Saturday, 30 April 2016

Absolutely terrific performances of Schumann’s Cello Concerto and Piano Trio No.1 from cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, violinist Isabelle Faust and pianist Alexander Melnikov concluding their Schumann Trilogy for Harmonia Mundi

Harmonia Mundi have just released the final instalment of their Schumann Trilogy project conceived by cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras , violinist Isabelle Faust and pianist  Alexander Melnikov whereby his works for piano, violin and cello could be placed in a broader context by recording each with one of the composer’s concertos.

They soon decided to play the works on these recordings using historical instruments, fortepiano, stringed instruments with gut strings and orchestral forces to match. Pablo Heras-Casado and the Freiburger Barockorchester were chosen as the partners for this project.

This first volume brought these artists together for Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor coupled with the Piano Trio no.3 op.110 (1 CD + DVD - HMC902196). Next came the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 with the Piano Trio No.2 in F major, Op.80 (1 CD + DVD - HMC902198).

Now from Harmonia Mundi comes Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129 with the Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.63 which, as with the two previous releases in this series, comes with a bonus DVD.

HMC 902197

The year 1850 was a good one for Robert Schumann (1810-1856), a year that brought the completion of his Faust music, his songs Opp. 77, 83, 87, 89, 90 and 96, his Symphony in E flat major ‘Rhenish’ and his Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129.

Here Jean-Guihen Queyras weaves some lovely textures with the Freiburger Barockorchester in the opening of the concertos Nicht zu schnell, rising through a vibrant, beautifully transparent orchestral passage, bringing some exquisite moments as he finds his way through Schumann’s twists and turns. He provides lightly sprung timbres with both he and the orchestra alive to every dynamic. They often bring a chamber like intimacy to this music with some beautifully shaped phrases and a fine, close partnership between soloist and orchestra. Queyras brings a playful sense of enjoyment as he shapes and springs some of the little phrases. Pablo Heras-Casado and the orchestra bring some beautifully Schumannesque broader orchestral passages before gently slipping into the second movement.

Queyras provides a lovely gentle cello line over a quietly rhythmic orchestra in the Langsam, this cellist drawing some lovely slowly drawn textures, finding a real sense of wonder as he reveals every nuance and detail before subtly finding a rhythm to lead into the final movement, Sehr lebhaft where cellist and orchestra find a lovely buoyant gently sprung rhythm.  Queyras’ textures, sonorities and dynamics bring this music alive. He has a terrific dialogue with the orchestra whose accompaniment is quite wonderful with some wonderfully vibrant, incisive passages. There is a beautifully done accompanied cadenza where this soloist reveals so many subtleties, before leading quickly to a fine coda.

The Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.63 dates from 1847, the year that also brought the Piano Trio No.2 in F major, Op.80. Alexander Melnikov, Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras bring a finely undulating opening to the Mit Energie und Leidenschaft, with a lovely rubato. As the music rises in passion, a terrific ensemble is revealed as they shape and vary the music to bring out every nuance. Their use of dynamics is superb with the textures of these period instruments adding much. They rise through passages of volatile emotion bringing a quite wonderful blending of textures and timbres. Part way there is a quite lovely hushed passage, beautifully controlled. This trio bring a tremendous emotional strength with fine taut shaping of phrases. Lebhaft, doch nicht zu rasch moves off full of energy and rhythmic buoyancy, these players finding a terrific swagger. They are not only top rate soloists on their own account but they also show their tremendous, instinctive collaborative abilities right up to the beautifully shaped coda.

The violin and piano bring an exquisitely gentle opening to the third movement Langsam, mit inniger Empfindung before the trio slowly and subtly weave Schumann’s fine textures. This trio find a lovely flow with a subtle and gentle swell before leading to the most wonderfully controlled coda and straight into the concluding Mit Feuer that brings a lovely rolling flow, soon rising in passion with some sparkling playing, terrific textures and timbres. These artists bring a superb use of rubato to propel this music forward with a terrific energy, finding some fine textures and sonorities before a brilliant, vibrant coda.

This is an absolutely terrific performance full of poetry, fire and passion.

The recording is excellent as are the booklet notes.

As a substantial bonus this new release comes with a DVD recording of an equally fine live performance of the concerto from the Berliner Philharmonie that receives a rapturous reception.

See also:

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Skylark Vocal Ensemble bring a truly wonderful disc of choral works from composers as diverse as John Tavener, William Schuman and Anna Þorvaldsdóttir for Sono Luminus

A new release from Sono Luminus entitled Crossing Over features the Skylark Vocal Ensemble in compositions that depict the dream state at the end of life. These choral compositions are from around the world and include several world premiere recordings.

CD and Blu-ray Audio

The Skylark Vocal Ensemble is a chamber choir of professional soloists and music educators from across the United States. Formed in 2011 under the direction of Matthew Guard, Skylark performs innovative programmes that help reinforce the intent of the composers to communicate truths about the human condition. A not-for-profit entity, Skylark also performs educational outreach programs with students across the United States during their concert tours.

Daniel Elder’s (b. 1986)  Elegy was inspired by the taps bugle call, played traditionally in the military to signal lights out at the end of the day and now played at military memorials, symbolizing poignantly the closing of the last of days. The Skylark Vocal Ensemble bring some quite lovely harmonies out of which soloists rise up bringing the most exquisitely shaped phrases before the choir lead us to a beautifully hushed coda. This is a remarkably lovely piece.

John Tavener’s (1944- 2013)  Butterfly Dreams is an eight movement dream-state piece composed in 2003 setting a variety of texts. It opens with the title piece Butterfly Dreams based on texts by Chuang Tse, weaving some lovely long lines with beautiful harmonies and subtly shifting harmonies.  

Haiku by Kokku brings more of Tavener’s distinctive subtly shifting harmonies before Haiku by Buson where this choir achieves a lovely balance between upper female voices and the lower layer of choral sound in this fine piece. Haiku by Issa is a faster piece that consists of a series of four repeated sequences that quickly build to a climax, each one adding a subtle increase in textures and power. Very finely sung. Haiku anon is very brief but finds a quite gentle calm, beautifully sung. The Butterfly by Pavel Friedmann rises up suddenly, full of alarm, this choir achieving a fine, brightly toned texture. It falls back briefly before rising up again, juxtaposing a calmer nature against its more anxious nature. Butterfly Song from Acoman Indian finds a repose as the music gently, slowly and thoughtfully moves forward. Finally Butterfly Dreams based on Chuang Tse brings back more of Tavener’s glorious textures and sonorities, always gentle and subtly shifting, perfectly caught by this terrific choir.

The Russian composer of liturgical music, Nicolai Kedrov (1871-1940) is best known for his setting of Otche Nash. Sung in Russian this choir bring beautifully controlled tempo and dynamics to this gentle setting of the Lord’s Prayer as well as the most lovely sonorities with some fine bass voices at the end. This is a real treasure.

Jón Leifs (1899-1968), was an Icelandic composer, pianist and conductor whose music has recently gained more popularity due to a number of recordings by BIS Records. He spent much of his life in Germany but returned home in 1945, leaving his wife and daughters in Sweden. It was after this move that Leifs’ younger daughter Líf drowned in a swimming accident off the coast of Sweden in 1947. His grief led to the composition of a number of works including his Requiem that sets texts from Icelandic poetry and Magnusarkvioa by Jonas Hallgrimson.

This brief work, sung in Icelandic, has a chant like, slow rhythmic pulse with quite lovely sonorities. There is a finely felt sense of urgent grief in the little dynamic rises to each line and some very fine choral lines over a sustained choral base. This is a quite stunning work, wonderfully sung.

