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A Survey of Mahler Symphony Cycles: A Work in Progress

An Index of ionarts Discographies

Mahler, an Addiction

Bruckner is a love, Mahler an addiction

When I helped put together three complete Mahler cycles to be aired during Classical WETA’s Mahler Month in 2009, I accompanied it with a series of articles on Mahler's Symphonies (and favorite recordings). These are the core of the Mahler Survey that’s now on ionarts, 26 essays in all. What was conspicuously missing at the time was a discussion of complete Mahler cycles, the point being that no one cycle could do all symphonies equal justice and, perhaps more to the point, that such a survey would be an enormous amount of extra work. So it has proven to be… and after a decade, I’ve finally cobbled together enough information to attempt this Mahler Symphony Cycle Survey.

A Question of Completeness

There are symphonic cycles that are either complete or not complete in a straightforward manner. If you’ve recorded fewer than 15 Shostakovich- or six Martinů-symphonies, your cycle is not complete. If you have recorded more than that you know something more than we do. But take Bruckner: Nine symphonies or eleven, including the “F-minor” and “0”? Or Schubert: Which, if any, completions of the numerous fragments to include? Mahler tops it all. We have Symphonies One through Nine, of course. But wouldn’t a proper cycle also include Das Lied von der Erde, which Mahler counted among his symphonies? Then there is the Tenth Symphony to consider and include: at the very least just the completed Adagio (and/or Pergatorio), or better yet one of its many performing versions. Now what’s a complete cycle. One that features Nine Symphonies? Those, and the Lied? Nine Symphonies and the Adagio? Nine and both, Adagio and Lied? Ten symphonies but not the Lied? Everything? Maybe boni like Das Klagende Lied, the Blumine-movement or Todtenfeier [sic], the early version of what would become the Second Symphony’s first movement? The Britten-arrangement of “What the Wild Flowers tell me”?

Since this survey has the ambition to be completist, I have included anything and everything that might constitute a cycle, including a few incomplete ones. But to visualize the state of completeness, I have added a sort of traffic light to the various states:

I distinguish between:

1-9 (Less than the basic Nine, incomplete)
1-9 (Basic Nine)
1-9+1 (Nine and either Lied or Adagio or compl. 10th)
1-9+L+A (Nine, Lied and Adagio)
1-10+L (All ten plus the Lied)
>1-10+L (Everything and then some boni, übercomplete)


Because it’s more practical and because the Twitter-survey suggested as much, I will sort these sets by conductor, not by date-finished, as is my practice in the other recent, advanced surveys. The practical aspect comes in, where there are inclusions of semi-cycles, that were never really issued as complete cycles but constitute something alike enough… and with conductors with multiple (almost-)sets to their name but overlap among them. It’s simply neat to know how many times Haitink and Bernstein went around the full (or not) Monty.

Unfinished and Taking Forever

Why publish this work in progress when I've only made it to Bernstein, so far? Well, partly to motivate myself to work on this. Also because I tweeted out the following: "Should I publish the #Mahler Symphony Cycle Survey I've been working on (on and mostly off) forever unfinished* or hold off until it is complete?" and the response, however limited, was on the "go ahead" side. What pushed it over the edge was this smartalec remark: "Mahler review dragging on endlessly. Who says irony is dead, who says this?" Well, there you have it. Mahler, dragging on and with irony.


Finally a call for help: Such a survey would not be possible—and certainly not complete—without the kind help of many fellow Mahler-lovers who chip in with their knowledge, cover pictures… who spot lacunae, spelling mistakes, broken links and factual errors. Thank you all for all much-appreciated contributions past and future! Finally a few abbreviations: LvdE = Lied von der Erde. LefG = Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen. DKL = Das klagende Lied.


Briefly Noted: Luisi's Nielsen Cycle

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C. Nielsen, Symphonies 1/3, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, F. Luisi

(released on December 9, 2022)
DG 00028948634781 | 1h13

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Symph. 4/5
Fabio Luisi was appointed principal conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra in 2017, and his contract in Copenhagen has been extended through at least 2026. The Italian conductor's first recording project with the ensemble, the principal orchestra sponsored by DR (the Danish Broadcasting Corporation), is a complete cycle of the six symphonies of Carl Nielsen. Ionarts has been delighted to take account of the music of Denmark's pre-eminent composer, including the string quartets, piano music, chamber music and even opera. In live performance one is most likely to encounter his symphonies, especially the Fourth ("The Inextinguishable"), last heard from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in 2013 and the NSO in 2020, and the Fifth, heard from the NSO in 2011. Others, like the Second, are more rare.

Not surprisingly, the first installment of this cycle combined Nielsen's Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, released this past October. The dividing line between Nielsen's first three symphonies and his last three is World War I, with the first three symphonies composed roughly between 1890 and 1911, and the Fourth begun in 1914. While hardly juvenilia, the First Symphony was premiered around Nielsen's 30th birthday. It is already representative in some ways of his mature style, ending in a different key than it opens, a device eventually known as "progressive tonality."

With obvious influence from earlier symphonic composers, however, it is also rather conventional by Nielsen's standards: in four traditional movements with fairly standard orchestration. He completed it while working as a violinist in the Royal Chapel Orchestra (now styled the Royal Danish Orchestra), which premiered the First Symphony, with the composer playing in the second violin section. Luisi's interpretation of the First is more expansive than Neeme Järvi's version with the Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon), closer in pacing to Blomstedt's recording with the San Francisco Symphony (Decca) -- interpretations likely shaped by Blomstedt's tenure as the first to be named the Danish NSO's principal conductor, from 1967 to 1977 -- and Michael Schønwandt's classic cycle with the Danish NSO (Dacapo, re-released by Naxos). Even more luxuriant in the middle movements, Luisi's tempo choices bring out the best of the ensemble's woodwind and string sound. A brass player in his youth, among other instruments, Nielsen knew how to marshal a brass-fueled crescendo, and the Danish NSO responds to Luisi's sculpting with sensitivity.

Every symphonic composer after Beethoven had a different reaction to the incorporation of singers in their symphonies. Nielsen wrote parts for voices only in his Third Symphony, a brief section of the second movement for baritone and soprano soloists, although without any words and therefore more like instruments. (In fact, in the score, Nielsen specifies that these parts may instead be performed by a fourth clarinet and fourth trombone.) The orchestration is augmented from the First, with three of each woodwind type, including doubling players on English horn and contrabassoon, plus a part for tuba. The "expansive" first movement, whose tempo marking gives the symphony its moniker, sounds like it easily could have been studied by John Williams, who has always imitated the best. As with the First, Luisi opts for more space in the tempo choices, especially in the serene slow movement, with fine vocal contributions from Palle Knudsen and Fatma Said, parts intertwined over a long pedal note with touches of Wagner and Strauss.

