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


On ClassicsToday: Gerhaher in Top Form for Schumann!

No Question: The Finest in Schumann Lieder

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

If you think that language, text, and story matter above all when it comes to fully enjoying art-songs and Lieder, there is only one singer that will fully satisfy you: Christian Gerhaher. Over the last 10, 15 years Gerhaher and his ingenious partner on the piano, Gerold Huber, have set a new, entirely unrivaled standard for the interpretation of Lieder. (That’s not to dismiss Matthias Goerne—who comes across more readily on disc than Gerhaher—or Florian Boesch et al.)... continue reading here [insider content]


On ClassicsToday: Daft Name, Great Recital - Groissböck's Cardiac Arrest

Becoming Darkness: A Bass Lied Recital

by Jens F. Laurson
Famous Lieder cycles—two of which we usually know with mezzos and altos—are here interpreted by Günter Groissböck, a still fairly young bass who has made a name for himself with his physical stage presence and civilized, dark, virile-but-warm voice. On the stages of the Salzburg... Continue Reading


Briefly Noted: Schütz's Resurrection

available at Amazon
H. Schütz, Auferstehungshistorie / Easter Motets, La Petite Bande, S. Kuijken

(released on April 5, 2019)
Accent ACC24355 | 57'
Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) incorporated the musical style of Giovanni Gabrieli, with whom he studied in Venice, into the Lutheran church music he wrote in Dresden. Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande have released this charming selection of the composer's Easter-themed music cleverly in coordination with that feast this year. The pieces, four shorter motets and a longer Easter Oratorio, show the ingenious ways that Schütz turned the concerto style to his advantage. In Weib, was weinest du?, the Easter dialogue between Mary Magdalen and the risen Christ, the four voices provide a multiphonic dialogue of the two interlocutors, layered on top of one another. At the moment of recognition ("Maria! -- Rabboni!"), Schütz uses unexpected harmonic progressions to underscore Mary's surprise. For some reason Kuijken omits the Christ ist erstanden von dem Tod, Martin Luther's Easter hymn, which Schütz appended to the motet.

Schütz uses Gabrieli's cori spezzati texture, two SATB choruses played off one another, in Singet dem Herrn and in the shorter Ich bin die Auferstehung, with its emphasis on the word "nimmermehr" (whoever believes in me shall never die) through contrapuntal iteration. In Ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser lebt, dance rhythms percolate through the seven-voice texture. The longer Easter Oratorio provided Bach with part of the blueprint for his longer Passions, with the tenor Evangelist's narration accompanied by three violas da gamba, for example. This piece is drier in style than the more focused motets, with long stretches of recitative for the Evangelist and little snippets for the other characters, often portrayed by two or three voices together. Kuijken and his organist, Mario Sarecchia, provide most of the continuo realization with simplicity. A tight ensemble of singers handles the vocal pieces, one to a part, with only some overly nasal tone in the tenors to spark minor complaint.


Dip Your Ears No. 232 (Julian Steckel Galant Splendor)

available at Amazon
Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, Cello Concertos
Julian Steckel (cello), Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Susanne von Gutzeit
Hänssler Classic

Galant music – the musical period into which Bach’s sons fall – has a reputation of being empty frills and noodling excess: the tedious bridge between the blissful baroque and classical period. That’s partly because of our lack of familiarly with the style. Alas, the proposition to become familiar with the style, presumably consisting of spending endless hours over the course of years with that music, doesn’t seem a particularly appealing solution to the problem, either. Unless, of course, one gets to hear works like these CPE Bach Cello Concertos! ARD Music Competition Winner Julian Steckel presents them masterfully, in very lively and sensitive dialogue with the responsive, quick-fire Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. The A-minor concerto especially has a somber tone that even pre-shadows the romantic cello concertos to come. When it comes like this, Gallant music does, why then everyone should be happy to better get acquainted with the style.


