Holiday Shop



Recommended

On Record



Sensual Scriabin
Alexander Scriabin
The solo piano works
Maria Lettberg, piano
(Capriccio)

Maria Lettberg, a Riga-born Swedish national residing in Berlin, has lived with this repertoire for years, and even wrote a doctoral thesis on Scriabin. She recorded all of his solo piano works with opus numbers between 2004 and 2007. Lettberg revels in the composer's dynamic extremes and inner-voice labyrinths, both real and implied. Her big, juicy sonority and refined articulation consistently address the sensual element that perpetually lurks beneath the surface of nearly every composition, from the early, Chopin-influenced Preludes, Etudes, Mazurkas, Waltzes and sundry short pieces to the harmonically ambiguous, intensely mystical late sonatas and poems. A bonus DVD features Lettberg in excerpts from different sonatas, interspersed with discussions about the music and the a multimedia project "Mysterium," where video artist Andreas Schmidt reinterprets the music in terms of abstract manipulations of color. Jed Distler


Gutsy, Vibrant
Franz Schubert
Quintet, D. 956; String Quartet,
D . 703, "Quartettsatz"
Takács Quartet
Ralph Kirshbaum, cello
(Hyperion)

The Takács Quartet and Ralph Kirshbaum sound as though they've been playing together for years. The two cellists match timbres expertly in the second subject of the quintet's first movement, and the performance is paced so that the exposition repeat doesn't make the movement sound too long. The Adagio, similarly, has stillness but not stasis, and the loud central eruption registers with impressive impact. The wide dynamic range is especially successful in the scherzo - gutsy, vibrant playing here - while the players keep the finale moving vigorously, right up to the final bar. The Quartettsatz makes a logical discmate and is just as well played, especially as its C minor tonality pairs well with the quintet's C major. David Hurwitz


Beyond Big Band
Duke Ellington
Black, Brown & Beige; other works
Buffalo Philharmonic
JoAnn Falletta, conductor
(Naxos)

This album looks beyond Duke Ellington's big-band masterpieces to his more rarely heard scores arranged for full orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta. The taster suite here of Black, Brown & Beige - Ellington's epic midcentury tone poem on the African-American experience - has its charms. Toscanini commissioned the "tone parallel" Harlem, orchestrated by Maurice Peress; this raucous cousin to Rhapsody in Blue fizzes. Especially valuable is The River, a 1970 score for Alvin Ailey brimming with suave, soulful melodies. Ellington left another melodic ballet score, Three Black Kings, unfinished at his death, but his son, Mercer, put the finishing touches on it. The Ellington band's theme song, "Take the 'A' Train," appears as a coda - lush and performed with irresistible verve. Bradley Bambarger


Sublime Lark
Joseph Haydn
Three Sonatas, Fantasia in C,
Andante con Variazioni
Yevgeny Sudbin, piano
(BIS) (SACD)

Out of Haydn's sixty-two keyboard sonatas, Yevgeny Sudbin picks some of the choicest morsels (47, 53, 60), true. But that's not the reason why his recital is such a breath of fresh air. Haydn is the alpha and omega of musical phrasing, his sonatas all gems, but in truth, not all recitalists make that as obvious as Alfred Brendel did. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet now surveys Haydn successfully on Chandos, but it is Sudbin's one-off among recent Haydn releases that sparkles the most. The Fantasia in C and Andante and Variations in F add to the mix, as does Sudbin's freewheeling arrangement of the finale of the "Lark" Quartet. Named "Larking with Haydn," it's emblematic of the spirit of this desert-island disc. Jens F. Laurson


Quicksilver Brahms
Johannes Brahms
Symphonies Nos. 1-4
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Paavo Berglund, conductor
(Ondine)a)

Paavo Berglund's long association with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe brought about an indispensable Sibelius symphony cycle (on Warner) of clarity and transparency like no other. Now Ondine has posthumously published Berglund's 2001 recordings of the Brahms symphonies, which feature some of the same qualities - most especially in the rhythmically tricky Third Symphony, where Berglund coaxes nifty, quicksilver, utterly delightful phrases out of his players. With the COE, there's no sluggish, lumbering playing, but there's also less glow and sumptuousness. That results in a set that will likely supplant your favorites . . . mine being, in their wholly different ways, Günter Wand's (RCA) and Simon Rattle's (EMI). J.F.L.


