Catalina Vicens: “Parthenia,” Keyboard Music from 1613

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Catalina Vicens: Parthenia
Harpsichord & Virginal Music From 1613
CD Carpe Diem 16298
24/96 + 24/192 FLAC downloads from Carpe Diem

Recorded January 22-26, 2013, Schloss Bad Krozingen, Germany; Jonas Niederstadt, producer.

What a wonderful project and what a wonderful recording! Catalina Vicens is an immensely talented and very hard-working Curtis Institute graduate, originally from Chile. She won an international early-keyboard competition hosted by the Bad Krozingen Castle. As a result, the Cultural Office of the City of Bad Krozingen and the the Fritz Neumeyer Historical Keyboards Collection made possible this, her début recording.

This is one of the most impressive and engaging keyboard recordings I have heard in years. The recorded sound is pristine and very dynamic and satisfyingly reverberant—even better, the recording was made to audiophile standards using DPA 4006 microphones, and there are 24/96 and 24/192 FLAC downloads available. Just go for it!

More, and generous sound bytes, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Yevgeny Sudbin: 18 Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757)

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Yevgeny Sudbin: 18 Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757)
Sonatas K 417 in D minor; K 208 in A major; K 159 in C major; K 56 in C minor; K 213 in D minor; K 125 in G major; K 373 in G minor; K 119 in D major; K 69 in F minor; K 425 in G major; K 29 in D major; K 99 in C minor; K 12 in G minor; K 479 in D major; K 9 in D minor; K 318 in F sharp major; K 141 in D minor; and K 32 in D minor.
AUTOGRAPHED Compatible stereo + MCH SACD/CD BIS 2138; CDQ or 24/96 download, Classics Online.

Domenico Scarlatti wrote these sonatas for his patroness Maria Magdalena Barbara, the Infanta of Portugal.

Mitzi “married up,” later becoming the Queen of Spain. (No, her nickname was not “Mitzi;” so, don’t bother writing in. But please, do find a different reason to write in!) Maria Magdalena Barbara had a nearly-insatiable appetite for… keyboard sonatas. Scarlatti wrote more than 500 of them. Furthermore, Scarlatti wrote almost all of those sonatas for the harpsichord.

Therefore, it is an historical irony, one reflected upon by Yevgeny Sudbin in his truly excellent liner notes, that today, these works are most often associated with Russian pianists; Vladimir Horowitz being the prime example. Sudbin claims that Russian musical education uses Scarlatti’s keyboard music more than does any other country’s pedagogy; and, that well may be true. Ten years ago, Sudbin made his début (all-Scarlatti), recording for Sweden’s label BIS; it received rapturous reviews. Volume Two, so to speak, is his tenth-anniversary celebration.

The bottom line is, this recording is an absolute “must-buy” for piano lovers. (Historically-Informed Performance people, perhaps not so much.) Sound samples and more, after the jump. Continue Reading →

Marita Sølberg: Opera Arias

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(Courtesy www.maritasolberg.com; photo credit Felix Broede.)

Marita Sølberg: Opera Arias
Opera arias by Catalani, Mozart, Gounod, Bizet, Leoncavallo, Puccini, Bellini, Rachmaninoff, Dvořák, Verdi, and R. Strauss.
Norwegian National Opera Orchestra
John Fiore, conductor
CD Simax Classics PSC1336

Say “Hello” to Marita Sølberg!

Marita Sølberg’s name was unknown to me when I stumbled upon her upcoming new release (which came out last Friday) on Naxos’ (Simax’ US distributor’s) ultra-top-secret, password-protected publicity website, which is, I am told, hosted on a server in the kitchen of an excellent barbecue place down near Chattanooga. The track list contained both old favorites and a couple of unknown arias, so I dutifully hit “Download.”

The program starts with a very well-played (Norwegian National Opera Orchestra; John Fiore, conductor), well-recorded orchestral introduction to the famous Puccini-esque aria “Ebben; Ne andro lontana” from Catalani’s obscure-except-for-one-aria opera La Wally. So far, so good.

Then, Miss Sølberg started to sing, pensively and almost languidly. Oh dear me. This one does not go into the “Discard” pile… . (More than half of the new recordings I listen to, I pass over in silence.)

Generous sound clips and more, after the jump. Clickez!

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David Leisner & Zuill Bailey: Arpeggione

Leisner Arpeggione

David Leisner & Zuill Bailey: Arpeggione
Music for classical guitar and cello
CD Azica ACD-71306
24/96 Download from Pro Studio Masters

This CD is not just for classical listeners—anyone who loves beauty and wants more of it in his or her life should buy this recording. This cleverly-constructed disc is arranged like an old-fashioned recital program.

Serious music at the start (if you want to call Schubert’s contagiously lighthearted Arpeggione sonata “serious,”); followed by a guitar/cello treatment of Falla’s Spanish Popular Songs; then a wee homeopathic dose of accessible new music; and then all four shoes drop in a succession of surefire crowd-pleasers: “Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” “The Swan,” Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (“Aria”), and finally Paganini’s Moses variations.

