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Briefly Noted: Rousset Surveys the Nations

available at Amazon
F. Couperin, Les Nations, Les Talens Lyriques, C. Rousset

(released on January 25, 2019)
Aparte AP197D | 109'01"
While Washington's concert presenters gave us a lethal overdose of Leonard Bernstein's music last year, the anniversary of a far more prolific and talented composer went largely unnoticed. Only Christophe Rousset, on an extraordinary visit to the Library of Congress last fall, offered a tribute to François Couperin, a composer distinguished from other members of his family by the epithet "The Great." With his ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, Rousset has also released a complete recording of the composer's fourth collection of chamber music for instruments, published as Les Nations in 1726, a few years before the composer's death.

Each suite in Les Nations is named for one of "the four political powers – French, Spanish, Imperial (the Holy Roman Empire), and the Savoy dynasty of Piedmont – that for many years influenced Couperin’s world," as esteemed French musicologist Catherine Cessac puts it in her savant booklet essay. The music, however, is largely reworked from earlier sources, as Couperin himself explained in the preface to the collection, making it more a survey of his own trajectory as a composer. The four suites all open with a long "sonade," a trio sonata in which Couperin gives homage to the Italian music of Corelli and Lully, "both of whose compositions I shall love as long as I live." An array of dazzling, shorter dance pieces in the French style fills out the rest of each suite, merging the true "nations" of the collection, France and Italy.

Rousset achieves a diverting range of sounds from his small ensemble -- two violins, two traverso flutes, two oboes, bassoon, viola da gamba, theorbo, and himself at the harpsichord -- covering the four parts (two treble lines, sustained bass instrument, and continuo). Varied instrumentation movement to movement yields any number of registrations from intimate to full. While all the playing is at the highest level, the pastel breathiness of the flutes is especially striking, as in the slender "Gavote" of the second suite, L'Espagnole, a compact, quiet minute of concentrated charm. Even the locale of the recording is apt: the Galerie dorée of the Hôtel de la Vrillière, once the residence of the Comte de Toulouse, second legitimated son of Louis XIV and his mistress, Madame de Montespan, and harpsichord student of François Couperin. Now it is the home of the Banque de France, which has opened the restored space to musicians and occasional public visits.


In the US Catholic Herald: When a Protestant powerhouse turned to Catholic music

When a Protestant powerhouse turned to Catholic music

The Frauenkirche stands beside the Elbe in Dresden, the capital of Saxony (Getty)
    Dresden, 1650. The Thirty Years’ War, officially over for only two years, hadn’t just decimated the population of Saxony – which, technically, would suggest a reduction by 10 per cent. Between disease, famine and murder, it had wiped out a gruesomely unimaginable two thirds.
    Death was more present than life – a fact that did not spare the great court ensembles of the Saxon Elector, Johann Georg I and that of his eldest (surviving) son, the future Johann Georg II... continue reading
    The CD that goes with this article:


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

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    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)

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    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 Youn’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

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    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.