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


Dip Your Ears, No. 260 (Mendelssohn Delight)

available at Amazon
F.Mendelssohn-B., Piano Concertos et al.
Jan Lisiecki (piano)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

In the course of listening to Roberto Prosseda’s recording of the Mendelssohn Piano Concertos (ClassicsToday review here) and re-listening to some key competition (Brautigam, Helmchen, Perahia (polite), Schiff (terrific), Serkin, Thibaudet (playful) et al.), I also came across Jan Lisiecki’s account with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. *Hello Felix!* This is an extraordinarily sensitive account… subtle and nuanced and with nice shading throughout: It stands out for its little darling turns of phrases (none ostentatious) while keeping the clichéd big picture intact. The is a supple pliability in the Orpheus’ orchestral playing that you don’t get from the competition (although the slightly more broad-shouldered Schiff/BRSO connection is terrific, too) and a light, flirty festiveness about the proceedings. The cut is classical, nicely tapered, of light summer wool. But someone snuck some velvet detailing into the lining, too, giving Mendelssohn the dressing he needs. The addition of smartly pearled-off Rondo capriccioso and the Variations sérieuses op.54, is a very nice touch. Treat yourself!



Familiensache—Maisky Trio & Friends in Schumann und Franck: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung

Wiener Zeitung

Julian Rachlin entfesselte einen Funkenregen

Hochkarätig besetzte Kammermusik im Brahms-Saal des Musikvereins.

Kammermusikabend im Brahms Saal des Musikvereins mit dem Maisky-Familienklaviertrio, bereichert um Julian Rachlin und Bratschistin Sarah McElravy: Die vier Streicher - Sascha Maisky an der zweiten Geige und der unverwüstliche Mischa Maisky - bildeten eine Viererkette vor der hinten vom Steinway aus steten Rückhalt gebenden Lily Maisky.[weiterlesen]


On ClassicsToday: Christina Pluhar Goes To Heaven

Himmelsmusik: Christina Pluhar Goes To Heaven

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality: ?

Sound Quality: ?

Christina Pluhar, whom a Spiegel magazine article once dubbed “The Domina of Early Music”, has made a name for herself with funky and very contemporary performances of ancient music—performances that tend to be divisive within the early music world and even among her admirers. Several 10/10 reviews on (Robert Levine), dotted with a “CD From Hell” review (also Robert Levine), speak to her ability to scratch an itch and itch a scratch.
The 2018 recording Himmelsmusik (Music of the Spheres) is a wide step toward (but not into) conventional territory, away from the most recent Classicstoday-reviewed album... [continue reading]


On ClassicsToday: The Well-Trebled Christmas Oratorio

The Well-Trebled Christmas Oratorio

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality: ?

Sound Quality: ?

If you like trebles in Bach—and specifically in the Christmas Oratorio—why not opt for those that Bach, a few generations back, worked with himself? Certainly, this latest production has much going for it, whether on CD, DVD, or Blu-ray. (I worked with the DVD.) The new Thomaskantor Gotthold Schwarz, visibly enjoying every indefatigable minute, leads his boys and the Leipzig Gewandhaus in a rousing, big-boned, but lively performance. On the conventional end it is solid and safe and booming and performed on modern instruments. On the HIP end, it is full of spiritedness and lively musical enunciation. It’s not unlike Riccardo Chailly’s hybrid or “third-way” Bach, but with fewer interpretive eccentricities and the large Thomaner Boys Choir—replete with treble-solos from a shaggy-haired cherub... [continue reading]


Ten Recordings to Remember Mariss Jansons By

Photo of Mariss Jansons by Astrid Ackermann

Mariss Jansons died last month, on November 30th. His passing, at 76, comes earlier than we somehow would expect from a great conductor - since we tend to perceive great conductors bathed in a gentle glow of immortality. (And because conductors, despite exceptions, tend to live long and active lives.) But it did not come entirely unexpected, either, after his past and recent health failings and his preternaturally frail appearance. Between my first Mariss Jansons concert with Amsterdam's Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in 2006 (ionarts review) until my last review of a Jansons-concert (with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at Munich's Gasteig) almost exactly ten years later (ionarts review here), he had been one of the conductors I had followed the most closely and heard the most often. I cannot say that I was always entirely enamored by the results, but often enough impressed and on some occasions blown away. Much the same goes for his recorded output which isn't very even but which contains much quality, some of which truly stands out. These are ten recordings that I think represent Jansons rather well and include the four bands with which he worked the most (Oslo, Pittsburgh, Amsterdam & Munich) the best. Failing that, they are those recordings I am most

