CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Dip Your Ears, No. 224 / Ionarts CD of the Month (Pettersson Symphonies)

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Allan Pettersson, Symphonies 5 & 7,
Christian Lindberg, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra

Allan Pettersson (1911 – 1980) was one of the great symphonist of the 20th century whose fate it was to become relatively unknown. There’s no shame in this; he shares it with fellow great symphonists Eduard Tubin, Malcolm Arnold, Arnold Bax, Edward Rubbra, Vagn Holmboe, Erland von Koch, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Kurt Atterberg, William Alwyn, Havergal Brian, and Rued Langgaard: An eclectic but eminently musical crowd, committed to beauty. You won’t find him in concert halls (the way of such rehearsal-intensive box office poison), so record labels have to cleave the gap. CPO has recorded the 16 completed Pettersson symphonies with a variety of orchestras and conductors and now BIS is doing the composer proud with this ongoing cycle by Christian Lindberg and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra (who added the incomplete, unpublished ‘Zeroëth’). Here they are in the Fifth and Seventh.

Pettersson writes riveting symphonies that develop slowly but effectively. He likes the space the form symphony affords him and explores it. Without movements, they are one continuous development… more (the Fifth) or less (the Seventh) dividable into distinct sections, which puts Pettersson, at least superficially, in the proximity of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony. The spirit of Mahler’s Tenth breathes through large swaths. Although reasonably successful and earning him a lifetime stipend from the Swedish Government, his Fifth Symphony (as well as previous and subsequent works) was panned by critics for not really being modern at all. His use of tonality and consonance offended the academic sensibilities of the time.

Still, neither the Fifth nor the Seventh – as close to a blockbuster as Petterson ever wrote and much promoted by Antal Doráti – are ever easy-listening. The Fifth starts with beguiling and fragile, faintly reminiscent of Charles Ives’ Unanswered Question. It’s as if all the suffering in Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s music was expressed with the means of Henryk Gorecki’s Third Symphony. The Seventh, even more than other Pettersson symphonies, is riveting and grueling, damn serious, with a grim view of the human condition and a severe grip on the listener’s lapels. Intermittently the sky brightens through waltzing elements: a mix of respite and wistfulness. With hypnotic energy, the work moves along a path of slow, ever-increasing tension – like the best of a Shostakovich slow movement. “Lindberg builds those long, tense climaxes with greater clarity and no loss of sheer power.” (Hurwitz)

Indeed, Lindberg, the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and BIS Records have devoted themselves to the “Allan Pettersson Project” which intends to perform and record all of Pettersson’s important works in standard-setting interpretations. Despite the competition – even from the same orchestra on the same label – that seems to pan out nicely. Right behind the recording of the rather more optimistic of the Barefoot Songs (BIS 1690), this release – what with the two Symphonies being among the most accessible ones – is an ideal entry point into the sound world of Pettersson. Surprised-by-Beauty Music!


On ClassicsToday: Nicolas Stavy's Muscular Romanticism in Fauré (10/10)

A Fabulous Fauré Piano Music Primer

by Jens F. Laurson
If, as pianist Daniel Grimwood has suggested, it is true that “it is hard to name another composer who enjoys such renown in his homeland yet such neglect elsewhere” and that this is allegedly because “his sound-world…is so Gallic that any listener without French sensibilities... Continue Reading [Insider content]


Briefly Noted: Brahms as Early Music

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J. Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, C. Sampson, A. Morsch, Cappella Amsterdam, Orchestra of the 18th Century, D. Reuss

(released on January 4, 2019)
Glossa GCD921126 | 70'26"
The German Requiem is perhaps the greatest work in the oeuvre of Johannes Brahms, or at least my favorite. Completed in its final form in the wake of his mother's death, the piece reveals the normally reticent Brahms at his least guarded. In recent years, various conductors of historically informed performance ensembles have tried to get to the bottom of what the composer may have had in mind with the piece, by going back to the instruments of the period and following the metronome markings Brahms later attached to each movement. None of these versions has quite satisfied: John Eliot Gardiner, twice, with the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Révolutionaire et Romantique (1991, 2012); Nikolaus Harnoncourt with the Vienna Philharmonic and Arnold Schoenberg Choir; or Philippe Herreweghe with La Chapelle Royale and Collegium Vocale.

