april, 2012

Easter is nearly upon us, letting us know that the year is already well under way. In celebration Thomas' Music is offering the Bach Easter Cantatas as performed by the famous Bach specialists, the Leipzig Thomanerchor boys choir, at the special price of $9.95, while stocks last--a bargain for this lavishly-presented 2CD set.

 

Here at Thomas' Music we have been following the career of the Streeton Trio, a group formed in Geneva in 2008 by three young Australians, Emma Jardine, Benjamin Kopp, and Martin Smith; their first CD contained an outstanding recording of the Ravel Piano Trio. Their new disc, which has just arrived, offers Beethoven's mid-period E flat Trio Op70, no.2, the Haydn C major Hob. XV/27, and the Trio by Australian Roger Smalley  --a fascinating mix of the classical and post-modern. They can be heard in concert in performance at Fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, on Wednesday 4th April at 8pm--don't miss it!

 

March was an extraordinary month for recordings by pianists. In the wake of Rafal Blechacz's lovely Debussy and Szymanowski CD, two of the finest young ultra-virtuosi have released discs: the first, the relatively-established Yuja Wang's Fantasia,  could make you want to take up the piano, the other, newcomer Bezhod Abduraimov's debut  featuring Prokofiev's Sixth Sonata,  could make you give it up. Unusually, both CDs contain the same gem, Horowitz's transcription of Liszt's transcription of Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre--in slightly different versions, as well: Wang plays the White House version, we are told. And, just arrived, another young talent, Anna Vinnitskaya in a program of Ravel's piano music, including Miroirs and Gaspard de la Nuit. For all their brilliance, however, these promising artists still have to be weighed against such masters of the previous generation as Louis Lortie, Olli Mustonen, or Jean-Efflem Bavouzet.

 

Thomas' Music has only recently started to stock a select range of books, mostly from the Taschen imprint, but we also now keep Jonathan Brown's fascinating study of historic conductors of Wagner's music. Mr Brown's previous writings include discographies of Parsifal and Tristan und Isolde, and the new work is large and detailed--just the thing to be reading as we Melburnians stock up on vitamins for the 2013 Ring cycle.

 

Not exactly a household name these days, Felicien David was once a major figure on the French compositional scene, earning plaudits from no lesser a judge than Berlioz. A fervent member of the slightly dotty Saint-Simonian movement, his music has rather fallen by the wayside but this judgement by posterity is decidedly unfair: his works have an attractive, almost Schubertian, musicality. David's adherence to Saint-Simonianism led him to travel widely, and his music sometimes exhibits a charmingly French orientalism, as in his large orchestral work with narrator, le Desert There are few notable French composers of the romantic period--Berlioz of course, Benjamin Godard, Widor--which makes his output particularly worth investigating; the new CD on Ambroisie of his String Quartets is an excellent starting-point.

 

One of the most startling changes that the early music revolution has wrought is a recognition that mediaeval and renaissance sacred music was sung either by men or women but not both together. The characteristic vocal line-up of, for example Dunstaple in about 1430, was two tenors (one the 'tenor', as in 'holder', who sang the plainchant cantus firmus, and one who didn't who was called the 'contratenor') and two basses. In the last decade or so several all-male superstar singing groups have appeared (and no, I don't mean Amici Forever or il Divo) such as the Hilliard Ensemble, Orlando Consort, and Cinquecento, who specialise in this repertoire. These groups are a hard act to follow but the latest such group, New York Polyphony, more than meet the challenge in their new CD EndBeginning, with the Requiem of Brumel, Lamentations of Crequillon, and motets by Josquin and Clemens--all very fine 16th century fare, and with a brief contemporary piece to justify the CD title.

regards,
Chris Dench More about chris
Yuja Wang
These encore pieces by Scriabin, Gluck, Rachmaninov, Chopin and others will enthrall Yuja Wangs fans with challenging technical demands and the bravura precision of her execution.

The melding of her legendary technical skills with her interpretive intelligence transforms this album of treats into a profound musical experience.

