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Volume 26 Issue 8 - July and August 2021

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Last print issue for Volume 26. Back mid-September with Vol 27 no 1. And what a sixteen-month year it's been. Thanks for sticking around. Inside: looking back at what we are hoping is behind us, and ahead to what the summer has to offer; also inside, DISCoveries: 100 reviews to read, and a bunch of new tracks uploaded to the listening room. On stands, commencing Wednesday June 30.

Mozart – Gran Partita

Mozart – Gran Partita & Wind Serenades Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin Harmonia Mundi HMM902627 (akamus.de/en) ! Alte is German for “old,” perhaps leading one to imagine fustiness, cobwebs or creaking joints. The Akademie für Alte Musik invert the age of the music, making old sound new, in their release of two of Mozart’s beloved Wind Serenades, K.375 in E-flat Major and K.361 in B-flat Major (known affectionately as the Gran Partita). I imagine the players wearing some fashions of the later 18th century, shoe leather worn by the cobblestones of Vienna, marvelling at and revelling in the sounds they are called on to make by the newly written score; some probably in need of a bath, wishing their masters paid more, hoping to avoid cholera. This music is never old, no matter how often it’s reworked. The playing is so damned fine that every moment is a joy, conjuring the freshness that Mozart inserted into the charming form of the Serenade during its moment of popularity. Ever the canny businessman, he wrote the second of these entertainments “quite carefully” to catch the attention of a wealthy potential patron: Emperor Joseph II. Wind players and their audience are much the richer for his efforts. There’s some oddness of pitch, owing to the use of period instruments; the bassoon sound in particular is quite special. The ensemble colours are fresh and juicy, the phrasing and articulation precise. These performances rank among the finest recordings of this material I’ve heard. Bonus delight: the audible breath upbeats beginning each track. Max Christie Mozart – Works for Oboe and Orchestra Albrecht Mayer; Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen Deutsche Grammophon (deutschegrammophon.com/en/catalogue/ products/mozart-albrecht-mayer-12210) ! The new Deutsche Grammophon album Mozart consists of six works transcribed for oboe, oboe d’amore and English horn, including a completed version of the first movement of the unfinished Oboe Concerto in F Major, expertly performed by internationally renowned solo oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic, Albrecht Mayer and the Kammerphilharmonie Bremen chamber orchestra. Comprised of a thoughtful selection of works originally for soprano, violin and flute, Mozart showcases Mayer at the top of his craft. The fragmented and unfinished concerto movement was commissioned to be completed by Mayer’s friend, Swiss composer Gotthard Odermatt. Keeping with the style and flare of Mozart, the fragments were imagined by Odermatt into a delightful, charming and convincing first movement. Another highlight is one of Mozart’s most recognized masterpieces, the Concerto for Flute and Harp. Transposed to the key of B-flat Major, it was arranged for oboe and harpsichord, featuring Vital Julian Frey. The choice of the harpsichord was a unique and effective substitute for harp, fitting perfectly with the timbre of the oboe. It is truly an elegant performance. With the addition of Ave verum corpus performed on English horn, Exsultate, jubilate and Ch’io mi scordi di te performed on oboe d’amore as well as the Rondo in C and Ah se in ciel, benigne stelle performed on oboe, this album really is a “best of” collection featuring the entire oboe family. The Kammerphilharmonie Bremen follows and matches the elegant, tasteful phrasing of Mayer, highlighting the mastery of the instruments and his clear love of Mozart. Melissa Scott Beethoven – Symphony No.3 “Eroica” Les Siècles; François-Xavier Roth Harmonia Mundi HMM902421 (harmoniamundi.com/#!