This cycle is just one of several to appear in recent years, with Nielsen's star on the rise: Paavo Järvi with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony (RCA), Ole Schmidt and the London Symphony Orchestra (Alto), Colin Davis also with the LSO (LSO Live), and Osmo Vänskä with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BIS), among others. Perhaps the main competition could have been the cycle begun by Thomas Dausgaard with the Seattle Symphony, likely left incomplete following the Danish conductor's abrupt resignation from that orchestra early this year, before the Fifth or Sixth Symphony was released. Perhaps their new music director will complete the cycle, but no appointment has been announced yet. Luisi has the benefit of recording the symphonies with the orchestra that was the first ever to record a Nielsen symphony and has a long history with his music. The entire cycle will reportedly be released as a box set during the Carl Nielsen Festival this coming spring.


Best Recordings of 2022 (Briefly Noted)

The weekly CD review known as "Briefly Noted" made a comeback in 2022, with the added benefit that I listened to a lot more recordings more closely this year. As had been the case during the coronavirus lockdown era, beautiful music on my headphones continued to be a comforting presence. Here were the best new discs to hit my ears in the last twelve months.

available at Amazon
1. Vivaldi, The Great Venetian Mass, Sophie Karthäuser, Lucile Richardot, Les Arts Florissants, Paul Agnew (Harmonia Mundi). Les Arts Florissants set the too-famous Gloria as the centerpiece of a hypothetical reconstruction of a Great Venetian Mass by Vivaldi. The Redhead Priest, although he was required to produce several settings of the Latin Ordinary during his career at the Ospedale della Pietà, left no complete Mass that has survived. Paul Agnew, a long-time tenor with the ensemble and now serving as its musical codirector with founder William Christie, conducts a convincing interpretation that can only make the listener lament what such complete masses have been lost.

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2. Grieg, Haugtussa / Songs, Lise Davidsen, Leif Ove Andsnes (Decca). This is a beguiling recital of songs by Norway's most beloved composer. To seal the deal, Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen partnered with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. The two musicians, working together for the first time, recorded the album in the town of Bodø in the Arctic Circle. It is anchored on Grieg's only song cycle, the mysterious Haugtussa (The Fairy Maid), with poetry by Arne Garborg in Nynorsk, the New Norwegian that had been reinstated after Norway had finally regained its independence from Denmark. Davidsen sings with both shimmering transparency and, where needed, overwhelming power, incarnating the voice of Veslemøy, the young Norwegian girl with psychic powers.

available at Amazon
3. Le Manuscrit de Madame Théobon, Christophe Rousset (Aparte). Christophe Rouuset made these two discs of music from a newly rediscovered manuscript, which he acquired from a bookseller over Ebay. The instrument he plays on the recording is a harpischord made by Nicolas Dumont in 1704, around the same time that the music was likely copied. Restored by David Ley from 2006 to 2016, it is one of only three Dumont harpsichords known to have survived. Rousset has identified the manuscript's first owner as Lydie de Théobon. King Louis XIV began a two-year affair with her at the Château de Chambord in 1670, shortly before Molière and Lully premiered Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme there.

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4. György Kurtág, Kafka-Fragmente, Anna Prohaska, Isabelle Faust (Harmonia Mundi). György Kurtág composed the Kafka-Fragmente from 1985 to 1987, a song cycle on bits of text gleaned from Franz Kafka's diaries, letters, and unpublished stories. Like much of Kurtág's music, each of the forty movements is a dense, carefully thought out nugget of music. Isabelle Faust and Anna Prohaska made this recording in May 2020 in a Berlin studio, which must have been surreal given the circumstances. Its text captures some sense of the lockdown year: "Slept, woke, slept, woke, miserable life." After living through the coronavirus lockdown, the sentiments of this complicated piece now strike me in new ways.

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5. Jean Mouton, Missa Faulte d'argent / Motets, Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice (Hyperion). Jean Mouton was prolific enough that all but one of the pieces on this disc are receiving their first recordings. Mouton's style is intricately contrapuntal, drawing comparison to the music of Josquin Desprez, with whom he was roughly contemporary. Confitemini domino combines four voices in points of imitation on the outer text. These unfold over a clever puzzle canon, notated with the inscription "Preibis parare viam meam." Like St. John the Baptist, who was to prepare the way for Christ, the comes voice is supposed to enter first, followed by the dux, an unexpected inversion of the normal canon process.

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6. Polish Songs, Jakub Józef Orliński, Michał Biel (Erato). Not surprisingly, countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński has mostly recorded Baroque music, often in partnership with the historically informed performance ensemble Il Pomo d'Oro. For this new album, the Polish singer has partnered with Polish pianist Michał Biel, his longtime friend from their student days in Warsaw and at the Juilliard School. The program is the fruit of their collaboration in song recital repertory by more recent Polish composers, all from the last 150 years. Some of these composers may be familiar, although Karol Szymanowski's Songs from Kurpie may not be.

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7. Bach, St. Matthew Passion, Julian Prégardien, Pygmalion, Raphaël Pichon (Harmonia Mundi). Raphaël Pichon calls this St. Matthew Passion "a consciously choral performance," with the solo singers also serving as section leaders in what is an exquisite choral sound. As the finishing touch, fifteen young singers from the Maîtrise de Radio France take the chorale tunes woven into the complex textures of the opening and closing movements of Part I, a part marked by Bach as "soprani in ripieno." The solo parts range from very good to excellent, with soloists from each choir taking the arias as Bach indicated and some of the characters named in dialogues given to other chorus members.

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8. Mackey, Beautiful Passing / Mnemosyne's Pool, A. Marwood, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, D. Robertson (Canary Classics). This disc brings together two major works by Steven Mackey on the theme of human perseverance in the face of death. Washingtonians heard the American composer's violin concerto, Beautiful Passing, from the National Symphony Orchestra a decade ago, a riveting tribute to Mackey's mother. That rarest of rare birds, a new full-length symphonic work, appeared this year in his Mnemosyne's Pool, a meditation on memory and death partly inspired by the loss of Mackey's father-in-law. David Robertson conducted the piece with the NSO earlier this month, in a program including Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with the gorgeous soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha.

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9. Schubert, "Great" and "Unfinished" Symphonies, B'Rock Orchestra, R. Jacobs (PentaTone). René Jacobs continues to surprise in his complete traversal of the symphonies of Franz Schubert with the B'Rock Orchestra, a period instrument ensemble based in Ghent. Jacobs based his interpretation of the "Unfinished" Symphony on a theory put forward by Arnold Schering in an essay published in 1938, relating the music to the allegorical narrative Mein Traum (My dream), which Schubert drafted in pencil in 1822. As Jacobs puts it in an extensive booklet essay, including a section-by-section analysis of both works, in Mein Traum "Schubert tries to put into words what he seems far more able to say without words in his music."

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10. William Bolcom, The Complete Rags, Marc-André Hamelin (Hyperion). In a liner note to this dazzling recording, composer William Bolcom describes the origins of his obsession with the rag. It began in 1967, when he first heard of Joplin and his opera Treemonisha, and continued for much of his career, as he and some fellow travelers shared new ragtime discoveries and wrote their own compositions in the style. Most of the original rags in this collection date from the ragtime revival period of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Marc-André Hamelin, himself a musical mimic not unlike Bolcom, gives these pieces a studied nonchalance.

