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Briefly Noted: Queyras and Tharaud go for Baroque (CD of the Month)

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Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Alexandre Tharaud

(released on January 27, 2023)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902315 | 62'24"
Alexandre Tharaud has not visited Washington since 2018, and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras was last here in 2017. The two esteemed French musicians have continued their long and fruitful collaboration in a striking new Baroque album, with delightful transcriptions of Marin Marais’s pièces de viole, originally for viola da gamba and continuo, for the cello and piano. The performances, in the spirit of Baroque elaboration but taking full advantage of modern dynamic range and harmonic content, are delightful.

The two longest tracks are celebrated works in Marais's oeuvre. About a third of the disc is given to Couplets des Folies d'Espagne, from the composer's second book of Pièces de Viole, Marais's epic variation set on the widely known tune "La follia." This version of the piece shivers with rhythmic vitality, including some folksy Spanish twists, not least Tharaud's guitar-like repeated notes in one variation.

The second-longest piece on the disc, though only a quarter the size of the Folies d'Espagne, is La Rêveuse, included in Marais's Suite d’un goût étranger in his fourth book and used crucially in the splendid movie about Marais, Tous les Matins du Monde. From the same odd suite is the single track performed by Tharaud alone, an arrangement of the viol piece "Le badinage" somehow rendered on the Yamaha grand piano. Queyras also has one solo track, an arrangement of "Les Regrets," a charming piece sometimes attributed to Marais, given a soulful rendering on Queyras's 1696 Gioffredo Cappa cello.

Also not to be missed is the truly bizarre "Le Tableau de l'opération de la Taille," a piece that describes the horribly painful operation to remove a stone from the bladder. Actor Guillaume Gallienne reads the descriptions of this surgery, which Marais himself underwent without anesthesia in 1720. Unfortunately for those who do not speak French, there is no translation of this brutal text in the booklet, but the vivid demonstrations by the musicians give more than enough sense of their meaning.


A Survey of Bartók String Quartet Cycles

► An Index of ionarts Discographies

Continuing my discographies, this is a survey of - hopefully - every extant recorded cycle of Béla Bartók's String Quartets. Because finding the recording dates for all of these cycles had been/remains tricky, I have listed them alphabetically by performer. I do not, by and large, include incomplete cycles. I did, however, include cycles that are not complete on CD, which includes, for example (strangely), the Talich Quartet's Supraphon cycle from 1981/82, but not their incomplete London cycle (Nos 3 & 4 missing) on Collins from 1990/91.

I am sitting on the data for several new discographic entries under work. Ring cycles, Mahler, Nielsen, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven symphony cycles, Mozart Piano Concerto and String Quartet-cycles, among others. They take an awful lot of time to research, however, and even more time to put into html-presentable shape. And even then they are rarely complete or mistake-free. Neither will this one be, and every such post is also a plea to generously inclined readers with more information and knowledge of the subject than I have to lend a helping hand correcting my mistakes or filling data-lacunae. I am explicitly grateful for any such pointers, hinters, and corrections and apologize for any bloomers. Unlike some earlier discographies, this one does intend to be comprehensive. So I am especially grateful if I have sets that I have missed are pointed out to me. I have not listened to them all, but favorites are indicated with the "ionarts choice" graphic. Links to reputable reviews are included where I thought of it and could find any. With hundreds of links in this document, there are, despite my best efforts, bound to be some that are broken or misplaced; I am glad about every correction that comes my way. Enjoy!


01.20.2023Thanks to the DSCH-SQ4t-Cycle-Survey, I remembered about the Quartetto Classico - and I've added it below.

01.16.2023 I'm about to put this puppy online but have just discovered the first cycle I had hitherto overlooked: The Auryn Quartett's. But now we should be ready.

There is also information floating about the net regarding a "Rudi Mahall Quartett" cycle. I find only Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6 listed under their name and the online recordings seem all to stem from one source. I have my doubts as to whether there really ever was such a quartet/recording or whether it's not some meta-data funk-up. Clarification appreciated..

05.26.2021: I have heard there is a cycle by a "Quartetto Classico" ["Cuarteto Classico"?] but cannot find a trace of it. Anyone know?

