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


Dip Your Ears, No. 229 (OK Stravinsky in the Cards for Gergiev)

available at Amazon
I.Stravinsky, Petrushka (1911 Version), Jeu de Cartes
Valery Gergiev, Mariinsky Orchestra

Valery Gergiev is as streaky a conductor as they come. Sensational, awful, and perfectly fine if eventless recordings follow in unpredictable order and ratio. This release of Petrushka (in the 1911 Version) and Jeu de Cartes feels like it was recorded on the go, rather than have love and labor poured into it. That approach, not foreign to Gergiev, can yield results that are exciting (usually with orchestras that haven’t already drunk too deeply from the Gergiev cup), but here especially Petrushka remains just that: A rather fine run-through that sounds good enough only until one encounters knock-out recordings conducted by, say, Boulez (either), Chailly, Dohnanyi, the composer himself, or, if it must be the 1911 version, Andrew Litton. If you are looking for Jeu de Cartes, there’s nothing to regret opting for this version, but you could also just go back to Chailly and be every bit as well served.


Briefly Noted: Sudbin's Beethoven (CD of the Month)

available at Amazon
L. van Beethoven, Sonatas, op. 110-111 / Bagatelles, Y. Sudbin

(released on March 1, 2019)
Bis BIS-2208 | 62'53"
Yevgeny Sudbin has long been a favorite here at Ionarts, for his delightful recital discs devoted to single composers, especially Domenico Scarlatti, Scriabin, and Haydn. As far as Beethoven, the Russian-born pianist has only recorded the piano concertos so far, until this disc pairing the last two Beethoven sonatas with the six Bagatelles of op. 126. These are all pieces composed in the last half-decade of Beethoven's life, and they are all rather compact, expressive, and highly unorthodox. This sits quite nicely in the area of strength for Yevgeny Sudbin, who excels in picking out the most exquisite details through the means of an unflinching technical assault on a score.

The movements of the rather short op. 110 sonata are, in some ways, like four bagatelles (with the Adagio and Allegro portions woven together in the third movement), and Sudbin plays the piece to the hilt, bringing out the quirky sides of each one. The second movement especially, with its snatches of Unsa Kätz häd Katzln ghabt ("Our cat has had kittens") and Ich bin lüderlich, du bist lüderlich ("I'm a slob, you're a slob"), is fast and witty. The concluding fugue is a tour de force of clarity in the voicing of each appearance of the subject, on one hand an intellectual exercise and on the other, moments of levity that lighten the weight of the tragic Adagio.

Moods pass quickly across the face of the op. 111 sonata, given maximum contrast by Sudbin in this powerhouse performance. The Allegro outbursts are intense, hammered but with differentiation of voices, and the dreamy sections distant and meditative. The "Arietta" is poetic and hushed, its individualized variations again recalling a kinship with the form of the bagatelle. Sudbin avoids turning the dotted-rhythm variation into an anachronistic "boogie-woogie" (pace Jeremy Denk), as Beethoven never heard swing rhythm after all. The late Bagatelles of op. 126, far from being throw-away trifles, are late-period miniatures, experimental kernels heard in more expanded form in larger pieces of the same period, including parts of the sonatas included on this disc. Sudbin mines them for every quirk and bizarre turn of phrase.


Dip Your Ears, No. 228 (Jean Muller's Starts Fine New Mozart Sonata Cycle)

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sonatas K332, K281, K331, K570
Jean Muller (piano)
Hänssler Classic

This is the opening shot of a new cycle of Mozart sonatas—which, going by the Mozart Piano Sonata Cycle survey on ionarts and counting a few incomplete ones—should be the 84th such cycle! Needless to say, with such competition, both historic and new, it’s hard to leave a mark. While these four very soberly, beautifully played sonatas—never precious or dainty; never romanticized—make a very good impression (along the lines of Alicia de Larrocha, which should be high praise, indeed), they don’t make a splash like the recordings of William Yun’s on Oehms did. What remains is a disc of some of Mozart’s most popular works (including the “Alla Turca” sonata) that display Jean Muller as the very fine but not quite titillating pianist he probably is.


On ClassicsToday: The Finest Modern Recording of the Mieczysław Weinberg Piano Quintet?

