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Volume 27 Issue 1 - September / October 2021

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  • Thewholenotecom
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Blue pages and orange shirts; R. Murray Schafer's complex legacy, stirrings of life on the live concert scene; and the Bookshelf is back. This and much more. Print to follow. Welcome back from endless summer, one and all.

The Schumann Project:

The Schumann Project: Robert – Symphonic Etudes; Clara – Sonata in G Minor Inna Faliks MSR Classics MS 1763 (msrcd.com) Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel Inna Faliks Navona Records nv6352 (navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6352) ! The name Inna Faliks may not seem familiar to music lovers today, but the credentials of this Ukrainianborn American pianist are impressive indeed. Currently head of the piano department at UCLA, Faliks has made a name for herself both as a performer and pedagogue, and has appeared in concert throughout the world including a tour of China in 2016.The recording, titled The Schuman Project, is the first in a series designed to juxtapose the music of Robert Schumann with that of his wife Clara, who for too long has had the unfortunate reputation as “a pianist who also composed.” The 19th century wasn’t kind to women composers (or any women involved in the creative arts) and Clara was no exception. Her Piano Sonata in G Minor, which opens the disc, was an early work dating from 1841 when she was all of 22. It was composed specifically for Robert and despite her youth, there is much to admire here including solid construction and fine thematic development among the four movements. Faliks approaches the unfamiliar score with a clear understanding of the music, delivering a compelling and heartfelt performance. Schumann’s renowned Symphonic Etudes were begun in 1834 and have long been regarded as one of the most challenging of his large-scale piano works. Faliks easily proves her grasp of the material, rising to all the technical demands. But she is no mere technician – at all times her phrasing is carefully articulated and, beginning with the mysterious opening theme, her performance is a captivating musical journey right through to the jubilant finale. Faliks turns her attention to very different material in the disc Reimagine: Beethoven and Ravel. Here she focuses on putting a new “spin” on standard repertoire, in this case, the Beethoven set of Bagatelles Op.126 and Ravel’s suite Gaspard de la Nuit. These were used as a basis for new compositions by modern composers such as Peter Golub, Tamir Hendelman and Richard Danielpour. Just as the Beethoven set is a study in contrasts, so are the reinterpretations. For example, the mood of the Bagatelle by Golub based on the first in the Beethoven set is pensive and contemplative, closely following that of the original, while Ian Krouse’s Etude 2a based on the second is a true perpetuum mobile. For whatever reason, Faliks didn’t include any original movements from the Ravel suite, but pieces such as Variations on a Spell by Paola Prestini are an evocative reimagining of Ondine. These are fine recordings demonstrating two sides of a gifted artist – and recorded during a pandemic no less. We can hope to hear more from Inna Faliks in the future. Richard Haskell Brahms – Symphony No.3; Serenade No.2 Budapest Festival Orchestra; Ivan Fischer Channel Classics CCS SA 43821 (channelclassics.com/catalogue/43821) ! “There is no more magnificent opening of a symphony than the first 38 bars of Brahms Third” says Ivan Fischer, and obviously he is very partial to the work. Fischer is known to pursue unjustly neglected works and restore them to mainstream repertoire. Brahms Third Symphony is certainly the dark horse, the least performed of his four. Granted, it is different from the others: it’s the shortest, terse, vivid, passionate and intensely alive. It begins with a great heroic theme in an optimistic F Major fortissimo that dominates the work, but it’s also capable of becoming soft and tender as at the end of the first movement and the very end of the symphony. The nickname heroic fits only the outer movements. The second is quiet and peaceful and simply glows with one beautiful melody after another. It comes to a gorgeous climax and then a hushed magical moment of dialogue between various woodwinds and the lower strings echoing one another. The third movement should be a scherzo, but it isn’t. It has a “beautiful, caressing theme, loving and slightly melancholic, but all in a mildly rocking rhythm” (Clemens Romijn). It is in 3/4 time and so catchy that it became a pop song. The last movement is intense, dramatic like a battle, heroic, but the main theme returns in a quiet, peaceful manner that ends the symphony gently. Brahms wrote the two Serenades before he composed symphonies and I first heard them by the late, great Brahmsian István Kertséz and fell in love with them instantly. The graceful Serenade No.2 provides a nice contrast to the heroic Third Symphony, performed here in a thoroughly delightful manner by the wonderful musicians of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the pride of Hungary and one of the top ten of the world. Janos Gardonyi Johannes Brahms – Piano Concertos Andras Schiff; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment ECM New Series 2690/91 (ecmrecords.com/shop) ! Perhaps like many classical music listeners and lovers, I mainly (and perhaps limitingly) associate the Hungarian-born pianist Sir András Schiff with J.S. Bach, whose music Schiff plays beautifully, frequently and with an insight and mastery that few have equalled. Accordingly, it was a pleasure for me to dig into Schiff’s recent double-disc recording of the reimagined piano concertos of Johannes Brahms, accompanied capably by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Captured following a string of highly acclaimed European concerts in the spring of 2019, the resulting recording is magical. Doing double duty as pianist and conductor, Schiff leads this unique United Kingdombased period-piece orchestra through some of the most musical and challenging pieces in the Western art music canon (Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.1 in D Minor, Op.15 and No.2 in B-flat Major, Op.83), mining the depths of Romantic-era dynamics and expressivity for which Brahms is revered. Further, the recording, captured at London’s Abbey Road studios, contains all of the fidelity hallmarks for which ECM Recordings has earned its blue-chip reputation over the last near half-century, exhibiting the telltale expansive sonic thumbprint of executive producer Manfred Eicher, who helps realize here a recording that captures Schiff, and the 1859 Blüthner piano on which he performs, beautifully. Andrew Scott 38 | September and October 2021 thewholenote.com