American composer, Robert Vuichard has set poems by John Donne for his Heliocentric Meditation. Female voices open with some fine textures added to by the male voices. There are some lovely dissonances as well as some superb part writing here. The piece subtly increases in dynamics with varied rhythms as the music progresses. There are lovely little surges of voices through fine harmonies with finely shaped passages of rising phrases. This superb choir achieves some spectacularly fine dissonant sonorities with a finely controlled climax toward the calm coda that brings the words ‘Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee’

William Schuman (1910-1992) set texts by Walt Whitman for his 1958 work for mixed chorus, Carols of Death. There is a finely phrased opening to The Last Invocation as this choir finds its way quite wonderfully through Schuman’s shifting harmonies and varied dynamics. The Unknown Region brings some remarkable ideas as repeated phrases build up a terrific choral texture with this choir bringing the most superb control, finding all the drama. To All, to Each opens on the repeated word ‘come’ before moving forward, weaving some lovely passages with some glorious sonorities in the coda.

The Icelandic composer, Anna Þorvaldsdóttir is building a fine reputation with her striking compositions. Heyr þú oss himnum á, written in 2005, sets an ancient Icelandic psalm and further indicates what a very fine, gifted composer she is. There are the most lovely harmonies as this setting gently moves forward, subtly gaining in passion, gently rising and falling through the most beautiful passages, so very finely sung by this choir.

Skylark conclude with another work by John Tavener, his Funeral Ikos. It is wonderful how Tavener conjures a great feeling of tradition whilst adding his own distinctive devices. This choir find all the many beauties of this setting, with finely judged tempi and dynamics and lovely harmonies.

It is this choir’s wonderful control and shaping of phrases, as well as its fine sonorities that adds so much to these performances. They receive a first rate recording given the extra presence and depth in the Blu-ray version.

There are very brief booklet notes. Not all texts are given but there are texts for all those works not sung in English. The booklet is beautifully illustrated. 

This is a truly wonderful disc of choral works. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Live performances that shouldn’t be missed from Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim on a new release from Deutsche Grammophon

Those two giants of the music world, Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim were both born in Buenos Aires, Argentina a city to which they returned in the summer of 2015 for a concert at the Teatro Colón that included works for two pianos by Schumann, Debussy and Bartok.

This concert was recorded and is now available on a new release from

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Robert Schumann’s (1810 - 1856) Six Studies in Canon Form, Op.56 were written in 1845 and later arranged for two pianos by Claude Debussy. Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim bring a lovely leisurely flow to the first study, Nicht zu schnell with some beautifully done decorations. These two could easily be one, such is the terrific interweaving of musical lines. Mit innigem Ausdruck again has a fine flow with these two fine musicians gently pointing up every detail bringing a wonderfully subtle rubato in this most beautifully shaped performance.

The Andantino bring a lovely rolling flow with a subtle rhythmic lift and a fine rubato before Innig that has an exquisitely shaped opening, these two providing such a beautifully gentle touch, subtly illuminated by little hints of passion, a passion brought more fully to bear as the study develops, only to find its opening gentle nature to close.

Nicht zu schnell has a tremendously crisp rhythmic touch from this intuitive duo, quite wonderful. They deliver a stately Adagio, weaving the most lovely lines through passages of fine feeling and depth.

Argerich and Barenboim bring some wonderfully florid phrases to Avec emportement that opens Claude Debussy’s (1862 - 1918) own work for two pianos, En blanc et noir. Their quick-fire phrasing, tempi and dynamics are terrific, rising to some quite wonderful dynamic moments. Lent. Sombre has a dark opening with contrasting drama impressively conjured. They slowly find every detail with some wonderful moments of haunting atmosphere before building through some formidable passages, bringing terrific ensemble and strength. The Scherzando has a wonderfully fluent, quicksilver quality alive to every little twist and turn with so many little subtleties.

This is a masterly performance.

Percussionists Pedro Manuel Torrejón González and Lev Loftus join for Béla Bartók’s (1881 - 1945) Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, Sz110.

There is wonderfully hushed timpani at the opening of the Assai lento over which Argerich and Barenboim gently bring the theme. Sudden outbursts send shock waves with this movement building to some wonderfully impressive moments, finding all of Bartók’s rhythmic and harmonic wonders. There is quite thrilling playing here from all these musicians, a great freedom and wonderful panache. The precision between pianos and percussion is impressive with an electricity running right through this performance. These two percussionists provide some wonderfully fleet passages. Combined, they find all of Bartok’s brittle textures before arriving at a powerful peak. There are quieter moments of fine precision and atmosphere before a stunning coda.

In the Lento, ma non troppo percussion set an atmospheric opening to which these two pianists add a slow, finely judged theme, slowly and subtly bringing a more intense rhythmic nature. There is a terrific ensemble between musicians with a magnetism that is remarkable. They move through passages of subtly increasing drama to a finely drawn coda. 

The Allegro non troppo is full of brilliance as they quickly push forward, full of buoyancy, building through complex passages, wonderfully phrased and shaped. There are some lovely subtle phrases where percussionists and each pianist respond to each other to great effect, making sense of Bartok’s complex phrases and brilliant writing before a delightfully done coda.

Two great musicians have come together in the city of their birth to give us the most wonderful musical experience. The live recording is excellent, with my download full of warmth and detail. The enthusiastic applause is kept at the very end. 

These are performances that shouldn’t be missed. 

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Cellist Anssi Karttunen and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hannu Lintu perform Magnus Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No.2 and his orchestral works Al Largo and Era on an outstanding new release from Ondine that should bring this composer many new admirers

Magnus Lindberg (b.1958) was born in Helsinki and studied composition at the Sibelius Academy with Einojuhani Rautavaara and Paavo Heininen. The latter encouraged his pupils to look beyond the prevailing Finnish conservative and nationalist aesthetics and to explore the works of the European avant-garde. 1980 saw the founding of the Ears Open Society which aimed to encourage a greater awareness of modernism and included members such as Lindberg, Eero Hämeeniemi, Jouni Kaipainen, Kaija Saariaho and Esa-Pekka Salonen. In 1981, Lindberg went to Paris to study with Vinko Globokar and Gérard Grisey. Other contacts around this time were Brian Ferneyhough, Helmut Lachenmann and York Höller.

He made his breakthrough with two large-scale works, Action-Situation-Signification (1982) and Kraft (1983-85) but, during the late 1980s, his music transformed itself towards a new modernist classicism in which harmony, rhythm, counterpoint and melody received a fresh interpretation.  This brought forth works such as Kinetics (1988), Marea (1989-90), Joy (1989-90), Aura (1993-94) and Arena (1994-95).

Compositions such as Fresco (1997), Cantigas (1999), Concerto for Orchestra (2002-3), Sculpture (2005) and Era (2012) along with concertos for clarinet (2002), violin (2006) and two for cello (1999 and 2013) have confirmed him as one of Finland’s finest composers.

Lindberg was Composer-in-Residence of the New York Philharmonic between 2009 and 2012 with new works including the concert-opener EXPO premiered to launch Alan Gilbert's tenure as the orchestra's Music Director, Al Largo for orchestra, Souvenir for ensemble and Piano Concerto No.2 premiered by Yefim Bronfman in 2012. He was appointed Composer in Residence with the London Philharmonic Orchestra for three years from the 2014/15 season with commissions including a second violin concerto for Frank Peter Zimmermann.

