A fascinating little box. The first two discs feature Mendelssohn and Handel, while the last (“bonus”) disc centers on music by living composers.
The first disc is all-Mendelssohn. Ya-Fei Chuang gives a splendid account of the G-Minor Concerto, with the Bochum Symphony in sparkling form. On this airing, one has to question why this orchestra is not more widely recorded. The name of Taiwanese pianist Ya-Fei Chuang was unfamiliar to me. A student at Freiburg Musikhochschule, winner of the Cologne International Piano Competition, and at present a teacher at the New England Conservatory, Chuang’s playing is here defined by its delicacy and fluidity of touch. She seems ideally suited to Mendelssohn’s demands—just listen to herRead more flourishes at the opening of the finale. Her attunement is such that this version now sits at the top of the pile of Mendelssohn Firsts, alongside Perahia, Serkin, and John Ogdon.
Chuang’s husband since 1995, Robert Levin, plays the famous Capriccio brillant. A touch more masculine in his roulades, his view of Mendelssohn is more robust and, at times, decidedly more cheeky. Once again, the Bochum players are spot-on at all times. The energy is not quite as crackling as that for the G-Minor Concerto, though. The two pianists join forces in the 1824 Concerto for Two Pianos (which makes the composer just 15 at the time of composition), a work that runs for some 41 minutes. The playing is marvelous, although they cannot erase the thought that the first movement does rather overstay its welcome. The lovely central Andante is another matter, however, its inspired lines beautifully spun by both soloists and orchestra. The opening of the finale verges on the harsh from the pianos, yet it soon melts into an oasis of lightness. Orchestral contributions are dynamic. There are moments of real profundity, too, in this finale (around four minutes before the end), which add depth to the experience.
Pascal Dubreuil plays a copy of a 17th-century Flemish Ruckers harpsichord made by Burkhard Zander in 1999. The recording is close, bright, and involving. Dubreuil plays the Ouverture to HWV 432 with a real sense of grandeur and brings energy to the faster movements. The Sarabande seems to be robbed of its stately nature, though. The Gigue is nicely active, but in this suite it is the penultimate movement. The work ends with a Passacaglia balancing the initial Ouverture. Dubreuil plays the final movement with what comes across as a sort of joyous abandon, reveling in the music’s ever-accruing complexity.
The Suite in D Minor (arr. Dubreuil) is based on the idea of a “pastiche” (a collection of works of diverse origin). Pascal Dubreuil has put together a string of seven pieces in the manner of a suite, all in D Minor and all taken from the fourth volume of the Bärenreiter Handel Gesamtausgabe. Dubreuil gives an exuberant performance of the Ouverture; the ensuing Allemande is a remarkable lament that finds its echo in the two Sarabandes. A lively Gigue seems set to conclude the sequence, but in fact it is a dignified four-minute Chaconne that ends the pasticcio. Finally for the Handel portion of the box, Léon Berben (playing on a Keith Hill harpsichord after Christian Zell), plays the authentic D-Minor Suite. Berben was the harpsichordist of Musica Antiqua Köln from 2000 until it disbanded in 2006. Infusing the initial Prelude with much urgency, Berben gives a reading of much emotional power. The intimacy of the long (4:44) Allemande is therefore charged with a powerful underlying energy; perhaps only the Air gives any true respite. Berben’s instrument is less bright than Dubreuil’s; it is Berben’s playing rather that supercharges his reading. Berben is excellent in the intricate Double, just as he is in the glittering concluding Presto.
