerising a talent now, at 53, as he was when he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition 35 years ago...The oboe writing [in the Macmillan] is insanely demanding throughout; Daniel is stunning.” The Times, 11th April 2015 *****

“A fine showcase for Daniel’s mellifluous playing, the disc is still more than that, ending with a lovely account of Britten’s Suite on English Folk Tunes, and teasing one with a magical, five-minute piece by MacMillan...It is simply (complexly!) a monody passed round the players, glistening as it goes.” Sunday Times, 26th April 2015

“Oboists may feel ruefully that musical history owes them a showpiece. They have one now: MacMillan’s Oboe Concerto turns the soloist into a nimble-footed musical athlete, a star opera singer, a dazzling Highland dancer, all in the space of three varied movements. Nicholas Daniel makes the most of its virtuoso opportunities, raising the elegiac slow movement to intense heights.” Financial Times, 25th April 2015 ****

“On this disc of delightfully summery music, the emphasis is initially on the pastoral: the airborne lyricism of Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto, its liquid lyricism shaped with velvet perfection by soloist Nicholas Daniel and the Britten Sinfonia … MacMillan’s own Oboe Concerto introduces a feistier mood, its nimble virtuosity playfully executed by the same soloist.” The Scotsman, 2nd May 2015

“This is a bravura display by Daniel, with lightly assured playing from the always-rewarding Britten Sinfonia.” The Observer, 24th May 2015 ****

WAGHALTER Orchestral works

"Walker’s interpretation of the music is sturdy, with good rhythmic pulse. The New Russia Orchestra plays with healthy vigor and largeness of gesture…" --American Record Guide, November 2015

" It’s great fun, and conducted with both flair and love by Alexander Walker, who is responsible for the work’s (New World Suite) reconstruction... The New Russia State Symphony Orchestra…plays quite well under Walker’s direction, and the sonics, while perhaps a bit studio-bound, never come between you and the music. A very enjoyable release.", July 2015

Ignatz Waghalter rose from an impoverished childhood in Poland to become conductor at the newly founded Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin in 1912. Here, the first performance of his youthful comic opera Mandragola, attended by luminaries such as Richard Strauss, Busoni, and Humperdinck, won him huge acclaim: the Overture and Intermezzo reveal his orchestral mastery.

With the rise of Nazism Waghalter left Europe for America where he strongly identified with the Afro-American cause, and began work on the New World Suite, ten short movements of rich melodic imagination that illustrate his constant desire to write approachable and lively music. Volume 1 in this series [8.572809] was an ICMA (International Classical Music Awards) nominee.

Album Reviews

VIVALDI Concerti per violino Volume 5

All the concertos selected here are linked to German violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, member of the Dresden orchestra, that spent a long time in Venice in 1716-1717, beside the Electoral Prince of Saxony Friedrich August. Vivaldi and Pisendel became very close friends and the Prete Rosso composed several works for Pisendel. Moreover, Pisendel copied and performed afterwards in Germany several concertos of Vivaldi. This series of 7 concertos is an overview of the complete art of Vivaldi as a composer and violinist: large scale of music, invention, expression, energy, power of evocation, considerable virtuosity.

Dmitry Sinkowsky is a fast rising baroque violinist and conductor. He is currently the conductor of the Italian leading baroque orchestra Il Complesso Barocco in Joyce di Donato’s worldwide ‘Drama Queen’ tour. In every concert of this tour, he performs Vivaldi’s violin concerto RV 242, featuring in this new recording. “The violinist Dmitry Sinkovsky gyrated like a rock guitarist during his gorgeous rendition of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D minor for Violin, Strings and Continuo (RV 242), his virtuosity seeming as effortless as Ms. DiDonato’s, and his soulful, aching rendition of the Adagio holding the audience spellbound.” -- The New York Times - November 2012 

C.P.E. BACH & J.S. BACH Trio & Concertos

Lisa Batiashvili presents a fine selection in chamber and orchestral music of popular, but also newly recorded Bach pieces.

“Batiashvili’s violin is seductive and the spirit lively – a pleasing, middle-of-the-road selection.” --Financial Times, 20th August 2014

“No one could call it a lazily made programme, though whether it is one that really hangs together is a little questionable. What it does do is allow Batiashvili to demonstrate her refined musicianship and technical skills in a range of contexts, as well as her good taste...a disc full of classy music-making.” --Gramophone Magazine, Awards Issue 2014

Lisa Batiashvili (violin)

Lisa Batiashvili presents a fine selection in chamber and orchestral music of popular, but also newly recorded Bach pieces.

This includes the first ever recording of Bach’s famous aria “Erbarme Dich, mein Gott” in a transcription for violin, oboe and orchestra on Deutsche Grammophon.