Three of the works mentioned above, Al Largo, Cello Concerto No.2 and Era have been recorded by Ondine  with cellist Anssi Karttunen  and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hannu Lintu

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Though having no actual program, Al largo (2009-10) is an Italian phrase for being offshore. It was premiered by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall in 2010.

Brass open with a fanfare before the music broadens as timpani and the rest of the orchestra add drama. Soon the strings bring a surging passage before a piano is heard amongst lower textures of the orchestra in a brooding section full of sustained tension. The music moves through passages of lovely luminescence, full of terrific colours as it swirls forward. The music often positively glows and there are moments of beautiful delicate textures. There are passages of faster moving textures, leading to a number of climaxes as this work brings its endless flow of creative ideas. Eventually there is a moment of quieter calm as the strings bring a section of much beauty.

Little brass motifs rise out of the orchestral texture as the drama returns. The piano brings a series of phrases that herald a passage for oboe which playfully dances around a small string ensemble before the orchestra rises to a dramatic peak pointed up by timpani. It builds through some terrific bars, with timpani thundering out, to a climax before scurrying strings lead to calmer waters. A little brass group bubbles up, joined by woodwind as the translucence returns. The music builds to another climax, an even more furious one before falling quieter as a broad theme arrives, moving slowly through some very fine, shimmering string passages before a final outburst rises and falls away to allow a wonderfully light textured coda.

This is a quite magnificent outpouring of ideas, fabulously orchestrated. It is given a terrific performance by Hannu Lintu and his Finnish players.

It was Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic that premiered Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No. 2 (2013) at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA in 2013 with cellist Anssi Karttunen, the soloist on this recording.

I The solo cello opens this work with a plaintive theme over a hushed orchestral layer, repeated by various instruments as the orchestra expands the theme. The cello soon brings rich textures over the lower strings, all the while gaining in power as the soloist develops some very fine ideas. There are little bursts of sound from the cello, reflected by the orchestra before rising through passages of increasing passion. The cello finds moments of lovely textures over a rich orchestral backdrop. There are pulses of sound from the orchestra as the cello continues to develop the theme with moments of exquisite detail from the soloist. There are lovely harmonies in a gorgeous moment towards the end of the movement when the soloist finds so many fine textures and effects before moving into the second movement.

II Here the soloist rhapsodises around the orchestra finding phrases higher in the cello’s register to bring a feeling of great emotion. Lindberg uses brass to add a luminous brilliance before a brilliant cadenza, no less full of fine harmonies, textures and colours. The music increases steadily in tempo whilst finding many little ideas before the orchestra bursts back in in a terrific moment, bubbling and luminescent, with the cello re-joining to lead forward into the finale.

III The brass sound out a theme, taken up by the cello, and soon find a rhythmic quality as soloist and orchestra stride forward through passages of almost motoric force.  Karttunen brings some marvellous fast and furious phrases before falling into a broad melody, slowing as the cello takes the melody over a lovely orchestral accompaniment, a lovely moment. The music falls lower and richer before quizzical little rising and falling phrases for cello lead to a peaceful coda.

Surely this fine work is one that cellists will want to take up.

Era (2012) was premiered by David Robertson and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in 2013. Era refers to the period before the First World War, this work reflecting the musical upheavals of that period.

Deep string phrases bring a dark opening before brass add colour and the music tries to lighten. There is a feeling of intense anticipation with fine textures and harmonies as the music tries to find a balance between the darker drama and a brighter atmosphere. There are bursts of drama as the music rises up, eventually finding a greater transparency of orchestral sound. There are a myriad of instrumental ideas that scurry and flow through the texture before another outburst of darker, forceful drama appears. The textures lighten but the music rises powerfully again, though now with lighter textures. Soon a rhythmic quality is found but the music continues to find variations of the rising orchestral surges that have gone before. Later a rather romantic version of the theme briefly surfaces through the textures of the orchestra. Tubular bells add to the lighter textures and colours before the music finds even more energy to rise dramatically. The rhythmic variation returns briefly with pizzicato strings before a moment of calm arrives. However, the forward surge cannot always be restrained, rising through further wonderful textures before a passage of delicate beauty is found where Lindberg uses orchestral means of almost chamber proportions.  The music soon rises up forcefully in a fine climax before flowing with a fine transparency towards the coda. There are some stunning timpani strokes before the orchestra finds hints of the opening darker textures and a powerful coda.

This is another remarkably fine work that brings a feeling of tremendous organic growth.

This outstanding new release from Ondine should bring Magnus Lindberg many new admirers. Ondine provides a very fine SACD recording from the Helsinki Music Centre, Finland and there are excellent booklet notes by Finnish music specialist Kimmo Korhonen.
See also: 

Ensemble Transmission prove terrific advocates of works by Ana Sokolović on a new release from Naxos

Serbian-born composer Ana Sokolović studied composition at university under Dusan Radić in Novi Sad and Zoran Erić in Belgrade then completed a master’s degree under the supervision of José Evangelista at the Université de Montréal. She has lived in Montreal for two decades.

Over the years, Ana Sokolović has earned a steady stream of commissions and awards. Her compositions include orchestral, vocal, chamber, operatic and theatrical pieces. From 1995 to 1998, she was a three-time recipient of the SOCAN Foundation Award for Young Composers. In the 1999 edition of the CBC Young Composers Competition she won the grand prize along with first prize in the chamber music category. In 2005, she won the Joseph S. Stauffer Prize presented by the Canada Council for the Arts and in 2007 the Conseil québécois de la musique awarded her the Prix Opus for composer of the year. In 2008 she won the Jan V. Matejcek Award presented by SOCAN and, in 2012, was a repeat winner of the same award. In 2009, she won the prestigious National Arts Centre Award, which included commissions, residencies and teaching positions over a five-year period. In the summer of 2012, her opera Svadba-Wedding, commissioned and produced by the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, received six nominations for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards and won for Outstanding New Musical/Opera. The opera then went on tour in Canada and Europe until 2015.

The Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) recently marked the 20th anniversary of Ana Sokolović’s arrival in Quebec with a celebration of her body of work. More than 200 events were presented in her honour from coast to coast.

The Émile Nelligan Foundation awarded Ana Sokolović the prestigious 2015 Serge-Garant Prize last November. Ana Sokolović recently received a prestigious commission from the Canadian Opera Company for a main-stage opera that will be premiered during the 2019/20 season. Ana Sokolović teaches composition at the Université de Montréal.

Naxos have just released a recording of works for a variety of instruments by Ana Sokolović as part of their Canadian Classics series, performed by members of Ensemble Transmission , a Montreal based collective of six musicians who are independent artists.


Vez (2005) for solo cello was a commission by the cellist Yegor Dyackhov and premiered by him in 2005 as part of the Virtuosi Series, Winnipeg. Performed here by cellist Julie Trudeau, the work opens with fast, energetic rapid bowing that gives way to gentle yet no less varying textures. Ana Sokolović requires an increasingly varied range of textures and timbres from the cello, pizzicato phrases and drumming on the instrument all add to a vibrant, vital piece. Yet there are richly drawn longer phrases where Trudeau finds a multitude of colours and textures. After a long slow drawn passage, that brings forth some lovely sounds from this soloist, the restrained coda is reached.

Portrait parle (2006) for violin, cello and piano was commissioned by Trio Fibonacci and premiered by them in 2006 at the Chapelle historique de Bon Pasteur, Montreal. The work outlines various parts of the body and was inspired by an early 20th century chart designed to help assist French police to identify people.