The variety ... See More
3mbs Cds of the week

Week one: the Australian Chamber Orchestra provide a new CD of music by one of the most popular composers of all: Edvard Grieg. Included is his Baroque homage the Holberg Suite, coupled with an orchestral arrangement by Richard Tognetti  of his String Quartet.

Week two: Nicola Benedetti's new release, Italia, is a rewarding collection of Baroque works by Tartini (the 'Devil's Trill' Sonata), Veracini, and Vivaldi. Fine violinist in showpiece works--fun, surely?

 Week three: I first experienced Cuban Jorge Luis Prats on a DVD of the Miami Piano Festival, on which he played Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit and la Valse, pinnacles of piano difficulty, one after another. Trained in Moscow, he made his bravura display look effortless. This new CD of a live concert from Zaragoza, featuring music by Granados, Villa-Lobos, and Cubans Cervantes, Lecuona, and Farinas shows the Maestro in convivial repertoire.

Week four: Debussy's 4-hand piano works are among his loveliest music, and in company with the famous Petite Suite, Prelude a l'Apres-midi d'un Faune, and en Blanc et Noir, this new CD by Philippe Cassard and François Chaplin includes a recorded premiere: the Premiere Suite pour Orchestra, from the early 1880s. 
 

 
$29.95 AUD
 
$24.95 AUD
Grieg Music For String Orchestra
 
Italia
Tognetti/ Aust Chamb
 
Nicola Benedetti
On this disc, Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra ... See More
 
Nicola Benedettis debut album on the Decca label is her first ... See More
 
$19.95 AUD
 
$19.95 AUD
Live In Zaragoza
 
Debussy 2 Pianos & 4 Mains
Jorge Luis Prats
 
Cassard / Chaplin
A Great Vintage Uncorked: Pianist Jorge Luis Prats Reappears in the ... See More
 
Philippe Cassard, Franois Chaplin
CDs of the month
 
 
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Italia
 
Live In Zaragoza
 
Debussy 2 Pianos & 4 Mains
Nicola Benedetti
 
Jorge Luis Prats
 
Cassard / Chaplin
Nicola Benedettis debut album on the Decca label is her first ... See More
 
A Great Vintage Uncorked: Pianist Jorge Luis Prats Reappears in the ... See More
 
Philippe Cassard, Franois Chaplin
Thomas` Recommends
 
 
$74.50 AUD
 
$115.00 AUD
 
$54.00 AUD
Bach Easter Cantatas 4/ 31/ 66/ 134
 
Mercury Living Presence 6 Lp Vinyl
 
Equalizer- The Series Two 5dvd
Thomanerchor Leipzig
 
Various
 
Edward Woodward
 
Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture; Capriccio Italien - Minneapolis Symphony ... See More
 
Edward Woodward (Golden Globe Award winner) stars as the mysterious ... See More
 
 
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$14.95 AUD
Illusionist- The Dvd
 
Mozarts Sister - Nannerl Dvd
 
Wallace Celtic Fantasies
Chomet/ Jacques Tati
 
Marie Feret
 
Rosemary Tuck
The Illusionist unites the creative team of Sylvain Chomet (director ... See More
 
 
 
 
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Felicien David String Quartets
 
Koechlin Les Heures Persanes
 
Radio Music Society
Quatuor Cambini
 
Ralph Van Raat
 
Esperanza Spalding
 
A pupil of Massenet and Faure, the prolific French composer and ... See More
 
 
 
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$55.00 AUD
Traveller
 
An Australian In Paris Dvd
 
Great Wagner Conductors Book
Anoushka Shankar
 
Jane Rutter
 
Jonathan Brown
The daughter of Ravi Shankar and young prodigy of the sitar has long ... See More
 
 
This book is a pioneering study of the great historical Wagner ... See More
 
 
$34.00 AUD
 
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Endbeginning
 
Bach Orchestral Suites
 
Dvorak Gypsy Songs Moravian Duets Biblical Songs
New York Polyphony
 
Jordi Savall
 
Kuhmeier/ Fink
 
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suites BWV 1066-1069
Jordi Savall ... See More
 
