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Volume 20 Issue 3 - November 2014

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EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD

EARLY MUSIC AND PERIOD PERFORMANCEPerla Barocca – Early Italian MasterpiecesRachel Podger; Marcin Swiatkiewicz;Daniele CaminitiChannel Classics CCS SA 36014This beautifuldisc is a pearlindeed. From thelyrical, improvisatoryopening of G.B.Fontana’s Sonata 2 tothe final exuberanceof Bertali’s Chiacona,Perla Barocca is adelightful exploration of 17th-century Italianviolin repertoire, as interpreted by threeluminescent players.Among my personal favourites on thisCD are Pandolfi Mealli’s Sonata 6, in whichthe composer’s theatrical eccentricity andlyricism are effortlessly captured. IsabellaLeonarda’s Sonata 12 is simply gorgeous, andthe fiery passagework of Marco Uccellini’sSonata overo Toccata “detta la Laurarilucente,” isn’t just impressive, it’s refreshinglyexpressive as well. Particularly in BiagioMarini’s Sonata 4, Rachel Podger and hercolleagues make use of an extraordinaryrange of tonal colour and volume, as well asnumerous special effects described in writingsof the time but rarely heard nowadaysin performances of this repertoire. GirolamoFrescobaldi is represented here with thefamiliar keyboard Toccata 1, in which harpsichordistMarcin Swiatkiewicz displays hisinterpretive mastery, and another Toccata for“spinettina e violino.” Podger, Camini andSwiatkiewicz give Dario Castello’s Sonata 2one of the most thoughtful and inventiverenditions I’ve ever heard, providing inspirationfor a fresh look at this much-recordedpiece. Their perfect exploitation of expressivedevice, creative pacing and snappy virtuositygive the impression that the three of themare actively collaborating with Castello asthey go; and so it is with the rest of the musicon this CD.A must-listen.Alison MelvilleA Royal Trio – Arias by Handel, Bononcini &AriostiLawrence Zazzo; La Nuova Musica; DavidBatesHarmonia Mundi HMU 807590In 1719, Handelhad been told by thenewly establishedRoyal Academy ofMusic in London torecruit a companyof singers, of thecalibre of the castratoSenesino. Suchsingers were the mainstay of the Academy,as were Handel and the Milanese cellist andcomposer Giovanni Bononcini.Add a third composer Attilio Ariosti ofBologna, and you have an operatic powerhouse in London which, along with LawrenceZazzo’s genius as a countertenor, is the inspirationfor this CD. Indeed, Zazzo’s skills asa countertenor are immediately displayedwith his vigorous interpretation of Handel’s“Rompo I lacci” from Flavio. More sedate butno less intense is his performance of “Cosistanco Pellegrino” from Bononcini’s Crispo.Handel’s music features in ten of the 18tracks on this CD, “Va tacito” from GiulioCesare being an entirely suitable selection,not only due to Zazzo’s enthusiastic performancebut because of the spirited accompanimentfrom the woodwinds and horns of LaNuova Musica. It is a sharp contrast to thethoughtful, sighing setting of “Tanti affani”from Handel’s Ottone, which follows.Despite Handel’s reputation, one of themost moving recordings on the entire CDis Ariosti’s “Spirate, o iniqui marmi” fromCoriolano, conveying Coriolano’s anguish athis wrongful imprisonment. In this case, it isthe strings which combine with Zazzo’s voiceto create the doleful atmosphere.In fact, Bononcini and Handel both end theCD with a flourish, the former with “Tigrepiagata” from Muzio Sevola and the latterwith “Vivi, tiranno” from Rodelinda. Eachpiece showcases the sheer skill of LawrenceZazzo and the demands placed on his voice.Michael SchwartzCLASSICAL AND BEYONDBeethoven – Diabelli VariationsStewart GoodyearMarquis MAR 455Stewart Goodyearhas already demonstratedhis maturityand artistic masteryof Beethoven in thecomplete sonatarecordings and hismarathon performancesof the works.This current CD establishes him as one of thepremier Beethoven interpreters today.The Diabelli Variations “amused Beethovento a rare degree” and were written in “arosy mood” which dispels the belief thatBeethoven spent his later years writing incomplete gloom. These variations tease uswith incredible humour and “funny themes.”Substitute the syllables ha-ha, hee-hee to themusic in Variation 10 which Alfred Brendelso aptly named “Giggling and neighing” inhis book Music Sounded Out and it will guaranteea smile and laugh while listening to thisextraordinary opus. This is joyful, upliftingmusic and Goodyear has the formidable techniqueand astute sense of structure to be ableto switch from one character to the next. Heclearly defines the unique personality andmood of each variation.The extra-musical images and literary allusionsof