Touching Bohemian Ducks
Leos Janacek
Six Moravian choruses after Dvořák;
nursery rhymes; choral songs
Cappella Amsterdam
Daniel Reuss, director
(Harmonia Mundi)

Janacek is known mostly for his operas, because they are to music theater what Ibsen and Chekhov are to spoken theater: top of the line. But his other compositions, not just the string quartets, ought not be neglected. This disc of choral works shows why, and in the most marvelous manner: the Cappella Amsterdam meticulously, touchingly delivers Dvořák's glorious, simple, smiling and sad Moravian Duets, arranged by Janáček for four-voice choir. The choral songs, like the heartrending "Wild Duck" or "Elegy on the Death of my Daughter Olga," are Janáček's playground for the operas to come and hint of The Cunning Little Vixen. The nursery rhymes are spunky and droll: Janácek at his most colorful. J.F.L.


Heavenly Interspersed
Gabriel Fauré, J.S. Bach
Various works
Gordan Nikolitch, violin; Grace
Davidson, soprano; William
Gaunt, baritone
Tenebrae
London Symphony Orchestra
Chamber Ensemble
Nigel Short, conductor
(LSO Live) (SACD)

If this performance and recording of the Fauré Requiem (in the slimmer second, 1893 version) weren't one of the most powerful, satisfying, transparent and focused on disc, all the clever programming around it would be for naught. As it is, it's a delight to hear a first half of Bach, the D minor Partita interspersed among chorales. Based on sheer speculation, the partita's Chaconne is set to Lutheran chorale tunes, allegedly as a tribute by the composer to his first wife. It's been done before (on ECM's Morimur): it was silly and gorgeous then and it is silly and gorgeous now. But tremendously gorgeous! J.F.L.


Auspicious Debut
Richard Wagner
Die Walküre
Anja Kampe, Jonas Kaufmann, René
Pape, Nina Stemme
Mariinksy Orchestra
Valery Gergiev, conductor
(Mariinsky) (SACD)

The opening shot of Gergiev's St. Petersburg Ring is out - and it's wonderful. Even if the sublime cast weren't headed by Nina Stemme's fervent Brünnhilde, Anja Kampe's stirring, ideal Sieglinde, René Pape's stentorian Wotan and Jonas Kaufmann's CD-suited brawnypoetic Siegmund, this would be a noteworthy effort. The orchestral performance is full of lyricism and sweetness (but not syrup), tenderness, buttery brass and delicate touches. Hunding (Mikhail Petrenko) barrels and booms; Wotan dismisses him eventually, but the subtly colorful Fricka (Ekaterina Gubanova) he can't.. J.F.L.


Catch Some Zs
Juliusz Zarebski
Wladyslaw Zèlenski
Various works
Szymanowski Quartet
Jonathan Plowright, piano
(Hyperion)

The Piano Quintet in G minor of Juliusz Zarebski (1854-1885) is full of big gestures and harmonic surprises; he has a way of modulating to distant keys and using harmonic side slips and rhythmic displacements to keep his superb tunes alive and arresting. The quartet of Źèleński (1837-1921) is a more conventional but highly accomplished work. It has the stamp of Brahms in both its procedures and its sonority, showcasing ripe piano chords under strings. Still, Źèleński's harmony has its unusual features, particularly a suggestion of "folk harmony" in a sharpened fourth, which adds piquancy to his delectable melodies. The playing by the Szymanowski Quartet (Andrej Bielow is the extra violinist in the Zarębski) and the superb, witty, supportive but, when required, brilliant pianism of Jonathan Plowright is captured in very rich sound. Albert Innaurato


Music To Bathe To
Philip Glassn
Metamorphosis, The Hours
Lavinia Meijer, harp
(Channel Classics)

Arrange Philip Glass's placid piano music for harp and it becomes positively tranquilizing. Not that this is a bad thing. Lavinia Meijer is a fabulous harpist, with a silky touch and a voluptuous timbre, and she's stunningly well recorded in SACD surround sound (if that's your pleasure). [It's mine: SACD is the best audio format available. -Ed.] Besides, insomnia is serious, and it's no insult to Meijer or Glass to suggest that this music might be put to good use, whether for relaxation or as a warm and comforting background to some other activity (a romantic dinner?). Know what you're getting and you're sure to enjoy this beautifully played and recorded, if somewhat specialized, disc. Put it on and take a bubble bath. D.H.