 
 
$14.95 AUD
 
$48.50 AUD
 
$58.00 AUD
Brahms Symphony 1/ Overtures
 
Schreker Das Weib Des Intaphernes Etc 3cd
 
Debussy Complete Orchestral Works 9cd
Marin Alsop
 
Peter Gulke
 
Jun Markl/ Lyon
Includes Brahms' Tragic Overture

Marin Alsop ... See More
 
 
This collection contains all Debussys works for orchestra as well ... See More
 
 
$24.95 AUD
 
$58.00 AUD
 
Lost Art Of 2cd
 
Saariaho Works For Orchestra 4cd
 
Jacob Lateiner
 
Eschenbach Etc
 
 
On the occasion of her 60th anniversary in 2012, this 4-CD ... See More
 
Collectors Corner
 
 
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Debussy String Quartet Piano Trio
 
British Flute Concertos Alwyn Berkeley Dove
 
Britten Nocturne Serenade/ Finzi Dies Natalis
Bavouzet/ Brodsky
 
Emily Beynon/ Tovey
 
Padmore/ Shave
 
Bramwell Tovey conductor
 
 
 
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$$19.95 AUD
 
$58.00 AUD
Schubert Schwanengesang Piano Sonata D960
 
Turina Chamber Music Piano Quartet Violin Sonata
 
Strauss R. Die Frau Ohne Schatten Dvd
Goerne/ Eschenbach
 
Nash Ensemble
 
Thielemann
Matthias Goerne continues his Schubert survey that has already ... See More
 
 

If I had to name my favourite pianist of the last few years, I would find it hard to choose between Marc-Andre Hamelin, Yuja Wang, and Jean-Efflem Bavouzet. After his recent outstanding recordings of the Ravel Piano Concertos and the Falla Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Bavouzet has turned his hand to the chamber music of Debussy on a Chandos CD which includes the String Quartet, the Piano Trio, and the Deux Danses for harp and strings. The quartet on this stand-out CD are the legendary Brodskys--how could you resist? Among the other excellent Collectors Corner releases this month are recitals by two fine singers, Mark Padmore performing Britten and Finzi, and Matthias Goerne continues his Schubert series with Schwanengesang; unusually the Schubert has a second CD with a reading of his last Sonata by Goerne's accompanist, the excellent Christoph Eschenbach. In addition to his own Flute Concerto, Lennox Berkeley orchestrated Poulenc's famous Flute Sonata, and both feature on  Emily Beynon's new CD of British Flute Concertos, with other works by William Alwyn and Jonathan Dove. After last month's lovely Granados CD by Garrick Ohlsson, and the Bavouzet Falla disc, Collectors Corner continue the Hispanic flavour with a release on Hyperion of chamber music by the most characteristically Spanish of them all, Joaquin Turina.

Eloquence
 
 
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Jubilee - A Celebration Of Royal Music
 
Beethoven Complete Concertos 4cd
 
Chopin Mazurkas
Various
 
Kovacevich/ Krebbers
 
Nikita Magaloff
 
 
 
 
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Granados Goyescas
 
Mendelssohn Delibes Rossini Chopin Orchestral
 
Stravinsky - The First Decca Recordings 4cd
Nikita Magaloff
 
Peter Maag
 
Ansermet
 
 

Stravinsky and Ansermet were good friends. The latter premiered many of the composers works, and though the two fell out in later years, and Ansermet disapproved the composer’s more avant-garde offerings, there’s no denying that he remains one of Stravinsky’s greatest advocates. Ansermet recorded and re-recorded some of the composer’s works and many of these have been regulars in the Decca international catalogue. But there are gaps. Oedipus Rex, the French version of Renard, the mono and stereo recordings of the Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss. And then there were the early recordings of Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, two recordings of The Firebird: Suite. In all, it’s a treasure-trove of largely buried recordings, now receiving an outing on Eloquence. I cannot begin to tell you how long it took to put it together… enjoy!

