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Volume 20 Issue 7 - April 2015

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If you listen

If you listen toClassical 96.3FMon anything resemblinga regular basisyou’ve probably heardthe Israeli mandolinistAvi Avital’sastonishing renditionof Monti’sCzárdas (if you haven’t, you can always watchit on YouTube). It certainly meant that Iapproached his latest CD, Avi Avital Vivaldi(Deutsche Grammophon B0022627-02) withkeen anticipation, and I wasn’t disappointed.The mandolin has its roots in 17th- and18th-century Italian music, and is particularlywell suited to the style of Vivaldi. The composer’sone concerto for the instrument, theConcerto in C Major RV425, is featured herealong with three concertos, a sonata and ashort movement all transcribed for mandolinby Avital.Two of the concertos – the A Minor RV356and the G Minor RV315, “Summer,” from TheFour Seasons, were originally for violin, andwork particularly well on the mandolin, thetwo instruments sharing the same tuning. TheConcerto in D Major RV93 was originally forlute. These are not huge pieces – the RV356and RV425 concertos are both three-movementworks less than eight minutes in length– but the predominantly upbeat tempos andAvital’s clean, agile playing along with thelovely, light and airy accompaniment by theVenice Baroque Orchestra make for delightfullistening.The Trio Sonata in C Major RV82, originallyfor violin and lute, features a beautifully fullcontinuo sound contributed by harpsichord,lute and cello. The short movement is theLargo from the Concerto in C Major RV443,originally for flautino.Avital is joined by tenor Juan Diego Flórezin a beautiful rendition of the traditionalVenetian song La biondina in gondoleta,which provides a lovely end to an extremelypleasant and entertainingCD.Permutations isthe third CD fromthe American violistEliesha Nelson,with pianist JamesHowsmon (SonoLuminus DSL-92186).The theme of the CD is American ClassicalMusic and the Viola, although the earliestwork on the disc only dates from 1953.At first sight the opening work seemsout of place, but the contemporary Russiancomposer Nikolai Kapustin has been greatlyinfluenced by American jazz. His Sonata forViola and Piano Op.69 doesn’t have quiteTERRY ROBBINSthe frenetic quality of his astonishing pianoétudes, but is a spiky, jazzy work with aGershwinesque middle movement.The Two Pieces for Solo Viola by JohnMcLaughlin Williams are a real tour de force,and Nelson is particularly outstanding inthe technically demanding Toccata, with itsechoes of the Dies Irae.The Second Sonata for Viola and Piano byRoss Lee Finney (1906-97) is a 12-tone work,but this is serialism clearly influenced by theRomanticism of Alban Berg, and an extremelyeffective composition.Wending, by Jeffrey Mumford (b.1955) isanother challenging but very interesting solowork that draws another terrific performancefrom Nelson.The Sonata for Viola and Piano by GeorgeWalker (b.1922) is an atonal – but quiteaccessible – work written in 1989. Anotherexcellent performance by both artists roundsout a really interesting CD.As with her previous CD of Russian ViolaSonatas, I find Nelson’s viola sound a bitnasal and tight at times, but her playing herereally makes the most of the instrument’sfull tonal range and colour. In addition tothe standard CD, the package comes with aPure Audio Blu-ray CD equipped with themShuttle application, enabling you to accessportable copies of thetracks on the disc.Homages – AMusical Dedicationis the latest CDfrom Swiss guitaristChristoph Denoth,and presents a fairlytraditional recital ofpredominantly Spanish compositions spanningmore than four centuries (SignumClassics SIGCD404).There are short pieces here by JoaquínMalats y Miarons, Luis de Narváez, MiguelLlobet, Fernando Sor, Manuel de Falla,Joaquín Turina, Isaac Albéniz and JoaquínRodrigo, but the centrepiece of the CD ismusic by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. His Schottish-Chôro is the secondmovement of his Suite popular brasileira,but the real gem here is Denoth’s performanceof the five Preludes, four of them writtenas a specific homage to aspects of Brazilianlife and one reflecting the influence ofBach’s music on the composer. The CD’s titleconnection is quite clear here, although withsome of the other works on the disc it’s somewhattenuous at best.Still, no matter, for this is a lovely andsubstantial (over 70 minutes) program,beautifully played, and with a clear, resonantand not-too-close recording quality.It’s been a while since I’ve receivedanything featuringthe terrific Frenchcellist EmmanuelleBertrand, but she’sback with her