First ever recording of C. Ph. E. Bach’s Trio Sonata in b flat minor for violin, flute and BC on Deutsche Grammophon. For this Lisa teams up with the world’s famous flutist from Berliner Philharmoniker, Emmanuel Pahud.

For one of the real hits on that CD, the double concerto for violin and oboe BWV 1060, Lisa collaborates with her husband, the oboist Francois Leleux. An interpretation from the heart!

80th Birthday TRIBUTE

As Alfred Brendel celebrates his 80th birthday on 5 January 2011, Decca is marking this momentous occasion with FOUR major catalogue releases.
“Everything has its place yet nothing sounds contrived. Brendel is an intellectual but not, at the piano, a lecturer. He illuminates but never pontificates. Seldom has his capacity for symphonic synthesis found nobler or more stirring expression than in the present reading of the Brahms D minor Concerto...[The Mozart] had me wreathed in smiles of sheer delight.” --BBC Music Magazine, April 2011 *****

“Perhaps the biggest thrill is Brendel's Brahms First from 1985...Right from the thunderous opening timpani roll it packs a terrific punch...[Brendel's reading] never tr[ies] to lure the listener through sumptuousness of tone but instead offer[s] piercing intelligence and a sure-footed way through Brahms's mountainous landscape...[The Beethoven] is a reading of profound wisdom, pathos and tenderness that leaves you wishing for more.” --Gramophone Magazine, May 2011

“he is in absolute control throughout, technically flawless and with a characteristic clarity of texture. What especially distinguishes Brendel's interpretations is the way that the structure and the architecture of the work comes foremost...the playing [of Op. 110] is of unfailing beauty, with the final return to the tonic key a true apotheosis and a triumphant homecoming.” --International Record Review, March 2011

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

WAGNER Opera arias

"Evgeny Nikitin delivered such soaring, charismatic, legati at this point that you might almost have believed his promise to renounce evil. He is precisely what the role and the opera needs: physically, vocally, a complete star." Edward Seckerson, The Independent

Under the direction of Christian Arming celebrated bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin interprets some of his favourite Wagnerian roles. These selected pieces highlight the extent of the vocal possibilities that this Russian singer, a pillar of the Mariinsky Theatre, has delivered since his debut as a student, under Valery Gergiev, and that regularly triumph at the Met, the Paris Opera and in Munich.
Release date: 16th Oct 2015

Nikitin hails from Murmansk, in the very north of Russia. His first love was to compose, sing and play drums and guitar in heavy metal bands, but his vocal gift has taken him in a very different direction. He was accepted at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1992 and was soon combining his studies with his first solo engagements at the famed Mariinsky Theatre under Valery Gergiev’s direction.

It wasn’t long before he was invited to major theatres and festivals through Europe, the Americas and Asia. 2002 marked his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 'War and Peace'. Return invitations to New York include Colline, Pogner, Fasolt, Orest, Wanderer, Rangoni [Boris Godunov] and Klingsor. Recent engagements include 'Der fliegende Holländer' and Filipo, 'Don Carlo' in Baden Baden, 'Der Fliegende Holländer' in Toronto, Paris, Leipzig, Munich and Tokyo; Amfortas in Berlin and Valencia, Don Pizzaro in Valencia, Jochannen in Zurich, Telramund Amsterdam, Scarpia in Chicago and Boris Godunov in an acclaimed production at the Mariinsky.

He sings regularly at the Mariinsky theatre and at the ‘Stars of the White Nights Festival’ performing his favourite roles, Boris, Philip II, Holländer, Amfortas, Wotan /Das Rheingold, Wanderer, Don Giovanni… Upcoming highlights include his Vienna Staatsoper debut in 'Fidelio' and his debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam.

Der fliegende Holländer: Overture
Die Frist ist um (from Der fliegende Holländer)
Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 3
Erhebe dich, Genossin meiner Schmach! (from Lohengrin)
Michaela Schuster (mezzo-soprano, Ortrud)
Wie Todesahnung...O du, mein holder Abendstern (from Tannhäuser)
Götterdämmerung: Siegfried's Funeral March
Leb wohl, du kühnes, herrliches Kind! (from Die Walküre)

In The Shadow of WAR

“Isserlis's spellbinding advocacy of Bridge's raptly compassionate masterpiece in particular has acquired an extra richness of experience and plangent intensity...both performances [the Hough and the Bloch] really are tremendously compelling in their articulate composure, nourishing intelligence and clear-sighted purpose.” --Gramophone Magazine, May 2013

“this profoundly engaging reading [of the Bridge] sets a new standard. [in Schelomo] nothing is forced or overdone, no rhetoric or posturing gets in the way of the work's own soulful expression...What he has achieved in this beautifully balanced recording with Hugh Wolff is a breathtaking new fluency and freedom.” --BBC Music Magazine, June 2013 *****

Steven Isserlis (cello)

This programme is well conceived and draws some truly moving playing. The coda to Bridge’s Oration makes a serious challenge for the title of ‘most beautiful ending to a cello concerto’ Isserlis.

