1 year ago

Volume 27 Issue 4 - February 2022

Gould's Wall -- Philip Akin's "breadcrumb trail; orchestras buying into hope; silver linings to the music theatre lockdown blues; Charlotte Siegel's watershed moments; Deep Wireless at 20; and guess who is Back in Focus. All this and more, now online for your reading pleasure.

frequent slides

frequent slides alternates with faster jazzy passages. The following enticing pieces show similar variety. Roger Knox Mozart – Post Scriptum (Rondos K382/386; Concerto No.20) Sergei Kvitko; Madrid Soloists Chamber Orchestra; Tigran Shiganyan Blue Griffin BGR597 ( ! Sergei Kvitko explained that he wanted this disc to be “full of surprises.” The Russian-born artist is not only an accomplished pianist, but also an arranger, producer and sound engineer who founded the Blue Griffin label in 2000 while completing his doctoral studies at the University of Michigan. Who better then to inject new life into this brief all-Mozart program where he partners with the Madrid Soloists conducted by Tigran Shiganyan? As for the surprises, they involve reconfigurations of the two Rondos, K382 and K386, with respect to orchestration, ornamentation and dynamic markings, with new cadenzas composed by Kvitko himself. The two rondos – the first a set of variations – were written as possible alternate finales for piano concertos. Kvitko and the 29-member ensemble deliver a polished performance displaying solid musicianship, with alternative orchestral ornaments and cadenzas at times foreshadowing Beethoven. Starkly contrasting in mood is the Concerto in D Minor K466 from 1785. Again, the pairing of Kvitko and the Madrid Soloists is a formidable one. But as for the cadenzas, this writer has never heard such musical excursions in a Mozart concerto before. Not only are they lengthier than the average, but stylistically, Kvitko jumps ahead some decades to the Romantic period. Here are modulations to remote keys (including E-flat Major and F Minor) and dazzling bravura passage work. Do I hear echoes of Franz Liszt and is that a quotation from Saint-Saëns? Indeed, the listener may have cause to wonder if soloist and ensemble will ever reunite! Nevertheless, this is an exemplary performance and whether the enhancements should be viewed as creativity on the part of the soloist or mere musical indulgences, it should be up to the listener to decide. Surely Mozart would have approved – this disc is definitely worth investigating. Richard Haskell Schubert – Chaleur/Warmth Mathieu Gaudet Analekta AN 2 9185 ( ! This classy album hits all the right marks in its pursuit of excellence – beautiful music, engaging performance and a meaningful message to the world. Volume 5 in a series of 15 projected albums covering the wealth of Schubert’s piano music, this album is filled with warmth and artistry, perfect for a season of solitude, contemplation and discovery. Mathieu Gaudet has an undeniable connection with Schubert’s music. Being an exuberant and lavish piano player, he is capable of grand gestures that bring out the magnificence of Schubert’s form and architecture. On the other hand, listening to Gaudet makes me feel like he is playing this music just for me, such is the intimacy of his lyrical sound and phrasing. Most appreciated is how intensely this artist conveys the subtlety and the meaning behind all the magnificence. Sonata No. 5 in A-flat Major opens the album with the traditionally noble atmosphere of the post-classical mode, continuing with four smaller pieces in the form of dances and Thirteen Variations on a Theme by Schubert’s contemporary Anselm Hüttenbrenner. Although placed last, the Sonata No.16 in D Major is the central work of this album. The monumental composition offers a compressed experience of all the Schubertian characteristics – exultation, passion, memorable melodies and grace. As for its gentle message, this album shows that despite all the unsettledness in the world one can always find a way to connect to what matters. Ivana Popovic Brahms – 3 Sonatas Michael Collins; Stephen Hough BIS BIS-2557 ( Here with You – The Brahms Sonatas; Weber – Grand Duo; Montgomery – Peace Anthony McGill; Gloria Chien Cedille CDR 900000 207 ( ! No longer, it seems, is it enough for clarinetists to throw down their hottest take on Brahms’ majestic Opus 120 Sonatas for Piano and Clarinet on its own. If recent examples are anything to go by, something more is now called for, a sidecar offering some alternate musical perspective. Last year, for example, the recording released by Jörg Widman and Andras Schiff included Widman’s own Brahmsian Intermezzi for piano. This month, two more collaborations do something similar: Anthony McGill and Gloria Chien perform Opus 120 and then add Weber’s Grand Duo Concertant, Opus 48, and Peace, by Jessie Montgomery; meanwhile Michael Collins and Stephen Hough open with a transcription (at pitch!) of Brahms’ Opus 100 Violin Sonata in A Major and then move on to Opus 120. I’m never fond of poached repertoire, but I admit the violin sonata feels like it could easily have been written for the clarinetist, Richard Muehlfeld, as the Opus 120 were. Only when Collins extends the range to the higher reaches do I think Brahms wouldn’t have offered Muehlfeld that opportunity to suffer. Not that there’s anything wrong with Collins’ technique; he deals quite beautifully with the higher tessitura of the violin piece. It’s just uncharacteristic, un-Brahmsian per his treatment of the clarinet elsewhere. McGill and Chien, presenting the late Classical/early Romantic Carl Maria von Weber’s tour-de-force, arguably made the more conservative decision, but I prefer it because it proposes an unexpected comparison of the two composers. Brahms can be a tad wordy, like some reviewers I might name. Weber is seriously underappreciated, and deserves a good deal more respect than he’s been afforded in the past century. McGill sounds fabulous; Chien wrings, and rings, out the mittfuls of Brahms’ piano writing. In the Weber, avoided by some pianists on account of its dastardly technical demands, she bats no eyes and crosses no fingers; in short, she kicks the piece into gear and roars away. We should all be so lucky to play the piece with her! The Grand Duo is a dessert, which leavens out the weighty Brahms, and is so much more Romantic: more fun and, I’ll admit it, entertaining. The slow movement is an arioso without words, beautifully rendered by the tandem. The presto playout of the Rondo movement is a rousing display of music hall bravura; see if you don’t rise at the end to give them a standing ovation. Collins plays a somewhat brighter set-up than McGill, and sounds great. Then there’s Stephen Hough, who is already in the pantheon. His work on the three sonatas is impeccable, considered and moving. Collins and Hough hew to a steadier, faster pulse than the Americans, whose fluid flexibility appeals to me but might bother some. McGill and Chien are too indulgent during the Sostenuto section of the Second Sonata’s second movement, which plods. Collins 42 | February 2022