Alain Altinoglu in Rubbish Liszt and Crusading Prokofiev

Vienna, February 26, 2019; Musikverein—Liszt’s tone poem From the Cradle to the Grave is bound be one of those works that we will spasmodically “rediscover”, revive, hype, and – briefly – praise before forgetting again… because it really isn’t all that great. (Also see point 8 of David Hurwitz' “Classical Music’s Ten Dirtiest Secrets”.) It fails to deliver on what it sets out to do: It does *not* tell a story. It merely delivers episodes. That generic life that Liszt describes has little obvious development to it, nor even a particularly convincing end. Cradle to Grave (like the Faust Symphony) also lies awkwardly for the strings, which creates a unique, dark sound that does not project well – a color that does, however, befit the low woodwinds.

available at Amazon

Not entirely surprisingly, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra performed this tone poem for the first time in its 100-year history in a series of three concerts last February at the Musikverein… and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were another 100 years before it was performed again. Maybe Alain Altinoglu ‘lost the long line’—that canard of a complaint where you never know whether listener or performer deserves the lion’s share of the blame—but he couldn’t have blamed much: Only a magician could have kept the audience from losing track and Altinoglu is not a magician. It’s no fun to blame the composer for a performance that fails to spark because often it’s routine playing, lack of comprehension or articulation or a mix thereof that is at work. Here it might just have merit. All the same, one ought to be thankful for these periodic revivals. It’s still better than routine and same-old-same-old. Aside, every so often, a gem is among them, and the rest of the time it’s good to dismiss something on experience, not hearsay.

This concert’s de-facto overture made programming sense in light of the Liszt Piano Concerto No.2 that was put on for Denis Matsuev to fill the obligatory romantic-concerto slot of the concert with: A showman for a show concerto, plushly pushing the notes through their course; high-end luxury monochrome plodding through the work’s single movement. Happily, the fan-club was in place, setting off a ferociously banged Hall of the Mountain King transcription encore.

Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky to the rescue in the second half! A half that felt as if surgically decoupled from the first. Not that some of the ills the plague the classical music scene didn’t also rear their heads here. To assure the money stays in the family, Altinoglu had his wife—Nora Gubisch—hired to perform the short solo mezzo part of the piece. The saving grace on this act of common nepotism was that she is easy on the ears and did well, with a hollow-low, sepia-toned atmospheric voice. But the look is never, never good. Nevsky is a rousing work with a fun parody of Orff for the crusading Teutons and lots of musical rah-rah-ing. That the audience got loudness in lieu of raw energy was never really a detraction; the winds only slightly off in the trickiest passages. The Singverein aided and abetted the orchestra with rousing Russian and only very occasional missed cues.


News: Alain Altinoglu (1975) has just been named the new Chief Conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (hr-Sinfonieorchester, in German). He will begin he tenure starting with the 21/20 season. He will succeed Andrés Orozco-Estrada who is in turn coming to the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.


Riccardo Mutis Wiener Klangspektakel: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung

Wiener Zeitung

Riccardo Mutis Wiener Klangspektakel

Tschaikowskis Klassiker ist an die Staatsoper zurückgekehrt.

Bei Beethovens fünftem Klavierkonzert weiß man immerhin, was man hat. Gekonnt und formschön spielt Rudolf Buchbinder Beethoven und immer wieder Beethoven, zu geschmeidig, groß und satt auftragenden, Riccardo-Muti-gesteuerten Philharmonikern. Davon kann man nicht genug bekommen. Oder? Wilhelm Backhaus klagte dem jungen Buchbinder einmal sein Leid, er würde nur noch für Beethoven - maximal Brahms - angefragt werden. Ob Buchbinder das Gleiche widerfahren ist? Falls Ihnen gedroht wird, Herr Buchbinder, falls Sie irgendjemand zwingt, blinzeln Sie bei der nächsten Beethovenkadenz dreimal mit den Augen. Wir retten Sie!... [weiterlesen]


Dip Your Ears, No. 259 (Böddecker: Bridging the Froberger Gap)

available at Amazon
Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, Sacra Partitura
Sacred Solo Motets & Sonatas
Knut Schoch / I Sonatori

In 1652, the 45-year old Philipp Friedrich Böddecker became organist and de-fact music director at Stuttgart’s Collegiate Church, a post he would remain at for the next 31 years until his death in 1683. Previously he had held the positions of organist of the Strasbourg Cathedral and music director of the Strasbourg University. That is where he prepared his “Sacra Partitura”, a series of sacred solo motets for high voice and basso continuo, in order to facilitate his move to Stuttgart in general and its court in particular. The former worked out, the latter not, as the 21-year younger Samuel Friedrich Bockshorn (a.k.a. Capricornus) eventually got the job and held onto it until his own death in 1665.