(Survey begins after the break, if you didn't land on this page directly)


Briefly Noted: Seong-Jin Cho adds to Chopin set

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Chopin, 4 Scherzi / Piano Concerto No. 2, Seong-Jin Cho, London Symphony Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda

(released on June 25, 2021)
DG 00028948604395 | 76'56"

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One of the best artists Deutsche Grammophon has in its catalogue these days is Seong-Jin Cho. Since winning the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, the South Korean pianist has been releasing a series of impressive recordings on the Yellow Label. The second of these discs devoted to Chopin appeared in 2021. Like the first installment, which paired the first of Chopin's piano concertos with the four ballades, on this one the four scherzi introduce the second piano concerto. The digital version of the album, and not the CD, contains an Easter egg of three additional tracks: the “Revolutionary” Étude (Op. 10, no. 12), an impromptu (Op. 29, no. 1) and a nocturne (Op. 9, no. 2).

Cho has formed a devoted collaboration with Gianandrea Noseda in the last few years, and the Italian conductor led the London Symphony Orchestra in these recordings of the Chopin concertos. Sadly, Cho has not played either one in his appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven 5 in 2017, Ravel G Major in 2019). Cho's last slated appearance with the local band, for Shostakovich 1, was canceled in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The pianist finally returns to the nation's capital tomorrow, to play Brahms 1 with the NSO in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (January 12 to 14).

These recordings feature what likely rocketed Cho to the top of the Chopin Competition: a fierce technique, with strengths in speed and accuracy more than sheer power, and a poetic touch that captures the more tender and vulnerable sides of the Polish composer. His interpretation of the four scherzi emphasizes the remarkable fluidity of his fingers, and in the virtuosic demands of the concerto's outer movements he does not disappoint. To score the highest marks, however, the soloist has to give the slow movement the right expressive élan, and Cho glides through the many ornamented roulades in elegant legato, without tipping into gauzy sentimentality.


Briefly Noted: Andreas Staier completes Well-Tempered Clavier Set

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Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. 1, A. Staier

(released on January 6, 2023)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902680.81 | 109'13"

available at Amazon
Vol. 2
It was long past time to check in with what Andreas Staier has been up to recently. The esteemed German specialist in historical keyboards went back to recording Bach, with a two-release set of the complete preludes and fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier. He began with the more substantial second volume, released in 2021, leaving the earlier volume, the kernel of Bach's monumental collection, for now. Uniting the set is Staier's choice of instrument, a modern one built in Paris by Anthony Sidey and Frédéric Bal in 2004, modeled on a harpsichord made by Hieronymus Albrecht Hass in Hamburg in 1734, right between the appearances of Bach's two volumes.

In Staier's hands, this harpsichord belies the myth of the instrument as monotonous in sound. In both volumes, Staier uses the many registration possibilities to create a bewildering range of textures. The original Hass instrument, now in the collection of the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels (I think), is a bit of a monster, a double-manual harpsichord with a disposition combining a 16', double 8', and 4' choir of strings. There is also a lute stop, as well as buff stops on the lower manual's 8' and 4'. (A few years later, Hass built an even larger harpsichord, with five choirs of strings controlled by three manuals, thought to be the largest original harpsichord of the period and the only historical harpsichord with three manuals.)

German harpsichords like this one can have a dozen or more possible registration combinations, and Staier seems to use them all. Some of the preludes and fugues stand out for their light sound, like the D#/E-flat minor pairing, giving an understated finish to the incredible complexity of this very long fugue, complete with tortured chromatic twists. (Only the final fugue of Book 1, in B minor, is longer.) Other pairings, using the big sets of strings, have a more orchestral sound, almost like a Busoni transcription of Bach with all the parallel octaves. The buff stops come in handy for a couple delicate pieces: one of these softened stops buzzes with a reedy twang like a Nasalzug, heard in the E major and F# major preludes. Staier engages the harp stop only on the very first prelude, the almost too-famous C major, to novel effect (also on the C# major prelude in Book 2). Staier's touch is not uniformly fluid, with some preludes having more tiny inconsistencies than others, but the variety of connections in the playing is always diverting.