Honorable Mentions
11. Carlos Simon, Requiem for the Enslaved, Marco Pavé, MK Zulu, Hub New Music (Decca)

12. Georg Philipp Telemann, Fantasias for solo violin, Alina Ibragimova (Hyperion)

13. Michel Richard de Lalande, Grands motets, Ensemble Correspondances, Sébastien Daucé (Harmonia Mundi)

14. Pâques à Notre-Dame, Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris, Yves Castagnet, Henri Chalet (Warner)

15. Mendelssohn, Violin Sonatas, Alina Ibragimova, Cédric Tiberghien (Hyperion)

16. Vivaldi, Nisi Dominus, Eva Zaïcik, Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre (Alpha)

17. Beethoven, Complete String Quartets, Vol. 3, Dover Quartet (Cedille)

18. Handel, Opera Arias and Concerti Grossi, Sandrine Piau, Les Paladins, Jérôme Correas (Alpha)

19. Carols after a Plague, The Crossing, Donald Nally (New Focus Recordings)

20. Berlioz, Les Nuits d'été / Harold en Italie, Michael Spyres, Timothy Ridout, Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg, John Nelson (Erato)


Briefly Noted: Dover Quartet ends Beethoven voyage (CD of the Month)

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Beethoven, Complete String Quartets, Vol. 3, Dover Quartet

(released on October 14, 2022)
Cedille CDR90000-215 | 193'20"

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Vol. 2

available at Amazon
Vol. 1
This summer came some bad news for fans of the supremely talented Dover Quartet. Violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt has left the group, a decision that took effect in August, becoming the first of the group's founding members to depart. The reason given was that she plans to pursue other musical interests; whatever the reason, the personnel change presents worries for how this beloved group's sound will change.

Last summer, fortunately, the Dover Quartet was able to record the last installment in its three-part complete set of the Beethoven string quartet cycle, a sort of pandemic project for the group. Listening to the last volume feels even more like coming full circle: although the group has hardly played any Beethoven in live concerts, at least in Washington, their local debut concluded with the third movement of Beethoven's final quartet, op. 135, played as an encore.

The quartet has spoken about waiting to make a complete Beethoven recording until they had had the chance to play all the works in concert several times. In an group interview given near the start of the project, second violinist Bryan Lee said, "I feel like recording the Beethoven quartets is like having a child." To which Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt added, "You’re never truly ready, but at a certain point you just have to dive in and do it." If we extend the metaphor to include the group's "divorce," the fate of the "children" becomes even more poignant.

Pajaro-van de Stadt described the quartet's approach as trying not to think of making a final statement on the cycle for the ages, but rather "constantly reminding ourselves to play on this recording as if we’re performing in concert." This is an apt description of the liveliness of the sounds captured on the recording, with the same scrupulous attention to detail, ensemble tightness, and individuality of the four instruments that so impresses in their live performances.

Indeed, in few string quartets does one get the chance to hear the second violin and viola so often and so clearly - and find it so rewarding. At the end of the first disc, the Cavatina and new finale of Op. 130 are soul-warming in their burnished sound. As the fine program note by scholar Nancy November remind us, this new finale, composed by Beethoven to replace the unwieldy Grosse Fuge at his publisher's request, was the last quartet movement he completed before his death. The Grosse Fuge, which opens the second disc, is a daunting peak in the string quartet repertoire, chosen by the Emerson Quartet as the (somewhat shaky) final statement of their farewell tour, for example, heard earlier this month at Wolf Trap. The Dover's rendition takes no quarter.

While seriousness abounds in Beethoven's late quartets, there is also Haydnesque humor, which the Dover brings across with delightful wit, in the Presto of Op. 131, for example. Op. 132, itself a study in contrasts between sober reflection and earthy joy, shows the range of sound the quartet is capable of, from harsh and unforgiving to serene and silky. "Must it be?" that the Dover Quartet will not sound quite like this going forward? The answer, of course, is It Must Be. Happily, we will always have this Beethoven set, which may not supplant my current Beethoven favorites, the Takács Quartet and Quatuor Mosaïques, but is in their company.

Violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt will return to Washington this season, playing in a concert on the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series on January 25. Washington audiences will be able to hear the Dover Quartet with their new violist, Hezekiah Leung, when they play a concert February 27 at the Kennedy Center, rescheduled from October, when it was canceled because of illness among the musicians. This remarkable Beethoven set may not be the last release from the quartet's original formation, depending on how much time they spent recording during the pandemic, but it feels like the valedictory capstone to over a decade of the group making music together.


Briefly Noted: Igor Levit drinks the philtre

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Wagner, Act I Prelude from Tristan und Isolde (Henze, Liszt, Mahler), Igor Levit

(released on September 9, 2022)
Sony Classical 886449503582 | 1h41
The Russian-German pianist Igor Levit is on a Tristan und Isolde kick. His new two-disc set, titled Tristan, pairs Hans Werner Henze's ground-breaking Tristan, from 1974, with the Wagner work that inspired it, especially the notorious Act I prelude, transcribed by Zoltán Kocsis. The Henze is an elusive, unclassifiable work, combining piano solo, electronic tapes, and orchestra. This thoughtful rendition, recorded in November 2019, features the Leipzig Gewandhaus under Franz Welser-Möst. An authoritative booklet essay by Anselm Cybinski lays out the work's many other musical quotations and allusions (Brahms, Mahler, and Chopin among them) as well as the multiple layers of meaning encoded in it.

Levit surrounds this enigmatic modern piece with romantic works he sees as related. From Liszt he takes the A-flat major nocturne known as Liebesträum No. 3, derived from a song set to poetry by Ferdinand Freiligrath. The poem, quoted and translated in the booklet, is the antidote to the love-death of Wagner's opera, a plea for lovers to remain alive, and therefore love, as long as they may. The disc concludes with "Harmonies du Soir," the eleventh piece from the same composer's Études d'exécution transcendante, an evocation of the night in which Wagner's lovers try to hide their passion.

This "program of Tristanesque works," as Cybinski puts it, includes Ronald Stevenson's piano arrangement of the first movement (Adagio) of Mahler's Tenth Symphony. One could see this selection as representing the point of view of King Marke on the Tristan story, as Mahler wrote it in the period after he learned of the affair between his wife, Alma, and Walter Gropius. Stretched out to over 27 minutes, this version grows organically from its opening (given to the violas in the orchestral score), that has considerable resonance with the main motif of Wagner's Act I prelude.

Levit returned to Washington this week, for the first appearance since his striking local recital debut in 2017, presented again by Washington Performing Arts. Thursday's excellent concert, in addition to exquisite Schumann and a new piece commissioned from jazz pianist Fred Hersch, added one last Tristan nugget to this program. On the second half, Levit played the Kocsis transcription of the Act I prelude from this recording, following it with a Faustian interpretation of Liszt's vast B minor sonata.