Böddecker’s music itself is austere to our ears today, even if it was considered Italianate and ornate in its time. But that time, of course, was just after the Thirty Years War, when German lands were bled white. That also explains the minimal cast for these works, which was not a musical decision but a practical one: There simply weren’t any more good singers or orchestral musicians at hand, at any given point. To lighten the texture, ensemble-leader and somewhat indistinct tenor Knut Schoch and his 4-piece I Sonatori early-music group have included instrumental works of two Böddecker contemporaries: Four of the 40 keyboard-Variations on the Lord’s Prayer by Johann Ulrich Steigleder and a violin sonata of said Capricornus’. On the other hand, Schoch & Co dropped all those works from the Sacra Partitura that Böddecker had included and adopted (and fully credited!) from his colleagues Gasparo Casati and Monteverdi. It’s not clear why; surely some of those might still have fit into the potential 15 more minutes on this disc.

If you are into a somber, vocal appendage to, say, Frogberger compositions, then Böddecker is a fine option. And while much of this is more early-music specialist than mainstream fare, the bassoon sonata “La Monica” is a real highlight: Böddecker treats his own preferred instrument with great imaginativeness and Ursula Bruckdorfer plays her bass dulcian with panache. For those who keep track of these things: The players use a quarter-comma meantone temperament.



Leise Rieselt der Kunstschnee: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung

Wiener Zeitung

"Eugen Onegin": Leise rieselt der Kunstschnee

Tschaikowskis Klassiker ist an die Staatsoper zurückgekehrt.

Wasserstandsmeldung von der 51. Aufführung des derzeitigen "Eugen Onegin" an der Staatsoper. Im inzwischen zehnten Jahr hat man sich an die "hässlichen Bilder von Falk Richter" (Daniel Wagner) gewöhnt: Pittoresk und leise dauer-rieselt der zentnerweise angekarrte, Jahreszeiten-ignorierende Kunstschnee. Kaltblau-hübsch schimmern die Eisgebilde à la Eispalast in "James Bond - Stirb an einem anderen Tag". Und alle Mannen und Damen im (recht ordentlichen) Chor frieren einfach ein, wenn dem Regisseur nichts Besseres einfällt. Das ist praktisch, aber ein wenig einfallslos, um nicht zu sagen faul. Die unmotivierten Salti und das gekünstelte Party-Gehabe der Ballett-Statisterie ebenso, dito das Klischee Russland ist gleich Winter....
Von Katrin Hofmanns Bühne dominiert, wirkt diese sparsame Regie unterkühlt; sie trägt die Oper nicht. Es fehlt an Einsichten in die Familien- und Gesellschaftsdynamik... [weiterlesen]


Dip Your Ears, No. 258 (Bernd Klug's CD From Hell)

available at Amazon
Bernd Klug, cold commodities
Bernd Klug (electronics, editing)

At the recent opening of the 2019 “Wien Modern” month-long contemporary music shenanigans, I sat through a piece that piped ear-splitting white noise into the hall behind which an orchestra, virtually unheard, went through the motions. It was an arrogant joke but at least it was something of a (juvenile) statement in the context of a live performance. Before me is a disc that hasn’t even got that excuse. “A male black wearing white, red and black stripes” (written for a noble cause, as you can gather) sounds like someone recorded a tool shop being operated by drunkards. Add microphone feedback and police radio transmission into the mix and you have the opening bullshit piece of Bernhard Klug’s “cold commodities”. In fact, this and all that follows are, to quote from the composer’s notes, “sonifications of a satellite dish, [a] recording device’s CPU [this would explain why I thought my computer had crashed, after putting the CD in],[a] wireless router […] and a cupreous donkey.” Enjoy!