 

Nikita Magaloff, the Georgian-born pianist, would have been 100 this year. His pupils included Martha Argerich. I’ve always felt his work has been underrated. Here, for the first time on CD internationally, are his early 1950s Decca recordings of 51 of Chopin’s Mazurkas as well as the Goyescas suite (and El pelele) by Granados – recordings as rare as hen’s teeth, receiving an outing on Eloquence.

 

As with Ansermet, Eloquence has done much to revive the recorded repertory of Peter Maag. His Mozart was without peer and so was his Mendelssohn. But there are gaps in the international catalogue – a swaggering set of Rossini Overtures; the Chopin/Douglas Les sylphides, and most of all Delibes’ contribution to La source. Together with the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Hebrides Overture, they make up a 2CD set of delightful orchestral music of Nymphs, sylphs and fairies.

 

Finally, in time for Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee comes a disc of famous music heard at British coronations. Handel, Elgar, Purcell, Parry, Bax, Bliss – all make their appearances!

Jazz & world news
 
 
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Hear And Know
 
Radio Music Society
 
Strictly Romancin
Mike Nock Trio Plus
 
Esperanza Spalding
 
Catherine Russell
"THERE are few, if any, on the Australian jazz scene who can equal ... See More
 
 
 
 
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Hot House - Gary Burton
 
All Our Reasons
 
Ad Lucem
Chick Corea
 
Billy Hart
 
Anders Jormin
 
 
Mariam Wallentin (voice)
Erika Angell (voice)
Fredrik ... See More

I make no apology for including Mike Nock's new Trio Plus album Hear and Know in the April as well as the March newsletters. I've listened to the CD several times now, and it is unarguably one of the best releases by one of the world's great jazz pianists, with four exceptional sidesmen. No more need be said. Another favourite is Catherine Russell, and her new CD Strictly Romancin' came out in the last few weeks--a lovely voice, in songs 'from amorous to humorous'. Although Esperanza Spalding belongs to a younger generation there is a distinctly Joni Mitchell-like flavour to her delivery, reminding me of Joni's work with the Crusaders and Weather Report. Her new release Radio Music Society is a light, funky jazz release of gentle charm but real authority. And the genuinely astonishing bass guitar playing?--that's Esperanza, too.

 

From ECM we have two characteristic releases, drummer Billy Hart's new quartet release All Our Reasons, and an off-beat, rather interesting CD from bassist Anders Jormin, ad Lucem, featuring two singers and texts in Latin, which lend the music a slightly archaic, ritualised quality. Brooding and restrained, with moments of wildness, this is a distinctly late-night listen. And to finish, two jazz veterans continue the story they began in 1972(!) with Crystal Silence: Gary Burton on vibraphone and Chick Corea on piano. Their new release is Hot House, and is a collection of standards; they celebrate their long-lasting partnership in the very first track, Can't we be friends.

MSO News
$35.95 AUD
Strange Imaginary Animals
Eighth Blackbird
Jennifer Higdon (Composer)

Gordon Fitzell ... See More

April is Metropolis series month!  Curated this year by Chicago-based new music group Eighth Blackbird, the series includes performances of a new work by John Adams, Dark Waves, and his iconic Shaker Loops; Australian premieres of younger composers including Jennifer Higdon, and Aaron J Kernis; and to close Steve Reich's epoch-making Music for Eighteen Musicians: 27 April, 2 May, and 5 May, all at the Melbourne Recital Centre at 8pm.

 

In case anyone needed reminding, April 3 is Ears Wide Open night, with Richard Gill presenting Brahms' Tragic Overture, at 6:30pm in the Melbourne Recital Centre. If you happen to be near either the Melbourne Recital Centre on April 19 (8pm) or 20 (6:30pm), or the Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash University, Clayton, on April 20 (8pm) you could catch Olli Mustonen from Finland conducting and playing his own music, and Beethoven--First and Fifth Concertos.

