Letterpress art print © and courtesy of Zeichen Press.
The Gospel narrative doesn’t say that the number of wise men (or astrologers) from the East was three; that’s just an inference based upon the report that the Magis (however many of them there were) brought three gifts of gold, Frankincense, and myrrh.
Be that as it may, what has come down is a piously embellished story of three wise men, complete with names and capsule biographies.
So, to start my suggestions for Christmas (or other seasonal) gift-giving, here are three gifts: two boxed sets and one single recording, all of especial musical and sonic merit.
Details and sound samples after the jump! Continue Reading →
Trondheim Solistene: Reflections
(Music of Britten, Vaughan Williams, and Stravinsky)
SACD/CD +Blu-ray 2-disc set, 2L 125
CDQ; high-resolution stereo including MQA and DSD; and surround-sound downloads available from www.2L.no
Streaming available from various services linked to here.
Recorded June and August 2015, Selbu Church, Norway. Recording producer and balance engineer Morten Lindberg; recording technician Beatrice Johannessen.
Certain pieces of music just catch the ear. Some of those pieces even enter into the collective repository of culture—they become part of the sonic landscape (or the musical memories) of nearly everybody’s life.
A prime candidate for the title of “The Most Well-Known Piece of ‘Classical’ Music That Was Not Composed by Vivaldi, Beethoven, or Gershwin” is Samuel Barber’s Adagio, in its string-orchestra version. Barber’s Adagio for Strings combines striving with yearning (and grief with resignation) in a completely arresting and inescapably memorable way.
Most music lovers don’t realize that the version they know so well is a transcription—that the “Adagio” of movie and pop-culture renown started out life as the slow movement of Barber’s Op. 11 string quartet.
The point of this blog entry then, is to tell as many people as possible that if you love Barber’s Adagio, you will love Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. The Tallis Fantasia has the same sweeping grandeur and emotional intensity as Barber’s Adagio, but I think it is even more rewarding to engage with over repeated hearings.
More background, a making-of video, and sound bytes, after the jump. Continue Reading →
The Parker String Quartet: Felix Mendelssohn, Opus 44 String Quartets 1 & 3
CD Nimbus NI6327
(No high-resolution download available at present, apparently.)
Except for his few “Greatest Hits” (those being the “Wedding March” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the Violin Concerto; and the Italian Symphony), I think that Felix Mendelssohn is an often-overlooked or often-underrated composer. Further, given the rarely-equaled felicity (I should be re-programmed) of his solo-piano music, perhaps then it is not surprising that Mendelssohn’s string quartets remain, for many music lovers, undiscovered gems.
The Boston-based Parker Quartet has a name that is new to me, but, it should not have been. Their recording of Ligeti’s first and second quartets received the 2011 Grammy award for Best Chamber Music Performance, and they are the Blodgett Artists in Residence of Harvard University’s Department Of Music. UK’s legendary Nimbus imprint has just released the Parker Quartet’s CD of two of Mendelssohn’s Op. 44 quartets, the first and third. What lovely music making! (I also love that the cover image is of four of Charles and Ray Eames’ fiberglass “scoop” chairs, which are icons of Mid-Century Modern design.)
More, and sound samples, after the jump.
It seems I am not the only person who was impressed; Schepkin’s Steinway Partitas has broken into the Top 100 in one category on Amazon’s sales charts.
Q1: One thing that caught my eye was that your web site’s press-blurb list contained a rave from The Listener magazine about your Partitas recording on the Ongaku label, 20 or so years ago. Listener was founded and edited by Art Dudley. Art’s magazine was acquired, but then the new owners folded it. Art then moved over the Stereophile, and so was my colleague until recently.
Therefore, one thing that audiophile readers with long memories will want to know about (and I see that the Ongaku Partita recording is still available from your website) is (apart from the fact that Steinway and Sons’ CD label is an enviable place to be) is (a) why you decided to re-record your Bach repertory…
More run-on questions—and even some answers(!)—after the jump. Klicken Sie hier, bitte. Continue Reading →
Sergey Schepkin: J. S. Bach: The Six Partitas, BWV 825-830
2-CD set Steinway & Sons 30069
(No high-resolution download available at present)
Recorded September 2014 and September 2015, Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, Massachusetts; Sergey Schepkin, producer; Patrick Keating, engineer.