It’s just – literally – an assemblage of noise. Put this into a museum’s art installation on some pretentious topic, and it might have found its niche. On CD, posturing as “music”, it’s got no place. Life is too short for being taken for a fool by experimental narcissists. The whole thing gives contemporary music a bad name. Shame. And yes, sure, “What Is This Thing Called Jazz” briefly sounds like a jazz bassist improvising for a minute out of 54. But you could also get those sounds simply by listening to a jazz bassist improvising on an album of, say, jazz. Unbelievable that this sort of thing still flies in 2019 (or 2013, the year of the recording) and even more unfathomable that anyone should listen to this for any sort of enjoyment. Unless I underestimate the masochist market.



On ClassicsToday: Enjott Schneider's Good, Bad, and Ugly

Enjott Schneider’s Latest: Cribbed Beethoven; Darling Schneider

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality: ?

Sound Quality: ?

There’s nothing wrong with modern composers leaning on past composers for their inspiration. Except when it is. Falling on the good side you have Zender’s Winterreise, Berio’s Rendering, or Udo Zimmermann’s Cello Concerto. Less successful, to put it generously, are Bernhard Lang’s removing any complexity from Parsifal but keeping the runtime with ParZeFool, Peter Gregson regurgitating Bach Suites, or Wolfgang Mitterer sampling Beethoven’s nine symphonies down to 60 ADD-inspired minutes. (See Classicstoday Insider archives for reviews of the Lang and Gregson.) The two opening pieces on Enjott Schneider’s latest disc on Wergo, I am afraid... [continue reading on ClassicsToday]


On ClassicsToday: The Cleveland Orchestra's Rusalka from 2008 Salzburg

The Cleveland Rusalka That Made Salzburg Gasp

by Jens F. Laurson
When the Cleveland Orchestra performed Dvořák’s Rusalka at the Salzburg Festival in 2008, the reception was rapturous. “That’s how an orchestra should play opera!” was the consensus, formed as it was coincidentally during a year in which the Vienna Philharmonic delivered particularly sloppy performances. (Since... Continue Reading

Ionarts review of the 2008 live performance here.


On ClassicsToday: The Bavarian Radio Chorus' Frustrating Bach

Oddly Frustrating Motets From Bavarian Radio Chorus

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality: ?

Sound Quality: ?

If this recording, with the Bavarian Radio Chorus and Howard Arman in charge, had come out half a century ago, it would have shot to the top of the list of Bach’s motet recordings. As a performance of a then normal-sized choir at unheard-of tempos with never-bettered accuracy, it would have turned heads. But as a contemporary release—and coming from one of the world’s best professional choirs at that—it’s an unmitigated disaster. Yes, if you listen in a certain way, focusing on this or that detail, you may come away with... [continue reading on ClassicsToday]


On ClassicsToday: The Bavarian Radio Choir's Ideal Entry to Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt: Live

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality: ?

Sound Quality: ?

BR Klassik collected performances of its Bavarian Radio Chorus and the Munich Radio Orchestra (the little sister of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) from between 2000 and 2011 and has turned them into an attractive sampler of the Estonian composer’s nouveau-sacred choral music, plus two instrumental works. We get Arvo Pärt the spiritual “tintinnabuli” minimalist in the grand, powerful Cecilia, vergine romana under Ulf Schirmer. We get Pärt the archaic post-Orffian in Litany under Marcello Viotti aided by the Hilliard Ensemble in good shape in 2000... [continue reading]


Juan Diego Florez begeisterte das Publikum: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung

Wiener Zeitung

Juan Diego Florez begeisterte das Publikum

Im Konzerthaus sang der Tenor einen fulminanten Arienabend.

"Great Voices" - das sind bekannten Sänger mit günstigen Orchestern in populären Arien. Am Donnerstag mit Juan Diego Flórez im rappelvollen Konzerthaus, begleitet von der Deutschen Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz (durchweg hervorragend - manchmal etwas laut) unter Jader Bignamini.... [weiterlesen]

Ionarts-at-Large from Vienna: Thielemann Conducts the Vienna Phil in Bruckner's 8th (ClassicsToday)

Thielemann’s Good If Not Revelatory Bruckner From Vienna

November 4, 2019 by Jens F. Laurson
Vienna, October 5, 2019; Musikverein—When Christian Thielemann stands in front of the Vienna Philharmonic, you can be sure of one thing: The orchestra does what he wants. Famous for simply ignoring or not caring about who stands in front of them or how they are conducted, the finicky Vienna Philha...  Continue Reading