As Alain Giguère (violin), Julie Trudeau (cello) and Brigitte Poulin (piano) open they lay out a wonderful instrumental sound world, haunting yet with so many colours out of which each instrument finds its voice. Soon there is a swirl of strange sounds before this piece works through many variations, always seeking a new colour, texture or timbre out of which a myriad of ideas emerge. These players find some beautifully conceived sounds, so many fine little details. There are moments of humour so well caught by these players before a series of piano chords signals a quieter moment that is the coda.

This is, perhaps, the best work to start listening to on this disc in order to get into Sokolović’s sound world.

Trois Études (1997/2013) receives its World Premiere recording here with pianist Brigitte Poulin. It was premiered in 1998 at the Chapelle historique du Bon Pasteur, Montreal by Marc Couroux. These Études develop a single aspect, a rhythm, a harmony and a melody.

Étude No. 1 opens with a repeated note, slowly varied and expanded, Sokolović finding much to develop out of the opening motif before concluding at the lower end of the keyboard. Étude No. 2, the longest of this group at just over four minutes, opens quietly, gently and tentatively before little motifs sound out. Sokolović creates some beautiful ideas as the music moves through delicate subtly formed passages, leading to a broader melody, beautifully translucent and full of lovely colours. Étude No. 3 opens with a simple little theme that is quickly developed as it dances forward through some finely varied passages to a concluding peak.

Mesh (2004) was commissioned by the clarinetist Lori Freedman and premiered by her in 2004 at the Music Garden, Toronto. The work features the repetition and quickly moving transformation of short rhythmic units. Lori Freedman gives this World Premiere recording. The opening brings a jaunty dancing theme which is subjected to variations, many fine ideas being drawn from the clarinet, tonally, rhythmically and in terms of colours, textures and timbres. This is a distinctive piece full of terrific ideas, sometimes finding a jazz element. This soloist’s playing is truly remarkable, a wonderful technique combined with an ability to avoid any course grained tone despite all the challenges. There are some fine themes emerging throughout as well as many fine details before a wonderfully drawn, hushed coda.

Un bouquet de brume (1998/2014) for bass flute and piano is given its World Premiere recording here by Guy Pelletier (bass flute) and Brigitte Poulin (piano). The piano brings rolling chords to which the bass flute gently adds colours and bubbling textures in the opening rising theme, all together creating a wonderful atmosphere as the music moves through subtly shifting passages of great beauty.

Ciaccona (2002/2011) was commissioned by Arraymusic and premiered in 2002 at the Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto. Originally written for clarinet, trumpet, piano, percussion, violin and double bass it has been arranged for Ensemble Transmission’s line up of clarinet (Lori Freedman), piccolo (Guy Pelletier), piano (Brigitte Poulin), violin (Alain Giguère), percussion (Julien Grégoire) and cello (Julie Trudeau). The music opens with a vibrant theme, full of rhythmic syncopations with this combination of instruments providing a bright range of colours and textures. The music moves through more fragmented passages, each instrument adding a particular texture, timbre and colour. Part-way through, there are cries from the clarinet leading to a sustained phrase that brings a terrific sequence of ideas, superbly played. There are pulses of instrumental sounds that rise to an emphatic peak before the piano leads on over string phrases, bringing a gentle moment. There are some quiet strangely beautiful undulating passages before the rhythm picks up again with a sense of purpose, achieving some dramatic moments before the quiet coda. 

Ensemble Transmission prove terrific advocates of Sokolović’s music. They receive an excellent recording made at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, Montreal, Canada and there are useful booklet notes.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Frédéric Bednarz and Natsuki Hiratsuka bring exceptionally fine, idiomatic and subtle performances of works for violin and piano by Guillaume Lekeu, César Franck and Lili Boulanger on a release from metis islands music

Violinist Frédéric Bednarz  and pianist Natsuki Hiratsuka has already recorded Shostakovich & Szymanowski violin sonatas for metis islands music now they bring us sonatas by Guillaume Lekeu and César Franck coupled with Lili Boulanger’s Nocturne for violin and piano.

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Frédéric Bednarz was born in Montreal, Quebec and studied with Oleh Krysa at the Eastman School of Music, Sergiu Schwartz at the Harid Conservatory and Victor Tretiakov in France. He was a soloist with chamber orchestras of Ottawa and Montreal, Sinfonia of Montreal, Ensemble America of New York, the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, the Longy Chamber Orchestra. As a chamber musician he has performed with Anthony Marwood, Richard Lester, Julius Baker, Malcom Lowe, Alexandre Tharaud and has premiered many new works by composers such as R. Murray Schafer, Ana Sokolovic and Claude Marc Bourget.

Japanese-American pianist Natsuki Hiratsuka studied at Boston University, Manhattan School of Music and San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She is active as both a chamber musician and accompanist and has played in solo and chamber music recitals in Boston, San Francisco, England, Japan and Canada. She has performed in the Musashino Hall in Tokyo, the French Cultural Center of Boston, Longy School of Music, Brown University, Montreal Conservatory, Canadian Music Center in Montreal, University of Alberta and the Kitchner-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

Belgium composer Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894) studied with Cesar Franck and Vincent d’Indy. He was a prolific composer but it is his Sonata for violin and piano in G major that is one of his finest works. Commissioned by the great violinist Eugène Ysaÿe it was premiered in 1893 just before the composer’s premature death from typhoid fever the following year.

Frédéric Bednarz brings a beautifully refined tone to the opening of the Très modéré - Vif et passionné of Lekeu’s Sonata with some wonderfully limpid phrases from Natsuki Hiratsuka before developing through more incisive moments where this violinist finds a passionate edge. They hold a fine balance between the gentler flow and more passionate, dramatic moments, often with an underswell of tension. The music builds in drama and power with some very fine textures from Bednarz, before trying to find the gentler nature of the opening but rising again in passion with some wonderful textures as the music reaches the quieter, more thoughtful coda.

Hiratsuka brings a slow introduction to the second movement, Très lent soon joined by Bednarz to reveal a fine melody. There is a constant flow of lovely invention with a lovely nostalgia as the violin weaves its continuous flow, these two players finding many subtle details of tempo and dynamics. There are some moments where this pianist brings some wonderfully limpid phrases with a lovely French flavour. These two artists bring a lovely restraint to this intensely lyrical movement as it slowly works its way forward, weaving a lovely spell, to a quite lovely coda.
Bednarz and Hiratsuka launch into the Très animé with energy but soon find a fast flowing forward momentum, crafting a beautifully shaped performance of this movement. There are passages of gentle calm with some lovely violin phrases and spacious piano chords in this constantly shifting emotional journey. They rise through some fast passages where the violin brings some particularly fine playing with some terrific violin sonorities. There is a wonderfully florid piano passage before rapid descending phrases bring the coda.

This exceptionally fine performance shows just what a fine work Lekeu’s sonata is.

Natsuki Hiratsuka finds the perfect opening to the Allegretto ben moderato of César Franck’s (1822-1890) Sonata for violin and piano in A major with Frédéric Bednarz joining to gently take this music forward. These two certainly are a fine duo, showing an instinctive understanding as they slowly build the music, finding many of the subtleties. Bednarz varies his tone to find the many textural and emotional subtleties in this music.

There are some wonderful piano phrases soon overlaid by the violin as the Allegro pushes forward, full of spontaneous and intense passion yet soon finding an exquisite quieter repose. They beautifully shape the music before rising in the opening tempo to bring a sense of unsettled passion. This violinist finds some lovely timbres as the music develops through passages of finely controlled emotions to a nicely judged coda.