The juxtaposition made me realize, for the first time, that the final measure of Wagner's prelude is identical to the first measure of the Liszt sonata: two short staccato strikes on G in 6/8 meter. Wagner ends up on G without really giving the listener much reason to think of that as the keynote of the prelude, and Liszt immediately obscures the note with the descending scalar pattern that opens the sonata. To draw attention to this conjunction, Levit elided the two pieces, not only eschewing any pause between them, but making Wagner's last two notes simultaneously Liszt's first two.


Briefly Noted: Ying Li

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Mozart, Sonatas / Bartók, Suite, Sonata, Ying Li

(released on October 7, 2022)
Decca 00028948581443 | 61'21"
The pianist Ying Li, a 24-year-old Wunderkind, made an auspicious Washington debut this past week. Born in China, where she received her early musical training, she has completed advanced studies at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School here in the United States, counting Jonathan Biss, Seymour Lipkin, and Robert McDonald among her teachers. Last year she won first prize at the Susan Wadsworth International Auditions, leading to Young Concert Artists presenting her in a solo recital at the Kennedy Center on October 11. She repeats that program this Tuesday at Carnegie Hall.

Ying's debut recording for Decca shows many of the same qualities heard when she played live. Two Mozart sonatas -- K. 281 and 333, both in B-flat major -- frame the disc, clean and spirited in character like the Haydn sonata she played in her concert. Runs, passage work, and trills sparkle, with not a note out of place, but there is considerable sensitivity and dynamic shading as well. She shows admirable patience in the simpler slow movements, with a great variety of voicing and articulation. Although she has impressive virtuosic chops, put to work in the Bartók, she displayed considerable maturity in the understated way she played these sonatas.

Bartók's Piano Sonata is the only piece from this album that Ying played at the Kennedy Center, and it is a blockbuster interpretation. In concert it was perhaps eclipsed by even more demanding pieces like Schumann's Fantasie in C Major, Guido Agosti's suite arrangement of music from Stravinsky's The Firebird, and Qigang Chen's Messiaen-like Instants d'un Opéra de Pékin. By contrast on the disc, the Bartók sonata is the most daunting work, paired with the composer's earlier Suite, full of bouncing jollity. She plays the sonata with ferocious control and percussive touch, but it is far from being only pointed attacks, with the many pulsating parts distinguished from one another by careful voicing. As her concert program showed, there is plenty more athleticism where that came from, as well as poise beyond her years.


Briefly Noted: Solo Telemann

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Georg Philipp Telemann, Fantasias for solo violin, Alina Ibragimova

(released on October 7, 2022)
Hyperion CDA68384 | 65'56"
What can a violinist do after recording Bach's "Sei solo" pieces? There is a lot more repertory for the solo violin out there than you might think. The Russian-born violinist Alina Ibragimova, whose Bach sonatas and partitas were so excellent, has chosen an excellent follow-up. (At this summer's Proms in Great Britain, where she now makes her home, Ibragimova made clear her opposition to her home country's invasion of Ukraine.)

Ibragimova has recorded all twelve of Telemann's Fantasias for Violin without Bass, published in Hamburg in 1735 as part of the composer's voluminous output testing the solo capacities of various instruments. Each one is a delightful bite-size miniature, three or four movements lasting five to six minutes per fantasia. The fantasia, of course, is defined by its lack of solid form, favoring the imagination and musical variety. In his description of the set, Telemann said that half of the fantasias were contrapuntal in nature, favoring the older style of composition, and half were in the newer galant style.

Ibragimova plays these pieces much as she did the more complex Bach works, with clean technique and impeccable intonation and articulation. This is not to say that the music comes out cold or heartless, as she also manages to play even the most demanding passages with poignant phrasing. Telemann wrote these pieces for people to play in their homes, meaning there is a range of challenges for amateur violinists to confront. The slow movements, often quite simple technically, offer pleasing imaginative turns. Ibragimova mines each fantasia for its various delights, by turns rustic or polished.


Dip Your Ears: No. 268 (Robert Levin on Mozart's Piano)

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W.A.Mozart, Piano Sonatas
Robert Levin

The Compleat Mozartean

When historical performance practice performances were just becoming mainstream fare, in the mid- to late 90s, Robert Levin was the first address in most matters fortepiano. Certainly, his cycle of the Beethoven Piano Concertos (with Gardiner) was clearly the one to have and his Mozart concerto cycle-in-the-making (with Christopher Hogwood) was exciting and promising and sadly aborted as so many projects were, back then. (Incidentally, the Academy of Ancient Music is currently working with Levin on having the cycle completed by the band’s 50th anniversary next season!) Levin was the least professorial among the musicologist-pianists that were hammering away at these early instruments… and his instruments tended to sound better than was the low average back then.

Much has changed since these days, with a new generation of concert pianists who grew up natively on historical instruments and of course with the instruments themselves (think Paul McNulty!), which have improved dramatically in quality and sound. This, alas, is not the path that Robert Levin takes in these 2017/18 recordings of Mozart’s keyboard sonatas. He takes a step further (back?) towards historicism: He plays on Mozart’s own fortepiano, which can be viewed and occasionally heard at the Salzburg Mozart Residence. What he gains in authenticity, he loses, alas, in sound, because it might as well be admitted: The most interesting aspect about that instrument is its late owner.

Nor is Levin the kind of full-throttled pianist that many of his modern HIP competitors (Bezuidenhout, Brautigam et al.) are. Granted, you don’t need virtuosic skills to navigate through the Mozart sonatas to perfectly competent results and Levin is still a nimble, graceful performer at the (then) age of 71. But there’s something of a generous, pliable, amicable playfulness in the finest performances (like Bezuidenhout on historical instruments or William Youn on a modern one, to name only two outstanding recent such cycles) that I find missing here… and something of a sewing-machine element – lissome, granted – that I don’t particularly need. What Levin does give us, in terms of uniqueness, is some extra music. Apart from the standard 18 sonatas and the C minor Fantasy, he also adds three sonata movement fragments that Levin completed masterfully: Charming little bonbons that bring the set’s runtime to about seven hours. Whether those bits, along with ECM’s first-rate presentation and essay (or the lure of hearing this works on Mozart’s own instrument; see also “Koncz/Mozart”), are enough of a USP, well, that’ll be up to the most curious among Mozart listeners.

