6 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 3 - November 2016

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elationship with the

elationship with the outstanding Harmonia Mundi label, and what a start it is! The String Quartet No.1 in D Major Op.11 was written for a March 1871 concert intended to promote Tchaikovsky and his music, and includes the famous Andante cantabile slow movement which almost immediately achieved a life of its own. The Heath Quartet is in tremendous form from the outset, with full-bodied and passionate playing, a warm, rich tone, a lovely dynamic range and sensitive phrasing. The players for the first performance, assembled from Tchaikovsky’s colleagues at the Moscow Conservatory, were mostly the same for the String Quartet No.2 in 1874. Ferdinand Laub, the Czech first violinist in both performances, died the following year at 43, and the String Quartet No.3 in E-flat Minor Op.30 was Tchaikovsky’s response to the loss. The third movement Andante funebre e doloroso was intended as an elegy to Laub, and not surprisingly made the biggest impression at the premiere. It really is played quite beautifully here. The Heath Quartet’s next CD release will be the complete Bartók quartets in 2017, apparently recorded during its performance of the complete cycle at London’s Wigmore Hall this past May. That cycle won rave reviews in The Telegraph, and if this outstanding Tchaikovsky CD is anything to go by the Bartók issue should really be something to look forward to. Concert note: The Heath Quartet will feature music of Bach, Beethoven, Bartók and Dvořák during its Canadian debut tour which includes performances at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society on January 20 and Mooredale Concerts in Toronto on January 22. The outstanding French baroque violinist Amandine Beyer joins with another outstanding violinist, Giuliano Carmignola, and Gli incogniti, the Italian historical-instrument ensemble that she founded, in Antonio Vivaldi Concerti per due Violini on another new Harmonia Mundi release (HMC902249). There are six concertos for two violins on the disc, together with the Concerto a 4 in D Minor RV127. Beyer says that recording this CD made her realize how much her love of Vivaldi and his music deepens with each new experience; she finds Vivaldi to be “a composer endowed with humanity and a profound sense of the harmony of beings with nature.” The interplay between the two violins and the orchestra, she says, gives her a pleasure she finds hard to explain in words. But then again, she doesn’t have to – she expresses it in her playing. The concertos are those in C Major RV507, B-flat Major RV529, C Minor RV510, C Major RV505, B-flat Major RV527 and D Major RV513. The performances throughout are simply bursting with life and dazzling virtuosity, with a wonderful lightness in an accompaniment that features just four or five violins and one each of viola, cello, violone, theorbo or guitar and harpsichord or organ. It’s a terrific CD that makes Vivaldi’s concertos sound much more varied than some would have you believe. The music of American composer James Matheson is featured on the new self-titled CD from Yarlung Records (25670). His String Quartet was premiered by the St. Lawrence String Quartet in February 2014 and is played here by the Color Field Quartet. It’s an accessible three-movement work of decided substance, with some excellent instrumental writing and a lot of energy. The leader of the quartet, Baird Dodge, has been principal second violin with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 2002, and is the soloist in by far the most significant work on the CD, Matheson’s Violin Concerto. Matheson and Dodge were roommates at college in the 1990s, and Dodge had harboured the idea of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra commissioning a violin concerto from Matheson ever since joining the orchestra. It finally came to fruition as a co-commission with the Los Angeles Philharmonic when conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen added his support. The recording here is of the concerto’s premiere performance on December 15, 2011, in Chicago with Salonen leading the CSO with Dodge as the soloist. It’s a striking work with a virtuoso role for the soloist and some terrific orchestration. Matheson cites Messiaen, Lutosławski and Mahler as influences and acknowledges that the concerto’s slow movement was inspired by the slow movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, but the high bird-like figures in the violin put me more in mind of the concertos of Szymanowski. It feels like a work that will not want for future performances. There is a decided concert feel to the recording, as opposed to a studio feel, but there is no hint of an audience being present. Dodge plays quite brilliantly. The final work on the CD fares poorly in comparison. Soprano Laura Strickling and pianist Thomas Sauer are the performers in the song cycle Times Alone, but unfortunately the high vocal register, Strickling’s big voice and constant wide vibrato mixed with an over-close and frequently heavy piano sound make the words really difficult to understand. Keyed In ALEX BARAN Mikolaj Warszynski is a thinker. His notes read like an inspired thesis defence. He has solid and clear rationale for the program choices on his newest recording: Piano Solo – Haydn; Szymanowski; Liszt; Chopin (Anima ANM/141200001). Warszynski creates a journey that begins with classical structure and logic, and ends in raw emotion. Haydn’s Sonata in C Major Hob.XVI:50 is unique for its references to pedalling, found in none of Hadyn’s other keyboard works. The effect is arresting, especially since Haydn allows some odd harmonies to run together. Warszynski’s keyboard technique for this piece is very direct and rather more powerful than we generally expect for this repertoire. He justifies this in his notes on the work’s recipient, a leading London pianist in 1794, who possessed both formidable technique and a powerful English Broadwood piano. The execution is crisp and clear with no sacrifices to phrasing or subtlety. Karol Szymanowksi’s Shéhérazade from Masques Op.34 is, despite its modernity, as dependent on clarity and articulation as the opening Haydn Sonata. It’s built in a logical arch that Warszynski makes great effort to respect. Still, he captures the exotic program material with an improvisational style that begins to move us away from structure and into the world of Liszt and Chopin. The Mephisto Waltz uses some lightly applied form and programmatic ideas that leave plenty of room for the transformation of themes that Liszt so uniquely championed. Warszynski finds all the latitude he needs to explore this through the contrasting middle section before he dives back into the emotional intensity that completes the waltz. Warszynski arranges four pieces by Chopin to serve as a final statement about his program, concluding with the Polonaise in B Minor Op.53 “Héroique” played more slowly than most performers would ever dare. Citing Chopin’s own preferences to avoid the virtuosic showmanship this piece often elicits, he plays it with an overriding sense of nobility. Concert Note: Mikolaj Warszynski performs with piano duo partner Zuzana Simurdova in Toronto on November 11 at Gallery 345 in The Art of the Piano series and as part of the Nocturnes in the City at St. 70 | November 1, 2016 - December 7, 2016