On ClassicsToday: Tanja Tetzlaff’s Bach, With An Unhelpful Helping Of Encke

Tanja Tetzlaff’s Bach, With An Unhelpful Helping Of Encke

by Jens F. Laurson
Not yet another recording of the Bach Cello Suites? It feels like everyone tall enough to hold a cello must also record them. The problem isn’t more choice, which itself is always a good thing, but recordings that bring nothing new—much less better—to the table.... Continue Reading


Caustic 'Amadeus' opens at Folger

Antonio Salieri (Ian Merrill Peakes) pleads with God in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. Photo: Courtesy of Folger Theater

The lead ingredient in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus is vitriol, from the character of Antonio Salieri and directed not at Mozart, his supposed rival, but at the God who created him. In the brilliant film adaptation directed by Milos Forman, a few years after the play was premiered, Shaffer's screenplay version softened this element somewhat. The script's caustic hatred is again in the spotlight in the new production of the play, directed by Richard Clifford at Folger Theater, seen on Monday evening.

Wielding the words in a tour de force performance is Folger regular Ian Merrill Peakes, who commands attention at all times on stage as the obsessed Salieri. Peakes navigated the emotional shifts of the character masterfully, veering among Salieri's worshipful devotion to music (even Mozart's), his courtly polish, his wry humor, and above all his spiteful resentment toward the God who gave him the gift to recognize sublime music but never to compose it.

Other Reviews:

Peter Marks, ‘Amadeus’ at the Folger will be music to your ears (Washington Post, November 12)
It is worth noting that Schaffer drew the lines of his fictional Salieri before the remarkable resuscitation of the real composer's music. In particular, the recordings of the operas made by Christophe Rousset with Les Talens Lyriques reveal a creative force, someone whose musical expertise, especially in vocal writing and counterpoint, made him among the most sought-after teachers in his day.

The remaining performances in the cast do not feel quite in the same class. Samuel Adams grapples with the unpleasant qualities of Schaffer's characterization of Mozart, the outsized ego, the vulgar humor, and the inane laugh all based on the composer's biographical traits. He did not quite manage to find the sympathetic core of the part. Nor did Lilli Hokama's Constanze, Mozart's wife, get far beyond the angry outer shell: her anger at Salieri's sexual harassment when she seeks his help was an emotional high point. The two whispering, gossipy Venticelli are a somewhat irksome plot device, given a biting edge more by Louis Butelli than his partner Amanda Bailey.

Clifford's direction keeps the play moving forward, an asset in a work that covers a lot of terrain, and the lavish costumes designed by Mariah Anzaldo Hale provide most of the show's 18th-century opulence. The single set, designed by Tony Cisek, evokes the strings and scrolled necks of the violin family, a pleasing gesture to the aura of music that fills the play. The crucial musical parts are integrated seamlessly by sound designer Sharath Patel. What remains at the end, though, is the righteous outrage of the Enlightenment mind of Salieri, an accusing finger raised to God.

Amadeus runs through December 22.

On ClassicsToday: Claudio Abbado's Lucerne Bookend-Bruckner

Abbado’s Bruckner A & Z

by Jens F. Laurson
A new recording of Claudio Abbado conducting Bruckner symphonies at the Lucerne Festival? Of Symphonies 1 and 9, no less, bookending Bruckner’s output—a beginning and an end, entry and exit, and wonderfully symbolic? Not so fast. Both performances had their previous outings. The First on... Continue Reading


On ClassicsToday: Moo Is For Mozart / Notes From The Andermatt Music Festival, Part 1

Moo Is For Mozart: Notes From The Andermatt Music Festival, Part 1

Andermatt is not the prettiest Swiss village. Certainly not the most famous or even otherwise particularly notable in a country positively littered with gorgeous little alpine towns straight out of a kitschy re-make of Heidi. It had been an important trade post along the route connecting Milan and Zurich, Italy, and much of north-western Europe It had been a coveted holiday spot, especially for the English; Queen Victoria hung out incognito and Thomas Cook bundled groups of tourists there – the company’s first international destination package. The rail tunnel built in 1882 took care of most of that: trade went below-stairs and tourists all the way to Italy. Andermatt was then saved from obscurity (and poverty) by the Swiss military, which made it one of the centers of its Réduit defensive military concept of retreat to the mountains and denial of the strategic North-South passes and tunnels. The end of the cold war in 1990 took care of most of that. Andermatt was now left without trade, tourism, or the military, by then the largest local employer... [continue reading at ClassicsToday; more pictures below]

