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Volume 22 Issue 3 - November 2016

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You need more than just

You need more than just a good grip on the keyboard to play Tchaikovsky No.2. It’s a mental challenge, and Uzbek pianist Eldar Nebolsin has mastered it in his latest recording Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No.2; Concert Fantasia (Naxos 8.573462). Given the tragedies and criticism with which he dealt during his lifetime, Tchaikovsky made a remarkably victorious statement in this work. The big opening for the orchestra is quickly echoed by the piano and it’s here that Nebolsin establishes his presence. He plays the original score, without the cuts imposed by early critical performers. He has a commanding presence at the keyboard which he uses to keep the orchestra at bay. The first movement is very much a tug of war filled with energy and grandeur that makes the second all the more surprising for its profound melancholy and chamber-like approach. Nebolsin completely surrenders to the trio portions with cello and violin and the three players weave a gorgeous tapestry with the movement’s principal theme. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Michael Stern holds well back at an unusual distance, heightening the intimacy of this movement and preparing for the eruption of pure joy that begins its finale. The Allegro con fuoco opens with a quick tempo sustained throughout but the most remarkable feature is the lightness of the piano touch. Nebolsin is simply dancing all over the keyboard in an exhilarating romp to the final chords. It’s a marvellous performance executed with intelligence and a sense of adventure. The Concert Fantasia in G Major Op.56 is a very different work that gives Nebolsin the opportunity for much more solo playing, showing us yet another side of this accomplished young musician. Stephen Spooner has recently released the finished results of a huge recording project Dedications – Horowtiz, Richter, Gilels, Cliburn (A Life of Music Records stevenspooner.com). It’s a 16-CD box set that Spooner describes as an homage to the great pianists of the Russian School. The set includes audio liner notes, a live recital and a couple of discs containing hymn transcriptions and other improvisations. The first three volumes are devoted to Vladimir Horowitz whom Spooner considers to be one of history’s greatest pianists. Without overtly attempting to play as Horowitz played, Spooner does, however, adopt the characteristic thoughtfulness that shaped Horowitz’s keyboard style. While a superb technician, even into his final years, Horowitz always impressed audiences with the feeling that he was somehow considering anew, every note he was playing. There seemed to be a brake on the impulse to rush headlong into virtuosic display for its own sake. This is most evident in Spooner’s performances of Chopin and Rachmaninoff. His Scarlatti Sonatas, some performed on Horowitz’s own piano, recall Horowitz’s crisp, acrobatic fingerings as well as his love of a well-phrased melody. Sviatoslav Richter gets the lion’s share of the set with eight volumes devoted to his musical legacy. It’s curious that Richter gets so much recorded coverage here. Despite taking recording very seriously, he never enjoyed it as much as live performance. A great many of his recordings are, in fact, live concerts. In his Richter volumes, Spooner includes Schubert’s Winterreise D.911 in recognition of Richter’s collaborations with both Peter Schreier and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Baritone Chris Thompson performs beautifully, finding the intimacy and fluidity that both his German counterparts cultivated so successfully. Among Richter’s most critically acclaimed recorded performances are the Liszt B Minor Sonata S.178, Debussy’s Préludes and more than a dozen Haydn Sonatas. Spooner devotes an entire volume to each of these three. Noteworthy too, is that he performs the Liszt twice in one volume using one of Liszt’s last pianos, an 1886 Bechstein, in a comparative performance. Richter’s broad repertoire included every major composer and Spooner reflects this in volumes containing works by Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, Bartók and Prokofiev. Emil Gilels receives only a single volume. The physical power of his keyboard technique is captured in Spooner’s performance of Liszt’s Fantasy on a Motif from Wagner’s Rienzi S439. He explores the more intimate and introspective side in a selection of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces as well as Alexander Siloti’s beautiful arrangement of Bach’s Prelude in B Minor from BWV 855. Van Cliburn, too, gets only a single volume. Remembered as the American kid who won the 1958 Tchaikovsky competition with his stunning performance of a repertoire so close to the Russian heart, Spooner pays tribute to this pianist who beat all the odds at the height of the Cold War. VOCAL Antonio Lotti – Crucifixus Syred Consort; Orchestra of St. Paul’s; Ben Palmer Delphian DCD34182 (delphianrecords.co.uk) !! Antonio Lotti died in 1740 and by the end of the 18th century his music had been virtually forgotten. In 1838, however, two of his settings of the Crucifixus were republished and it is these settings by which Lotti is still generally known – in so far as his music is known at all. This recording demonstrates, however, that both pieces are parts of larger works: the Crucifixus for eight voices is part of the Missa Sancti Christophori, while the Crucifixus for six voices is part of a Credo in G Minor. This recording gives performances of both works and shows the context from which the two Crucifixus settings were plucked. Both settings of the Crucifixus gain a great deal from being placed in the right context. There are two other works on the disc: a setting of the psalm Dixit Dominus and a Miserere in C Minor. In the booklet that comes with the CD Ben Byram-Wingfield mentions the recent interest in early music, saying that Vivaldi’s Gloria and his Four Seasons were “almost unknown only a handful of decades ago.” That is surely an exaggeration. I don’t know about the Gloria but I well remember that The Four Seasons evoked a great deal of interest as far back as the 1950s. This CD constitutes an important addition to the Baroque music available on disc. Lotti’s voice is distinctive. No one is likely to confuse his style with that of Bach or Handel, although that of Vivaldi comes closer. The Syred Consort is a chamber choir of 13 voices. Much of the music is one on a part and the singers are good enough to perform it. Ben Palmer’s conducting ensures the rhythmic vitality of the performances. Hans de Groot Bach – Birthday Cantatas BWV213; BWV214 Bach Collegium Japan; Masaaki Suzuki BIS-2161 !! Most of Bach’s cantatas were written for church performance but he also composed a number of secular works. Masaaki Suzuki has completed his recordings of the religious works and has now turned his attention to the secular cantatas. The first on the disc, Lasst uns sorgen, lasst uns wachen, was written in 1733 on the occasion of the 11th birthday of the Saxon Electoral Prince Friedrich Christian. It dramatizes the Greek myth according to which Hercules was met 72 | November 1, 2016 - December 7, 2016 thewholenote.com

