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Best Recordings of 2007 / These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: II - Concerto

For 2007 I wrote something similar to the "Best Recordings" list for WETA's long-defunct blog, naming it: "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things", which ended up being divided into eleven parts:

I - Crossover

This is the second part, restored to ionarts:

“II - Concerto”

Beethoven, Piano Concertos 1 & 3, Mikhail Pletnev, Christian Gansch, Russian National Orchestra, DG 477 6415

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Piano Ctos.1 & 3,
M.Pletnev / C.Gansch / RNO,

How much can an interpreter say anew about a piece played by just about every pianist under the sun and of which there are well over 100 different recordings to choose from? Mikhail Pletnev shows us how. Sure enough, he does things just a bit different, from the first notes on. It’s little extra bold, a little extra fresh, capricious, insubordinate, and with the light and joyful touch that made his Mozart so oddly irresistible. Overly vigorous accents, syncopations, and the shifting of balances in the cadenza contribute rather than distract. It’s a release upon the strength of which I most eagerly anticipate the other installments as well as his about-to-be-issued Beethoven symphony cycle with the RNO.

Zeisl, Piano Concerto in C-major, Gottlieb Wallisch, Johannes Wildner, RSO Wien, cpo 777 226

available at Amazon
E.Zeisl, Piano Concerto et al.,
G.Wallisch / J.Wildner / Vienna RSO

This is a stunning discovery by a composer I’d heard very little from, before. A stray Harmonia Mundi disc of Joseph Marx-student Eric Zeisl’s chamber music that I picked up in the Cut-Out section of Tower Records more than five years ago had made my ears perk, but not permanently. Now CPO has brought us the 1951 Piano Concerto coupled with the 1929 ballet suite “Pierrot in the Bottle”. I will review this in more detail in the new year—but consider this very fine 20th century piano concerto even now… assuming you like Ravel’s concerto and the music of Korngold or Mahler. Zeisl is one of those Jewish-Austrian/German emigrant composers who found their way to America… but did not find their career continue or take off as much as the surviving music suggests it should have. Zeisl came late to composing for movies and did not achieve fame or wealth in that field (after films like “Lassie Come Home”, “The Invisible Man’s Revenge”, and “Money, Women, and Guns” it’s not surprising)—and before building a third career (after Vienna and New York) in L.A., a heart attack robbed him from the music scene at age 53. This concerto—and Mr. Wallisch’s interpretation – is good enough that it might make for a humble Zeisl renaissance. [More on Zeisl on ionarts here.])

Reinecke, Violin Concerto in G-minor op.141, Ingolf Turban, Johannes Moesus, Berner SO, cpo 777 105

available at Amazon
C.Reinecke Violin Cto. et al.,
I.Turban / J.Moesus / Berner SO

Exaggerating just a tiny little bit I’ll say that the Reinecke Violin Concerto in G-minor, op.141—which, unbelievably, has never been recorded before—deserves to stand next to the great romantic violin concertos. Or at least just behind them. Admittedly it lacks the greatness of the Beethoven, the craftsmanship of the Brahms, the refined seriousness of the Sibelius, and the sweeping popularity of the Tchaikovsky. But what do Bruch and Mendelssohn offer that Reinecke does not have? Carl Reinecke: born in 1824, teacher of Grieg (who didn’t think much of him), tutored by Mendelssohn and Schumann, principle conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, old-fashioned before he was even middle-aged, dead and forgotten (as a composer) by 1910.

Ingolf Turban takes to this work and the absolute gem of a Romance for Violin and Orchestra op.155—and he plays with a sinewy and determined tone, a pleasant boxiness that suits the perpetual energy of what should by all means be a concert hall staple for pleasing the romantic concerto loving crowds. Symphony no.1 gets top billing on the disc—and it’s plenty pleasant and well played by the Bern Symphony Orchestra under Johannes Moesus. But it is the violin pieces that steal the show.

Szymanowksi, Violin Concertos nos. 1 & 2, Ilya Kaler, Antoni Wit, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Naxos 8.557081

available at Amazon
K.Szymanowksi, Violin Ctos.,
I.Kaler / A.Wit / Warsaw PO

available at Amazon
B.Martinů, Violin Ctos.,
B.Matoušek / C.Hogwood / Czech PO

There are fewer recordings of Karol Szymanowski’s highly enjoyable Violin Concertos than I thought—but even if the field was more competitive and the benchmark with Thomas Zehetmair/Simon Rattle (EMI) not out of print, Ilya Kaler’s Naxos recording with Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra would more than deserve high praise. The two rather contrasting concertos of the Ukrainean-born Polish composer give you five movements of warm, colorful, fantastical, and lush music in op.35 from 1916 as well as a more Bartók-like, modern-lyrical approach in the 1933 op.61. Ilya Kaler, whose career moved somewhat laterally after winning Gold Medals at the Paganini, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky competitions (!), shows off his fierce skill with Wit proving a superb orchestral accompanist.

And while on the topic of underrated eastern European concertos for the violin: Bohuslav Matoušek and his recording of the two Martinů concertos with Christopher Hogwood and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra should get a nod (and a detailed review soon). Martinů composed as much as his output was of varying quality—but this Hyperion release ought to be heard!

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