2 years ago

Volume 25 Issue 7 - April 2020

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  • Violin
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  • Concerto
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  • April
After some doubt that we would be allowed to go to press, in respect to wide-ranging Ontario business closures relating to COVID-19, The WholeNote magazine for April 2020 is now on press, and print distribution – modified to respect community-wide closures and the need for appropriate distancing – starts Monday March 30. Meanwhile the full magazine is right here, digitally, so if you value us PLEASE SHARE THIS LINK AS WIDELY AS YOU CAN. It's the safest way for us to reach the widest possible audience at this time!

the expanded string

the expanded string ensemble of three pairings of violins, violas and cellos gave Brahms the opportunity to explore the orchestral possibilities of chamber music while still retaining the subtlety and intimacy of the genre. The playing here is suitably rich and warm in exemplary performances. There’s another superb recital CD in the outstanding Naxos Laureate Guitar Series, this time featuring the Korean guitarist Ji Hyung Park, winner of the 2018 Changsha International Guitar Competition (Naxos 8.574140 Transcriptions of three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti and two excerpts from Iberia by Isaac Albéniz open the disc, followed by the world premiere recording of Leo Brouwer’s Las Ciclades arcaicas from 2018. Mori no naka de (In the Woods), from November 1995, was the last work Toru Takemitsu wrote before his death the following February; the second of its three pieces portrays the trees in Toronto’s Rosedale area. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata in D Major Op.77 “Omaggio a Boccherini” was written for Segovia in 1934, and is heard here in its original manuscript form pre-dating Segovia’s editing. A simply gorgeous arrangement of Toots Thielemans’ Bluesette ends a terrific disc. Park has everything you could want – tone, colour, warmth, technique, dynamics – in a recital that fully lives up to the extremely high standards of this series. There’s more excellent guitar playing on Asencio Complete Guitar Music featuring works by the Spanish composer Vicente Asencio (1908-79) played by the Italian guitarist Alberto Mesirca (Brilliant Classics 95806 Asencio’s interest in the guitar grew from his teaching musical interpretation to the young Narciso Yepes in the 1940s, a relationship that resulted in the Suite de Homenajes of 1950, three homages to Domenico Scarlatti, Manuel de Falla and Federico Garcia Lorca. Collectici Intim is a suite of five songs and dances written in 1965 at the request of the by-then famous Yepes. Suite Valenciana reflects the colour and light of the composer’s native Valencia. The three-movement Suite Mistica started life as a single piece, Dipsô, written for Holy Week in 1971; Segovia was sufficiently impressed to suggest that Asencio add a further two Passion-related items. Two short pieces – Cançó d’hivern and Danza Valenciana – complete the CD. Mesirca displays excellent, clean playing with a wide range of technical skills in a very interesting recital. Italian Guitar Concertos is the somewhat misleading title of a CD by the Italian guitarist Emanuele Segre with the Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali under the direction of composer Carlo Boccadoro (Delos DE 3546 Aria for Guitar and String Orchestra is Segre’s arrangement of a contralto aria from a Vivaldi cantata, and the work by Mauro Giuliani is a guitar and string orchestra version of his Gran