Plucky Historicism
J.S. Bach
Cello Suites, Nos. 1-3 (transcribed)
Hopkinson Smith, theorbo
(Naïve)

All assumptions notwithstanding, Bach never composed for the lute, much less the guitar. And bringing out the theorbo to play Bach is pure ahistoric historicism. But when the splendid Hopkinson Smith, who has already recorded all Bach works conceivably suited for the lute, adds the first three Cello Suites to his discography and uses for them a Sylvius Weiss-invented "German theorbo," it couldn't be more in the spirit of Bach. Smith deems his theorbo (twenty-four strings in thirteen courses) best suited for the transcription and runs with it (magnificently!), much like Bach did in his numerous transcriptions of his and others' works. J.F.L.


With Re-Mixed Feelings
Max Richter, Antonio Vivaldi
Recomposed: The Four Seasons
Daniel Hope, violin
Konzerthaus Chamber Orchestra
Berlin André de Ridder, conductor
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Improving on an original - a famous one at that - is impossible by definition; a pale pastiche isn't desirable. No one needs a mock-original or likeness of The Four Seasons. Something new must be created off the old substance, and that is what Max Richter's recomposition manages, most extraordinarily in "Spring" and "Summer," where he opens whole new avenues and sight lines of beauty, calm and distant and dotted with moments of wicked otherness. Richter didn't just re-mix extant recordings, as he's done before; he created the piece from scratch, stripped Vivaldi bare, re-forged it and recorded it with Daniel Hope. Not surprisingly, Richter's version is least interesting where it is closest to the original, but those instances are rare and the rewards elsewhere outweigh them greatly. J.F.L.


Gold-Standard Scarlatti
Domenico Scarlatti
Nineteen keyboard sonatas
Sergei Babayan, piano
(Piano Classics)e)

When the Piano Classics label popped up in 2011, a look at its eclectic reissues revealed a connoisseur's hand in picking the finest out-of-print, out-of-the-way and overlooked piano recordings: Koroliov's Goldberg Variations, Lugansky's Rachmaninoff, Katsaris's Beethoven/Liszt transcriptions, Moravec's Mozart concertos. Then there was Sergei Babayan's 1995 album of Scarlatti sonatas, which had languished on the poorly distributed, minor Pro Piano Records label but was an insider tip among the few who had gotten their copies. Now Babayan's terrific performances, singing tone, tempered coyness and regal power can more readily compete with, or rather complement, the best Scarlatti piano recitals: Pletnev, Sudbin, Tharaud, Horowitz. Babayan proudly stands beside them. J.F.L.


Incidental Requiem
W.A. Mozart
Requiem and documentary
The Choir of the King's College
Stephen Cleobury, leader
(King's College Choir)

The second release of the new Choir of the King's College label (run by the folks of LSO Live) features the Mozart Requiem in a fine performance in the standard Süssmayr editon. The kicker is the appendix with various non- Süssmayr realizations. It's weirdly fascinating to hear how C.R.F. Maunder, Robert Levin, Franz Beyer, Duncan Druce or Michael Finnissy try to approximate Mozart more closely than did his reasonably talented student. That's followed by a second disc dedicated to a captivating audio documentary of the Requiem by Cliff Eisen in which he illustrates with musical examples how the Requiem is an original puzzle that Mozart made of pre-existing pieces. Think of the Requiem as the bonus. J.F.L.


Zádor-ious
Eugene Zádor
Five Contrasts; A Children's
Symphony; other works
Budapest Symphony
Orchestra MáV
Mariusz Smolij, conductor
(Naxos)

Eugene Zádor (1894-1977) spent much of his career working in Hollywood as an orchestrator, but he was a fine composer with a distinctive voice. Some of his music, such as the Hungarian Capriccio or the Csárdás Rhapsody, reflects his native roots, but more of it strikes a modern stance somewhere between Bartk, Hindemith and Copland. For example, the Aria from the Aria and Allegro for Strings and Brass has a distinctly American lyricism - if not Copland, then possibly Harris or Barber. The Five Contrasts for Orchestra explore the Bartk/Hindemith axis, but with a character and lyricism entirely Zádor's own. A Children's Symphony, as the title implies, is a witty and delightful exercise in musical charm. The Budapest Symphony Orchestra MáV plays with great spirit and finesse under Mariusz Smolij. Zádor was a superb orchestrator, with a knack for finding the right sound to convey the musical message. Get to know this music; it's worth your time. D.H.


