CD and Other Review

Review: The Ground Beneath Our Feet (The Knights)

On paper, this album by New York City-based chamber orchestra The Knights looks like a goer. Each piece – apart from Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Oboe, which is the genuine article – riffs off re-imagined ideas of the Concerto Grosso: a small body of soloists co-existing against the firepower of an orchestra. The Knights are musicians on a mission. Describing themselves as “an orchestral collective dedicated to transforming the concert experience”, the first thing to go is a conductor and I wonder if the pressure to count like crazy is why the Bach is taken at such a stampeding tempo? Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks fares better. But the group’s homogenised, pile-driver tone makes you wish for a hint of whimsy, vulnerability even. Steve Reich’s Duet for Two Violins and Strings transforms the concert experience into extreme tedium: this is one of Reich’s most casually note spun and generic scores, not helped by the glutinous recorded sound. A concerto for santur, violin and orchestra cobbled together by Colin Jacobsen (a santur being a Persian dulcimer) is episodic.  The collectively composed …the ground beneath our feet, anchored around a ground bass borrowed from Baroque composer Tarquinio Merula is the final hurrah, but…

October 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Mahler: Symphony No 2 arranged for two pianos, eight hands

★★★★½ Prior to the recorded age, composers made piano transcriptions for a number of reasons. In the case of Gustav Mahler, transcriptions were presented to orchestral organisations and musicians who had expressed an interest in presenting one of his densely contrapuntal vistas to their audiences. To such a purpose, his popular Resurrection Symphony, which took the composer six years to write, has given birth to two such arrangements including one for piano duet by Mahler’s disciple and specialist, Bruno Walter in the latter years of the 19th century. A third, perhaps more satisfying approach was taken by Heinrich von Bocklet after the composer’s death and it is this which receives its discographic premiere in this excellent Melba release. It does take the ear a while to readjust to this more intimate and chamber-like impression, but here we have four pianists aiming towards a single and coherent performance, rather than having to bypass the often egocentric excesses involving a conductor and orchestral forces, thereby honing in on Mahler’s actual intents. The hushed, otherworldly quality of Urlicht seems appropriately lit from within, though the finale’s choral outburst may lack a little in power. However, all in all, here is an excellent guide towards understanding this great emotional work with even greater insight. Download This Album

September 21, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Mendelssohn, Grieg & Hough: Cello Sonatas

Recording of the Month: October 2015 ★★★★½   It’s always a coup when two internationally renowned soloists come together to play chamber music, and Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough undoubtedly make quite the pair, though you wouldn’t guess it straight away. Isserlis, with his signature mop of wild, grey locks, is a hot-blooded player known for his energy and sense of fun. Hough, sporting his neatly parted, conservatively coifed do, is instead the picture of cool, refined control. Hairstyles aside, they each possess profound musical intellects, while both are considerable champions of creative diversity. Isserlis is just as much at home playing Bach as he is tackling the toughest of contemporary music, and besides the standard repertoire, Hough has a keen curiosity for discovering some of the more rarely heard music of the 19th century. It’s a testament to each of them that they can effortlessly trade the soloist spotlight for the delicate and often difficult dualism of chamber music.  This disc marks their third joint foray into the cello sonata repertoire. They’ve done the Brahms sonatas as well as Rachmaninov and Franck. This time they’ve chosen to feature some lesser-known offerings, including Grieg’s only cello sonata and Mendelssohn’s second….

September 18, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Kabalevsky, Prokofiev: Cello Works (Leonard Elschenbroich)

Editor’s Choice Chamber Recording – August 2015 ★★★★ Along with the many other Soviet composers who are deemed insufficiently dissident, Dmitry Kabalevsky’s reputation, despite the craft and quality of his utilitarian output, has been crushed beneath the wheels of the commie-bashing critical bandwagon so it’s high time that his serious work was reappraised.  His breezy First Cello Concerto, Opus 9, is popular among today’s young players on the competition circuit, but the serious Second Cello Concerto, Opus 77, is rarely heard, and that is quite a shame. It is a warmly expressive and accessible work with a distinctive mood entirely of its own.  The concerto’s brooding introduction eventually gives way to a nervous, agitated argument that has an obvious socio-political subtext with furtive glances over the shoulder. The mood carries over to the Presto marcato movement with its inevitable Russian carnival grotesqueries and interrupts the finale’s periods of calm resignation. Written in 1964, one senses in the background the dreadful possibility of Cold War apocalypse or the mundane fear of the dreaded knock on the door.  Leonard Elschenbroich justifies his advocacy by digging in deep with bold, emotive gestures and precise articulation. Litton and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra provide a…

September 4, 2015