Schelomo is an extraordinary work where Bloch seems to have created a new musical language inspired by Jewish music dating back thousands of years. Often mistaken for film music, Schelomo’s immediacy and descriptiveness has influenced many film composers.

Isserlis plays the ‘Marquis de Corberon’ Stradivarius of 1726, formerly owned by Zara Nelsova who was the first to record Bloch’s Schelomo with the composer conducting.

“Bloch’s famous Schelomo is given a superb performance, with Isserlis on inspired form. This is music that can seem overblown in the wrong hands, but here everything goes marvellously...This is an outstanding disc of glorious music, superbly played and recorded.” --MusicWeb International, 31st July 2013

PFITZNER The Cello Concertos

“Gerhardt holds it all together with his sustained singing lines, while Weigle and his Berlin band provide vividly pointillist backing.” --BBC Music Magazine, April 2014 ****

“Gerhardt, a composed and elegant at one with these scores and takes them all in his stride...The excellent Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Sebastian Weigle earns top marks as a constantly sympathetic partner.” --MusicWeb International, 14th May 2014

Alban Gerhardt (cello) - Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Sebastian Weigle

Hyperion’s Romantic Cello Concerto series continues to bring new works into a repertoire currently dominated by Dvorák and Elgar. Alban Gerhardt performs the three concertos by Hans Pfitzner, a composer remembered most for his opera Palestrina.

Pfitzner’s early Cello Concerto in A minor, Op posth., was scorned by his teachers (although liked by the composer himself) and the manuscript disappeared during his lifetime. It was first performed in public on 18 February 1977 and published the following year. His Cello Concerto in G major, Op 42, was written almost half a century later. Completed in 1935, this richly melodic single span was composed for the cellist Gaspar Cassadó (1897–1966), one of the finest cellists of his generation. This beautifully constructed concerto derives its material from the lyrical cello solo (heard over a quiet timpani roll) at the very start of the work.

The orchestration is deft and often delicate, never submerging the solo instrument, but full of attractive surprises, not least the tumbling trumpet fanfares that introduce the first of the faster sections. The Cello Concerto in A minor, Op 52, is dedicated to Ludwig Hoelscher (1907–1996), a pupil of two giants of German cello-playing: Hugo Becker and Julius Klengel. It was completed in 1943 and published in 1944. Also included is a Duo for violin, cello and small orchestra.

“they belong, somewhat anachronistically, to Hyperion’s Romantic Cello Concertos, and Gerhardt plays them with enough conviction to make cello buffs want to give them a try.” --Sunday Times, 30th March 2014

“Gerhardt is an unfailingly charismatic soloist, finding a sense of purpose where others might lapse into aimlessness, and the orchestral support is first-rate.” --Gramophone Magazine, May 2014

SORABJI 100 Transcendental Studies, Volume 4

Composed between 1940 and 1944, Kaikhosru Sorabji’s 100 Transcendental Studies has a total duration of at least seven hours, making it by far the largest collection of concert études in the repertoire. Most of the pieces, in particular in the beginning of the cycle, are typical studies in the sense that essentially a single technical or structural idea is explored. But later on Sorabji inserts pieces that are on a much larger scale, and three examples of this are to be found on the present disc, the fourth in Fredik Ullén’s traversal of the set. The disc opens with En forme de Valse (No. 63), a 17 minute waltz in which Sorabji envelops his melodies with a jungle of serpentine embellishments, covering the entire keyboard. Release date: 5th May 2015

The closing study, No. 71 has a duration of 13 minutes, and was dubbed Aria by Sorabji, even though the piece in reality is highly polyphonic with a multitude of cantilenas, and with rhythmic structures that are sometimes remarkably complex. The most expansive piece, however, is No. 69, with a playing time of close to 26 minutes. Throughout this study, La punta d’organo, the note A appears as a pedal point. In the opening, it is heard as a softly tolling bell under falling chordal motives, without doubt an allusion to Ravel's Le Gibet from Gaspard de la Nuit.

But the piece grows into a vast, trance-like meditation, with the ever-present A appearing in different registers. All the studies in the cycle have had to wait for decades before their first performance – No. 69 was premièred as late as 2014 – and Fredrik Ullén is a true pioneer of this repertoire, both live and on disc. His endeavours have been duly acclaimed, for instance in BBC Music Magazine (‘Ullén… expounds Sorabji's studies with utter textural clarity and jaw-dropping virtuosity.’) and the German magazine Fono Forum (‘Ullén negotiates the music of Sorabji with stunning mastery.’)