Limelight Magazine
$28.00 AUD
Concerto Of The Greater Sea
Joseph Tawadros/ Aco
Joseph Tawadros - oud, Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber ... See More

This month Limelight’s getting a bit catty with our Top Classical Music Insults: which composer said listening to Vaughan Williams was like “staring at a cow for 45 minutes”? We also have all the goss about Opera on Sydney Harbour, including an exclusive photo gallery: Is it a success? What happens if it gets rained out? April edition out now.

 

CD Review of the Month:
Concerto of the Greater Sea: Joseph Tawadros, with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, directed by Richard Tognetti 

Staff Reviews
$29.95 AUD
Handel Il Pastor Fido 1712 Version
Lucy Crowe
HANDEL IL PASTOR FIDO 1712 VERSION

Handel followed his successful London operatic debut, Rinaldo, that spectacle of sorcery and heroics, with this surprisingly modest Arcadian pastorale.

Scored for a simple orchestra of woodwinds, strings and continuo, Il pastor fido’s compact arias are accompanied by basso continuo, only blossoming into string ritornelli at their conclusion. Some of the music is recycled from Handel’s Roman cantatas – your best reference point for its sound-world.

As one witness complained, even the costumes had been recycled, so financial constraints may have been behind the sudden gear change. Either way, London was underwhelmed and after a few performances the opera sank into oblivion, until Handel relaunched it with an extreme makeover, more successfully, in 1734.

This is the original 1712 version’s premiere recording (though I’ve read this disputed) and it gets disarming advocacy from English ensemble La Nuova Musica, under the direction of David Bates.

Dramatically, its lovesick nymphs and shepherds are about as individualised and compelling as the ones you’ll find on Jasperware. Act One in particular is like a slow trip around a Wedgewood urn; its arias a succession of stock emotional postures, with a few sprigs of recitative hacked from the source material and thrown in to locate the characters in some kind of narrative landscape.

But who expects drama from a vase? Il pastor fido still has plenty of charm, brought to life by the winning delicacy and nuance this team bring to recitatives and arias alike. The tone and weight of the work seem perfectly captured and the cast’s three sopranos, mezzo, countertenor and bass baritone are all impeccable.

And Act Two is altogether stronger, including an exquisitely realised sighing aria and a brilliantly scored sleep scene. As the opera’s bunnyboiler, Eurilla, watches over the sleeping Mirtillo, riffing about his lovely eyes and plotting to ruin his relationship with her rival, pizzicato violins and cellos in octaves and repeating harpsichord arpeggiati capture every element: her obsessive love, her furtiveness and his otherworldly slumber. Genius.

The set is beautifully packaged, has excellent notes and a bargain price. This recording is La Nuova Musica’s first and I was pleased to read there are more on the way.

 --Guest reviewer Max McLean has had a long association with Thomas’ Music. He was previously a reviewer for 24 Hours magazine.

$29.95 AUD
Love & Loss - Scarlatti/ Handel
Fiona Campbell
LOVE & LOSS - SCARLATTI/ HANDEL

7½/10

Cantatas by such disparate composers as Alessandro Scarlatti, Handel, and Haydn may at first appear to be odd companion-pieces on a CD, if for no other reason than because they span both baroque and classical periods of music history. However, featured as they are on Australian mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell’s first solo CD release, they are united by a common theme: Love + Loss. Cantatas were an enduringly popular genre for the music makers and listeners throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, offering all of the dramatic scope of opera but packaged in a miniature format eminently suitable to the drawing room or for performance in a larger program. The cantatas on this disc, being no exception to the rule, are wonderful vehicles for expressive and subtle singing and playing, of which Ms Campbell and her accompanying ensemble, led by Neal Peres Da Costa, take full advantage.