regularpartner, pianist PascalAmoyel, on Chopin:1846, dernière annéeà Nohant (harmoniamundi HMC 902199). The CD celebratesChopin’s last summer on his lover GeorgeSand’s estate, where he had spent seven yearscomposing the majority of his works; the twowould finally separate the following year. Thebeautiful Cello Sonata in G Minor Op.65, thelast work published during Chopin’s lifetime,is at the heart of the CD, while Amoyeltakes the spotlight for performances of theBarcarolle Op.60, the three Mazurkas Op.63,the three Valses Op.64, the Mazurka Op.67,No. 4 and the two Nocturnes Op.62.The Cello Sonata wasn’t completed untilthe time of Chopin’s separation from Sand inJuly 1847. It’s a strong, turbulent work thatis given a passionate and nuanced performanceby Bertrand and Amoyel, who clearlyhave an innate understanding of how eachother plays. Amoyel’s sensitive interpretationsof the solo piano pieces, beautifully recorded,are a pure delight.The music ofthe Polish Sovietcomposer MieczysławWeinberg,3 friendand colleague ofDmitri Shostakovich,certainly seems tobe turning up on CDmore frequently these days. The Swedishconductor Thord Svedlund has alreadydirected four Chandos Super Audio CDs ofWeinberg’s concertos and symphonies, andnow conducts the Helsingborg SymphonyOrchestra in excellent performances ofWeinberg’s Chamber Symphonies Nos.3 and4 (Chandos CHSA 5146).Both works, from 1990 and 1992 respectively,were written late in the composer’s life,although three of the four movements of theChamber Symphony No.3 Op.151 for stringorchestra recycle material from his 1945String Quartet No.5.The Chamber Symphony No.4 Op.153was the last work Weinberg completed, andis scored for string orchestra with obbligatoclarinet and triangle, the latter having justfour notes in the entire piece. It incorporatesquotes from some of Weinberg’s earlierworks, but apparently was never intended asa summation of his life and work.It’s difficult toknow exactly what tosay about LudovicoEinaudi – Portrait, thenew CD from AngèleDubeau & La Pietà(Analekta AN 2 8738).It’s very similar incontent to some of her previous CDs, which68 | April 1 - May 7, 2015 thewholenote.com

if Sonata II is more restrained; the formercould almost be one of the folk-tune settingswhich had inspired early 17th-century violada gamba players. Sonata III falls somewherebetween its predecessors. This is notsurprising as it is annotated solely as ariavariata by Kühnel.It is Kühnel himself who encourages thespirited playing of the Voix Humaines Consortas he himself acknowledges that it is impossibleto annotate everything: he places anapostrophe where he requires an ornament tobe played, leaving performers free to choosetrills, vibratos, appoggiaturas and manyothers! It is a bit like leaving schoolchildrenfree to roam in the chemistry laboratory or, inthe sleeve-note writer’s words, “the telepathiccommunion of a pair of jazz saxophonists.”And the last three sonatas? The countrydancecharacteristics of some of their movementsis certainly brought out, particularly inSonata V, while Sonata VI is very reminiscentof the music accompanying baroque dramas.It is easy to see why Napper and Little are soadmired for their interpretations of this genre.Michael SchwartzMozart – Horn Concertos; Horn QuintetPip Eastop; Hanover Band; Eroica QuartetHyperion CDA68097!!What a fabulous CD this is! In the decadebefore his deathMozart wrote fivepieces for his closefriend, the celebratedViennesehorn player JosephLeutgeb. This discpresents the gorgeousQuintet, with its chocolateytwo-viola richness, and the four hornconcertos, in their chronological order toreflect how Mozart’s writing for the instrumentshifted to mirror his colleague’s playing.The expert and beautifully balanced HanoverBand and Eroica Quartet both play with a richdiversity of colour and expressive device, butthe brightest star of this show is Pip Eastop.Leutgeb was described as being able to “singan adagio as perfectly as the most mellow,interesting and accurate voice,” and Eastop’splaying can be extolled just as highly. Heplays brilliantly, whether in the exquisiteslow movements or in the allegros where theinstrument’s rambunctious cor de chasseorigins – “more Robin Hood than JamesBond” – are never very far away; and hisextraordinary cadenzas exploit the full rangeof the natural horn’s personality and technicalcapabilities without ever disappearingbeyond the classical horizon.These are joyful, engaged and engagingperformances, as varied in mood andvocabulary as the music itself, and alchemicallyremoving the distance between Mozart’stime and our own. The excellent bookletnotes by Robert Payne, Stephen Roberts andEastop are an