The Recitativo –Fantasia: Moderato – Molto lento has a finely laid out opening from Hiratsuka after which Bednarz brings a short solo passage to which the piano replies, these two artists finding a lovely gentle dialogue. Bednarz always finds lovely textures and sonorities as well as many subtle details. There are finely judged changes in tempo and dynamics bringing out the varying emotional content.
A lightness of mood is captured by these two artists in the lightly flowing Allegretto poco mosso adding a fine degree of intensity as the music develops through to a buoyant coda.

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) sadly had a life equally as short as Lekeu. It is her Nocturne for violin and piano that concludes this disc, finely wrought, building through moments of increased intensity to find a lovely calm at the end. A lovely piece, finely played. 

These exceptionally fine, idiomatic and subtle performances make this a most welcome release. The recording is excellent and there are brief notes on the music. 

Friday, 22 April 2016

A dazzling recording of Haydn violin concertos from Isabelle Faust and the Münchener Kammerorchester under Christoph Poppen on Pan Classics

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was incredibly prolific as a composer writing in just about every genre. I suppose it is inevitable that many of his works suffer a degree of neglect, particularly in the concert hall. Haydn’s violin concertos have certainly fared better on disc than in concert with a number of fine recordings available.

Isabelle Faust  is a name that deservedly attracts attention when any new release by her appears. Certainly I was anxious to hear her new recording of the Haydn concertos for Pan Classics where she is joined by the Münchener Kammerorchester conducted by Christoph Poppen

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Haydn almost certainly wrote his C major and A major violin concertos for the Konzertmeister of the Esterházy Orchestra, Luigi Tomasini. Indeed, there is an inscription in the manuscript score of the C major concerto dedicating the work to ‘Luigi.’ Of the four violin concertos written by Haydn three remain, the other lost.

There is a wonderfully sunny opening from Christoph Poppen and the Münchener Kammerorchester in the Allegro moderato of the Violin Concerto in C major, Hob. VIIa:1. When Isabelle Faust enters she brings a crisp, clear tone with a real freedom to her playing through all of Haydn’s twists and turns. There is a subtle spring in the step of the orchestra who provide a fine transparency. Faust brings all her precision and agility to the sparkling cadenza.  

There are some lovely textures from the soloist and orchestra as the Adagio opens before Faust weaves a lovely line around a steady rhythm in the orchestra. Discreet and limited vibrato brings clarity to Faust’s lovely tone with this soloist finding a lovely dialogue with the orchestra.  

The orchestra brings a lively, vibrant Finale – Presto with some superb playing from Faust, full of light textured details with a fine rhythmic pulse from soloist and orchestra.

The Moderato of the Violin Concerto in A major, Hob. VIIa:3 brings some fine timbres and textures from the orchestra as they bring a sense of urgency to the rhythmic flow. Isabelle Faust provides some lovely textures when she joins in the captivating theme, weaving through some lovely passages, always with a light, buoyant touch, full of fluency and agility through passages of beautifully controlled dynamics. There are some lovely double stopped textures before a very fine cadenza full of lively textures.

The orchestra provide some fine rhythms over which the upper strings glide in the opening of the Adagio. When Faust enters she brings a perfectly judged flowing melody as the orchestra retains a contrasting rhythmic idea. Again there are moments of fine dialogue between soloist and orchestra with this violinist bringing a lovely blend of tone and sonority. There is a beautifully drawn cadenza, exquisitely played.

The Finale – Allegro has a terrific, buoyant opening from the Münchener players who play with terrific ensemble and agility. Faust brings an equally light and buoyant contribution as she dances ahead full finely drawn details.  Both soloist and orchestra bring a kind of nervous energy to this music, an almost Mozartian joy before a finely shaped cadenza full of fine textures.

Certain Haydn scholars believe the Violin Concerto in G major, Hob. VIIa:4 to be from an earlier period and, therefore, not written for the Esterhazy Orchestra Konzertmeister.

Here Isabelle Faust brings superb dynamic control to the fleet, light textured Allegro moderato finding a terrific rapport with this conductor and orchestra. They keep a fine flow, both soloist and orchestra providing fine phrasing and with a cadenza that brings some stunning playing from Faust.

There is a finely shaped orchestral opening to the Adagio with some lovely little nuances. Isabelle Faust brings a beautifully judged solo line, a gently controlled flow, with fine rubato.  

The Münchener Kammerorchester shoot ahead in the Finale – Allegro, full of life before Faust joins to add some absolutely wonderful playing, fast, fluent and full of energy and sparkle right up to the sudden end. 

This is a dazzling disc from Isabelle Faust and the Münchener Kammerorchester under Christoph Poppen. The recording is spacious and detailed and there are useful booklet notes.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A stunningly vital recording of Alfred Schnittke’s Twelve Penitential Psalms and Three Sacred Hymns from the RIAS Kammerchor directed by Hans-Christoph Rademann on Harmonia Mundi

Alfred Garriyevich Schnittke (1934-1998) was born in Engels on the Volga River in Saratov Oblast, USSR. Of German descent, his father was originally from Frankfurt am Main. Schnittke’s musical career began in 1946 in Vienna, where his father worked for a newspaper.  He had private piano lessons, went to operas and concerts and wrote his first compositions. After moving to Moscow in 1948, Schnittke first studied to be a choral conductor. Later he studied composition and counterpoint with
Yevgeni Golubev and instrumentation with Nikolai Rakov at the Moscow Conservatory. At this time he was influenced by Filip Gershkovich, a pupil of Webern, who lived in Moscow but, after a period of dodecaphonic writing in the sixties, his music later attained to a polystylistic technique which made use of earlier historical styles.

Schnittke taught instrumentation at the Moscow Conservatory from 1962 until 1972.  Soon his music began to be played at important contemporary music festivals and, in the 1980s, included in the concert programmes of leading orchestras throughout the world. Festivals and concert cycles devoted to his works were held in many cities, including Moscow, Stockholm, London, Huddersfield, Vienna, Berlin, Turin, Lucerne,
Hamburg and Cologne. Schnittke was professor of composition at the Hamburg Musikhochschule from 1989 to 1994.

His compositions include opera, ballets, orchestral works including nine symphonies, concerto grossi, concertos, choral and vocal works, chamber and instrumental works and music for film, radio and theatre.

Schnittke’s Penitential Psalms were written in 1989, in honour of the millennium of Christianity in Russia. The texts are drawn from poems for Lent written by one or more anonymous monks found by the composer in a collection of Old Russian texts dating from the second half of the 16th century.

Schnittke’s Twelve Penitential Psalms coupled with the composer’s Three Sacred Hymns appear on a new release from Harmonia Mundi  featuring the RIAS Kammerchor directed by Hans-Christoph Rademann

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CD and free download

Sung in Russian, the RIAS Kammerchor under Hans-Christoph Rademann bring a rich deep atmospheric opening to Adam saß vor dem Paradies und weinte the first of the Zwölf Bußverse für gemischten Chor a capella (Twelve Penitential Psalms), rising through some wonderfully striking moments, drawing some fine harmonies and finding a real sense of sorrow.

A tenor brings the Es nimmt mich die Wüste auf wie die Mutter ihr Kind with a lovely hushed underlying texture from the choir, who later rise as the music becomes more passionate. The choir continues with some quite wonderful textures and harmonies, Schnittke’s lovely dissonances, through some powerful moments.