Even if your only exposure to Bach’s great keyboard works played on the modern piano is one or another of Glenn Gould’s recordings of the Goldberg Variations (there are three, you know), you really should consider buying this new set of the Partitas on Steinway & Sons’ CD label. Don’t be scared off by the technical term “Partita.” All that means is that these are multi-movement works made up of parts; specifically, sections that usually were named after dances. Bach’s contemporaries would have understood the dance names such as “Sarabande” as giving an idea as to the tempo and feeling of each segment. The liner notes make the important point that this is not music to dance to; it is music for its own sake, about the idea or the ideal of dancing.
Sergey Schepkin’s playing is technically as good as anyone else’s out there, and his interpretations are a moveable feast—by turns fleet, witty, and playful; or, delicate, subtle, and pensive (or even serious or solemn). This music can mind its own business in the background at Campari time, but it is also worth your undivided attention late at night.
Backstory, details, and elaboration after the jump; and with generous sound samples, of course. Continue Reading →
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 →
Vladimir Feltsman: J. S. Bach, The French Suites BWV 812-817; Overture in the French Style BWV 831.
Nimbus 2-CD set NI 6314
(No high-resolution download available, apparently.)
This wonderful 2-CD set will make a great gift for a friend who does not listen to a lot of classical music. That’s largely because the music is as accessible as it is beautiful. And while these recordings could serve as background music for other activities, they will also reward close attention during repeated hearings.
Vladimir Feltsman was born in the Soviet Union in 1952. He made his début with the Moscow Philharmonic at age 11. (Interestingly enough, his father Oscar was a composer of popular songs and musical comedies.) Unhappy with political interference in the arts, in 1979 Feltsman applied for an exit visa, the result being eight years of virtual artistic non-person-hood.
Arriving in the US in 1987, he was widely feted, starting at the White House. Today, Feltsman might be verging perilously close to “Elder Statesman” status, except that his playing exhibits youthful vitality and genuine enthusiasm, all without a trace of self-importance. Continue Reading →
Alexander Toradze: Shostakovich Piano Concertos 1 & 2
Recorded June 2010 and August 2011, hr-Sendesaal, Frankfurt, Germany
CD Pan Classics PC 10261
(No high-resolution download available, apparently.)
Alexander Toradze, piano; Jürgen Ellensohn, trumpet in Piano Concerto No. 1; George Vatchnadze, piano in Concertino Op. 94; Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, conductor.
In writing about Yevgeny Sudbin’s recent Scarlatti recording, I mentioned the Jungian Synchronicity that a few weeks before I downloaded the review copy of Sudbin’s recording, I had been engaged as a substitute to review for the Providence Journal a Rhode Island Philharmonic concert featuring Alexander Toradze playing Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. Further, that for his encore, Maestro Toradze played the same Scarlatti “Aria” sonata that brings down the curtain on Sudbin’s program.
This week’s “New-Music Mondays” feature is a recording that is not yet out. It is already in the can. However, it needs an additional infusion of cabbage, moolah, or The Ready Freddy to manufacture the hybrid compatible 2-SACD set. If you missed my coverage of Tredici’s Final Alice, a work in the same series, that is here. The Kickstarter page states, “A massive 130-minute work for large orchestra and an amplified soprano soloist, Child Alice has been performed only twice in its entirety, and has never been commercially recorded.”
The ensemble is The Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Your cabbage, etc. will be in good hands! Not only is BMOP Musical America‘s 2016 Ensemble of the Year; they have successfully produced about 50 recordings, as well has completing four Kickstarter projects. (Some BMOP Kickstarter projects were not funded; but, that’s the record biz.) The project already has pledges totaling more than $10,000; about $3,500 additional is all that is needed. The higher-echelon donor rewards include autographed items.
Complete Kickstarter info is here. The project video is not embed-able here, but it presents snippets from the live recording.
Thanks to Stereophile‘s Kalman Rubinson for bringing this to my attention.
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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 →