the work come alive in Goodyear’scommand of the extreme contrasts andarticulation of the musical motifs. He bringsto life tender moments and violent, disjointedmusical excursions while sustaining afocus from the beginning to the end of thework. The love and joy of playing Beethovenis evident in every nuance and breath ofGoodyear’s performance. The sound of therecording, tempo and timing flows naturallyin its expressive and colourful journey.This is an excellent recording and is highlyrecommended. I look forward to StewartGoodyear recording all of Beethoven’sVariations.Christina Petrowska QuilicoBeethoven – Complete Works for Cello andPianoJean-Guihen Queyras; Alexander MelnikovHarmonia Mundi HMC 902183.84Having alreadycollaborated onchamber music byBrahms, Kodály,Debussy and Poulenc,Canadian-borncellist Jean-GuihenQueyras and Russianpianist Alexander Melnikov – two establishedHarmonia Mundi artists – have now turnedtheir attention to music by Beethoven in thissplendid two-disc set featuring the completeworks for cello and piano.The music was composed over a 20-yearperiod, from 1796 to 1815. The two sonatasOp.5, were a result of Beethoven’s associationwith the musical court life in Berlinwhich not only included the cello-playingKing Frederick Wilhelm II (nephew of, andsuccessor to, the flute-playing Frederickthe Great) but also the Duport brothers –both cello virtuosos. The Queyras-Melnikovpairing is a sublime one, their playing elegantand polished, with a wonderful sense ofmomentum throughout. The first disc alsoincludes the delightful Variations on Mozart’sEin Mädchen oder Weibschen from The MagicFlute and See the Conquering Hero Comesfrom Handel’s Judas Maccabeus.It was almost 11 years later that Beethovenreturned to the cello/piano combination withhis Sonata in A Major Op.69, long regardedas one of his most renowned in the genre.The mood is dignified and majestic and theequal partnership of the artists results in awonderful cohesion of sound, with Queyras’warm rich tone perfectly complementedby Melnikov’s solid performance. Alsoincluded on this disc are the variations onMozart’s Bei Männern welche Liebe fuhlenfrom The Magic Flute and the two sonatasOp.102 completed in 1815. Queryas displays aparticular tenderness in the slow movementof the second sonata before the two embarkon the robust fugal finale, thus bringing theset to a most satisfying close.Well done, Messrs. Queyras and Melnikov76 | November 1 - December 7, 2014 thewholenote.com

– it’s a classic case of outstanding repertoiresuperbly played, and we can’t ask any morethan that.Richard HaskellChopin – Complete MazurkasJanina FialkowskaATMA ACD2 2682Chopin – 24 PreludesAlain LefèvreAnalekta AN 2 9287Chopin – PreludesIngrid FliterLinn Records CRD 475In the ridiculoushorror-parody film,Attack of the KillerTomatoes, the bloodthirstyveggies canonly be defeatedwhen shown thesheet music of DonnyOsmond. That makesthem explode in fear.In the real world, the truly scary scores arethose of Frédéric Chopin. The sheercomplexity of the writing, the crowded addedlines and bars bursting with fractal notes areenough to send a casual, sight-reading pianistscrambling. Chopin’s music requires a lot ofgreat technique, to be sure. But techniquealone is not enough – the best example of thatis the pianist that this reviewer calls BangBang in obvious reference to his overuse ofthe forte pedal. Lots of bravado there, but verylittle heart and soul.In fact, I wouldventure to say thatthe music of Chopinis a lot like wine –it is a result of theterroir, the quality ofgrapes and the winemakingtechnique.As for terroir, thereis something magical when one hears thatmusic at the Royal Baths Gardens in Warsaw,near the statue of Chopin (wrapped by twobronze weeping willows) or at Chopin’sfamily cottage in Zelazowa Wola, where hisalleged piano is still in working order. Alas,that’s a pleasure not accorded to many. Still,there is something uncanny in the abilityof Polish pianists to re-capture that everimportantterroir. Then there are the grapes– the beauty of Chopin’s writing was thatno piece, no matter how slight, could beconsidered minor. The Minute Waltz, thePreludes, the Mazurkas or songs, regardlessof length, command attention equal tothat of the Piano Concerti. If all his scoresare difficult, then the Mazurkas are particularlyso, as their intuitive, internal rhythmhas tripped up many a virtuoso. There is areason, after all, for a separate award categoryfor Mazurka interpretation at the ChopinInternational Piano Competition – a prizeso elusive, that on several occasions it wasnot awarded. Finally we come to the winemakingtechnique. All three of the pianists inthis review are no amateurs and their