The Arcadian charm of the opening cantata, Alessandro Scarlatti’s Bella madre de’fiori, is tempered with moments of poignant melancholy particularly in the central aria of the work, Vanne o Caro. The Haydn cantata, Arianna a Naxos, takes us from the age of the basso continuo and the vestiges of modal harmony to almost a century later into a proto-Mozart sound world of fully formed diatonic harmony and fortepianos, not to mention a new pitch standard! This stylistic leap, together with the sparse texture of a single accompanying instrument and ultra-secco recitative, was a bit startling on my first listen through. Indeed the liner notes advise taking a break between each cantata precisely because of this aural jolt, and I would recommend heeding this advice. Break duly taken, a second and isolated listening to the Haydn revealed its colour and appeal, and the dramatic finale, after an otherwise subdued and measured work, was particularly exciting.

Equally spectacular is the opening of the last cantata on the disc, Handel’s La Lucrezia. The highly-charged continuation of the work gives Ms Campbell much opportunity to demonstrate her emotional range, and the climax reached in the penultimate arioso is thrilling for all its chromatic and vocal audacity, but is also highly effective as an expression of Lucrezia’s despair as she resolves to end her life.

Despite the eccentric program choices, these are fine performances of rarely heard works and the committed listener will be well rewarded.

$38.95 AUD
Art Of The Pedal Piano
Olivier Latry
Naves prestigious Cit de la Musique series presents a ... See More
ART OF THE PEDAL PIANO

9/10

Only rarely does a CD like this come along—deceptively familiar repertoire played on a once appreciated but now entirely forgotten instrument. It is at least forty years since I first bought an LP of Lionel Rogg (or was it Gustav Leonhardt?) playing Bach’s C minor Passacaglia on the pedal-harpsichord, a radical departure for the era but almost mainstream nowadays. At the same time I was taking organ lessons, and my teacher owned a true exotic, a pedal-piano. Just as early eighteenth century organists might have used the pedal-harpsichord as a practice-instrument when an organ (or heater!) was unavailable, so nineteenth century organists presumably used the pedal-piano, although even then it was not a common instrument. In fact, the works of Alkan that the great Kevin Bowyer has recorded for organ were mostly intended for pedal-piano. Nonetheless, I do not recall in all my years of collecting discs of ever seeing another pedal-piano recital, or even another pedal-piano —it is the thylacine of instruments. Apparently there is one other CD available using the newer Doppio Borgato form.

Olivier Latry, best known for his recording of the complete Messiaen organ works on DG, debuts this wonderful instrument in characteristic repertoire: assorted chunky works by Alexandre Boëly, a Brahms Prelude and Fugue, a pair of Alkan Préludes, the Schumann Vier Skizzen which are more familiar on the organ, and two sizeable Liszt works—one the original version of the BACH Prelude and Fugue. His instrument on this CD is a gloriously sonorous 1853 Erard resembling the one owned by Alkan, which optimises the sense when listening of being engaged in time-travel. While I would not pretend that all, or indeed, much, of this music is truly great, the pleasure of hearing these archaic-sounding works on such a fine instrument is considerable. The effect of performing these works in this fashion is to deliberately blur the boundaries between organ and piano works; the composers were all notably fine pianists and organists—in the case of Alkan and Liszt, the very finest. Consequently there is absolutely no sense of these works being unidiomatic in their pedal-piano garb; organists practise fingered rubato, minimising the impact of the absent sustain pedal (no spare feet!). There can be no doubt, though, that while the other works are wonderfully endearing, the stand-out pieces here are the two huge Liszt pieces, the Évocation à la Chapelle Sixtine, a strange, pious work that manages to include a complete transcription of Mozart's Ave verum corpus within its compass, and the BACH Prelude and Fugue in its unfamiliar initial organ version, which is different again from both the revised organ and solo piano revisions that LIszt later made, making this performance a lovely, arcane musical pun, a reverse-engineered 'first piano version' of the piece.

Beyond the enjoyably nostalgic experience of hearing this wonderful old instrument in its native repertoire, there is much to relish in Latry’s astute program. Needless to say, his technique is more than a match for anything the pieces demand, even in the terrifyingly hard Liszt pieces, and he finds unexpected expressivity in what is often regarded as rather dry fare. I thoroughly enjoy this CD.