y Lust and by Virtue. Forced to make a choice, he predictably chooses Virtue. Bach set the part of Lust for a soprano (Joanne Lunn) and that of Virtue for a tenor (Makoto Sakurada). Hercules himself is an alto (Robin Blaze) and the part of Mercury is sung by a bass (Dominik Wörner). The second cantata, Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!, also has four soloists (sung here by the same singers): the Goddess of War is a soprano, the Goddess of Arts and Science is an alto, the Goddess of Peace is a tenor and the Goddess of Fame is a bass. It also dates from 1733 and was written to celebrate the 34th birthday of the Prince-Elector’s wife. Much of the music in both cantatas was adapted by Bach later and became part of the Christmas Oratorio. These are fine performances. In the first of the two cantatas I regretted that Hercules made his decision so soon as it deprived us of Lunn’s lovely soprano voice. I also liked Wörner the bass, a singer whom I had not previously heard. Among the orchestral musicians, two stand out: Masamitsu San’nomiya, who plays first oboe as well as the oboe d’amore, and Jean-François Madeuf, who plays both trumpet and French horn. Hans de Groot Stravinsky Choral Works – Mass; Cantata Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh; Duncan Ferguson Delphian DCD34164 (delphianrecords.co.uk) !! This CD comprises works Stravinsky wrote after he was Orthodoxically reborn in 1926. The discretely composed parts of the Mass run from celebratory to sparse, and even the two Credos are contradictory: one is stalwart and modern, the other urgent and sounding slightly more like traditional English church music. The Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral is joined by youngsters from the dedicated choir school, as the composer had intended the Mass to be sung. The blend is wholesome. The Cantata is based on Middle English songs on Christian themes but likely with secular origins. Soloists Ruby Hughes’ and Nicholas Mulroy’s voices complement each other and so in turn do the choral Versus refrains of A Lyke-Wake Dirge, which recount the voyage of the dead from Earth to purgatory. The setting of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day was new to me, as was the controversy of the inclusion by Stravinsky of the anti-Semitic middle verse, which is outlined in the liner notes. The a cappella Tres Sacrae Cantiones, some of the partially lost pieces of late-Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, were “finished off” by Stravinsky, at a safe remove of 300 years! Duncan Ferguson deftly conducts Scottish Chamber Orchestra soloists so that the two larger pieces are accompanied in the truest sense of that word; they go alongside their singing companions rather than merely support them. This would be a lovely addition for collectors of Stravinsky, jack-of-all-eras. Vanessa Wells Stabat Mater – Sacred Choral Music by Lennox & Michael Berkeley Marian Consort; Berkeley Ensemble; David Wordsworth Delphian DCD34180 (delphianrecords.co.uk) !! It is indeed a pleasure to witness the resurrection of a worthy, yet neglected English vocal work, particularly when performed so eloquently as by the Marian Consort. They deliver this 20th-century musical setting of the 13th-century text with all the precision, depth of feeling and intimacy required. Lennox Berkeley’s Stabat Mater was originally commissioned by Benjamin Britten who premiered the work in 1947 with his English Opera Group tour. The next known performance took place at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1953 and the BBC presented a broadcast performance in 1965. The intricate scoring calls for four-part chorus and 12 exceptional instrumentalists (flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, harp, percussion and string quartet) and conductor David Wordsworth, who serves as chairman of the Berkeley Society, leads the ensemble with great sensitivity and meticulous execution. Berkeley’s exquisite Mass for Five Voices was composed for the choir of Westminster Cathedral in 1964. In this and another a capella work Judica me, the Marian Consort fully exploits their experience performing early music with perfect intonation and diction. The recording ends with Touch Light by Lennox’s son Michael Berkeley; a rapturous nod to Monteverdi with its sensuous dissonances and highly ornamented phrasing. Dianne Wells Schubert Sessions Philippe Sly; John Charles Britton Analekta AN 2 9999 L/R !! Ah, it’s so easy to imagine the famous Schubertiades, the composer’s evenings of music with his friends in 19th-century Vienna. A beautifully appointed salon, fire roaring in the fireplace, Franz at the pianoforte, encircled by his friends accompanying and singing…except it never happened like that. For most of his brief life and career, Schubert lived in relative poverty and could not possibly have afforded a pianoforte. Most of his songs and song cycles were composed with a guitar, as presented here. That seems to solve the Reviews of discs below this line are enhanced in our online Listening Room at thewholenote.com/listening. Brahms: Chants d’Amour ATMA Classique presents two of Brahms’ Romantic song cycles, for mixed vocal quartet and four hands piano. Verismo Available at L’Atelier Grigorian, 70 Yorkville Ave., Toronto and grigorian.com. Available on CD, CD/ DVD and 2 LP Set Baroque Treasury Pinchas Zukerman and the NAC Orchestra capture the beauty of the Baroque era’s greatest composers in a masterful new album. Featuring works by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann. Kurtàg: Complete String Quartets The Molinari Quartet presents György Kurtàg’s complete string quartets on this new ATMA recording. thewholenote.com November 1, 2016 - December 7, 2016 | 73

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