The recorded sound is absolutely stunning, completely worthy of the best systems at the next audio expo. Hint, hint. (Recorded by Bruce Egre at Cleveland State University’s Waetjen Auditorium.)

Words about the performers, followed by some generous sound bites, await you after the jump. Clickez-vous, s-v-p!

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Van Morrison: “Moondance” Deluxe Edition

Moondance (Deluxe Edition)

Van Morrison: Moondance Deluxe Edition
Recorded August to December 1969, released January 1970; remastered 2013.
HD Tracks download HX603497907663
8-CD/1 Blu-ray boxed set, Warner Bros. Records R2 53656

Van Morrison, vocals, guitar, rhythm guitar, tambourine, harmonica, producer; John Klingberg, bass; Gary Mallaber, drums, vibraphone; Guy Masson, conga; John Platania, guitar, rhythm guitar; Jef Labes, organ, piano, clavinet; Jack Schroer, alto and soprano saxophones; Collin Tilton, flute, tenor saxophone; Judy Clay, Emily Houston, Jackie Verdell, backing vocals (tracks 3 and 8).

Moondance was George Ivan “Van” Morrison’s third studio album. His previous ones having been the somewhat inscrutable Astral Weeks and the earlier, somewhat slapdash Blowin’ Your Mind. The latter was assembled without Morrison’s cooperation (or knowledge) from takes originally intended to be released as 45-rpm singles.

Blowin’ Your Mind was an effort to capitalize upon the success of Morrison’s Irish rock band “Them.” Them’s memorable one hit of wonder was “Gloria.” An indication of Them’s brief but major eminence was that when them had a residency at Los Angeles’ Whisky a Go Go in 1966, their opening act was: The Doors. (Sorry, I could not resist.)

Morrison Jim was hugely impressed by Morrison Van’s poetry and by his stage presence. On the last night of the gig, the two bands jammed on “Gloria.” Not shabby.

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Schubert: Symphony in C; Harnoncourt, Berlin Philharmonic

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Franz Schubert: Symphony in C major (D 944),
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded March 22-24, 2006; released 2015
HD Tracks download HD4260306189120

Gloriosky, what a magnificent performance!

Just download it, today. Every now and then, a new recording comes along that blows the dust off thrice-familiar music, while at the same time blowing the competition into the weeds. For interpretation, playing, and recorded sound, this download sets a new standard in Schubert’s “Great” C-major symphony.

But up front, please let me explain that, when I say, “blows the dust off” a masterwork, I do not mean a superficial jazzing-up, or any disrespect to tradition. What I refer to is the fruits of a scholarly and humble investigation into the best sources, leading to a needful correction of tradition, when tradition can be shown to be faulty.

(During the time this review was in preparation, news was received of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s death, on March 5, at age 86. A life well lived; and one that will be long remembered. Requiescat in pace.)

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Alan Feinberg, pianist: “Fugue State”

Fugue State cover download Amazon

Alan Feinberg is one of those increasingly rare classical pianists who have managed to create an international career without the springboard of a well-publicized competition win. (No knock on competition winners who play like artists—see here. )

Alan Feinberg came to my attention some years back when he recorded a series of four CDs for Argo, one of which included a spellbinding performance of a Fauré “Après un Rêve” transcription by Percy Grainger. Feinberg’s approach was larger than life. Or, perhaps it was more that Grainger’s “transcription” left Fauré’s pensive little art song in the dust of a major construction project.

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“Time for Love: The Best of Julie London”

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Julie London: Time for Love: The Best of Julie London
CD Rhino R2 70737

Julie London, vocals; Barney Kessel, guitar; Ray Leatherwood, bass; others. Recorded 1955–67; remastered 1991.

The first installment in the “Vault-Treasure Tuesdays” feature was Clifford Brown With Strings, from 1956. The second was Frank Sinatra’s Where Are You?, from 1957. That’s one instrumental recording and one jazz-inflected male pop vocalist. So now, here’s a jazz-inflected female pop vocalist.

If you asked most people today to name the most popular female vocalist of 1955, 1956, or 1957, many would guess Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Peggy Lee, Jo Stafford, or Rosemary Clooney. However, according to Billboard magazine, for all three years it was Julie London. Julie London’s singing career was so unlikely that it could have been a Hollywood movie script of the same era.

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Respighi “Brazilian Impressions,” Liège Royal Philharmonic, John Neschling

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Respighi Impressioni brasiliane, La Boutique fantasque
Liège Royal Philharmonic, John Neschling, conductor
BIS SACD 2050

I raved about this SACD/CD in my next-to-last column for Stereophile magazine. Having since then heard it played back on a variety of stereo systems, my continued exposure to it has only increased my respect.

I have not yet heard Andris Nelsons’ and the Boston Symphony’s Grammy-winning Shostakovich 10th symphony, which, perhaps, might be even better. But as of right now, the Liège Royal Philharmonic’s Respighi Brazilian Impressions on BIS is the best new orchestral recording (not only in terms of recording quality, but also in performance) I have heard in years. Even if you rarely listen to classical music, this recording is well worth acquiring as material that shows off what a great stereo system can sound like.

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