Hélène Grimaud: Busoni, Chaconne for Piano in D minor (after J.S. Bach)

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a series of six works for solo violin. Three are sonatas. “Sonata” is a technical term that in its largest sense simply means a piece of music meant to be played rather than sung. The other three solo-violin works are partitas, which means that they are made up of parts or movements, usually dance forms.

Bach’s second solo-violin partita’s final movement, a set of variations on a bass line called a Chaconne, is as long as the other four put together. Early on, Bach’s solo-violin Chaconne took on a life of its own, both for being played (at times) without the other four movements, and in various transcriptions and arrangements.

Arrangements or transcriptions exist for orchestra, piano, organ, guitar, cello, and saxophone quartet. Ferruccio Busoni‘s version really amounts to a major re-working of the piece in an overheated fin-de-siècle keyboard-virtuoso aesthetic. The good news is that the architectural structure of the solo-violin piece is substantial enough and resilient enough that the result is musically valid—at least for most of us.

Here’s high-energy Hélène Grimaud in an electrifying live version. To cite just one example, the arpeggio variation that starts at about 6:04 is a marvel of precision and clarity. Arkivmusic.com lists recordings by 36 pianists. So if Ms. Grimaud is a bit too out there for you, there are lots of choices. If I had to choose one and only one, it would be one of Shura Cherkassky’s: either the historical EMI one (circa 1956), or the autumnal Nimbus one (1987).

# # #

Garrick Ohlsson, Rhode Island Philharmonic, Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto

Photo REUTERS © Kacper Pempel, courtesy of Opus 3 Artists

Last Saturday night my musically-astute friend and I attend the opening concert of Maestro Larry Rachleff’s final season as music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic. Alan Rosenberg of the Providence Journal had asked me to review the concert, so the seats were, as one might expect, excellent. It was a bit of a trip in the WABAC machine (of Peabody and Mr. Sherman fame) to hear soloist Garrick Ohlsson. My high-school girlfriend thought the world of him, while I still vividly recall his Dewar’s Scotch “Profiles” ad that graced the back covers of magazines such as The New Yorker and Playboy when I was in high school. An image of that ad, and more, after the jump.

Continue Reading →

A Summer Sunday’s Afternoon at Tanglewood

2016-08-14 Tanglewood Landscape 400 pix highPhoto © 2016 John Marks

On Sunday, August 14, the musically-astute friend I mentioned in the context of the Andris Nelsons Boston Symphony Wagner/Sibelius CD and I traveled to Lenox, Massachusetts, where the Boston Symphony makes its summer home at Tanglewood. The program consisted of Beethoven’s Op. 64 Coriolan Overture (1807), his Piano Concerto 3 (1800-1801), and Schumann’s Symphony 4 (1841/1851).

But of course, I could not resist indulging in audio geekery, in the process making a new pro-audio friend! Geek-bait photos, official concert photos, and a link to streaming audio of the concert, all after the jump! Continue Reading →

Q&A with Sergey Schepkin

Schepkin small

 

Sergey Schepkin’s Steinway & Sons recording of Bach’s Six Partitas impressed me so much that I asked him to answer a few questions. Run-on questions, in fact. He coped rather well!

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.

Here goes!

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

Schepkin small

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.

Just order the set!

Backstory, details, and elaboration after the jump; and with generous sound samples, of course. Continue Reading →

Catalina Vicens: “Parthenia,” Keyboard Music from 1613

CD-16298_cover_web_small

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 →

Vladimir Feltsman: J.S. Bach, The French Suites

Feltsman Bach French Suites

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

Alexander Toradze- Shostakovich Piano Concertos

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.

Continue Reading →

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

Sudbin small

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 →

David Deveau: Siegfried Idyll

71Ul-ZXO0sL._SL1500_

David Deveau: Siegfried Idyll
Piano music of Liszt, Wagner, and Brahms
Steinway & Sons CD 30051

This completely musical and unusually thoughtful recital program by David Deveau is not only a feast of pianistic tonal beauty and artistic phrasing. For my always-increasingly-meager shekels, of all the recent Steinway & Sons CD solo-piano releases, this is the one that most closely approximates my ideal of what a great piano recording should sound like.

So, audiophiles: please vote with your wallets by buying this CD!

Words about the performer, the program, and the recording venue (followed by some generous sound bites), all await you after the jump. Clickez-vous, s-v-p!

Continue Reading →