Wenceslaus Church on November 23. L/R Quebec-born Charles Richard-Hamelin has added a second recording to his discography. Recorded in May this year, Charles Richard- Hamelin Live – Beethoven; Enescu; Chopin (Analekta AN 2 9129) opens with two Rondos by Beethoven. Because the pieces are so very Classical, they tend to be overlooked in favour of his later, more potboiling audience pleasers. Richard-Hamelin raises the emotional bar on these early works and plays them as Romantic flirtations. It’s very effective. George Enescu’s Suite No.2 for Piano Op.10 dates from the turn of the 19th century and uses some surprisingly contemporary harmonies. Richard-Hamelin plays these short dance pieces with affection for the graceful nature of the suite’s four parts. Each is uniquely coloured. Pavane, especially, has a dark introspection that Richard-Hamelin explores with intimacy. He uses the same inclination to begin the Chopin Ballade No.3 in A-flat Major Op.47 but rises to all the grandeur required as the Ballade builds to its finish. The following Nocturne in E-flat Major Op.55 No.2 requires getting deep inside Chopin’s intentions as he shifts tonalities and layers ornaments over very simple thematic ideas. Richard-Hamelin demonstrates a genuine understanding of this music and reveals more of its inner secrets in a gratifying way. The recording concludes with Introduction and Rondo in E-flat Major Op.16 and the Polonaise in A-flat Major Op.53 “Heroique”. Each is a cauldron of technique but “Heroic” stands out for its less than traditionally punctuated phrases in favour of a more fluid approach. Concert Note: Charles Richard-Hamelin performs in Toronto at Koerner Hall on November 10, in Aurora at the Aurora Cultural Centre on November 11 and in St. Catharines with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on November 27. L/R Fusing Classical and Jazz has been done before and its success always depends on the calibre of the musicianship brought to the keyboard. A new recording, Piano Caméléons (Justin Time JUST 257-2) features pianists Matt Herskowitz and John Roney recasting many of the classical repertoire’s best known melodies in a jazz voice. The project boasts Oliver Jones as its guide and mentor, and Jones writes glowingly about what the pianists have achieved. Jones also performs with them in the Minuet in G Major BWV 114 by Bach/Petzold. The opening track uses the Bach Prelude No.2 in C Minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I. After establishing key and rhythmic pattern, Herskowitz and Roney begin drifting from Bach’s melody into a descant that eventually develops into a catchy swing embellishment, all the while maintaining the original pulse of Bach’s keyboard idea. Very clever. With Debussy’s Claire de lune, the approach changes. Here they use only the briefest motif from the opening measures and spend more creative effort sustaining the piece’s atmosphere. They never let go of the thematic fragment entirely, although they wander significantly before quoting it again at the close. Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor Op.3 No.2 introduces some mysterious percussion at the outset, remains dark and ominous throughout and offers an impressive display of technique from both keyboards. The track that emerges as a truly brilliant conception and performance is the Chopin Étude in C Minor Op.10 No.12 “Revolutionary.” Starting with the familiar cascade of the work’s first idea Herskowitz and Roney create the turbulence of the “Revolution” and stay with its minor key almost entirely through their jazz treatment. It’s ingenious and impressively creative. Another welcome recording from Jean- Baptiste Müller, Chopin – Sonata No.3; Schumann – Kreisleriana (JBM 40665 begins with Chopin’s third and final Sonata in B Minor Op.58. Formally freer than its two predecessors, it sports a wildly sparkling but brief Scherzo that Müller plays with easy abandon. The third movement that follows is marked Largo, and Müller spends a generous amount of time lingering with each of its beautiful ideas. It’s an effective way to contrast the two inner movements of this piece, especially when it concludes with the nonstop energy of the finale. The final movement demands stamina and clarity through its many relentless cascading runs and towers of chords. Müller delivers with a secure keyboard style and obvious musicality. Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana Op.16 is a collection of eight short pieces penned in romantic affection for the composer’s wifeto-be. It requires attention to opportunities for contrasting emotional content. While the faster, louder pieces provide short respites from their inherent tensions, the slower pieces are the real challenge to play. Müller approaches these with an unconventional pensiveness that focuses attention on the lingering pauses he uses so effectively at phrase endings. The fourth and sixth pieces in the cycle are examples of just how artfully he applies this device. The closing piece is an impish wee thing performed with a gifted naughtiness that Müller makes no effort hide. Reviews of discs below this line are enhanced in our online Listening Room at Live: Beethoven - Enescu - Chopin An astonishing and inspired second album by one of the most talented pianists of his generation and winner of the second prize at the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. J.S. BACH: The Six Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin Remastered edition for the 15th anniversary of this landmark recording. “It gives me great pleasure to revisit these recordings and remember with pride the incredible journey of recording these masterpieces.” – James Ehnes Piano Caméléons An electrifying duo-duel of pianists formed with Matt Herskowitz and John Roney. Two grand pianos - classical music and jazz merge in a burst of virtuosity! Schubert Sessions An album of Schubert’s lyrical masterpieces by one of the greatest singers in the country. Sublime! November 1, 2016 - December 7, 2016 | 71

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