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Dip Your Ears, No. 260 (Mendelssohn Delight)

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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.

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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)

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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.