Brahms – Double Concerto; Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet; Liszt – Les Preludes Lisa Batiashvili; Gautier Capuçon; Staatskapelle Dresden; Christian Thielemann C Major 757108 (naxosdirect.com/search/757108) ! Christian Thielemann had already established himself as a card-carrying, man-about-Brahms when he recorded the complete symphonies, the piano concertos with Pollini and the violin concerto with Batiashvili; DG was still attempting to develop a successor to the late Herbert von Karajan. Of course this concert with the Dresden Staatskapelle could be nothing less than a memorable event given the incomparable technique and sonorities of the soloists, violinist Lisa Batiashvili and cellist Gautier Capuçon, with Thielemann in command. This Blu-ray has had lots of play in the past weeks as I just had to hear, just one more time, my very favourite Brahms concerto. The encore, Il Zingaresca: Allegro giocoso, is a pleasing interplay between violin and cello by Schulhoff. The Tchaikovsky and Liszt war horses each enjoy a well-controlled, commanding performance, Bruce Surtees Busoni – The Six Sonatinas Victor Nicoara Hanssler Classic HC20086 (naxosdirect.com/search/hc20086) ! Victor Nicoara, a bona fide exponent of the piano music of Ferruccio Busoni, joins an increasing number of musicians determined to familiarize audiences with the Italian composer’s catalogue, bringing them “closer to an emotional understanding of… neglected masterpieces.” As such, Nicoara has fashioned an aesthetically pleasing album featuring Busoni’s Six Sonatinas – out of chronological order – set amongst smaller pieces. It is immediately apparent that Nicoara has long been devoted to Busoni’s art and brings a depth of interpretation and impressive conviction to his performance. The pianist displays attributes of expression not perennially associated with Busoni: a tenderness of line and sense of satirical gesture (with playfulness); a dreamy, almost absent-minded notion of soundscape, a rational lingua franca of harmony. (Busoni’s harmonic language can sometimes seem out of reach for many listeners.) This is a disc to be thoroughly enjoyed, varied in scope with intimations of dustedoff treasure. The musical gemstones Nicoara brings to our ears from vaults below are not unknown, they’re just rarely heard and must therefore be reclaimed and re-appreciated in the natural light of day. Here is the conceit of Nicoara’s newest recording and he succeeds in its conveyance, admirably. Outside of the sonatinas, a more novel highlight is the Nuit de Noël, BV 251. Without knowing, one might guess this music to be written by Debussy, Grieg or even a proponent of the Romantic English school. Finally, Nicoara’s own, Quasi Sonatina, illuminates the nooks and crannies of our aforementioned museum finds in “an attempt… to distill the spirit and compositional procedures of the works recorded…” As listeners, we revel in his sensitivity for the material: material he plays with an earnest, even humble, brand of pianistic expertise. Adam Sherkin Mahler – Symphony No.7 Bayerisches Staatsorchester; Kirill Petrenko Bayerische Stattoper BSOrec0001 (naxosdirect.com/search/bsorec0001) ! The Bayerisches Staatsorchester, the resident orchestra of the renowned Bavarian State Opera, launches a new label featuring their purely orchestral performances with this 2018 live performance under their former music director Kirill Petrenko, recently appointed to succeed Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philharmonic. The