The female voices of the RIAS Kammerchor open Weshalb lebe ich in Armut and are soon joined by the male voices in this melancholy psalm, rising in passion, even desperation at times, with this choir achieving a glorious texture as they reveal some striking vocal ideas. Meine Seele, warum befindest du dich in Sünden also opens with the female voices bringing a brief respite yet rising gloriously to some moments of great intensity on the words ‘But rejoice, my soul.’

O Mensch - verdammt und armselig opens with the male voices of the choir in this faster moving Psalm to which female voices soon join. They move through some wonderful harmonies before the music falls to a hush with lovely bass textures before rising through more astonishingly fine harmonies. Als sie sahen das Schiff brings a small group of female voices in an agitated Psalm that flows slowly throughout the whole choir, Schnittke adding some disturbingly individual textures before finding a less turbulent nature, yet with no less passion.

Female voices bring a light textured flowing opening to O meine Seele, warum hast du keine Angst  before the male voices overlay some dissonant harmonies, growing in intensity at times, Schnittke shaping the music and text wonderfully with the RIAS choir sensitive to every dynamic, finding moments of great passion. There is a melancholy feel as the female voices introduce Wenn du die Zeitlosigkeit der Trauer überwinden willst. The male voices, complete with rich bass sonorities, add a real depth as the music finds a comfort in the words ‘be not sorrowful.’

Über mein Leben als das eines Geistlichen habe ich nachgedacht opens with a tenor over a quietly held choral layer from the male voices to which female voices rise over, creating some exquisite harmonies. The male and female lines are woven as the Psalm progresses through passages, at times mournful, at times passionate with some distinctive rising phrases from the female voices. The music grows in intensity revealing just how deeply Schnittke must have felt such texts as ‘Insane avarice, lack of love …’ before finding a peak and falling back.

The whole choir surge forward in Sammelt euch, ihr christlichen Menschen! through rising and falling phrases in this more uplifting and determined psalm. There are moments for the male voices alone before a very fine coda. 

With Ich bin in dieses elende Leben gekommen male voices provide a hushed wordless background over which a tenor sings ‘I entered this life of tears as a naked infant, Naked also I shall leave it.’ Slowly and exquisitely they are joined by other male voices, then female over the restrained male voice layer, weaving some terrific harmonies, the upper voices finding some glowing upper phrases before descending to a hushed coda.

In (Mit geschlossenem Mund) deep bass voices bring a wordless little tune that slowly undulates before the other voices subtly join in this most magical of sections.   The music rises to the upper reaches as light appears before finding its way through passages that reach the lowest depths, blending exquisite harmonies and textures. This is a most wonderful extended section that moves through lovely hushed passages, exquisitely controlled, to the remarkably conceived coda.

This is surely one of Schnittke’s finest compositions wonderfully sung by this choir.

In 1984 Schnittke wrote his Drei geistliche Gesänge für achtstimmigen gemischten Chor (Three Sacred Hymns) during a single night. The RIAS Kammerchor bring some lovely sonorities to Gegrüßet seist du, Jungfrau, Mutter Gottes, a glorious blend of voices in this beautifully flowing hymn that rises gently before a quiet coda. Herr Jesus, Sohn Gottes rises in intensity through some wonderfully harmonised passages before finding the lovely coda. There is a softer opening to Vater unser, a really fine setting of the Lord’s Prayer where Schnittke provides some lovely part writing together with glorious textures and harmonies before rising in intensity at the words ‘the power and the glory.’

For those that find some of Schnittke’s music difficult to assimilate this new disc will come as a surprise. Certainly there are very individual touches here but this is great choral music with many beauties.

Hans-Christoph Rademann and the RIAS Kammerchor rarely let the temperature drop in these fine performances, full of passion, sorrow and tragic beauty. This is a stunningly vital disc.

They receive an excellent recording from Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin which in the HiRes download is truly breathtaking with a terrific sense of presence.   

There are excellent booklet notes that give information on the sources of texts and the autograph score.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Yevgeny Sudbin brings Scarlatti’s music alive, lifting each sonata and investing it with a special quality on his new recording for BIS

With over 550 keyboard sonatas to his name as well as 17 sinfonias, 12 operas, oratorios and serenatas, 3 masses and many other sacred vocal works, Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) was prolific by any standards.

Yevgeny Sudbin has already recorded 18 of Scarlatti’s sonatas for BIS (BIS-CD-1508) to great acclaim. Now, to celebrate his ten years with BIS Records he has chosen to record another 18 of the composer’s sonatas.


To get a flavour of just how phenomenal Sudbin’s playing of Scarlatti is just go to the following link 

Yevgeny Sudbin opens his new disc with Scarlatti’s Sonata in D minor, K417 bringing a purposeful flow yet shot through with subtle nuances of dynamics, not to mention some lovely individual little touches. It is the way that this pianist shapes each phrase that is quite wonderful.  His fluency is second to none, bringing terrific exhilaration as the sonata develops to a fabulous coda.

Next there is the contrasting Sonata in A major, K208 where Sudbin gently teases the music forward with lovely decorations and such a delicate touch, developing and shaping this music beautifully. The popular Sonata in C major, K159 leaps forward full of lightly sprung rhythms, this pianist finding a lovely, lightly dancing touch. There are fine dynamics and wonderful control in the playful moments.

It is Sudbin’s light touch that brings so much to the Sonata in C minor, K56 building through some phenomenal passages with a superb fluency, bringing sudden little eruptions as the music moves on. Quite superb. It is wonderful how this pianist gently and slowly teases out so many magical moments in the gentle Sonata in D minor, K213 full of exquisite delicacy and poetry, developing some beautifully controlled flowing passages.

A fast and furious Sonata in G major, K125 reveals again Sudbin’s lovely touch, a real spring behind every note as he whisks us through every twist and turn of this sonata. Some terrifically fast descending phrases open the Sonata in G minor, K373 as this pianist develops this work with a terrific rubato, finding so many little details.

Sonata in D major, K119 has some fine rhythms in the opening before Sudbin develops this sonata with so many lovely little details, great fluency and variety of tempi and dynamics. He finds some particularly lovely textures and moves through some rollicking passages before the coda. Sudbin brings a gentle flow, a sense of unending gentle development to the Sonata in F minor, K69, undulating through the most lovely passages.  

A lightness of touch is given to the Sonata in G major, K425 as it skips ahead, rhythmically alive and subtly nuanced. There is more superb fluency as Sonata in D major, K29 moves quickly forward with Sudbin finding so many fine little moments, dynamically sprung phrases, bringing a real sense of enjoyment to this sonata.

There is a fast flowing, yet gentle Sonata in C minor, K99 that moves through some lovely passages, full of broader harmonies and many subtleties and poetic beauties. Sudbin controls the varying dynamics of the Sonata in G minor, K12 superbly as this sonata rushes forward through passages full of lovely textures.

He shapes the rhythms of the Sonata in D major, K479 so well, again with a superb rubato and such a light touch to intricate little phrases, the whole sonata so finely structured. Sonata in D minor, K9 brings pinpoint clarity and dexterity with jewel like phrases, beautifully sprung with fine use of dynamics and tempi.

Clarity and fine phrasing appear in the exquisite Sonata in F-sharp major, K318 with Sudbin slowly allowing the music to develop through moments that find a melancholy beauty.  

This pianist brings a spectacular light and sparkle to Sonata in D minor, K141 with terrific sprung phrases and a wonderful touch, finding lovely sonorities and textures.

He brings a fine poise to the gentle Sonata in D minor, K32 with a gentle ebb and flow as it slowly builds to its coda. What a fine way to end this collection. 