Briefly Noted: Gade in German

available at Amazon
N. Gade, Erlkönigs Tochter (Elverskud) / Fünf Gesänge, S. Junker, I. Fuchs, J. Weisser, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Concerto Copenhagen, L. U. Mortensen

(released on March 15, 2019)
Dacapo 8.226035 | 54'11"
Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817-1890) contributed some wonderful music to the ballet Et Folkesagn (A Folk Tale), performed so memorably at the Kennedy Center by the Royal Danish Ballet in 2011. Gade's father-in-law, composer J.P.E. Hartmann, composed the fairy music in the second act. Around the same time Gade wrote this dramatic cantata, Elverskud, inspired by the Scandinavian folk ballad Elveskud.

The story concerns a young man, Oluf, on the eve of his wedding. Not heeding his mother's warning, he is lured into the Elf-Hill, where the Elf-King's daughter invites him to dance with her. When he refuses to dance with her, she curses him so that he will die the next day. He rides home and dies in his distraught mother's arms. A variation of this story, known in many different versions, inspired Goethe's poem Erlkönig, set so memorably to music by Schubert.

Lars Ulrik Mortensen conducts his early music ensemble Concerto Copenhagen in the first recording of this piece in the German translation that Gade conducted many times around the German-speaking world, making him famous. They perform the 1864 expanded orchestration, which Gade used in the performances he conducted but did not incorporate into the published versions of the score.

The women's chorus for the elf-maidens is quite wonderful, drawing on the Mendelssohn fairy-music scherzo style, with the Elfking's Daughter sung by the evanescent soprano Sophie Junker, including some satiny, sighing high notes. Mezzo-soprano Ivonne Fuchs is a concerned, matronly Mother, and baritone Johannes Weisser a cloddish Oluf. The Danish National Vocal Ensemble sings the extensive choral part, also featured in the less pleasing Five Songs, choral pieces set to German poetry, included on the disc.

No texts or translations were printed in the booklet, a major disappointment, crowded out by a fine essay by Niels Bo Foltmann, editor of the Gade Edition, printed in English, Danish, and German. One can, however, download the texts separately.


On ClassicsToday: Angel Heart; CD from Hell!

Leave No Cliché Behind: Luna Pearl Woolf’s Be Still My Bleeding Angel Heart

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality: ?

Sound Quality: ?

The beautifully and lavishly packaged Angel Heart is marketed by Pentatone as a “music storybook”. At its center is a tale by Cornelia Funke, the author best known for her Inkheart Trilogy of teen-novels, which is read by Jeremy Irons. The music is by Luna Pearl Woolf: a real person and, conspicuously, the wife of Pentatone artist and executive cellist on this disc, Matt Haimovitz. Generously judged, the assembled artists produce a polished little Gesamtkunstwerk in a post-Goth fairytale look, replete with postcards and lavish booklet. It’s a straightforward little story about a girl with a heartache who enjoys a visitation by an angel with whom she takes a short trip, meeting spiritual friends along the way who sing a few numbers, both original and traditional, and eventually mend her heart by way of musical quilt before 70 minutes are over. The feel-good factor is high... continue reading


On ClassicsToday: Rachel Podger’s New Bach Recording

Rachel Podger Plays Bach’s—Wait For It—Cello Suites!

by Jens F. Laurson
When Rachel Podger recorded the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin—for the second time—in 2001, it was a subtle-yet-radiant effort; certainly one of the finest and most endearing recordings of these works and perhaps one of the first to meaningfully transcend the Historically Informed... Continue Reading


Latest in the Catholic Herald: ‘Truly this was the Son of God’ (Guttenberg's Passion)

‘Truly this was the Son of God’

The Crucifixion (1635-1665), by Alonso Cano
    I was moved to tears by a visionary approach to Bach's great Passion, says Jens F Laurson
    It was a little before Easter 2008, and I had only just begun to grasp that my life in the United States, where I had spent the previous dozen years, had come to an end. Back in my native but estranged Munich I was: lonely, though still writing for Washington’s Classical Music radio station.
    It was then that my boss at WETA 90.9FM reached out and asked if I wanted to join him on a cross-European train trip. The goal was to see in performance as many of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Matthew Passions and productions of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal – traditionally an Easter opera for its prominent Good Friday music episode – as possible; all within the space of a fortnight. It turned into two of the most memorable and cherished weeks of my life. Fascinating in its own right, this is not that story.

    Continue reading here or in the Magazine...