$34.00 AUD
Barraque Liszt Debussy Piano Works
Neuburger
BARRAQUE LISZT DEBUSSY PIANO WORKS

8/10

Sometimes a CD comes along that is so intriguing that one just has to review it. Jean-Frédéric Neuburger’s recital on 14 January 2011 at the Cité de la Musique in Paris (“cadre Rising Stars”, apparently) has been faithfully issued as a single CD that catches the singularity both of his programming and playing. The sequence he has selected—Liszt’s Funérailles, a Neuburger première, Barraqué Sonate pour piano, and cryptic Debussy to close—is, in this 200th anniversary year of Liszt’s birth, impressively well-judged, and Neuburger’s performance demonstrates clearly that he knows exactly what he is about. Indeed, my CD player started to re-play the first track after the last had ended, and it segued perfectly—a brilliant exemplification of ‘ma fin est mon commencement’.

He approaches Liszt’s complex Funérailles with a brisk tempo; the pummeling bass oscillati are genuinely thunderous and yet rigorously controlled, while he manages to find a satisfying tenderness in the lyrical middle section. The militaristic bravado of the ending peaks well, and his left-hand octaves are truly impressive, but the recurrence of the theme as a ghostly envoi rather peters out. Nonetheless, Neuburger clearly understands the bleak psychology of the piece: after the anguished opening, melancholy passing bells peal throughout his performance.

Neuburger’s own work, Maldoror, named after the sinister symbolist ‘songs’ of Lautréamont, is anamalgam of high modernist and fleetingly-recalled Schumanny gestures. The primary soundworld of the piece, however, is dissonant and sonorous, with a group of prepared bass pitches providing an otherwordly flavour. I wish I could report that the work had a strong character, but for those comfortable with music of the sixties it will certainly provide an enjoyable twenty minutes, even if it does not make one wish to actively seek out more of Neuburger’s music. It is clear why he chose to play it before Jean Barraqué’s immense, awe-inspiring Sonate, which is, in my view, the outstanding piano work of the 1950s, written long before Xenakis or Finnissy had started their radical overhaul of what consituted standard piano technique, and legendarily an influence on the Boulez Sonates. There have been few prior recordings of this mammoth work, by Herbert Henck, Messiaen’s wife Yvonne Loriod, Stefan Litwin, and particularly, the adventurous Australian Roger Woodward, among others. It seems to take Neuburger a few minutes to settle in to the work:  the first movement only gradually acquires a telling expressivity, achieved through a deep layering of dynamcs and electrifying rhythmic contrast, coupled with a dexterity that allows Barraquè’s distinctive harmonies to emerge. Neuburger does not over-emphasise the contrast between the strict serialism and the looser sections in this first movement as some performances do—I think I miss the resulting structural clarity—but over time the sophisticated discourse draws one in. Towards end of the first, dialectical, movement, Neuburger starts to effectively presage the gestural hollowness of the balancing second movement, in which the carefully-assembled structural edifice of the first movement is dismantled. He holds this second movement together with an iron will, resisting the music’s tendency to disintegration and emphasising the gestural linking of phrases. The result is compelling. While this is not my favourite performance of the craggy work (that is probably Henck on ECM), it is certainly a convincing one, and, let’s be honest, any recordings of it are welcome. I heard no page-turns in this live recording: did Neuburger actually memorise it? That is impressive.

Neuburger closes the concert with a beautifully elusive performance of Debussy’s Et la lune descend sur la temple qui fut from the second book of Images; evocative and bell-like, with an exquisitely nostalgic melody, this piece captures a mood of calm melancholy. One could read the program as journeying from the anguish and immediacy of the battlefield via impassioned modernity and intense abstraction, to a detached resignation (but the one thing it is not, despite the CD blurb, is ‘excessive’ or ‘sensual’). However one decodes it, however, Neuburger’s adventurous progamming certainly works.

The whole live recital is performed with real panache, extraordinary technical ease and musicality, and is pedalled very discreetly, allowing for even tiny details to really speak. This is exceptionally fine pianistic artistry, a marvel of clarity and chiselled abstraction. For those who are put off by the substantial element of modernism in this CD Neuburger has recently demonstrated both his range and reliability as the soloist in a fascinating recording of 19th century Piano Concertos by Hérold, also on Mirare—a very different soundworld, and well worth investigating. The present disc will doubtless appeal primarily to adventurous listeners--enjoy!

