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.

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
Tognetti/ Aco
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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$19.95 AUD
$19.95 AUD
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
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$14.95 AUD
Bach Easter Cantatas 4/ 31/ 66/ 134
Mercury Living Presence 6 Lp Vinyl
Mozarts Sister - Nannerl Dvd
Thomanerchor Leipzig
Marie Feret
Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture; Capriccio Italien - Minneapolis Symphony ... See More
$29.95 AUD
$29.95 AUD
$55.00 AUD
Felicien David String Quartets
An Australian In Paris Dvd
Great Wagner Conductors Book
Quatuor Cambini
Jane Rutter
Jonathan Brown
This book is a pioneering study of the great historical Wagner ... See More
$29.95 AUD
Bach Orchestral Suites
Jordi Savall
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suites BWV 1066-1069
Jordi Savall ... See More
Collectors Corner
$34.00 AUD
$24.95 AUD
$$19.95 AUD
Schubert Schwanengesang Piano Sonata D960
Turina Chamber Music Piano Quartet Violin Sonata
Goerne/ Eschenbach
Nash Ensemble
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.

$29.95 AUD
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Beethoven Complete Concertos 4cd
Chopin Mazurkas
Stravinsky - The First Decca Recordings 4cd
Kovacevich/ Krebbers
Nikita Magaloff

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!

MSO News
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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
$24.95 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
Love & Loss - Scarlatti/ Handel
Fiona Campbell


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


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.