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


Briefly Noted: Tetzlaff siblings play Brahms Double (CD of the Month)

available at Amazon
Brahms, Double Concerto / Viotti / Dvořák, Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Paavo Järvi

(released on October 1, 2023)
Ondine ODE1423-2 | 60'43"
Earlier this year, I singled out Christian and Tanja Tetzlaff's last recording with Lars Vogt. After the late pianist died last September, the Tetzlaff siblings recorded this program as a memorial to their dear friend in December. They turned to a piece they have played many times before, the Double Concerto of Brahms, as a tribute. The opening cadenza for cello, later joined by violin, is quiet and intimate, with a sense of plaint suitable to the tone of remembrance. The siblings do well in this unusual concerto, where the two instruments, after that opening cadenza, almost always play together, one finishing the thoughts of the other.

Brahms wrote this piece very late in life, for cellist Robert Hausmann and his old friend Joseph Joachim. At that point Brahms and Joachim were no longer on speaking terms, as Brahms had "gone with" (as Larry David put it) Joachim's ex-wife following their divorce. In a gesture of friendship, Brahms meant the piece as a reconciliation, even including a varied form of the F-A-E motif he had used in the movement of the collaborative sonata dedicated to Joachim 30 years earlier. The Tetzlaffs' rendition of the slow movement is especially free and elegiac. Järvi excels at keeping the musicians of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin together with the soloists, giving them room rhythmically and with careful dynamics. The third movement could perhaps be more daring from the soloists, but it has a fine seriousness about it.

Christian Tetzlaff ingeniously pairs the piece with something unexpected, Giovanni Battista Viotta's Violin Concerto No. 22, from the end of the 18th century. It is a piece that Brahms and Joachim both loved. Tetzlaff notes in his booklet comments that Brahms used it as a model for the Double Concerto, including the choice of key (A minor) and some motifs that are borrowed. Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann of the Viotti concerto as one of his "very special raptures," and by including it in the Double Concerto, it is a way to recall to Joachim one aspect of their early friendship through this music. The first movement may not much to speak of, other than some showy bits in the solo part, but the second movement is quite gorgeous, in addition to its significance in relation to the Brahms. The younger Tetzlaff gets her solo piece as well, an encore-like lagniappe of Dvořák's "Silent Woods," an Adagio arranged for cello and orchestra from From the Bohemian Forest.

Follow me on Threads (@ionarts_dc)
for more classical music and opera news


Leonard Bernstein’s Mythical Recording of the Donizetti Requiem

available at Amazon
Gaetano Donizetti
Messa da requiem
Leonard Bernstein
P.Domingo, K.Ricciarelli, A.Baltsa,
S.Ramey, R.Lloyd
LA Phil, LA Master Chorale
DG 420 574-2

The Record that Wasn't

If you have ever done a reasonably thorough search for various recordings of the gorgeous but somewhat neglected Requiem Mass of Gaetano Donizetti’s, you might have come across a reference to a recording made in 1982, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, with a superlative cast of singers (Plácido Domingo, Katia Ricciarelli, Agnes Baltsa, Samuel Ramey and Robert Lloyd) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. To have appeared on Deutsche Grammophon. It is even assigned a catalog number: “420 574-2”.

This all looks fairly plausible. Domingo has either recorded with these artists (Domingo, Baltsa, Ramey, Lloyd) or could have. The catalog number looks legit enough for the early 80s. But why is there no reference to be found to this album outside of Wikipedia, where it was listed among the available recordings for the Donizetti Requiem (since removed) and among the discographies of some of the alleged participants? And why isn’t there a cover of such a recording to be found in the vast vestiges of the internets?

The answer is simple enough: There never was such a recording. Nor is it an innocent switcharoo, perhaps mistaking Donizetti’s Requiem with an extant Bernstein recording Verdi’s. It’s a deliberate, clever, and reasonbably carefully constructed little joke that someone snuck in, almost an “Otto Jägermeier” of Wikipedia. One the one hand, it cost me a few hours of research. On the other, I don’t want to be a complete spoilsport, so I thought I’d add the graphic element—the cover—to complete the illusion. So here it is. Enjoy the mischief.


Briefly Noted: Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff Romances

available at Amazon
Rachmaninoff / Tchaikovsky, Romances, Piotr Beczała, Helmut Deutsch

(released on August 25, 2023)
PentaTone PTC 5186 866 | 81'01"
Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff are not composers likely to come up glowing in my estimation. The exceptions to this rule include their songs. The temporal limits of the text to be set helped both composers avoid their usual sin of going on far too long, especially in symphonies and concertos. The late, beloved baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky owned this repertoire, but in his wake, the Polish tenor Piotr Beczała has made a strong case in this new release for a different voice type to swoon and complain of the hardships of Russian life.

Rachmaninoff's overwrought style so suited the poems he chose, such as the tender "Lilacs" and the world-weary "They answered." Beczała draws out the marrow of this sweet suffering, as in the aching rubato of "How Fair This Spot," in which he applies a dulcet, sighing head voice to the high note at the end. That is a standout in this selection of 31 romances by these two giant figures of Russian Romanticism, a series of charming miniatures, only one lasting longer than four minutes.

The nostalgic tone of many of these pieces seems apt for autumn listening. Beczała wields heroic power as well, deployed at climactic moments in Rachmaninoff's "In the silence of the secret night" and in "Do not sing, my beauty," a poem set by countless composers, of which Rachmaninoff's is the most moving. Pianist Helmut Deutsch supports his singer in every way, moving out of his way when necessary and infusing the introductions and postludes with their own poignancy, including in the most demanding accompaniment, that of "Spring Waters."

The Tchaikovsky songs account for more than half of the disc, in spite of standing out less. Most are piecemeal selections from several different sets, with the exception of the six romances of Op. 73, which Beczała and Deutsch recorded in its entirety. In these melancholy songs, Tchaikovsky turned to the poetry of Daniil Rathaus, a 20-something student who sent the composer these poems as an unsolicited submission. These songs certainly touch on the "Ambiguous Speech and Eloquent Silence" that scholar Philip Ross Bullock has noted in his assessment of the "queerness" of Tchaikovsky's songs. This mini-song cycle, the last work Tchaikovsky completed before his death in 1893, also features musical reminiscences of his "Pathétique" symphony.

Follow me on Threads (@ionarts_dc)
for more classical music and opera news