techniquecan be vouched for by the internationalprizes they have garnered – Ingrid Fliter wasa silver medalist of the 2000 Chopin PianoCompetition, Janina Fialkowska won theinaugural 1974 Arthur Rubinstein competitionand Alain Lefèvre scored a JUNO, PrixOpus and ten (That’s ten!) Prix Felix. So, howdo they fare?All three discs are a true delight – so anycriticism that follows will be merely an exercisein splitting hairs.If I were to pick theweakest link, it wouldbe the ArgentinebornIngrid Fliter.Though some wouldargue that hers isthe finest techniqueof the three, herapproach to Chopin isalmost too conservative and because of that itseems fearful. No room for fear when playingChopin – this is a counterphobe’s territory.I would also add that despite her triumph atthe Warsaw competition, her recording paysthe least homage to the actual terroir of themusic. A notable exception is the “Raindrop”Prelude – possibly the best performance Ihave heard in years.Lefèvre is fearless and bold, taking no prisonersin his approach and perhaps losingsome clarity in the process. However, byleading with the heart, you cannot lose whenplaying Chopin.Finally, Fialkowska is in fine form, provingonce again that it is the combination ofemotional presence, technique and experienceor the grapes, terroir and winemaking,that delivers the stunning results. Hers is thecrown of Mazurkas, those frustrating, intimidatinggems that Schumann called “cannonsunder flowers” referring to their potent politicalmessage dressed as “small” piano pieces.Robert TomasTchaikovsky; Grieg – Piano ConcertosStewart Goodyear; Czech NationalSymphony; Stanislav BoguniaSteinway & Sons Records 30035These performancesof the warhorses byTchaikovsky andGrieg are on fire.There is an energyand passion fromboth the remarkableStewart Goodyearand the incredible Czech National Symphonythat makes this a must-listen-to CD for pianists.Goodyear speaks of the collaboration as“dancing” and the performances certainlyweave long musical lines and pulsatingshapes like dance choreography. I like thetempos in the Tchaikovsky concerto. Bothpianist and orchestra refrained from romanticover-indulgence and kept the music flowingin grand, sweeping gestures. This concertooften suffers from affectations and egocentricplaying. Goodyear’s impressive techniquewas used with integrity to interpret themusic. He coaxed beautiful tone poems andcolours from the piano. He embraced the lushharmonic worlds of Tchaikovsky and madethe rhythms dance in balletic forms. His incisivearticulation and trills that border on thephenomenal will keep listeners on the edgeof their seats. The second movement sparkleseffervescently at a quick tempo but the slowersections are tender and carefully nuanced.The concerto ends in a blaze of virtuosicdisplay and fireworks from both piano andorchestra.The Grieg concerto was impeccable. It sangin lyric colours and the ensemble betweenpianist and orchestra was exemplary. Thetempos and timings breathed and evolvedfreely while creating naturally flowingphrases. The lyrical and sensitive secondmovement sang with luminous tone andexpressiveness. The third movement was crispand performed with scintillating precision.It is so refreshing to hear these oftenover-done concertos played with such love,mastery and musical integrity. Bravo toStewart Goodyear and the Czech NationalSymphony, as well as to Steinway for thisexcellent CD.Christina Petrowska QuilicoBruckner – Symphony No.3Orchestre Métropolitain; Yannick Nézet-SéguinATMA ACD2 2700This BrucknerThird is anothertriumph forMontreal’s OrchestreMétropolitain andconductor YannickNézet-Séguin. Wiselyusing the original1873 version, Nézet-Séguin provides a well-paced, convincingperformance of this massive symphony,with subtle tempo variations and shifts,controlled crescendos, and strategic silences.For Bruckner, it’s a good thing that we havelearned to accept silence in musical works. Inhis pauses, I hear space for concert hall reverberation,time to ponder a profound question,or maybe a rest on an alpine hike!Nézet-Séguin and his recording team havebalanced the orchestra admirably, blendingseamless strings, organ-like winds and boldbut restrained brass. In the sprawling firstmovement he projects both the openingpathos and the later emotional pastoral song,where the orchestra’s strings are particularlywarm and expressive. Some of Bruckner’smost arresting writing happens in transitionsand interpolations, as in a passage morethan a minute long over an A pedal note, orin a well-played trumpet explosion in thedevelopment section.The strings shine again in the sublimethewholenote.com November 1 - December 7, 2014 | 77

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