The Stamic Quartet’s Great Weinberg & Bloch Combo

by Jens F. Laurson
For it being one of the absolutely great chamber works of the 20th century, there aren’t actually that many good recordings of the Mieczysław Weinberg Piano Quintet. I have yet to listen to the Attacca Quartet’s and the Silesian String Quartet’s most recent releases, but... Continue Reading


On ClassicsToday: Technical Finesse From The Sitkovetsky Trio in Mendelssohn

Superbly Played Mendelssohn From The Sitkovetsky Trio, But Something’s Missing

by Jens F. Laurson
The Mendelssohn Piano Trios live an existence in fame-limbo: not neglected but not quite part of the hard core of piano trios that the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Dvořák, and Schumann occupy. Within Mendelssohn’s œvre they don’t have the beaming geniality of the... Continue Reading


Briefly Noted: Zimmermann's Violin Concerto

available at Amazon
B. A. Zimmermann, Violin Concerto / Photoptosis / Die Soldaten Vocal Symphony, L. Josefowicz, A. Komsi, J. Packalen, V. Rusanen, H. Summers, P. Tantsits, J. Uusitalo, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, H. Lintu

(released on February 8, 2019)
Ondine ODE1325-2 | 73'45"
Bernd Alois Zimmermann's music can be relentless, which does not necessarily make for pleasant listening. Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu's new disc of some of the composer's orchestral works, with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, brings out the technicolor weirdness of Zimmermann's style, cast in 12-tone rows, generally dissonant. A booklet essay by musicologist Mark Berry, who has written about Zimmermmann for the New York Times, provides savant historical background.

Leila Josefowicz is incendiary on the solo part of the Violin Concerto. Although the work has been recorded before, she plays it with an arresting immediacy and restless edge, not lingering over the middle movement, for example, as long as Thomas Zehetmair did over a decade earlier in his recording. The second movement is positively surreal, especially the slightly creepy passage for violin solo over celesta, and Zimmermann's menacing quotation of the Gregorian sequence Dies Irae, heavily clustered with dissonance.

It is paired here with the tone poem Photoptosis, a late work for large orchestra before the composer's suicide in 1970, after years of health problems and depression. Inspired by the vibrant blue paintings of Yves Klein, it is a hallucinogenic exploration of clashing dyads, including a sunburst of sound that introduces several quotations from other composers. The first is the "chaos chord" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the simultaneous sounding of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale, a nod to Zimmermann's unconventional use of the 12-tone technique here and throughout his oeuvre.

Zimmermann reworked his violent opera Die Soldaten as a compact vocal symphony, about 40 minutes in length. This disc offers a rare recording of this symphony, but it is essentially just excerpts that represent the dramatic arc of only the first two acts, using just six characters spread throughout the human vocal range. Therefore it climaxes, so to speak, with the ensemble scene combining the wordless love scene of Marie and Desportes, to one side, with the conversation of Stolzius and the old ladies on the other. Soprano Anu Komsi displays considerable vocal strength as Marie Wesener as does bass Juha Uusitalo as her father.


In the US Catholic Herald: Sonatas to help you pray the rosary

Sonatas to help you pray the rosary

Whether you listen to this as absolute music or as the background to deliberate contemplation, you have a
choice of some excellent recordings
Catholics who love the rosary may be unaware of an extraordinary aid to their prayer: the Rosary Sonatas, by the Bohemian composer and violinist Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber.
Biber was employed in the Austrian and Moravian towns of Graz and Kroměříž before entering his service in Salzburg, where he would compose the grand and glorious Missa Salisburgensis on the occasion of the 1,100th anniversary of the Salzburgian archbishopric in 1682. The great 18th-century musicologist Charles Burney wrote that “of all the violin players of the last century Biber seems to have been the best, and his solos are the most difficult and fanciful of any music I have seen of the same period”. [continue reading]


In the US Catholic Herald: Grand motets worthy of a king

Grand motets worthy of a king

Louis XIV Gate at Versailles (Max Pixel)
Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) succeeded Jean-Baptiste Lully at the court of Louis XIV and was in charge of dinner music, where he provided oodles of deliciously entertaining baroque muzak. Good as that music is, if you want to turn it up a notch, go seek out de Lalande’s Grand Motets, where you will notice that greater things come of praising the Lord than trying to accompany roast pheasant with candied bacon-apples on a purée-of-gooseberry sauce velouté. [continue reading]