$24.95 AUD
Debussy Piano Music Vol 5 2 Piano & 4 Hand
Pascal Roge
DEBUSSY PIANO MUSIC VOL 5 2 PIANO & 4 HAND

This is one of those CDs that I have played repeatedly since it first arrived—after the tenth or so listen it dawned on me that it is really rather special. It is pleasing to see husband and wife team Pascal and Ami Rogé joinging forces to provide this duo appendix to the cycle of solo piano works by Debussy that Mr Rogé has been engaged in for some years for the Onyx label. In fact, his affiliation with the music of Debussy goes back at least thirty years; his previous set of recordings is still available as a double-Decca. If anyone were going to provide a truly idiomatic reading of these pieces for four hands at one or two pianos it would be the Rogé partnership.

The CD begins, however, with three solo piano works that were never gathered into one of Debussy’s collections. The opening piece, Masques, is replete with the kinds of innovative technical difficulty that Debussy’s piano works offer: awkward and exposedIslameyesque repeated-note figurations that are themselves reused over and over again, martellato chordal textures that have to be exactly even in tone, all with minimal pedal. For despite his reputation, Debussy’s textures rarely hide behind pedal haze—only when appropriate, as in the piano Prélude, Brouillards, for instance. Even Rogé, the supreme technician, is only just fluent in these radical new pianistic imaginings. Tricky or not, he succeeds marvellously in providing this characteristically mercurial work with psychological continuity. He continues his program with an early Nocturne, exquisitely melodic and shadowy, with faint redolences of Rimsky, and then Debussy’s final piano work, the sombre Elegie.

It is quite extraordinary to think that Debussy’s most well-known piano duet, the Petite Suite, was written in 1886-89, when he was in his mid-twenties. It has quite a lot in common with his slightly later solo piano Suite Bergamasque but the two-player work is subtler and more knowing, not just in its sly recollections of Massenet and Wagner—digs we hardly notice today—but in its remarkably forward-looking harmonies and textures, and its almost facile brightness, which borders on the swaggering: I find it hard not to think of les Six, nearly fifty years later. Certainly it displays a surefootedness and confidence rare for a composer of that age. Astonishing also is the Marche Ecossaise, written at the behest of a Scottish general. Ludicrous though the commission sounds, Debussy managed to produce a work both idiosyncratically his own and distinctly tartan. The Scottish flavour must have appealed to him, as he returned to the theme by using the folksong ‘the Keel Row’ in his orchestral Images. For my taste, however, the stand-out work among his piano duets is the archaic and wistful set of Epigraphes Antiques from 1914, which were reworked from a series of instrumental miniatures Debussy wrote for a presentation of Pierre Louÿs’ Bilitis poems—more recently Pierre Boulez has written a replacement for the lost celesta part and the works are performed under the title Chansons de Bilitis. These aphoristic, atmospheric works have a maturity and concision that few composers could match. By contrast, the three pieces of en Blanc et  Noir of 1915, more famous by far, strike as brash heard directly after the Epigraphes. The “Black and White” pieces inhabit a soundworld closer to Debussy’s late Etudes than his Preludes, and have a muscular expansiveness—and are renowned for their difficulty. The two Rogés make light of the pianistic challenges, and their ability to match their respective piano tones gives the music a radiant unanimity. Drawing the CD to a close is an exhilarating rendition of Lindaraja, yet another Spanish-flavoured Debussy work.

Beyond their sheer technical difficulties, these four-hand pieces make huge demands on the psychic attunedeness of their performers, and Pascal and Ami Rogé deliver marvellously nuanced performances. The key to why I am so impressed by this CD lies in the subtle rightness of the Rogés’ readings—there are few enough consummate solo Debussyans, and to be able to produce such insightful performances in tandem is rare indeed.