References: William Youn (Oehms); Ingrid Haebler (Denon); Mitsuko Uchida (Philips); Ronald Brautigam (BIS); Christian Zacharias (EMI issues, not Warner re-issue); Kristian Bezuidenhout (BIS)

See also the ionarts Mozart Sonata Cycle Survey


Dip Your Ears: No. 267 (Zimerman’s LvB Piano Concertos, 31 Years Later)

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L.v.Beethoven, PCs 1-5
S.Rattle / LSO
Deutsche Grammophon

Krystian Zimerman returns to the Beethoven Piano Concertos

After 31 years, Krystian Zimerman has recorded the Beethoven Piano Concertos again. „When I was a small boy“, he says in the liner notes, „I remember my feeling that this was an old composer, an old man. Today I am seven years older than he ever was and I [see] him as a younger colleague. Now I can have fun playing this concerto more lightly, with more joy.“ Zimerman’s words promise a new approach, a fresh interpretation – away from the stern, towering Beethoven, towards a freer, more audacious, and perhaps faster performance. On paper, that is true, nominally, for the first concerto’s first movement, where Zimerman, along with his collaborators Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, shave a substantial five minutes off his self-conducted take with the Vienna Philharmonic. But it’s not actually five minutes „faster“: The tempos are only minimally tightened; the timing discrepancy can be explained by Zimerman using the very short early cadenza of Beethoven’s (which is also what Boris Berezovsky plays in his reference cycle on Simax): An apt choice instead of the later, all-too-heavy bravura-cadenza. But other than that, Zimerman’s cycle is surprisingly free from surprises. Influences from the historically informed crowd are, by today’s standards anyway, so nuanced as to be scarcely noticeable. Less, than you would think, anyway, after Zimerman makes it such a point in the liner notes that the action of the piano has been adjusted or switched out entirely to fit each concerto’s demands. Perhaps it can be heard in the bell-like ring and subtly glassy-transparent sound of the first two concertos?

The Andante con moto of the Fourth Concerto, meanwhile, is as baritonal and sonorous as it was three decades ago: creamy gorgeousness reigns. What it isn’t, however, is „con moto“ in any possible sense of the word. No furies of Hades are battling with Orpheus here. The slow(ish) movement, allegedly inspired by the legend of the Maenads, becomes absolute music. If you want absolute contrast: Listen – at your own peril – to what the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra does, accompanied by Kristian Bezuidenhout’s tender fortepiano sounds: It sounds like they are plucking a Late Cretaceous chicken from hell. (It’s really quite fitting, actually.) Simon Rattle, in his third Beethoven Piano Concerto cycle – after one with Brendel in Vienna and a recent one with Mitsuko Uchida in Berlin (my ClassicsToday review here) – accompanies crisply and with routine. The woodwinds sound alive and are nicely balanced against the sometimes garish violins. A good cycle, full of strangely empty promises and perfectly fine playing.

References: Bronfman/Zinman (Arte Nova); Berezovsky/Dausgaard (Simax); Pollini/Abbado (DG); Uchida/Sanderling (Decca); Fleisher/Szell (Sony); Serkin/Kubelik (Orfeo); Levin/Gardiner (Archiv)


Briefly Noted: Kissin plays Salzburg

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Evgeny Kissin, Salzburg Recital (Berg, Chopin, Gershwin, Khrennikov)

(released on September 2, 2022)
DG 00028948629947 | 97'32"
Evgeny Kissin's most recent recital in Washington was scheduled for May of 2020. Because that was obviously canceled, it has been a long drought since the celebrated Russian pianist last appeared here. To fight the withdrawal symptoms, your critic has turned to Kissin's newest recording, captured live at the Großes Festspielhaus in Salzburg in August of 2021.

The last several years have brought significant changes to Kissin's life. In 2017, during a break from performing, he married a childhood friend and wrote a memoir. In July of 2021, just before Kissin played this recital, his piano teacher, Anna Pavlovna Kantor, died at the age of 98. She was much more than a teacher to Kissin, becoming a member of his family and living with them for the last thirty years. "She was my only piano teacher, and everything I am able to do on the piano I owe to her," Kissin has written, dedicating this recital to her memory.

One imagines that the pandemic shutdowns were difficult for Kissin, who has always seemed to be most at ease while playing on stage, as if music were in a way his first language. "I’m simply more inspired in front of an audience," he is quoted saying in the liner notes of this two-disc set. He played this recital to a full house, something he said was very important to him, even in the face of coronavirus restrictions. Although he once told me backstage at the Kennedy Center that he had no interest in composing his own music, one of the Salzburg encores is his own Dodecaphonic Tango. Composition is now an interest of his: Kissin, who has been vocally critical of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is also composing a piano trio in response to this unprovoked war.

Among other curiosities, the program opens with a prickly performance of Berg's Piano Sonata, op. 1. A decidedly idiosyncratic rendition of Gershwin's Preludes follows a set of short pieces by Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007), a Russian composer and Soviet functionary. The choice is definitely odd for political reasons, given Khrennikov's consistent holding of the party line during the darkest years of the USSR and even after its dissolution. Listeners are then treated to the palate cleansing of Kissin's inimitable Chopin. Unable to let go of the audience, Kissin offered four encores, as usual some of the most exhilirating moments.


Briefly Noted: Nisi Dominus (CD of the Month)

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Vivaldi, Nisi Dominus, Eva Zaïcik, Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre

(released on September 9, 2022)
Alpha 724 | 58'31"
The idea of this charming new disc, from Vincent Dumestre and the early music ensemble Le Poème Harmonique, is quite simple. It is anchored on two of Vivaldi's motets, Nisi Dominus and Invicti bellate, substantial works composed for the Visitation, July 2, 1716, an important feast for the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. What Dumestre has programmed with it, however, is much more rare and striking.

The concert opens with O vergin santa, the first of two laude spirituali by Serafino Razzi (1531-1613), a Dominican friar from Florence. Mezzo-soprano Eva Zaïcik and soprano Déborah Cachet divide the piece between them, joined in cantillation by florid improvisations from violinist Fiona Poupard. These pieces are in the same popular vein as "Giesù diletto sposo," by Francisco Soto de Langa (1534-1619), a Spanish-born castrato and composer employed by the papal chapel, who was among the musicians hosted by the Congregation of the Oratory, established by followers of St. Filippo Neri.

Zaïcik takes the two Vivaldi motets, her richly resonant voice freely elaborating the opening solo melismas of Invicti bellate, aptly recalling the laude spirituali. The heart of this poignant work is the slow movement, a prayer for the assistance of Christ in the strain of battle. Dumestre and his musicians accompany this and the longer Nisi Dominus with limpid clarity, especially touching in movements featuring the ensemble's bevy of plucked instruments (theorbo, guitar, colascione). A trio of male voices supports the treble voices in the polyphonic laude. Le Poème Harmonique contributes two strictly instrumental works made for sacred contexts: Vivaldi's Sinfonia in B Minor ("Al Santo Sepolcro") and Locatelli's Sinfonia funebre, composed for his own wife's funeral.


Briefly Noted: Debussy for Four Hands

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Claude Debussy, Piano Duets, Louis Lortie, Hélène Mercier

(released on September 9, 2022)
Chandos CHAN20228W | 81'24"
Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier have released a new recording of charming music for piano, four hands, by Claude Debussy, both originals and some delightful arrangements. The Québécois piano duo, both of whom also have solo careers, have a long-standing partnership: Washingtonians last had the chance to hear them play live at the Library of Congress in 2018. With some pieces for one piano, four hands, and others for two pianos, Mercier and Lortie (primo-secondo) play on two Bösendorfer Concert Grand 280VC instruments.

Along with the most familiar Debussy four-hands piece, Petite Suite, is found more unusual selections like the Six Épigraphes antiques, modal enigmas played with quiet mystery. The list of works Debussy wrote for two pianists is rounded out by an Andante cantabile and a four-hands version of Marche écossaise sur un thème populaire. The latter was a commission from General Meredith Read, at one time United States Consul General in France, who asked Debussy to write a piece on a Scottish tune owned by his family, the Counts of Ross, in 1890.