The final disc is a “bonus” devoted to contemporary music. Vassos Nicolaou (b. 1971) wrote his Es war einmal … (2009) as a set of pieces for children to play. And yet there is no sense of compromise here. The 10 short movements are inspired by a wide variety of influences, from hocket (the first movement, “Choral—hoquuetus” is based on a spectral chord), while ostinati and the Stravinsky of the Rite of Spring infuse the second. The performer (here the excellent Tamara Stefanovich) is asked to improvise for one movement (“Rain—Dream—Pain”). A German nursery tune informs “Hänschen mein.” Strange how Nicolaou’s piece for children ends with a piece based on hopelessness (the Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus, whose fate was to roll a boulder up a steep hillside, only to have it always fall to the bottom just before he reaches the top). Nicolaou’s Five Etudes (2007–08) is altogether a stonier prospect, musically. The first etude, “Anodos,” plays with the mind’s predilection to find polyphonies in single lines, while the second, “Monologos,” depicts a deranged actor reciting a monologue on an empty stage. The transformation of the opening to a more music-box quality is fascinating. Electronic techniques inform the compositional process for “Delays,” the third etude, in contrast to the reference to the natural world for the imitation of wind chimes that is the fourth etude (this is a moment of the utmost delicacy, beautifully rendered by Stefanovich). Finally, “Mirrors/Interventions” initially separates shapes and their mirror forms (the latter played more quietly and higher in the piano’s register). “Interventions” are of course the interruptions that occur; finally, original and mirror forms attain equal status and engage in a fight for supremacy. Fascinating musical concepts, well realized and magnificently performed by Stefanovich.
The two remaining pieces both use voice. First, Rudi Spring’s Neumondgeschichte (subtitled “A Cycle of German Folksongs”). The piece resulted from a suggestion by the vocalist in this performance, Salome Kammer, who showed the composer her 30 favorite folk songs. Spring sometimes uses a 12-tone accompaniment to a clearly tonal song line. Words can hardly express Kammer’s excellence in the rapid delivery of the first song, “Auf einem Baum ein Muckuck.” Although Spring’s piano parts are frequently dissonant, they never seem out of place, complementing rather than denying the innocence of the originals. The fragility of “Kein Feuer, keine Kohle” (the third movement) is particularly memorable, and finds its parallel in the penultimate song, “Ich hab die Nacht geträumet.” There is much to delight the ear here. The brief “Die Blümelein, sie schlafen” is the only instrumental movement. Simplicity is the key here. Note that texts are provided in the German-only part of the booklet, with no translations rendered in the English part.
The final offering is the Hölderlin-Lieder Cycle No. 3 by Wilhelm Killmeyer. As with the Spring, texts occur in the German part of the booklet only. Tenor Markus Schäfer seems perfectly attuned to Killmeyer’s setting of “Wenn aus dem Himmel.” Killmeyer’s accompaniment is frequently Webernian in its sparseness (although it does make un-Webernian references to tonality, either directly or through a distinctly Mahlerian looking-glass), while the vocal line is ever expressive. There is a distinct warmth to “Der Sommer,” wherein Killmeyer’s language softens, just as the icy dissonances of the next song portray “Der Winter” in no uncertain terms. “Der Frühling” spreads itself over a larger canvas and affords itself a leisurely solo vocal opening before indulging in moments of great beauty. The slow, quiet but relentless tread of the second song on “Winter” seems the perfect way to end. I note that Killmeyer’s Coptische Lied impressed my colleague Joel Kasow in Fanfare 23:1.
Hölderlin Lieder, 3rd cycleby Wilhelm Killmayer Performer:
Markus Schäfer (Tenor),
Siegfried Mauser (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1982-1991; Germany
Es war einmal…by Vassos Nicolaou Performer:
Tamara Stefanovich (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 2009
Etudes (5) for Pianoby Vassos Nicolaou Performer:
Tamara Stefanovich (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 2007/2008
Neumondgesichteby Rudi Spring Performer:
Markus Schäfer (Tenor),
Siegfried Mauser (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 2008/2009
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Unique repertoire, exquisite performancesOctober 18, 2014By Harriet S. (Waunakee, WI)See All My Reviews"What a variety of music in a single package. Technically good enough that one almost feels like one is there in the concert hall. (Aided by the new Bose CD player I just got - makes a huge difference in the sound.) What is particularly heartwarming is that this area of Germany has fostered this kind of experience for so many years, and shared it all with the world at large. Speaks well for the Ruhr Gebiet. I also own an earlier CD of Ya-Fei Chuang's debut at the Festival Ruhr. The audience liked Ya-Fei's interpretations, as well as her stunning technique. And so did I! Will investigate other CD's in this series. Thank you!"Report Abuse