Cappella Amsterdam and Daniel Reuss, a group growing in my admiration recently, have succeeded. The sound with the Orchestra of the 18th Century in this live recording is golden and balanced, with Reuss not slavishly following the metronome markings but taking the main lesson they seem to offer, that the slow movements not be too glacial and the fast not too frenetic. As stated in the liner notes, the markings as a whole indicate that this is music for meditation on its Biblical words, rather than for dramatic titillation. This seems like just the right approach for a composer who always plays his cards close to this chest, and the results agree. The incomparable Carolyn Sampson provides maternal consolation in the fifth movement, and German baritone André Morsch is both subtle and prophetic in the other solos.

The weight of the piece rests on the chorus, however, and the Cappella Amsterdam delivers the full range of dynamics with pure and balanced sound, nicely matched to the smaller punch of the orchestra. One moment in the first movement knocked me over the first time I listened to this disc. At Rehearsal E, Brahms suddenly leaves the alto section of the chorus alone at the return of the opening theme. Most conductors bring that line out by having the altos sing louder than Brahms indicate (piano). Reuss leaves his women's sound quiet, exposed almost like a single voice, a magical effect of emotional vulnerability.


Dip Your Ears, No. 223 (Vadym Kholodenko's Scriabin)

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Alexander Scriabin
, Preludes, Etudes et al. for Piano
Vadym Kholodenko (piano)
Harmonia Mundi

The Ukrainian Vadym Kholodenko, 2013 gold medalist at the Van Cliburn International Piano competition (and sufferer of unfathomable tragedy) performs select compositions of the wildly sensualistic Alexander Scriabin on this disc: in chronological order with the two central Fourth and Fifth Sonatas as the pillar on this journey through the composer’s easy-to-follow progression. He does this in polished, well-behaved manner on a Fazioli. I don’t mind subdued Scriabin – assuming it leads to a richness of color and atmosphere; nebulous, seductive and otherworldly. Scriabin at his best is an all-absorbing sensory experience. Unfortunately such performances are extremely rare. (Håkon Austbø, Yevgeni Sudbin, Mikhail Pletnev and Alexei Lubimov come to mind.)

Here, I am not so sure if the threshold is met. Kholodenko’s sensitive playing comes pretty close and makes for an incisive introduction to Scriabin’s piano music, but I am left wanting a bit more sensuality and (or) lick of the dark flame. Then again, he has plush sensitivity down pat and I am already intrigued to re-listen. Jed Distler on ClassicsToday finds the performances low-voltage – perhaps more disappointingly so than I do – but enjoys “the smaller, lyrical Preludes, such as in his lovingly flickering performance of Op. 16 No. 2, or in the gorgeous way that he projects Op. 16 No. 3’s long arching phrases across the footlights.” Scriabin-lovers might want to sample.


Briefly Noted: Vivaldi x2

We are reviving Ionarts as a place to post occasional reviews of recent recordings. Watch for posts from JFL on Wednesdays ("Dip Your Ears") and me on Saturdays ("Briefly Noted").

available at Amazon
Vivaldi, Concertos for Two Instruments, La Serenissima, A. Chandler

(released on July 20, 2018)
Avie AV2392 | 75'32"
This little spark plug of a Vivaldi disc did not quite make the cut for my best of last year list. The repertory is perhaps not all that exciting, but these are crackerjack performances of seven concertos for two instruments, a form that fascinated Vivaldi more than most composers. Somehow this is my first time reviewing La Serenissima, the English period instrument orchestra founded in 1994. They had me from the first track, with the spunky Concerto for Two Horns in F Major, RV 539. Soloists Anneke Scott and Jocelyn Lightfoot are spirited in the bouncy first movement, but they also play with tender, melting legato in the slow movement.