Arrangements and transcriptions complete the program, including some Debussy favorites that would make perfect encores, like Arabesque No. 1 and the prelude "La fille aux cheveux de lin," both in versions made by Léon Roques. Gustave Samazeuilh published a version of the sumptuously beautiful Ballade (formerly "Ballade slave") for four hands, here performed on two pianos. The triumph of the disc is a striking rendition of Debussy's three symphonic sketches titled La Mer, transcribed for two pianos by André Caplet shortly after the work's premiere, supplanting the less satisfying four-hands arrangement made earlier by the composer himself.


À mon chevet: Adriatic

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
Great art should affect you physically, it should "tune us like instruments," because painting is an intensification rather than a distortion of the material world. "We must look and look and look till we live the painting and for a fleeting moment become identified with it," writes Bernard Berenson. "A good rough test is whether we feel that it is reconciling us with life." Berenson, in yet another battered, age-old paperback I own, called this "the aesthetic moment," which is "that flitting instant, so brief as to be almost timeless, when the spectator is at one with the work of art," so that he "ceases to be his ordinary self."

I feel this with Byzantine art: an art that Berenson called, in order to be exact, "medieval Hellenistic art," that is, a remnant of ancient Greece. To him, this art is "precious refulgent, monotonous," and ends around 1200 "as a gorgeous mummy case." I don't mind the monotony, and yes, there is the touch of beauty-in-death about it. But Byzantine art to me, exactly as Berenson suggests, has always been classical, in the sense that it evokes its forebears in ancient Greece. Thus, it is a fusion of East and West, and what the Adriatic is all about -- a guidepost in my journey. I keep Berenson's thoughts in mind as I enter San Vitale.

-- Robert D. Kaplan, Adriatic, p. 46
This new book came to my attention because of a review written by Prof. Thomas F. Madden for the New York Times this spring. Kaplan is a journalist who synthesizes enormous amounts of poetry, literature, history, and academic writing in a gripping narrative, as he travels from place to place around the Adriatic Sea. In search of what he calls, in his subtitle, "A concert of civilizations at the end of the Modern Age," he begins his examination of the relationship of East and West on the Italian side of that body of water, in Rimini and Ravenna, moving to the Balkans and down to Greece. According to Prof. Madden, who not coincidentally has written a new history of Venice, Kaplan errs only in glossing over La Serenissima as a focal point.

Kaplan actually makes a sort of circular journey, noting that his interest in Rimini, where the book begins, goes back to a much earlier visit to Mistra, a ruined medieval city in southern Greece, a connection to his final destination, the Greek island of Corfu. In Mistra he became interested in Georgios Gemistos Plethon, the neoplatonist scholar who visited Florence in 1439, sparking an interest in Plato and the Greek language in Cosimo de' Medici, and thus helping to light the fire of the Renaissance.

During a visit to the home of a fellow writer, Kaplan learns that Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, the rather infamous condottiere and patron of the arts, stole the remains of this great humanist figure during his occupation of Mistra. Malatesta took the scholar's body back to Rimini to be buried near the Tempio Malatestiano built with his money by Leon Battista Alberti. This Malatesta is descended from the family of Paolo Malatesta, condemned with his lover, Francesca da Rimini, to the second circle of Dante's Inferno, and thus within the first few pages the book captured my attention.


Dip Your Ears: No. 266 (Thomas Larcher’s Great Symphony)

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T.Larcher, Sy.2 "Kenotaph",
Die Nacht der Verlorenen
H.Lintu / FinnishRSO
Ondine 1393

Thomas Larcher’s Great Symphony

The Rebirth Of Contemporary Classical Music?

When Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony *Kenotaph* was premiered at Vienna’s venerable Musikverein, almost six years ago, it felt like contemporary music was back on track, even in continental Europe. It might be naïve to assume that it’ll ever be more than a cultural niche again, but there are heartening signs that modern classical music has shaken off the ideological shackles that had kept it for so long in its specialist echo chambers, performed before self-selecting crowds celebrating their own importance… and with the taxpayers, not the attendees, paying for most of the tickets. Moreover, the habitually conservative audiences are beginning to respond to it. The “modern” piece of the dreaded education concert sandwich is not as feared anymore; sometimes it even takes center stage, and recordings on non-specialist labels are issued. Dieter Ammann’s Piano Concerto *Gran Toccata* is one example, *Kenotaph*, which is now out on Ondine with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra performing live under Hannu Lintu, is another. (A planned release of the Vienna Philharmonic performance on DG never happened.)

The effect of this music is not quite the same on record as in the concert hall, where all the crackle and cackle explodes vividly across a stage sprawling with musicians. But we listen to Mahler on record, about whose music the same could be said, so the complaint seems churlish and the music is too interesting to ignore. *Kenotaph* opens a bit like Ravel’s Piano Concerto, with a whack of the clapper (sounding more like a timpani thud here) that spurs the orchestra into metallic spurts of activity. Repeated mini-climaxes take turns with lacunae of Zbigniew Preisner-like string solemnity. The rhythms are catchy, the noises make sense, the tones have perceivable sequences, the violence of it keeps you awake, and the tenderness on tenterhooks.

After the Allegro-frenzy, the lyrical Adagio consoles with swaths cut perhaps from Mahler by way of Schnittke. There’s a fragile beauty in this, and a melodic phrase reminiscent of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony appears and re-appears throughout. Somewhere within the strings hides an accordion and adds its distinct color – and then the movement melts away as if taking leave. It hasn’t gone, however, and violently reminds of its continued presence only to fall back into its own, like an aborted soufflé, with the solo violin ushering the movement out with said Mahleresque phrase.

In the third movement, a “Scherzo; Molto allegro” with overtones of Prokofiev and Tim Burton films, the percussion group gets to try out every instrument they found in the storage rooms of the Finnish Broadcasting studios. A series of increasingly louder, marching chords – played by the foot-soldier-violins and a battery of percussion, deliciously primitive – ratchet up the tension before the clarinets sweetly pretend that nothing of that sort of thing had ever happened. Mischievous listeners might hear it as an allegory of Austrian history. Actually it’s an allusion to Karlheinz Stockhausen’s *Klavierstück No.9* with its 140 repeated chords, here equaled or just beaten.

The fourth movement marshals all the martial forces in contrasting blocks. The recipe still works, even 30, 35 minutes into the symphony, making *Kenotaph* a superbly entertaining symphonic tour de force… challenging and consoling, spikey and beautiful, and with that “Mahler-9” motif (if that’s what it is) coming back for a conciliatory ending. A kenotaph (or cenotaph) is an empty, symbolical tomb and the work was inspired by “the crisis of men, women, and children fleeing the clutches of war and mayhem.” In 2016 that was written with an eye towards the Middle East. So far, 2022 is seeing to it that the topic isn’t becoming any less pertinent.

