Johann Sebastian Bach: Six Suites for Solo Cello. Zuill
Bailey, cello. Telarc 31978
Ludwig van Beethoven: The Five Piano Concertos. Paul Lewis, piano; Jiri Belohlavek conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Harmonia Mundi 902053.55 (3 CDs)
A second straight for Paul Lewis, whose complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas earned a 2010 Blue Note Award. Lewis seems to take a special pleasure in illuminating Beethoven's lesser-known works. This set of concertos suggests that Lewis is taking a similar approach here. The Concerto No. 2 In B-flat Major, op. 19 is widely regarded as the least of the five. But a crackling good performance is a pleasure to hear, and Lewis's springy, propulsive approach anchors the solo with a bracingly powerful left hand. Conductor Belohlavek the BBC players provide crisp phrasing and an equally strong rhythmic pulse. This is now my clear favorite recording of the Second. Those qualities applied to a better work, the Concerto No. 1 in C Major op. 15, produce a spectacular performance. I especially enjoy the assertively powerful reading these forces give to the Rondo third movement. Again, I now have a new favorite performance.
With the last three concertos there is considerably more competition. Virtually every important pianist has documented his or her interpretations of these masterpieces. While I have many favorites-Fleischer, Arrau, Pollini, Michelangeli, Gilels, to name but a few, Lewis delivers consistent excellence throughout.
Belohlavek defers somewhat to Lewis's lead in these concertos. Other conductors and orchestras have given us more dramatic and assertively powerful interpretations, but I find the lean sonorities favored by Belohlavek quite appropriately matched to the soloist's approach. Harmonia Mundi's recorded sound is appropriate. The piano registers believably against the orchestral background, and the balance of sound is about as natural as piano concerto recordings are likely to be-there is no unnatural spotlighting. – Wayne Donnelly
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No 4 in B Flat Major, Opus 60; Symphony No 6 in F Major “Pastoral,” Opus 68. Iván Fischer conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Channel Classics CCS SA 30710
Every new issue from Iván Fischer and the BFO increases my admiration, not just for the conductor and his highly skilled orchestra but also for the continuing high standards from the engineers at Channel Classics on both Redbook and DSD layers. Here again is mainstream repertoire -- no gimmicks, just painstakingly well prepared and epic in its sweep. It is many years since a conductor of such high intuition and broad power has led a single major orchestra to such triumphs. Although the Sixth Symphony is the major work here, I've always been especially fond of the Fourth, and it comes up fresh and brilliant here. – Phil Gold
Marc-André Hamelin: 12 Etudes in all the minor keys; Little Nocturne; 5 pieces from Con intimissimosentimento; Theme and Variations (Cathy's Variations). Marc-André Hamelin, piano.
Fans of Marc-André Hamelin and of virtuoso pianism in general should not miss this CD of Hamelin's own music, featuring a set of 12 Etudes in All the Minor Keys. Here, in the tradition of virtuosi going back to Liszt and Busoni, the composer-pianist offers brilliant, joyful performances of staggeringly difficult pieces. Some of the etudes pay homage to other performer-composers (D. Scarlatti and Paganini as well as Liszt) and even quote from “mystery composers” left for the reader to guess, while the rest show striking originality and verve. Hyperion's engineers capture Hamelin's piano sound without distortion even during the most clangorous passages. – Joe Milicia
Paul Hindemith: Kammermusik No. 5, Op. 36 No. 4; Konzertmusik for viola and large chamber orchestra; Der Schwanendreher; Trauermusik for viola and string orchestra. Lawrence Power, viola; David Atherton conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
It is a pleasure to have all four of Paul Hindemith's works for viola and orchestra on one CD, and while violist Laurence Power with David Atherton and the BBC Scottish Symphony face some serious competition from Brett Dean with the Queensland Symphony under Werner Andreas Albert on the CPO label, the superior sound of Hyperion's new recording plus the warmth and refinement of Power's playing make this an excellent choice for Hindemith fans. Besides the relatively popular Schwanendreher with its folk-tune elements and the short and somber Trauermusik (commemorating the death of England's King George V) we get the quirky Kammermusik No. 5 and the rarely heard but first-rate Konzertmusik for viola and large chamber orchestra. – Joe Milicia