Vulkan und Frosch: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung

Wiener Zeitung

Marin Alsop dirigierte das Wien-modern-Eröffnungskonzert

Das Eröffnungskonzert von Wien Modern unter Marin Alsops bot erst die Pflicht, dann die Kür. Zu letzterer gehörte Berio’s Sinfonia (1968). Jón Leifs, Kultkomponist der hyperromantischen Moderne, versucht mit Hekla (1961) den Ausbruch des Isländischen Vulkans nachzustellen. Die Saaldienerinnen verteilten prophylaktisch Ohropax. Ein einziges Acht-Minuten-Crescendo lässt alles an Steigerung bei Bruckner oder Schostakowitsch wie Lausbubenstreiche aussehen. Zum Finale wird mit Revolvern in die Luft geschossen.
Danach Spaßverderber Peter Ablinger mit "4 WEISS" für großes Streichorchester und weißes Rauschen... [weiterlesen]


Dip Your Ears, No. 257 (Rattle's Bavarian Lied von der Erde)

available at Amazon
Gustav Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde
Simon Rattle/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo), Stuart Skelton (tenor)
(BR Klassik)

There’s a reason to eye musical nepotism critically. Mediocrity rears its head when relatives – usually spouses – ride on the coattails of their more talented counterparts. Just think Garanča/Chichon, Netrebko/Eyvazov, or Zukerman/Forsyth. Even at the more exalted and mutual levels of talent, a critical stance is merited: Much is great, but hardly all. Even the best of them – Britten /Pears, Fischer-Dieskau/Varady, Vishnevskaya/Rostropovich – had their off-moments. And with conductors generally aging better than singers, the same caution is warranted when Simon Rattle and Magdalena Kožená are sold to us as a package.

Happily, this BR Klassik release of the couple’s Das Lied von der Erde stands up to scrutiny – and then some! The river-like clarity of the BR Symphony Orchestra is not of a cold, but elegant, perfection. Every instrument can be heard and every one of them is a joy to listen to. Any number of examples might underscore this, but just try the woodwinds in the opening of “Von der Jugend” for size. Rattle leads with zaftig grace and leaves no ostentatious fingerprints on the score. Kožená is not the first mezzo to sing these songs beautifully, but she really throws herself into it, in all her autumnal glory, dramatic, generous and clear, with warmth and intensity, never swooping and with splendid handling of the text. No hints of an aging voice here, as I’ve encountered on some live occasions.

But of course every Lied von der Erde stands or falls with the contribution of the ‘high’ voice’s part, the tenor. It’s the downfall of many otherwise splendid accounts when those admittedly difficult and much less grateful parts are croaked or wailed or underpowered. Meet Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton, who actually approximates Kožená in the sonorous warmth of his portrayal, even if he does not match her handling of the text. Without following the libretto it’s occasionally a bit of a guessing game what he is singing about, but in fairness, most native speakers aren’t much better. It’s a minor caveat, given the quality of the whole package here, which amounts to nothing less than one of the finest and best-sounding modern recordings of Mahler’s de-fact Ninth Symphony.

Or is it? Over at ClassicsToday, you’ll find a very, very different, almost diametrically opposed #CDFromHell review of this release, which doesn’t agree with any of the above. Obviously, it sent me scurrying back to this recording, wondering if I had been deceived by headphone-listening or drunkenness. Not from what I can tell. The singers are prominently recorded, yes, which was more notable via speakers, but nothing worrisome. That said, we certainly agree on the reference versions… which you can read more about in the Lied-chapter of the ionarts-Mahler Survey.



On ClassicsToday: Víkingur Ólafsson's Bach With Heart and Panache

Icelandic Bach With Heart and Panache

by Jens F. Laurson
It has been 13 years since the Alexandre Tharaud Bach recital “concertos italiens” came out. It’s taken that long for any Bach-on-piano recital disc to come even close to that recording-for-the-ages. By way of clever selection of works—staples of transcribed Bach with original Bach and... Continue Reading [Insider content]

P.S. Víkingur Ólafsson on ionarts &

Viking(s) and Beethoven (2005)
Víkingur Ólafsson, Easy Listening (2013)
Classical CD Of The Week: Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson; Through The Piano Glass


On ClassicsToday: Jóhann Jóhannsson - 12 Conversations With Thilo Heinzmann

CD From the Elevator to Hell: 12 Conversations With Thilo Heinzmann

by Jens F. Laurson
12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann, a new release from Deutsche Grammophon, is best listened to on vinyl (it’s available in that format!) in a fashionable, faux-derelict loft apartment in Soho, London, or Berlin. Thick beard, suspenders, horn rimmed glasses, woolen west and ironic T-shirt, and pork pie hat optional – but recommended... Continue Reading 


My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 006 (Jean Françaix)

I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.6:

Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: Les Fourmis | Die Ameisen | Ants (2:20)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980

Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.