reclusive and modest Petrenko has very few recordings to his credit to date; that he would choose to heighten his profile with this most neglected though utterly fascinating example of Mahler’s symphonies is certainly a provocative move. In general we have here a quite satisfying result, revealing an excellent orchestra at the top of its game. The opening bars of this five-moment symphony seemed a bit underwhelming to me at first, though it eventually became evident that Petrenko is playing the long game as the interpretation grew increasingly incandescent throughout the remainder of the movement. A certain Apollonian reticence is also evident in the flanking pair of Nachtmusik movements; the echoing horn calls that open the second movement for example are, unusually, strictly in tempo, while the expressive tempo modifications in the archly sentimental fourth movement are almost non-committal in their fleetness, though both movements are otherwise sonically luxurious and expertly balanced. He does however display a commanding hand throughout the psychedelic central Scherzo and truly comes into his own in the dense polyphony of the grandiloquent Finale which zips along jubilantly. Though it’s certainly not the finest recording of this work available (I would recommend Bernstein/NY or Abbado/ Lucerne) it nevertheless shows great promise that Petrenko interprets this demanding work with such alacrity. Stay tuned! Daniel Foley Quest Elisabeth Remy Johnson Albany Records TROY1863 (albanyrecords.com) ! This compelling new recording from world-renowned principal harpist (Atlanta Symphony) Elisabeth Remy Johnson, is a magnificent celebration of not only the harp itself, but of 12 radiant female composers. Both historic and contemporary artists are represented here by way of Johnson’s transcriptions of venerable piano works by Cécile Chaminade (Aubade – 1911), Amy Beach (A Hermit Thrush at Morn – 1921), Mel Bonis (Cinq Morceaux – 1894 to 1927), Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (Mélodie – 1846), Clara Wieck Schumann (Romanze – 1853) and Lili Boulanger (D’un vieux jardin – 1914). Contemporary contributers to this superb collection include Australian flutist/composer Johanna Selleck, British composer Freya Waley-Cohen, British violist/composer Sally Beamish and Canadian composer Kati Agócs. The title track is by contemporary Iranian- American pianist/composer Niloufar Nourbakhsh. Written in 1992, the composition reflects Nourbakhsh’s thoughts and feelings as she embarked on her “quest” of becoming a composer. Delicate, gossamer and provocative, this world-premiere recording and transcription for solo harp is nothing short of breathtaking. Aubade has a whimsical aspect, made even more magical when performed on harp and A Hermit Thrush at Morn embodies contemporary motifs in classical music that were just beginning to come into focus in the 1920s. Of special beauty and elegance is the five-movement Cinq Morceaux, as is D’un vieux jardin where the listener experiences a stunning, Parisian garden gently emerging out of the mist. The contemporary pieces presented here are no less notable, particularly Agócs’ Every Lover is a Warrior and Waley-Cohen’s Skye. This is a recording to be savoured, just like all of the works of the brilliant female artists who have contributed to Johnson’s laudible recording, infused with her incredible skill and taste. Lesley Mitchell-Clarke thewholenote.com September and October 2021 | 39

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