Yevgeny Sudbin brings an excitement and exhilaration to Scarlatti’s sonatas as well as an exquisite delicacy and poetry. These are absolutely superb performances with Sudbin bringing this music alive, lifting each sonata and investing it with a special quality. BIS provide first rate SACD sound and there are informative notes by the pianist. 

Monday, 18 April 2016

A new collection of works for violin and piano proves an impressive showcase for Romanian violinist Bogdan Văcărescu

Romanian violinist Bogdan Văcărescu is a graduate of the Conservatoire of Music in Bucharest and the Royal Academy of Music in London and has won national and international violin and chamber music competitions. A student of Beno Schwartzman, Paul Ratz and Gyorgy Pauk he has toured internationally since his teens, performing for two years with the World Youth Orchestra, as leader of George Enescu's String Orchestra, with his own chamber music ensembles and as a soloist.

He has toured most European countries, Israel, North America, Australia and Japan and has appeared at the Athenaeum in Bucharest, the Romanian National Radio Hall, Sydney Opera House, The Forum in Melbourne, The United Nations Concert Hall in New York, New Morning in Paris, London’s Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Purcell Room, Kings Place and Vortex Jazz Club, Glastonbury and Edinburgh festivals.

Văcărescu has recorded for television and radio across the world on Romanian National Radio and Television, BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, BBC Wales and Manchester, ABC Australia, performing Bach Sonatas and Partitas, Paganini Caprices and solo works. He has also recorded soundtracks for films and documentaries and is equally comfortable performing rock, Balkan and traditional music as he is on the classical stage. He has collaborated with Nigel Kennedy, Paprika, The Cat Empire, Graffiti Classics, She’Koyokh and as a free-lancer with many successful ensembles in the UK.

Bogdan Văcărescu’s new CD from the New Europe Society, entitled Violin and Piano Thrillers, with pianist Julian Jacobson  brings together works for violin and piano by Enescu, Brahms, Dvořák, Jenő Hubay, Chopin, Sarasate, Beethoven and Antonio Bazzini.

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There is a sense of intense restrained energy as the Assez mouvementé of George Enescu’s Sonata for piano and violin Op. 6 No. 2 in F minor opens, soon unleashed as these two fine musicians push quickly forward.  Bogdan Văcărescu brings a very fine tone especially in the upper register where it never loses sweetness. There is some especially fluent playing from Julian Jacobson full of expansive textures. These two fine musicians bring beautifully controlled dynamics as they move through some lovely quieter moments, alive to every little detail. There is a lovely freedom to this violinist’s playing drawn surely from his experience performing in a variety of ensembles and in varied genres.

Tranquillement flows naturally from the quieter coda of the first movement, Văcărescu finding a lovely rhythmic flow, finely accompanied by Jacobson. He finds a great passion and intensity as the music develops with some fiery playing with fluent, rippling passages from Jacobson. The piano leads a quieter, gentler passage to which the violin joins to move through some quite exquisite passages to the hushed coda.

Vif has a rhythmic spring as the music moves ahead, developing more robust, incisive passages. Văcărescu’s ability to bring a freedom and spontaneity adds much to this free flowing movement with terrific textures and sonorities from both these players. There are some sparkling passages before some wonderfully dynamic passages and a decisive coda.

This is a performance of virtuosity, energy, spontaneity and poetry in equal measure.

Văcărescu brings a rhapsodic freedom, a nonchalance, to the opening of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 17 (arr. Fritz Kreisler) before developing some very fine textures, revealing a technique that sails seemingly effortlessly over many technical demands, whilst always finding the subtle moments.

This violinist brings a lovely gentle sway to Antonín Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance Op. 72, No. 2 (arr. F. Kreisler) showing how he has this music in his fingers. The fine textures and timbres he brings sound so natural, never forced, often with a real spark of fire, often wonderfully playful.

Jacobson frames Văcărescu’s playful account of Jenő Hubay’s Zephyr from ‘The Flower's Tale’, Op. 30 with this violinist again bringing a sense of ease as he sours high. He has a wonderfully light bow as he travels through some spectacularly fine light and quick-fire passages to the super little coda.

Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 27 No. 2 (arr. August Wilhelmj) reveals just what a fine tone this violinist has in the longer lines of this piece, slowly adding some beautifully formed textures, often with an edge to point up the passion. Jacobson provides the perfect foil with his gentle accompaniment.

Văcărescu and Jacobson bring a distinct Latin flavour to their performance of Pablo de Sarasate’s Habanera from Spanish Dance Op. 21 No. 2. There are many lovely little moments as this violinist teases out some terrific tones, textures and colours, again negotiating the virtuosic intricacies of this piece with apparent ease, an ease that allows him to add so much more in the way of artistry.

Next these two artists bring us two pieces from Ludwig van Beethoven’s ‘The Ruins of Athens’, Op. 113, both arranged by Leopold Auer. Both bring much jollity to the Turkish March - Scherzo finding much wit in this arrangement with the feel that one could easily be at a live performance. In the Chorus of Dervishes - Etude they build up a terrific swirl showing  terrific ensemble with this violinist bringing a terrific texture before arriving at a wonderfully ‘throw away’ coda.

Finally Văcărescu choses a real showcase for his virtuosity with Antonio Bazzini’s The Round of the Goblins - Scherzo Fantastique op.25 with some quite spectacularly fine, lightly sprung bowing with terrific phrasing and dynamics. There are little pizzicato notes thrown in and the most wonderfully light descending scales – he can do it all. He brings terrific rhythmic control, especially in the pizzicato passages. Yes I know others have done this before but Bogdan Văcărescu does it with such aplomb.

Don’t let the title Thrillers fool you. Yes, there are many thrilling moments but much, much more as well. They receive a very fine recording, detailed and warm, from the AIR Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London, UK and there are useful booklet notes. 

This is an impressive showcase for this violinist. 

Violinist and composer Piotr Szewczyk brings his Violin Futura Project to a recording for Navona Records with terrific results

Polish-born violinist and composer, Piotr Szewczyk studied violin with Piotr Milewski, Kurt Sassmannshaus, Dorothy DeLay and Corinne Stillwell and composition with Joel Hoffman, Michael Fiday, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, Henry Gwiazda and Darrel Handel.

He holds a Doctor of Music degree from Florida State University, a Bachelor of Music and double Master of Music in violin and composition from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Szewczyk has also appeared as guest concertmaster with Orlando Chamber Soloists and has completed a three-year fellowship at the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas where he served as rotating concertmaster. He is the winner of FSU Doctoral Concerto Competition, the New World Symphony Concerto Competition and other awards. As a soloist and chamber musician he has performed at the Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, Spoleto Festival USA, Colorado Music Festival, Santa Fe New Music as well as many others. He has been a member of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra first violin section since 2007.

Amongst his awards as a composer, he has received The American Prize, Project Trio Competition, Flute New Music Consortium Competition, Shuffle Concert Competition, American Modern Ensemble, Rapido! Composition Contest, Third Millennium Ensemble. His music was featured on NPR Performance Today, the CBS Early Show and has been performed by Atlanta Chamber Players, Trio Solis, Alias Ensemble, Dover Quartet, Carpe Diem String Quartet, Vega Quartet , Sybarite 5, Juventas Ensemble, New Music Raleigh, New World Symphony and at Eastern Music Festival, Ravinia Festival, Colorado Music Festival, St. Augustine Music Festival, and others.