Quintetto Op.65. The Vivaldi Concerto in D Major is at least a true concerto, but the main interest here is the world premiere recordings of two contemporary single-movement works: The Black Owl by Giovanni Sollima (b.1962) and Dulcis Memoria II for Guitar and String Orchestra by Boccadoro (b.1962), the latter originally written for clarinet and strings in 1995. Clocking in at about 18 and 14 minutes, respectively, they’re not substantial works, but both explore a nice range of techniques and textures. Performances throughout are fine without ever being dazzling. Keyed In Bach – Harpsichord Works Jory Vinikour Sono Luminus DSL-92239 ( !! Comprised of four revered works, this album makes for a fine collection for harpsichord enthusiasts and fans of Johann Sebastian Bach. Jory Vinikour, two-time Grammy-nominated harpsichordist and conductor, has made quite a few recordings of Bach’s music so far and his expertise and passion for this composer is evident here. I enjoyed the clarity of Vinikour’s sound (his harpsichord is modelled after a German instrument of Bach’s time) and his refined and thoughtful interpretation. This recording has elegance and virtuosity, bringing out both the grand and hidden gestures of Bach’s compositions. The collection features the buoyant Italian Concerto (written for two-manual harpsichord, thus distinguishing tutti from solo passages), Ouverture in French Style (consisting of eight dance movements), the exceptional Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and an interesting pairing of the Prelude and Fugue in A-Minor BWV894 with Bach’s transcription of the Andante from Sonata for Solo Violin in A-Minor. I liked the progression of the pieces: traditional pairing of more formal works (Italian Concerto and Overture in French Style were even published together in 1835) is followed by expansion of virtuosic and improvisatory elements in Fantasy and Fugues. Vinikour’s impeccable knowledge and sensibility to Bach’s music makes these pieces sound very personal. Listeners are granted a sonic glimpse of the unique world where the nuances are treated with care and the sound is enriched with measured restraint. Ivana Popovic Bach – English Suites Andrew Rangell Steinway & Sons 30136 ( !! If the central tenet of music-making is the desirability of singing or playing in tune, accurately producing sound waves that vibrate at the correct frequency, then no one, it seems, did this better than Johann Sebastian Bach. Much of his keyboard music was written for the harpsichord – a near-ubiquitous instrument in his day – and it began to make a seamless transition to the piano no sooner the instrument was invented and to this day continues to be wonderfully interpreted. One of the most recent is the unveiling of the English Suites with these gorgeous, free-spirited performances by Andrew Rangell. The suites are decidedly more grandiose than the French Suites and written entirely for pleasure rather than for instruction. The allemandes are rock steady throughout, the gigues extremely lively; the courante sections rapid while the sarabandes are utterly noble. The six suites are altogether easygoing and exquisitely flowery and are said to have borne a slight resemblance to the style of Couperin, with whom Bach is known to have corresponded. The English Suites are not actually English, but rather more influenced by other European compositional elements, that seemingly – and fortuitously – held Bach’s attention. They begin with a prelude which is often, as in the Suite No.3 in G Minor BWV808, a large-scale concerto-like movement. Rangell brings matchless clarity to Bach’s 52 | April 2020