On ClassicsToday: Henri Marteau’s Intriguing Works for String Quartet on CPO

Major Discovery: Henri Marteau’s Intriguing Works for String Quartet

by Jens F. Laurson
Henri Marteau was born in 1874 in Reims. His career as a violinist–where he made something of a name for himself, especially as an interpreter of Reger–took him all across Europe, although he eventually settled in Lichtenberg, Germany, in the northeastern part of Bavaria. As World War I ... Continue Reading


On ClassicsToday: Rusalka at Theater an der Wien (Review & Production Photos)

Between Thursday, September 19th and September 30th, the Theater and der Wien put on Rusalka, conducted by David Afkham and directed by Amélie Niermeyer. The ClassicsToday review is (finally) up.Production Details on the TadW's website.

ClassicsToday: Rusalka Gets Wet Feet In Vienna

More pictures from the production below.

Ionarts-at-Large: The 2018 Pärnu Music Festival

Pärnu Music Festival

Paavo Järvi & EFO At Pärnu Music Festival 2018 – © IMZ Media

In sunny-summery Pärnu, on Estonia’s south western coast, it is possible to wade through the Baltic Sea one moment, and thirty minutes later sit in the concert hall with sand still between your toes, and enough time left to crane your neck to get a better look at Estonia’s Who’s-Who, all present among the audience assuming they aren’t conducting the concert in question. In this case, on August 8th, at the Estonian Festival Orchestra’s concert under Paavo Järvi, those included Neeme Järvi, paterfamilias of the conducting clan, Arvo Pärt (at a sprightly 82 years still hopping – well, clambering – up the stage after his Third Symphony), and the splendid Erkki-Sven Tüür.[1] Also present: the slightly less well known Jüri Reinvere, whose And tired from Happiness… (“Und müde vom Glück”) received its premiere, and Tõnu Kõrvits, who was handed the Lepo Sumera Award for Composition before Järvi gave that night’s first upbeat at Pärnu Concert Hall.

Said hall has a pill-shaped layout, slightly raked orchestra seating and a balcony that goes 370° round all the way – except for a spot stage-right, where two immense 20-foot doors loom over the orchestra. Judging from a third back among the orchestra seats, it has a fine, accurate acoustic, not conducive to loud volumes and a little on the dry side. That proved a good environment to hear finely articulated strings and the clear woodwinds in Arvo Pärt’s Third Symphony, “his most popular to date, [which] makes a charismatic point of [the composer’s] then-newly won melodiously religious sentiment by quoting Gregorian chant amid all the other well-known Pärt contraptions”[2]. It also made the music appear as blocks of music (somewhere between Gabrieli and Bruckner), only reasonably seamlessly fused to form a gratifying whole. Strangely dampened, the Symphony ended up very much a low-octane affair for a concert opener.

The contrast was made more overt by Jüri Reinvere’s wham-bam And tired from Happiness… that opened the second half. The stage filled up to the brim with musicians, instigating the immediate thought: ‘Good luck getting that performed again!’ Then again, he may be onto something: Subsidized orchestra-musicians all over Europe need to work to satisfy the politicians that judge an orchestra’s success by how efficiently the total amount of players were used throughout the year. Never mind that this amounts to a penalty on performing Haydn and Mozart or anything else benefiting from a smaller ensemble – and skews the game in favor of the big romantics and beyond. If you have a harp and tuba and contra-bassoonist on your payroll, you have better use ‘em! Well, Jüri Reinvere does.

Pretty neatly, too: The faintly Wagner-ish “Schatten im Spiegel” movement glides and swells along pleasantly, fully harmonic (you’d scarcely expect anything else from an Estonian composer these days), with transitions that veered between Brucknerian and awkward. The long rising accumulative energy generated the thrill that the Pärt had denied. The mildly pretentious German movement titles can’t distract from that. The clusters are harmless. The string pizzicatos, accentuated by the [continue reading]