Zádor-ious II
Eugene Zádor
Divertimento; Elegie and Dance;
other works
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
MáV
Mariusz Smolij, conductor
(Naxos)

Zádor described his style as "exactly between La traviata and Lulu" - a delightful characterization, but there's more to the music than that. This second volume in Naxos' ongoing series contains four excellent pieces, including a perky, peppy Oboe Concerto just twelve minutes long that's very well played by oboist Lászl Hadady. Elegie and Dance is a diptych; the Elegie is absolutely gorgeous. Zádor's most popular piece, to the extent that any are, remains the Divertimento for Strings of 1954. Here the clear inspiration is Bartk, if only because of the composers' shared Hungarian nationality, although Zádor's melodic inspiration has a more international - though no less personal - flavor. Studies for Orchestra is a brilliant, serious, fascinating piece that runs the gamut from popular song to the occasional foray into atonality. It's wonderfully scored and consistently inventive: the seventh movement (of eight), a study in crescendo, is particularly clever. The orchestra plays with enthusiasm. D.H.


Spellbinding Goerne
Franz Schubert
Schwanengesang; Piano Sonata,
D. 960
Matthias Goerne, baritone
Christoph Eschenbach, piano
(Harmonia Mundi)

How is Matthias Goerne so much better recorded than live? In volume six of an already terrific Schubert Lieder survey, the German baritone is spellbinding in the early parts of Schwanengesang, full of swaying tenderness with buoyant accentuations, brief melancholic touches, and teasing, musical fermata ("In der Ferne"). The tears are balanced by an inner smile. Eschenbach's B-flat major Sonata, included as a bonus second disc, is slow and amazingly end-ofthe- world beautiful. It's astounding how Eschenbach finds the time to - obviously - practice when famous pianist-conductor colleagues of his don't. J.F.L.


Dynamic Baroque
Jan Dismas Zelenka
Georg Philipp Telemann
Various works
Berlin Baroque Soloists
Radek Baborák, French horn/ conductor
(Phil.harmonie)

If you're inclined to avoid such things as a baroque concerto for two horns, put that aversion aside and listen to the performances on this album. Radek Baborák is a dynamic, confident player whose vast solo and orchestral experience shows in these works, whose success mainly depends on the players' degree of technical facility, including a certain agility in articulation. Zelenka's Capriccio tosses two oboes into the ring with the two horns (and adds a bassoon for good measure), which, combined with clever melodies and always catchy rhythms, keeps the ear pleasantly engaged. Telemann owns the rest of the program, and whether he's writing for one horn and strings, two horns and strings, or just strings - as in the concluding Overture (Suite), with its colorful assortment of movements - the music always maintains an air of unpretentious elegance, speaking plainly and with the skill of a master who knows his audience. Baborák and his accomplices, including his partner in the two-horn works, Andrej Zust, create performances that are vibrant, energetic and full of excitement for this rarely heard music. David Vernier


Undiscovered
Antonín Reichenauer
Music from Eighteenth-Century Prague
Collegium 1704
Václav Luks, conductor
(Supraphon)

We don't know Antonín Reichenauer's exact birth date - around 1694 - or much anything about him from before 1722, eight years before his untimely death. Count Wenzel Morzin employed him, which meant the standards were set by his predecessor, Johann Friedrich Fasch - and Vivaldi. The bassoon, oboe, and violin concertos on this disc from Supraphon's Music from Eighteenth- Century Prague series live up to the comparison. En route, they manage the feat of sounding like a direct bridge between the Baroque and Classical styles, untouched by any Gallant cuteness. The playing of the period-instrument Collegium 1704 under Václav Luks and soloists (perfect intonation and gorgeous tone throughout) makes this release special beyond discovering new repertoire. J.F.L.


Lutoslawski Touchstone
Lutoslawski, Szymanowski, A. Tchaikovsky
Concerto for Orchestra, Symphony No. 3, Symphony No. 4
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Rafal Bartminski, tenor; Andreas
Rohn, violin; Nimrod Guez, viola
Mariss Jansons, conductor
(BR Klassik)

Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra is of a rare, invigorating quality: here pounding, there lyrical, flitting like reveling grasshoppers. Success depends on painstaking precision, fitting each layer of shade and timbre atop the next. Extreme virtuosity and difficulties stand in the way of the music, but the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons is suited to the challenge like few orchestras; the resulting live recording is one of the finest of the concerto yet. The coupled Szymanowski Third Symphony is on equal footing. Amid wordless choruses and ecstatic climaxes, the BRSO sounds at home and uncommonly full-bodied. Alexander Tchaikovsky - not related - is a contemporary Jansons favorite; his post-Mahlerian Fourth Symphony for Viola and Chorus makes clear why. J.F.L.


Subscribe to Listen