*Die Nacht der Verlorenen*, a five-partite song cycle for baritone and orchestra, risks becoming an afterthought after *Kenotaph*, although it’s a substantial, half-hour work that shares much of the soundscape with the 8-year younger symphony. That might be good enough for enjoyment, but where Larcher really shines, is in his treatment of the human voice, which is perhaps the instrument that had suffered the most and for the longest, under a certain pervasive type of modernism… to the point where so much contemporary vocal music all sounded the gosh-darn same. But what Larcher writes makes sense to the ear, from Sprechgesang to lyrical, melodic lines. Nascent baritone star Andrè Schuen sings the Ingeborg Bachmann poems in neo-Diskauesque manner, slightly aloof, cerebrally, beautifully, and smooth like the oily crema on a great espresso. My only question mark: was the persistent violin-induced tinnitus-whistle in “Memorial” really necessary?



Briefly Noted: The Knights and the Kreutzer

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The Kreutzer Project (Beethoven, Janáček), The Knights, C. Jacobsen, E. Jacobsen

(released on August 19, 2022)
Avie AV2555 | 75'11"
The Knights bill themselves as an orchestral collective. Whether or not the future of orchestras is exclusively small and flexible, which we hope it is not, this New York-based group has shown a way forward. Violinist Colin Jacobsen and conductor (and occasionally cellist) Eric Jacobsen have woven together this disc from arrangements and new works based on the story of Beethoven's "Kreutzer" sonata.

Responding to an inscription in Beethoven's title ("scritta in uno stile molto concertante, quasi come d’un concerto"), Colin Jacobsen has arranged Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 9 as a violin concerto for himself as soloist. The format retains the famous opening of the first movement, a sort of concerto cadenza out of place, in which the solo violin trades themes with the piano, now given life principally by the woodwinds. The chamber-sized group of fifteen strings plus single woodwinds and brass (except for a pair of horns) reveal many new dimensions to this familiar work.

Leoš Janáček wrote his first string quartet in reaction to Leo Tolstoy's novella "The Kreutzer Sonata," in which Beethoven's virtuosic music represents illicit sexual passion, with tragic consequences. A jealous husband discovers his wife in the arms of a violinist with whom she had played Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata. The husband recalls hearing them play the first movement for the first time: “As for my wife, never had I seen her as she was that night. Those brilliant eyes, that severity and majestic expression while she was playing, and then that utter languor, that weak, pitiable, and happy smile after she had finished.” Although the violinist escapes, the husband stabs his wife to death with a dagger.

Michael P. Atkinson, one of the ensemble's horn players, has orchestrated Janáček's score for the same compact orchestral ensemble, with some arrangement completed by Eric Jacobsen. The piece is not even half as long as Beethoven's monumental sonata, but the arrangement amps up the turbulent nature of the music, including some atmospheric touches for harp.

Between these bookends are two new works. In a bizarre twist, French violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer never played the sonata Beethoven dedicated to him (in fact, the composer wrote it for George Hightower, an Afro-British violinist). In Colin Jacobsen's Kreutzings, instrumental phrases alternate with drum kit, and hints of Richard Strauss glimmer in the harmony and orchestration. String players will recognize the homage to Kreutzer's meticulous Etude No. 2, a bugbear for bow training. Shorthand, a string sextet by Anna Clyne, puts Knights cellist Karen Ouzounian in a solo role, with Eric Jacobsen taking up the other cello part. The title comes from a line in Tolstoy's novella, and Clyne takes motifs and ideas from both Beethoven and Janáček, with some exotic melodic elements, rather gorgeous.

The Knights will perform a slightly modified version of this program to open the 50th anniversary season of the Candlelight Concert Society 4 p.m. September 11, at the presenter's home base, the Horowitz Center in Columbia, Md.

'Dear Evan Hansen' is back at the Kennedy Center

Anthony Norman, John Hemphill, Lili Thomas, and Alaina Anderson in Dear Evan Hansen (photo: Evan Zimmerman)

The extensive offering of Broadway musicals at the Kennedy Center this season may feel a bit like Groundhog Day. Touring productions of Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, both repeats from a few years ago, are running simultaneously at the venue on the Potomac this month. The latter returns with a new cast after its KC debut in 2019 and opening run at Arena Stage in 2015, seen Thursday evening in the Eisenhower Theater.

Dear Evan Hansen is an oddly effective and moving show, edging mostly into tragedy like most of the musicals that appeal to people like me. The story involves a teenage title character who struggles with being friendless at school, burdened by anxiety after his father abandoned him and his mother. Evan's accidental encounter with an even more troubled classmate, who ends up committing suicide, leads to an enormous deception Evan perpetrates on the other boy's sister and parents. As this lie snowballs out of Evan's control, he is powerless to stop it, actually enjoying the notoriety, the new friends, and especially the new family to which he now belongs, replete with wealth and emotional warmth.

The different cast brought out different strengths of the score this time around. The sweet intensity of Alaina Anderson, in a striking professional debut, made the role of Zoe Murphy, the embittered sister of Evan's "friend" Connor, much more appealing, especially in "Requiem," the trio with her parents, a stoic John Hemphill and Lili Thomas. Coleen Sexton's turn as Evan's mom, Cynthia, went from unsympathetic in Act I to devastating in her big piece that ends Act II, "So Big/So Small." Nikhil Saboo provided a violent burst of energy as Connor, especially as he doubled as Evan's alter-ego after his suicide, brought back to life by the fabrications concocted by Evan and his cousin Jared, played with hilarious bite by Pablo David Laucerica.

The show's music and lyrics (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) remain simple but effective, improved considerably by the pit band orchestration by Alex Lacamoire, who provided the same service to Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton. The poignant string lines often tug at the heartstrings, played with quiet plangency by violinist Ko Sugiyama, violist Elizabeth Pulju-Owen, and cellist Danielle Cho, all members of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, and others.

Dear Evan Hansen runs through September 25. Lots of tickets remain.


Briefly Noted: La Passione

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Haydn / Mozart / Beethoven, Christina Landshamer, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Bernhard Forck

(released on August 19, 2022)
PentaTone PTC5186987 | 71'53"
This ingenious recital program pairs soprano Christina Landshamer with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. It is a true collaboration, with major showcases for the soloist and outstanding orchestral selections for this crackerjack ensemble playing on historical instruments, under the leadership of concertmaster Bernhard Forck. The opening salvo, with climaxes powered by the outstanding horn duo of Erwin Wieringa and Gijs Laceulle, is Haydn's Overture in D Major (Hob. Ia:4). Not an overture at all, it turns out, but an orchestral fragment dated to 1785, possibly a discarded symphonic finale.

Landshamer answers this passionate instrumental outburst with Haydn's Scena di Berenice (Hob. XXIVa:10) from 1795, near the end of the composer's second English sojourn. Haydn composed it expressly for Italian soprano Brigida Banti, himself conducting the premiere at a benefit concert in London. In a concise series of recitatives and arias, the singer runs the gamut of emotional responses to the suicide of her lover, concluding with a high-flying aria of rage. As in the orchestral movement that precedes it, the horns reinforce the shock and grief.