/albums/2692) ! Beethoven’s Eroica is a revolutionary work; “not only in physical scale, but in spiritual content it surpasses all classical symphonies written before.” It completely broke away from the world of Haydn and Mozart, his former principal influences. It was like a breath of fresh air in the world of music at that time. As it was written not long after the French Revolution and at the time of Napoleon as a “liberator against tyranny” (his words) Beethoven initially dedicated it to Bonaparte. That spirit prevails and the work throbs with élan and heroism in the glorious key of E-flat Major, especially in the first movement. It’s full of invention, breaking traditional forms and even has such powerful dissonant fortissimo chords that the players at the premiere concert refused to play! That was in the summer of 1804 conducted by the young Beethoven, but now in the 21st century it’s in the hands of a revolutionary conductor, creator of the revolutionary orchestra with period instruments, Les Siècles. François-Xavier Roth has the ability to enter the composer’s mind and capture the essence, the spirit of heroism, the dash and urgency throughout the work. Tempo is fast, but most likely the composer’s original intent, the symphonic argument and all details are crystal clear. I actually saw Roth conducting the Scherzo and how simply and easily he induced a tremendous intensity and concentration into the players and what remarkable precision and lightness he achieved. The last movement is tremendous. It’s fast but the orchestra is so precise that all details of the mad Romani episode and the final apotheosis of the Prometheus theme come out magnificently. The overall effect is simply overwhelming. Janos Gardonyi Chopin: 24 Preludes Charles Richard-Hamelin Analekta AN 2 9148 (analekta.com/en) ! “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” –Ernest Hemingway Pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin is well on his way to becoming a Canadian national treasure. In fact, he likely already is. Though he also works with collaborators in recordings, the solo stage is where Richard-Hamelin’s talent originated and where it remains most impressive to date. (His performances of the Chopin ballad cycle are now in the annals of recent musical history – a show “to tell your friends about.”) The newest recording from Richard- Hamelin modestly juxtaposes Chopin’s Preludes, Op.28 with the Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op.22. At once, the opening preludes of Op.28 deliver something unexpected. It’s what is not there that seems more notable than what is. Richard-Hamelin plays this music in an earnest and brave language that is difficult to comprehend at first. There is such a brazen lack of the self that the listener feels as if they are missing something. Too many pianists of our day move their egos to the fore in performance; not Richard-Hamelin. He glides through this miraculous set of miniatures with a devotional vision, as if the very composer himself were at the keyboard. The Grande Polonaise is equally unexpected in its freshness and lucidity. Open and honest, this music lilts with a simplicity of means that awakens subtler forms of beauty. One trusts that this is just another iteration – among many – on a long road that Richard-Hamelin will tread. His life and career will bear witness to a multitude of beautiful things as he climbs towering mountains of musicianship, one true sentence at a time. As listeners, he does the work for us, conjuring and shepherding, as we are effortlessly carried to the summit view, ’pon wings of pianistic gold. Adam Sherkin 42 | July and August 2021 thewholenote.com

