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Best Recordings of 2012 (#2)

Time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2012. My lists for the previous years: 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

# 2 - New Release

E.Wolf-Ferrari, Violin Concerto, Overtures & Intermezzi, Benjamin Schmid, Friedrich Haider, Oviedo Filarmoniía, Farao 108069

available at Amazon
E.Wolf-Ferrari, Violin Concerto, et al.,
B.Schmid / F.Haider / Oviedo Filarmoniía

Imagine a Violin Concerto that has everything it takes to become an overplayed favorite—yet is virtually unknown? Imagine no more, listen: To Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s such concerto, written in 1943. The concerto is a melodic feast for listeners, a rhythmic joyride for violinists, fiendishly difficult, exciting, and rewarding as hell.

Being premiered in 1944, by the Munich Philharmonic under Oswald Kabasta in the “Capital of the Movement” with an American soloist who elected to stay in Italy and Germany during WWII (Guila Bustabo, worth an essay or two of her own): all that didn’t help its journey to posterity… Neither can its romantic tone have endeared it to post-WWII audiences. That brew of music and political history was precisely the thing audiences—or at least the taste-makers—reacted against when they signed up to the avant-garde. Politically and ideologically, one can’t hold it against them. Musically it was a great loss that’s slowly being remedied. This recording is one of many such signs.

Hard to believe that this is only the third recording of the concerto since the premiere performance broadcast. Ulf Hoelscher’s (2000, cpo) was an honorable effort, but not competitive. Narimichi Kawabata’s (2010, Victor Entertainment) is a Japan-only release with naturally limited circulation. This, Benjamin Schmid’s, is the release that will blow the lid of the concerto and its repertoire history.

Benjamin Schmid was primed to be Austria’s next super-star violinst, but his career has moved laterally instead and he still awaits the real international breakthrough. That doesn’t change the fact that he is a world class fiddler—a gift and tenacity he decidedly puts to use in this concerto. The Oviedo Filarmonía is not an established brand in the orchestra world, in fact it’s third class at best. But they respond and are sympathetic to Wolf-Ferrari’s idiom, or else Wolf-Ferrari advocate Friedrich Haider, their recent Music Director, has made them so. Either way, the performances of the concerto and the Opera-excerpts, unlike so many other well meaning performances of rare repertoire, is very satisfactory.

Those latter four orchestral excerpts are not the main ingredient by any stretch, but they’re great fun, too. Wolf-Ferrari has a gift for masterly turns of phrases, has you in suspense with just two notes. You’ll find touches of Beethoven’s Ninth, Sibelius, and playful hints of Italian opera (Boito, Verdi) in them, and bop along. The Farao release comes with exemplary liner notes, in lavish packaging, and with a bonus DVD. (The documentary can be watched on YouTube - subtitles in English et al. available.)

# 2 – Reissue

Mieczysław Weinberg, Piano Sonatas 4-6, Murray McLachlan, divine art 25107

available at Amazon
Weinberg, Piano Sonatas 4-6
(divine art)

Ten years ago, record stores still existed, and they had five differently spelled index-cards for Mieczysław Weinberg. Or more likely: none at all, because his time hadn’t come. But we’ve been discovering Weinberg since, a composer resembling his buddy Shostakovich, but without the smile. (Or so goes my simplistic quip.) His piano works are among the most readily gratifying of his œvre, whether spunky miniatures or his bold and rudely melodious sonatas. The harmonic turns in the especially marvelous 1955 Fourth Sonata groove delightfully under the hands of Murray McLachlan,; the Adagio is simply lyrical. The gentle and playfully dissonant elegance of the Fifth Sonata’s or the sweet and sour agitation of the Sixth round out this very successful traversal of repertoire still not well enough known. Released on Olympia in the late 90s, this cycle didn’t make a splash. In its much deserved second outing on divine art, it should. Especially since—unfortunately, in a way—the performances are much better than those on the the Grand Piano label’s new Weinberg piano-works project with Allison Brewster Franzetti.

-> Best Recordings of 2012 #1 - 10

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