The program is centered on Haydn's Symphony No. 49 (Hob. I:49), nicknamed "La Passione." This epithet, like so many applied to Haydn's works, did not come from the composer, making it perhaps a tenuous anchor on which to hang an entire program. Whatever the actual origins and meaning of this music (scholar Elaine Sisman included it in her research on instrumental works Haydn likely composed to accompany plays performed at Eszterháza), the contrasts of mood and tempo are of a piece with the vocal works sung by distraught heroines.

A few rarities add zest, like No, non turbati, o Nice... Ma tu tremi, o mio tesoro? (WoO 92a), a sort of exercise in operatic writing that Beethoven completed in 1802 during his lessons with Antonio Salieri. (The piece, with some of the corrections to Italian diction marked by the master, remained unpublished until the 20th century.) It is a fine companion piece to Ah! perfido, the only one of these exercises for Salieri performed while Beethoven was still alive, according to authoritative notes by musicologist Roman Hinke. In a fun twist, Landshamer sings as both Ilia and Idamante in Mozart's Non più. Tutto ascoltai... Non temer, amato bene, a substitution inserted into a later performance of the composer's opera Idomeneo. The aria features an affecting duet between Landshamer and Forck's violin solo.


Briefly Noted: Gabriela Lena Frank Songs

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Gabriela Lena Frank / Dmitri Shostakovich, Songs, A. Garland, J. Abreu, J. Reger

(released on August 5, 2022)
Art Song Colorado DASP005 | 68'31"
Gabriela Lena Frank has been on my radar since she was composer-in-residence with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra a decade ago. Her music draws on her family's rich tapestry of cultural backgrounds: Peruvian/Chinese ancestry on one side and Lithuanian/Jewish on the other. Like Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, she is a sort of musical anthropologist, mining folk traditions to enrich her musical style, which is varied, expansive, and sui generis. From Art Song Colorado this month comes this new disc by baritone Andrew Garland and pianist Jeremy Reger, containing world premiere recordings of some of the composer's songs.

The song cycle Cantos de Cifar y el Mar Dulce (Songs of Cifar and the Sweet Sea) is a work completed in multiple versions. The eight songs for baritone recorded here, premiered in 2004 and 2007, were expanded into a half-hour duet with soprano, subsequently elaborated into a version with chorus and orchestra. The texts are by Nicaraguan poet Pablo Antonio Cuadra (1912–2002), who drew on his youth sailing on Lake Nicaragua to create the character of the mystical sailor Cifar. Frank's use of the baritone voice ranges widely, including feminine falsetto, folk techniques, and speech, with the enigmatic keyboard part often in imitation of the Nicaraguan marimba and other folk instruments. Both Garland and Reger respond to these demands with daring vulnerability.

Tenor Javier Abreu joins for Las Cinco Lunas de Lorca, composed in 2016 on a hallucinatory text about the assassination of the Spanish poet, by playwright Nilo Cruz. The two voices, often singing simultaneously, weave a horrifying dream narrative. (Cruz is also the librettist of Frank's first opera, El último sueño de Frida y Diego, which will be premiered this October at San Diego Opera.) Garland rounds out the program with Frank's Cuatro Canciones Andinas (1999), a set of four poems translated from Quechua by the folklorist José María Arguedas, and Shostakovich's culture-crossing Spanish Songs.


Briefly Noted: Jacobs and Schubert (CD of the Month)

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Schubert, "Great" and "Unfinished" Symphonies, B'Rock Orchestra, René Jacobs

(released on August 12, 2022)
PentaTone PTC5186894 | 87'27"

available at Amazon
Symphonies 1 and 6

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Symphonies 2 and 3

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Symphonies 4 and 5
Leave it to René Jacobs to come up with a daring new way to approach Schubert. In 2018 the venerated early music conductor began a complete traversal of the symphonies of Franz Schubert, whom he described as the favorite composer of his youth. In partnership with the B'Rock Orchestra, a period instrument ensemble based in Ghent, he has reached the end with this disc of the composer's last two symphonies. Only No. 7 (the numbering of the Schubert symphonies remains in flux) remains to be recorded, but as Schubert left only sketches of it, it is even more unfinished than the Unfinished (aside from sketches or fragments of other symphonic works).

The group's use of historical instruments reveals interesting qualities in both symphonies. The horn solo that opens the "Great" Symphony has a more rustic quality, and in the first thematic section that follows, the contrasts between the brash brass and percussion and the more frail woodwinds are more stark than with modern instruments. The steady amassing of sound makes the first movement's climaxes particularly exciting. Similar juxtapositions enliven the second movement, which Jacobs gives a jaunty, propelled tempo, and the prolonged scherzo of the third movement. Jacobs thinks Schubert's quotation of the "Ode to Joy" theme from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in the finale is "probably unconscious," an odd call to say the least.

For the "Unfinished" Symphony, Jacobs bases his interpretation on a theory about the work first put forward by Arnold Schering in an essay published in 1938. If the symphony is indeed not unfinished at all, Schering attempted to understand its two movements in relation to an allegorical narrative, called Mein Traum (My dream), that Schubert drafted in pencil in 1822. Within a few months of writing this unusual document, perhaps based partly on an actual dream and also on some tragic events in his early years, he was working on the "Unfinished" Symphony. As Jacobs puts it in an extensive booklet essay, including a section-by-section analysis of both works, in Mein Traum "Schubert tries to put into words what he seems far more able to say without words in his music."

Jacobs introduces each of the two completed movements of the "Unfinished" with the corresponding portion of Mein Traum, read in German by Tobias Moretti (the booklet includes an English translation). The first section of the narrative provides an arc something like the sonata-allegro form of the symphony's first movement. Schubert argues with his father and is expelled from the family home (exposition); Schubert hears of his mother's death and returns, his father allowing him to see his mother's corpse and attend her burial (development); another quarrel with the father leads to a second banishment (recapitulation). These events occurred around 1812, the year Schubert's mother died, apparently of typhus after a long life of child-bearing (Franz was the 12th of her 14 children). The "feast" and "garden" in Mein Traum, offered by the father and refused by Schubert, could be metaphors for Schubert's father's ultimately failed attempt to force his son to follow in his footsteps as a school master.

In the conclusion of Mein Traum, Schubert sees the tomb of a "pious virgin" and a circle of youths and old men around her. Jacobs suggests this could be Saint Cecilia, the martyr who became the patron saint of music, and the circle around her the devoted composers of her art. By a miracle he finds himself within the circle, experiencing the lovely sounds in it and feeling overwhelmed with bliss. He even finds himself reconciled with his father, perhaps by having succeeded as a composer. Schubert wrote this mysterious document on July 3, 1822, which happens to be 200 years ago this year. Believing, like Schering, that the symphony was intentionally left unfinished by Schubert, Jacobs does not record the fragments of the third movement. There is no way to verify if there is a connection between Mein Traum and the "Unfinished" Symphony, but this recording certainly opens a new window onto that enigmatic work.