Piotr Szewczyk has developed the Violin Futura Project , a collection of commissioned miniatures for solo violin that highlights over thirty international contemporary composers and how they are re-imagining the solo violin. The purpose of the Violin Futura Project is to sample the creative environment of our times by showcasing the wide variety of styles present in the 21st century and to create a body of new solo violin repertoire.

Navona Records has recently released a 2CD recording of these new works all played by Piotr Szewczyk and entitled Violin Futura.

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Disc 1 opens with Jason Bahr’s (b.1972)  Ephemeral Rhapsody (2009) to which Piotr Szewczyk brings a fine rich tone in this particularly fine, rather melancholy piece that allows the soloist to weave some fine harmonies and textures. Lawrence Dillon’s (b.1959)  Mister Blister (2006) contains some brilliantly incisive phrases by quieter, no less incisive moments to which Szewczyk brings a lighter touch.
Carson P. Cooman (b.1982) has featured in a number of my reviews (see below). His The Doors in the Sky (2007) unfolds, revealing some fine moments before adopting an incisive nature. There are many intricate, challenging bars for the soloist before the opening gentler harmonies are found at the end. Daniel Kellogg’s (b.1976) Sizzle ((2007) bubbles forth with some virtuosic writing expertly done by this soloist, drawing much from his instrument, always with a sense of urgency.
Mason Bates’ (b.1977) Blue Berceuse (2007) slowly draws some lovely textures as the work is developed, a lovely miniature with a lovely little pizzicato coda. Kari Henrik Juusela’s (b.1954)  Red Bull #3 (2009) brings an astringent, incisive repeated theme that is developed through some terrific passages making this a terrific showcase for the violin.
Nathan Williamson’s (b.1978) Homecoming (2007) slowly weaves some fine double stopped phrases creating some lovely harmonies as it moves through beautifully hushed moments. A tremendous rhythm and energy opens Mark Grey’s (b. 1967)  Left for the Dogs (2007) out of which many ideas grow, this soloist bringing a real nervous tension and some terrific taut playing.
Aaron Einbond’s (b.1976)  Fish Gotta Swim (2006) brings a lovely flow as this fine melody is broadened across the strings with fine harmonies, slowly increasing in animation before a settled coda whilst Marc Mellits’ (b.1966) Żubrówka (2006) leaps up full of life and energy as the music is developed through passages that bring a terrific endless flow of invention to a terrific conclusion.
Suzanne Sorkin’s (b. 1974) Toward the Other Shore (2009) has a slow, exquisitely drawn melody that develops over a drone like background. It is finely written for the instrument and is a really lovely work. The music subtly increases in drama and passion before finding its opening calm. It develops in passion again in some virtuosic passages for the soloist before a more gentle flow, but there are more virtuosic moments before the coda.
A quizzical motif introduces Sydney Hodkinson’s (b.1934)  Rush (2008) before rapidly developing through some fiery passages, spectacularly played here and ending as a sudden note is ‘fired.’ Patrick Castillo’s (b.1979) Cirque (2006) opens with a rather elusive theme that is developed through some rather fragmented passages that bring many varying violin techniques, drawing some terrific effects
A repeated motif soon finds a jazz theme in Hiro Morozumi’s (b.1976): Real Phone Key (2007). It is a quite intoxicating piece with this player finding a real swing as he moves through some terrifically wild passages. John Kennedy’s (b.1959)  fp (For Piotr) (2007) works through some gentle, high phrases before finding a gentle swaying theme and later becoming more incisive with some fine violinistic effects.
Laurence Sherr’s (b.1953) Midnight Dance (2009) finds a rhythmic forward movement with a repeated motif that develops in varying rhythms, later becoming more fluid. Piotr Szewczyk (b.1977) provides the final work on the first disc, All Wheel Drive (2004) which has a leisurely theme that develops a bluesy character, speeding to a frenzied coda where the soloist creates some wild sounds.

Disc 2 opens with Richard Belcastro’s (b.1976) Buyer's Remorse (2009) with a rhythmically sprung theme that darts hesitantly forward before finding a sweet toned flowing variation, high in the violin’s register. The opening returns before the flowing theme now in a lower register. These two ideas contrast against each other before the violin rises high to flow to the coda.
Lisa R. Coons’ (b.1979)  Coming Undone (2009) brings a melancholy, wailing theme before alternating with a hushed long drawn line. There are incisive staccato phrases that alternate with a hushed longer line creating a subtle drawing of emotion. Incisive phrases lead Tyler Capp’s (b.1983) Scatterbrain 2009) into a hushed long line as a theme develops, interrupted by the incisive phrases. This work is vividly played by Piotr Szewczyk as he moves through some virtuosic working out of the material.

Gary Smart’s (b.1943) Benediction (2009) brings a rich melody with much of the feel of a traditional melody. It soon speeds through variations that bring much variety to this fine piece. A sprung, incisive motif opens Ng Wah-Hei’s (b.1982)  Caprice (2009) before being developed through some fine passages that bring superb playing from Piotr Szewczyk.
A lovely little motif is gently floated as Ethan Wickman (b.1973)  Respite (2007) opens before being varied through some beautifully conceived passages, finding some lovely harmonies and textures. Jeffrey Harrington’s (b.1955) Puce (2006) brings a hesitant rhythmic theme that develops through some incisive passages, exploring the motif through a variety of textures, timbres and rhythms.

Adam Schoenberg’s (b.1980) Swoosh (2009) launches with a fast moving theme before dancing forward rhythmically with something of the feel of a jig. The music brings some fine timbres and textures for the violin before a terrific little coda. Lan Chee-Lam (b.1982)  slowly weaves a theme through a variety of textures and colours as her piece Memories (2009) develops, this soloist drawing some fine moments.
Pizzicato phrases open Jianjun He’s (b.1958)  Yang-Ge Dance (2010) before the merry theme dances forward through a variety of finely developed ideas, full of wit and humour. Clifton Callender’s (b.1969) gegenschein (2009) opens with lovely harmonies that subtly develop through some firmer passages that still retain many subtle textures, timbres and colours, this soloist revealing all the various nuances.

Rich harmonies open John Oliver (b.1959) and Turning (2009) before developing through drooping phrases and a variety of fast moving ideas drawing much fine, accurate and taut playing from Piotr Szewczyk. A quivering theme emerges in the opening of Jorge Sosa’s (b.1976)  Moto Perpetuo (2009) before working through rapid passages, bringing unusual harmonies and textures with many subtleties picked up here.  

Short sharp phrases announce Carl Schimmel’s (b.1975)  Whiffet (2009) before it quickly shoots ahead through hushed quicksilver variations which are exquisitely revealed here. This is an elusive yet wholly captivating piece.  Perhaps the most unusual work here is Moritz Eggert’s (b.1967) Idylle (2006) which is introduced by a spoken text ‘I got up this morning and heard the news.’ In the composer’s words, the violinist reacts to a piece of daily news that he finds extremely annoying. The piece builds up this aggressive potential which is resolved purely musically.

Piotr Szewczyk’s First Coast Groove (2008) has a rhythmic opening with taps on the violin before it moves through a variety of ideas, developing some terrific textures. Midway there is a lovely slower, thoughtful section as the theme is gently ruminated on before speeding to a fast moving coda.  

One just has to look at the number of composers listed above to get an idea of how great an achievement this project is. To listen to the wealth of creatively on these two discs brings this home completely.

All these new pieces are well ordered, creating variety. The recording is excellent.  There are notes on the project and a link for further information.

See also:

Carson Cooman

Moritz Eggert