Charles Ives/Henry Brant: A Concord Symphony. Aaron Copland: Organ Symphony. Paul Jacobs, organ (in the Copland); Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony
Although one might question the need to orchestrate Charles Ives' Concord Sonata (Piano Sonata No. 2) in the first place, and have mixed feelings about orchestrator Henry Brant's hard-edged sonorities, which have none of the impressionistic nostalgia of Ives' own orchestrations, surely no one can doubt the commitment and energy that Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony bring to their performance on the orchestra's house label. The phenomenal sound allows both blazing brass passages and delicate woodwind moments to stand out with utter clarity. As a major bonus Organist Paul Jacobs joins the orchestra for a thrilling rendition of Aaron Copland's youthful Organ Symphony. – Joe Milicia
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”). Yvonne Kenny (s), Jard Van Nes (ms), Klaus Tennstedt conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
My first Blue Note goes to what is surely an extreme and controversial reading of Mahler's “Resurrection” Symphony. It's not just that Tennstedt's tempos are unusually slow; he uses them to communicate a vision of the music that is remorselessly sinister and expressionistic. Only at the very end does the darkness lift. An interpretation like this can work only if orchestra, chorus, and soloists are all on board, and they are, playing and singing as if their very lives depended on it. It's a singular experience to be sure, but one not to be missed. – Max Westler
Gustav Mahler: Adagio from Symphony No. 10; Symphony No. 8 in E Flat Major ("Symphony of a Thousand"). Erin Wall (s), Elza Van Den Hefyer (s), Laura Claycomb (s), Katarina Karneus (ms), Yvonne Naef (ms), Anthony Dean Griffey (t), Quinn Kelsey (bar), James Morris (bass-b), San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Micheal Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
These performances are the final installment in MTT's celebrated Mahler series; and it seems to me, they represent its crowning achievement and glory. This is hands-down the greatest “Symphony of a Thousand” I have ever heard in bone-rattling demonstration quality sound. Soaring, otherworldly, and intensely dramatic, this performance unifies the two parts of the symphony in a way that is both seamless and deeply inspired. MTT's reading of the Adagio is no less affecting. – Max Westler
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola in E-flat Major, K. 364; Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major, K. 207; Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216. Scott St. John (viola, violin), Lara St. John (violin), Eric Jacobsen conducting The Knights. Ancalagon ANC 136 (Hybrid Disc) 73 min.
Lara St. John is one of our finest young violinists. Her playing here is technically strong, and her chemistry with her older brother in the K. 364 is quite winning. But for this listener, Scott St. John -- currently a violinist with the St. Lawrence String Quartet -- is the real star of this new disc.
From my first hearing of this performance I found Scott's playing exceptionally striking. Subsequently I read that for this performance his viola is tuned scordatura -- i.e., in D Major, a semitone higher than the score's signature key of E-flat Major. No doubt that change allows the viola sound to be more penetrating, more of an equal partner to the violin. The orchestral contribution by The Knights, a crack New York chamber ensemble, is beautifully scaled and paced. This performance is my favorite from the digital era.
Scott's playing in the First Violin Concerto is fabulous. His violin sound has a viola-like warm tonality here. Jacobsen and The Knights give this lightly scored concerto a sweetly intimate reading. Altogether, the most satisfying performance of this concerto I have heard.
In the Third Concerto, Lara St. John projects a brighter, somewhat silvery tone and a more aggressive attack. This concerto is scored for a larger ensemble. The two-channel SACD sound is very good, faithfully capturing the contrasting sounds of the soloists within a warmly resonant acoustic. – Wayne Donnelly
Robert Schumann: Davidsbϋndlertänze,
In a year full of Schumann, this is the one disc I'll return to. Uchida is on top form here – color, weight, phrasing, panache, all combining to illuminate these two remarkable works. Decca has given her a recording quality to match, and the whole package is luxuriously presented. This recording belongs alongside Lipatti and Horowitz but unlike their recordings, it has the best modern sound. That makes it indispensable. – Phil Gold
Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky: Concerto No. 1 in B flat Minor, Op. 28; Franz Liszt: Concerto No. 1 in E flat. Alice Sara Ott (piano), Thomas Hengelbrok conducting the Munich Philharmonic.