Concert Note: Charles Richard-Hamelin opens Toronto Summer Music on July 15 at 7:30pm with a free, live-streamed recital featuring works by Mozart and Preludes by Chopin. Ravel Jean-Philippe Sylvestre ATMA ACD2 2773 (atmaclassique.com/en) ! The charismatic and rakish Jean- Philippe Sylvestre has released an album of music he knows well and truly: solo piano works of Maurice Ravel. And for some extra flair and curiosity, Sylvestre recorded on an 1854 Érard piano. Seemingly, the decision to deliver two major cycles from Ravel’s catalogue in and of itself was an easy one, but the unusual fancy for a historic instrument here serves as the surprise. Such a shift brings welcome change – crystal clear lines and sonorities emerge from this piano, nearly two centuries old. We are greeted with colourful music-making in a mode that never suggests museum vaults or relic hunting. ’Tis a newfangled lens through which to hear this music and one can’t help feeling closer to Ravel. Sylvestre’s interpretations reveal an artist’s singular reconceiving of beloved repertoire: having learned it, put it away, then re-learned and now un-learned so as to match the demands of an older instrument few are accustomed to playing. At times, the mid- 19th-century Érard does hinder the execution, with reduced reverb available and less hammer/damper agency. The performer must work many times harder to achieve the usual results begot from a modern piano. But the efforts seem worth it for Sylvestre as he achieves quirky moments of expressive beauty, textural novelty and uncanny sonorities. An example is the Alborada del grazioso, with its chiselled, wood-like clarity and revelatory repeated notes, speckled with equal parts dust and morning dew. Adam Sherkin Earl Wild: [Re]Visions Vittorio Forte Odradek Records ODRCD399 (vittorioforte.com) ! Proclaimed “a tribute to the great musician on the tenth anniversary of his death,” a disc from newbie Italian pianist, Vittorio Forte, celebrates an impressive assortment of transcriptions from the late great American keyboard virtuoso Earl Wild. Opening with the oft-heard Harmonious Blacksmith Variations by Handel, Forte thrusts the listener into the heartiest of renditions with an unexpected quantity of octaves and thickly voiced figures. Wild’s take on the original Handel is, after all, a dated one but Forte seems to relish this peripheral brand of pianism. With such technical command as he possesses, we get caught up in Forte’s excitement, not to mention the sheer tunefulness of Handel’s music. By its conclusion, one laments the end: what if Wild had written a variation or two of his own? The album’s centrepiece is a collection of transcriptions of songs by Rachmaninoff. Wild earned a reputation for these gorgeous little things and Forte takes up the mantle with admirable aplomb. Naysayers might argue that pianists have enough original Rachmaninoff in the catalogue to satisfy and, consequently, dispraise the pillaging of song repertoire for the sake of yet more piano music. The rest of us are just grateful that Wild did what he did, creating felicitous versions of several Rachmaninoff songs. Indeed, the Russian master himself made arrangements of at least two of his own songs for solo piano, offering them as encores in recitals. And so Wild – and Forte – remain in safe (and inspired) company. Adam Sherkin Prelude to Dawn Bruce Levingston Sono Luminus DSL-92245 (sonoluminus.com) ! Highlights for me of pianist Bruce Levingston’s Prelude to Dawn are the variation works that begin and end the recording. Brahms’ challenging arrangement for left-hand piano of Bach’s violin Chaconne in D Minor is played securely, from the perfectly voiced rolled chords of the theme onward. Through great variety of articulation and tone colour, the work’s 64 variations remain fascinating and in character. Levingston’s pedalling is especially good in clarifying bass, melody, inner parts and chord structure. The same is true in the Theme and Variations in D Minor, Op.18b, Brahms’ piano arrangement of the profound second movement from his B-flat Major String Sextet. Here Levingston captures the disturbing mood of a broken-up version of the theme in bringing the disc to a moving close. As for the other pieces, preludes one and two from Wolfgang Rihm’s early Six Preludes are unexpected but effective choices. I especially like the pianist’s pacing and control of dynamics in the spare No.2, with its very low notes suggesting tolling bells. Originally for lute or harpsichord, Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat Major is unique. Levingston’s flowing prelude and the meticulously articulated fugue with its unusual broken-chord interlude especially captured my interest. Two chorale preludes, the Bach- Busoni Sleepers, Awake and Brahms’ organ masterpiece Herzlich tut mich verlangen add to the disc’s pensive mood. Indeed, recent trying times are a subtext here, but so are notes of passion and hope in Prelude to Dawn. Roger Knox The Russian Album Lucas & Arthur Jussen Deutsche Grammophon (arthurandlucasjussen.com/en) ! Music scored for two pianos has had an illustrious history – Bach, Mozart and Brahms all wrote compositions for multiple keyboards – and this new recording on the DG label featuring the brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen performing an all-Russian program is further proof of its integrity. Hailing from Hilversum in the Netherlands, the two brothers – both under 30 – studied with Maria Joäo Pires, made their debut at the ages of 10 and 13, and signed a contract with DG in 2010 while still in their teens. Performances in Europe and the U.S. have received rave reviews and this is their seventh (!) recording. Shostakovich wrote his brief Concertino for Two Pianos Op.94 in 1954 for his son – then a student at the Moscow Conservatory – with an eye to performing it together. In keeping with the youthful theme, much of the score is vigorous and lighthearted, providing the two artists ample opportunity to demonstrate flawless technique. Following are three contrasting movements from Rachmaninoff’s Suite No.2 Op.17. While the second movement Waltz and concluding Tarantella are frenetic perpetuum mobiles, the third movement Romance is all heartfelt lyricism. Two movements from Stravinsky’s 1935 Concerto for Two Pianos is another indication that these two artists seem to thrive on repertoire requiring an almost superhuman prowess. At all times, the two demonstrate not only an innate understanding of the music, but a seemingly telepathic connection with each other, performing as one. The disc closes in a lighter vein – the Coquette and the Valse from Arensky’s Suites Nos.1 and 2 for two pianos prove a fitting conclusion to a most satisfying program. Richard Haskell thewholenote.com July and August 2021 | 43

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