and Hough have more the right idea. And in Hough’s hands the Andante un poco adagio from the F-Minor Sonata receives more lingering affection than Chien seems willing to spend. Both clarinetists’ pitch is immaculate throughout. There is so much to appreciate in both offerings, choosing between them is not recommended. Last month I proposed a new artistic genre: Responses to the Pandemic. Montgomery’s Peace is exactly such a work. The mood is pensive, opening with augmented, searching harmonies, insistent but not harsh dissonance that hints at kindness or obscured joy. McGill has an incredible range of colour and depth in his low register, which Montgomery exploits with heart and soul. Max Christie Brahms – Piano Sonata No.3 Alexandre Kantorow BIS BIS-2600 ( ! Despite his youth, French pianist Alexandre Kantorow is already heralded as a considerable talent with an ongoing and upcoming concertizing career to be examined with interest. And, with this marvellous 2021 recording of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3, Kantorow contributes mightily to this well-established blue-chip reputation, initiated by winning the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition at age 22. While Brahms is famously listed as a progenitor of so-called Absolute Music, do not think for a moment that there is no program to be unpacked here or extra musical meaning to be ferreted out from these wonderfully Germanic compositions as interpretation, richness and new possibilities are brought to the fore for over 85 minutes during this thoughtful and evocative performance. Finally, Kantorow brings the recording to a close with Bach’s playful Chaconne, arranged from the original violin to the lefthand piano. With a forceful pianistic dynamism that enables Kantorow to both thunder loudly and sparkle with fragile insight, this is a recording that will go a good distance to solidifying Kantorow as a Brahms and Bach interpreter of the highest order, while encouraging us all to stop, even momentarily, genuflecting towards the catastrophizing media and lean in to the beauty of these melodies as performed with deft touch and aplomb. Andrew Scott Love Songs Angela Hewitt Hyperion Records CDA68431 ( ! We can certainly declare Angela Hewitt by now a national treasure. Graduating from the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto and winning the 1985 Toronto International Bach Competition, she has had a stellar career with concerts all over the world and a wide-ranging discography. She has even been inducted into the Gramophone magazine Hall of Fame (!) and has received many other honours and accolades. Unfortunately this beautiful career came to an abrupt and brutal halt with COVID-19 and all her concert engagements disappeared overnight. For a two-year period she was forced into idleness, retiring to her home in Italy with her Fazioli piano. To fill her time she had the idea of making this recording, a collection of love songs spanning the entire piano literature. Since these are love songs written for the human voice they had to be transposed to piano solo, mostly done by other composers or pianists, like Liszt, a master of love songs himself. The vocal line of the original song must be emphasized and the pianist has to express the ebb and flow of emotion of the beautiful poetry with bravura embellishments, modulations and variations. Hewitt gives us a nice collection and a musical journey from the Baroque (Gluck and Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel) to the Romantics (Schumann, Schubert, Grieg) then the post- Romantics (Fauré, Richard Strauss, Mahler) through the Spanish flamenco of de Falla and even popular music of Gershwin and Percy Grainger. There are many beauties close to my heart such as the wonderful Schubert Ständchen and An die Musik, Strauss’ opulent Cäcilie, the lovely Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, arranged by Hewitt herself, and Gershwin’s Love walked in so lovingly played. A recording to treasure. Janos Gardonyi Home Suite Home Fraser Jackson; Monique de Margerie Galley Records GRCD02 ( ! Co-created in the spring of 2020 by bassoonist Fraser Jackson and pianist Monique de Margerie, Home Suite Home was directly inspired by the weekly concerts held on the front porch of their Toronto home during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. These concerts, intended to brighten the mood of their neighbours and community, resulted in an album of short and varied pieces for bassoon and piano as well as a few special musical guests, Winona Zelenka on cello, Marie Bérard on violin and Dominic Desautels on clarinet. Not all originally What we're listening to this month: Vintage Americana Christina Petrowska Quillico A captivating collection of masterfully-performed piano works from Liebermann, Rzewski, and more of America’s most gifted composers. Glorious Clouds Dai Fujikura This latest release covers a wide range of works for solo, electronics, Japanese instruments and also orchestral - edited, mixed and mastered by the composer himself. Bell Threads Adam Roberts Featuring andPlay, Hannah Lash, Bearthoven, Erik Behr and JACK Quartet. Roberts displays deft versatility and a compelling control over development of ideas. You Are the Light and the Way Alex Bird & the Jazz Mavericks This sophomore album brings to you 12 new vocal originals, ready to be placed into the next chapter of the Great American Songbook. February 2022 | 43

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