Count this Blue Note Award as a vote for the future. The Tchaikovsky cannot challenge the greatest recordings of the concerto, and there are many, but it shows a sharp musical intelligence, a sensitivity to color and phrasing, and a youthful intensity and concentration that make this old warhorse sound as fresh and compelling as ever. Ott's decision to avoid mere virtuoso display suggests a maturity that belies her years. In the Liszt concerto, the spontaneity of her approach made me forget how much I dislike the concerto. In both works she is ably supported by Hengelbrok and the Munich Philharmonic. Good sound too. – Max Westler
Alfred Brendel: The Fairwell Concerts. Alfred Brendel, piano. Decca 4782116 (2CDs)
Alfred Brendel impressed me throughout his long career, and I've attended more concerts of his than of any other artist, always thrilled by his humanity and musicianship. On this set he goes out in top form, and the works performed are amongst the highlights of the repertoire, from Mozart's Jeunehomme Piano Concerto to Schubert's last sonata. The recordings date from 2008, when Brendel was 77.
Brendel's approach to music changed significantly as he grew older. The early Vox recordings show him at his most direct. He immersed himself ever more deeply in the music in middle age, taking a more intellectual approach, which grew later into poetic mastery. In these ultimate recordings, a new simplicity and directness infuse the music with both the passion of his early years and the greater understanding of his maturity, reaching a sublime level given to only the greatest of artists. The recording quality is variable, superb in the solo recital but harsh in the concertos. My record of the year. – Phil Gold
Grigory Sokolov: Live in Paris (2002). Grigory Sokolov, piano. Beethoven: Piano Sonatas No. 9 in E major, Op. 14, No. 1, No. 10 in G major, Op. 14, No. 2, No. 15 in D major, Op. 28. Komitas: Six Dances. Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major, Op. 83. Chopin: Mazurkas Op. 63/3, Op. 68/4. F. Couperin: Le tic-toc choc our Les maillotins. Soeur Monique. J.S. Bach: Prelude in b, BWV 855 (arr. Siloti)
The opportunity to see the pianist Grigory Sokolov in any form or format should not be missed. The reclusive Sokolov rarely concertizes outside of his native Russia, and has given up making studio recordings. This recital, given in Paris in 2002, suggests that he is without doubt one of the great living pianists. The program – three early Beethoven sonatas played without pause, folkloric music by Komitas, and the knuckle-busting Prokofiev 7th Sonata – showcase his astonishing virtuosity, his keen musical instincts, and a deep spiritual commitment. The generous selection of encores (Chopin, Rameau, Couperin) is worth the price of admission all by itself. – Max Westler
So many times major record companies seem to mishandle an important reissue project, often ignoring important details like using the original master tape, instead of settling for a 'flat digital dub' or mistakenly hiring a 'newbie' mastering engineer that does not 'get the feel or vibe of the times'. Fortunately sometimes they get it right and with this Jimi Hendrix posthumous release, they really got it right. Teaming up with Experience Hendrix L.L.C., Sony Legacy had the wisdom of hiring two studio veterans for this important historical restoration project which includes reissuing the entire catalogue of the rich heritage that Hendrix left before his early exit.
Under the supervision of original recording/mixing engineer Eddie Kramer assisted by mastering/cutting engineer George Marino at Sterling Sound; only the original analog master tapes were used with what appears to be little compression and for the most part warmly balanced. In addition a high quality gatefold jacket and large format booklet with great b&w and color photos is included. Spread out on two pristine 180 gram RTI-pressed vinyl, it all amounts to a very generous package and at under $22, the most bang for the buck I know of. Oh, did I mention this is never or rarely heard Hendrix we are talking about! – Claude Lemaire
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab with the help of mastering & cutting engineer Rob LoVerde have accomplished the near-impossible for this demanding reviewer; take a typical thin sounding 1980s recording and turn it into something truly warm and enjoyable; more akin to the previous decade. In that sense, it is highly encouraging for any music lover of the 1980s who was robbed of audiophile delight because of this dreaded decade of mixing and mastering mediocrity. To top it off, MoFi has significantly upgraded the original common jacket by a new sturdy gatefold that puts to shame some of the 'premium' reissues of competing labels. As with their 'Silver Label Series' they are making a bold statement that forgotten treasures may be found when digging in alternate places than the well-covered 'Golden Age' trove. – Claude Lemaire