added bonus. Even if you’vealready got a recording or two of Mozart’shorn music, you must listen to this one.Alison MelvilleBeethoven – Complete Piano SonatasMari KodamaPentatone PTC 5186 490!!The 32 sonatas ofBeethoven are a milestonein musicalhistory and one of themarvels of humancivilization. The pianowas Beethoven’s owninstrument; he firstbecame famous asa concert pianist. The sonatas also trace thedevelopment of the instrument itself; withtechnical improvements it became more andmore articulate and expressive, noticeablethroughout the sonatas. Interpretation datesback to the time of Liszt and complete recordingsby some of the piano giants are many, butalmost exclusively by male pianists.I met Mari Kodama at the time of launchingher new set for PentaTone. She immediatelywill be good or not so good news dependingon your point of view.The Portrait series presents contemporarycomposers who write with what Dubeau callsa unique musical signature, although Glimpsemight be a more accurate title. Einaudi isa classically trained composer and pianistwho has achieved great commercial successin what is generally termed the World Musicfield, and is represented here by 13 shortpieces with titles like Life, Experience, Run,Time Lapse and Giorni dispari.Eleven of the pieces, though, are arrangementsby François Vallière and AngèleDubeau – what Dubeau calls “rethinking itscharacter while bringing a new sonic dimension;”moreover, they are nearly all essentiallythe same length, hovering around the fiveminutemark – a cynic might think with radioplaylists clearly in mind.They also tend to sound much the same:there is very little harmonic, rhythmic ormelodic variation or adventure, and whilethey are clearly well-crafted, attractive andcommunicative on a certain level there is verylittle change of mood.The booklet notes again highlight Dubeau’scareer album sales figures, which are inexcess of an astonishing 500,000; it’s easyto hear why. Dubeau’s CDs in this particularvein may well be aimed at a specific commercialmarket, but with excellent arrangementsof pleasant, undemanding popularmusic, beautifully played and recorded, theynevertheless unfailingly provide high qualityperformances of music that clearly continuesto appeal to many.It’s probably a bit too simplistic to saythat if you hear a string work that soundslike some Dvořák that you haven’t heardbefore, then it’s probably by his son-in-lawJosef Suk (although that certainly worksfor the Serenade for Strings) but there’s nogetting away from the huge similarities intheir music.Josef Suk Complete Works for StringQuartet is a new 2-CD set featuringthe MinguetQuartett (cpo/Deutschlandfunkcpo 777 652-2). CD1has the two StringQuartets, while CD2has a selection of shortsingle movementsas well as the PianoQuintet Op.8, in which the Minguet is joinedby pianist Matthias Kirschnereit.The String Quartet No.1 in B-Flat MajorOp.11 is an early work from 1896, when Sukwas 22, and is a lovely work with a particularlybeautiful slow movement. Not surprisingly,there’s a good deal of Smetana influencehere as well. Some 20 years later Suk revisitedthe work and re-wrote the final movement,although the resulting Quartet movement inB-Flat Major, also included here, never establisheditself as part of the complete work.In the String Quartet No.2 Op.31 from1910-11 we are in a quite different world; theBohemian feel of Dvořák and Smetana is stillthere, but there is a heightened chromaticism– particularly in the second movement –and an almost Impressionistic character tothe writing.The Piano Quintet in G Minor Op.8 isanother early work, from 1888, but wasrevised by Suk in 1915; it is again redolentof Dvořák, but the combination of itspurely Romantic themes with Suk’s moremodern later style makes for some interestingmoments.Two of the four short pieces that completeCD2 had their origins in early works: theMinuet in G Major from 1911 first appearedin two piano works a dozen years earlier;and the Barcarolle is a 1923 re-working of amiddle movement from an early 1888 stringquartet that Suk did not include in his list ofrecognized works.The Ballade in D Minor was one of threeBallades the teenage Suk wrote in 1890, andthe Meditation on the Old Bohemian Hymn“St. Wenceslas” Op.35a is a patriotic piecewritten in 1914. All four short pieces are quitedelightful.Performance and recording standards arefine throughout.Strings Attached continues atthewholenote.com with Scandinavianmusic for violin and orchestraperformed by Kathrin TenHagen and the FolkwangKammerorchester underJohannes Klumpp’sdirection.thewholenote.com April 1 - May 7, 2015 | 69

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