multi-stranded music. This set of discs shows the pianist at his most enjoyable, astonishingly fleet-fingered and full of delightful argumentative intelligence. Raul da Gama Bach – Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 Sir András Schiff Naxos 2.110653 ( !! Bach’s renown in his own lifetime was less as a composer than as a keyboard player, both at the harpsichord and at the organ. His great ability was summarized in his obituary: “All his fingers were equally skillful; all capable of the most perfect accuracy in performance.” Today of course we know better, naturally giving due respect to the greatness of his compositions. Most notable among these – considering he was one of the greatest inventors of keyboard music – is The Well-Tempered Clavier. The 24 preludes and fugues work through the 12 major and 12 minor keys. Unequalled in the profligacy of their inventiveness, the books were intended partly as a manual of keyboard playing and composition, partly as a systematic exploration of harmony and partly as a celebration of a new development in tuning technique that allowed the instrument to be played in any key without being retuned. Sir András Schiff’s performance at the BBC Proms (2017) is authoritative and eminently satisfying. The fact that it has been well-crafted as a DVD is cause for additional celebration. Schiff exploits the full range of the piano’s sonorities: a crisp, hard touch is used for the more rhythmically motorized preludes, yet there are no qualms about using the sustain pedal to add colour and warmth. His speeds are slow, in some of the fugues, but the shape and direction of a piece is never in any doubt. Raul da Gama Mozart – Piano Concertos Nos.22 & 24 Charles Richard-Hamelin; Les Violons du Roy; Jonathan Cohen Analekta AN 2 9147 ( !! Mozart’s spirit is (arguably) most evident in his piano-concerto writing – where vitality is entwined with gaiety, with brilliance and lyricism multilayered across. This first recording collaboration between acclaimed young pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin and Quebec City’s chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy, led by Jonathan Cohen, captured that essence note by note. Richard-Hamelin’s fiery mastery is matched with the unwavering elegance of the orchestra’s responses while Cohen’s artistic vision underlines the most minute details of expression. Together they created a thrilling gem. Mozart composed 11 piano concertos between February 1784 and March 1786, while living in Vienna, his creativity unrivaled by any other composer that came after him when it comes to piano concerto writing. The two concertos on this album stand on different sides of his creative expression. No.22 in E-flat Major, sometimes referred to as the queen of Mozart’s piano concertos, is stately and noble in nature, with a prominent wind section throughout. On the other end, No.24 in C Minor, is uncharacteristically emotional and dark, and is considered to be one of Mozart’s finest efforts. I could not get enough of the beauty of Richard-Hamelin’s sound on this recording – it contains a precious combination of shimmering lightness, fluent articulation and an array of colours. Most impressive are the cadenzas he has written for these concertos, a spirited personal salute to Mozart. Ivana Popovic Beethoven – Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 5 Kristian Bezuidenhout, Freiburger Barockorchester; Pablo Heras-Casados Harmonia Mundi HMM902411 ( !! Kristian Bezuidenhout has recently turned his attention to a trilogy of Beethoven concerto discs. He is known for his inspired, imaginative and revivifying approach to fortepiano repertoire, proving time and time again that communicating brave new things at the neoclassical keyboard can be attained through good taste, apt performance practice and the right dash of courage. This first of three such recordings embodies all of these celebrated attributes and, rather triumphantly, establishes new ones. From the vibrancy of Heras-Casado’s conducting, to the sparkling lines in winds and brass; from the marvellous sonorities revealed in Beethoven’s writing when played expertly on period instruments to the glimmering, pearl-like textures Bezuidenhout attains with unshakable, inspired finesse, this disc is absolute perfection to behold. Here is the Beethoven the world needs to know. Brimming over with jubilant, dazzling sonic palettes, we hear musical craftsmanship on this record being set alight. The quest for innovation and (re)discovery is ever present as these gifted, impassioned artists deliver two of the best-loved piano concertos known to Western music. Bezuidenhout and Heras-Casado delight us; they astonish us, drawing us into a glorious, vivid reality from centuries gone by. In divining treasures from the past, through exceedingly hard work and a sincere love for what they do, they have set an 18th-century stage resounding with every scale, trill, arpeggio and cadence now sung afresh for the contemporary ear. Beethoven, surely, is applauding their achievement from on high. Adam Sherkin Chopin – Piano Concertos Benjamin Grosvenor; Royal Scottish National Orchestra; Elim Chan Decca Records 4850365 ( ! ! At 27, Benjamin Grosvenor has dazzled audiences from the very brink of his extraordinary career through to what is now his fifth release on Decca Classics. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra itself presents formidably, with a pared down ensemble and robust presence, helmed by the intrepid Elim Chan. Her command of the players is classically cleanlined, crisp and no-nonsense in its approach to such familiar music. Both piano concerti by Chopin are often criticized for their lack of fulsome orchestra writing. However, Chan seems to disregard any longstanding notions of inadequacy in the orchestration, declaring every accompaniment episode and march-like interlude with shining surety and emphatic musicianship. As for the solo part, Grosvenor unassumingly guides his piano to the core of each concerto’s argument, with interpretations that are commanding and forthright yet never self-indulgent. Abounding with beautiful melodies and lyrical highpoints, all of this music is aptly suited to Grosvenor’s zeal for textural clarity and elegant, quicksilver conceptions of Chopin-esque expressivity. (The first movement of No.1 and the second of No.2 are examples.) His tone and balance of phrasing remain exceedingly cultivated with a personal aspect that seems to exude a deep sense of integrity. The poise and lucidity of Felix Mendelssohn’s keyboard writing might be a candidate for influencing Grosvenor’s approach here (and the results likely closer to Chopin’s original intentions!). No small feat it is today, to record such well-worn repertoire with fresh ears, hands – and heart. Adam Sherkin April 2020 | 53

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