Director Adrian Chandler takes the solo violin part in two concertos for violin and cello, partnering with his lead cellist, Vladimir Waltham. Peter Whelan has all kinds of rustic fun on the solo bassoon part in a Concerto for Oboe and Bassoon, and the program ends with the extravagnatly named Concerto per S.A.S.I.S.P.G.M.D.G.S.M.B. The crazy title, long a mystery, seems to be short-hand for a noble patron. Following the advice of Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot and others, Chandler's edition has restored the complete parts to the horns, likely Vivaldi's first use of the instrument, which Vivaldi later gave instead to other instruments.


Best Recordings of 2018 (Re-Releases)

Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2018 again! This lists the re-releases, the list with all choices, including the new releases, can be found here.


For the usual preamble, go to the complete list. Here, meanwhile, are the links to the past iterations on ionarts and

2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2008—"Almost" | 2009 | 2009—"Almost" | 2010 | 2010—"Almost" | 2011 | 2011—"Almost" | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017

# 10 - Re-Release

Joseph Marx, Orchestral Works v.1, Steven Sloane, Bochum Symphony, Naxos 8.573831

available at Amazon
Joseph Marx, Orchestral Works v.1
(Nature Trilogy, Symphonic Night Music, Idyll, Spring Music)
S.Sloane / Bochum Symphony

“To each instrument according to his ability, from each according to its timbre”, you might recall, was – famously – Joseph Marx’ mantra, when sitting in his Vienna office of the university, composing the colorful panoplies that are his orchestral works. There are those who say that his music, untimely then, outdated soon thereafter, lacking modernity or forward-drive, landed on the ash heap of history. But not so, thanks to a band of steady Joseph-Marxists, such as the American-in-Bochum Steven Sloane, who continued the fight and made valuable recordings of this lush whipped double-cream romanticism. These were made for ASV with his Bochum Orchestra – which brought the little band in the coal-mining West a bit of fame. But ASV is no more and the 1994 recordings out of print and scattered to the winds. But here cometh Naxos to the rescue, re-issuing these still very fine (albeit not perfect; just imagine the Vienna Philharmonic in engagement-mode or the Dresden Staatskapelle play these) recordings. For all these reasons, this first of three is most welcome, indeed!

# 9 - Re-Release

Antonio Rosetti, Symphonies & Concertos, Johannes Moesus, Hamburg Symphony, MDG 601 2056-2

available at Amazon
Antonio Rosetti, Symphonies & Concertos
J.Moesus / Hamburg SO

MDG, that quintessentially Mittelstand-CD label from Germany, has been slapping single disc releases together as Twofers as re-releases for a while – all roughly twenty years after that practice was common with Philips DUOs and EMI double-fortes et al. That’s not to say that good things don’t come of that, especially as the original liner notes are fused and retained which is especially welcome when it comes to the lesser known composers MDG is known to highlight. In this case it was Antonio Rosetti who got that treatment, with MDG joining their symphony and concerto recordings of the Mozart contemporary. Such supremely charming music – to which this set is as fine (or better) an introduction as any. “It isn’t, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary to compare Antonio Rosetti (1750-1792) to Haydn or Mozart. But as soon as you hear a few bars of his D major symphony those two superstars of the classical-classical era will pop to mind. Not that the comparison is new; it was common enough even in the composer’s lifetime.” Full ClassicsToday review here.

#morninglistening to #Schubert on his 222nd #birthday! On...

#morninglistening to #Schubert on his 222nd #birthday! On @AparteMusic w/#ConcentusMusicusWien


#Lied #orchestrations by #Brahms & #Webern & #UnfinishedSymphony in new completion by Samale/Cohrs

#classicalmusiccollection #classicalmusic #FranzSchubert #classicalcdcollection #liedmelodieartsong #birthdayboy #Symphony #orchestralmusic

Stefan Gottfried is good enough for acompanying the excellent #FlorianBoesch… but frankly he is not an adequate conductor to lead the Concentus down a glorious road in the future.
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#morninglistening to #Fauré’s gorgeous @SurprisedBeauty...

#morninglistening to #Fauré’s gorgeous @SurprisedBeauty #pianomusic on #BISRecords w/@NicolasSTAVY


#classicalmusic #solokeyboard #classicalmusiccollection #classicalcdcollection #20thCenturyClassical #Nocturnes

#surprisedbybeauty music! #FrenchClassicalMusic #GabrielFauré #Faure #frenchromanticism
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