CD Release Reviews By Donald Venezia – February 11 2012

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February 11, 2012 by Admin

CD Release Reviews By Donald Venezia

February 11, 2012


Schubert – Symphony No. 9, The Great, Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic

Just the other day a single EMI CD showed up at my door. It was a new recording of Schubert’s 9th with Sir Simon Rattle and the
Berlin Philharmonic.

I’ve never read the letters of Brahms, nor the letters of Schumann, nor even the letters of Mendelssohn, nor even the letters of Mahler. What does this have to do with Schubert’s 9th? I’ll tell you in a minute…

I opened the package and threw the CD into my player. The opening Horn solo was quiet, the ambiance warm, the strings came in with beautiful sound and we went through the intro and into the first allegro theme all rather unspectacularly. Having played the work, and listening to it my whole life and loving it, the requisite tempi changes took place where they’re supposed to be, the accents on the music were highlighted where THEY were supposed to be, and still I felt there was nothing special about this performance, and I thought that Sir Simon, for once, conducted something rather mundane. Then the second movement started.

As the second movement began I really started to warm up to what
I was hearing through my speakers. The more I sat and listened
to this performance, the more startled I became as I began to
realize that what I was listening to here was not only a personal, unique, wonderful and incredible interpretation, but also the foreshadowing of the entire 19th and early 20th century German Symphony! The measures leading up to the recap of the March and the March itself at 6:31 started it all. I heard Mahler, the Gustav Mahler that wrote all those marches in HIS symphonies. And I’m sure that this is a score the CONDUCTOR Gustav Mahler knew and knew quite well, and all those marches are an homage to Schubert. Listen at 10:25 of this movement and there’s more Mahler. The oboe solo, the quiet trumpet and the strings all playing different martial rhythms in counterpoint to one another written a mere 56 years before Mahler started work on his first symphony!

The sound of Brahms permeates the movement as well, especially at around 10:50. Listen closely and for the next minute or so you’re transported to the Brahms of the Haydn Variations! And this feeling of Brahms continues right up to 13:45, where Schubert/Mahler returns with the March in the oboe. And we have this feeling of Schubert, Mahler and Brahms continuing through to the end of the movement. Listen to the forte chords at 14:45 — right out of Brahms’ 4th! The transparency of the orchestra in this recording brings out so much that you don’t necessarily hear, and I’d love to ask Sir Simon at some point if he purposefully had these sections brought out, because you can hear where the German symphony for the next century was headed!

But wait, there’s more. Much more!

The Scherzo is everything you’d want. The playfulness, the jocularity, the joyful passing of the theme between sections of the orchestra and above all a lilt, so you don’t know if this is really a scherzo or a waltz you’re listening to, and then you break into the Laendler, sweetly played by Sir Simon and the Berliners slowing down the tempo slightly, savoring each phrase and playing them with a certain nostalgia with the hints of melancholy making themselves lightly felt.

The last movement, well, fasten your seat belts and get ready for a ride. Here we hear the Schumann of the last movement of his 4th Symphony (actually his 1st, re-orchestrated and renumbered) and hints of Bruckner, not just in this movement but at other points throughout the work as well.

The notes by Richard Osborne, which I read after hearing this performance for the first time, mention the fact that Robert Schumann found the score at Schubert’s brother’s house in 1838,
and it was Mendelssohn who conducted the first performance in a
cut-down version on March 21, 1839, finally published by Breitkopf in 1840. (Mendelssohn had already finished composing his symphonies by this point in time.) Knowing how close Brahms was to Schumann, I’m betting that this one work of Schubert’s above all others, was the guiding light, so to speak, for the symphonic compositions of those great masters, and add Mahler to the list as well.

I came back to this performance for a second listening. I cried during the second movement. I haven’t been this moved by a performance in I can’t tell you how long.

I’ll have to sit down and listen to all my other recordings of Schubert’s Symphony No 9, but I can tell you this: This will come to be considered one of the all-time great interpretations and performances! As Schumann himself once said of Chopin, but
is apt here, “Gentlemen, a genius!”

The “2003-04 Penguin Guide to CD’s and DVD’s” lists the Solti/Vienna Philharmonic performance as their suggested best in a recording of the 9th alone. They also suggest this as the best in the set that includes the Symphony No 8, the Trout Quintet, the ballet music from Rosamunde and more, while for a recording of both the 8th and the 9th they also consider the Guenter Wand/Berlin Philharmonic performances just as satisfying. The March 2006 issue of “Classic FM” says of the Rattle performance “When it (Schubert’s 9th) is played with this degree of orchestral finesse and interpretative flair, it seems not a note too long…Schubert’s ‘Great’ is given a much needed spring clean by Rattle, who keeps the music on its toes throughout…” and the March 2006 issue of “Gramophone” makes the disc an Editor’s Choice for the month, saying of the performance “What emerges…is an extra sense of joy in Schubert’s inspiration,
with rhythms lifted infectiously…one of its great qualities (Rattle’s interpretation) is the way he brings out the many counter-motifs, notably on cellos or second violins, that in many performances are hidden. That transparency of texture is outstanding…this is a first-rate recommendation.”

EMI Classics 3 39382 2
UPC 094633938229

CONCERTO – Vivaldi Flute Concertos, Emmanuel Pahud, Richard
Tognetti, Australian Chamber Orchestra

The name Antonio Vivaldi needs no introduction, but the name  Emmanuel Pahud may be new to you.

Born in Geneva in 1970, Emmanuel Pahud joined the Berlin Philharmonic at the age off 22 as Principal Flute after graduating from the  Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris and further studies with Aurele Nicolet. Pahud has made recordings before this one, which is his latest.

What we have in this release are all of the Opus 10 Flute Concerti, of which there are six, including the ever popular “La Notte,” the  Concerto No 2 in a minor and the wonderful goldfinch-inspired Concerto No 3 in which the first movement imitates a goldfinch! There are two later concerti which anticipate a later style of composition, and the last movement of the No. 6 foreshadows Mozart in its use of Variations.

Richard Tognetti leads a great ensemble in the Australian Chamber Orchestra from the Principal Violin seat and all parties concerned give us, on modern instruments, a spectacular and virtuostic reading of these eight Vivaldi Flute Concerti. I haven’t seen the reviews, but if you have the Galway or the Rampal performances, these are surely their equal.

EMI 0946 3 47212 2 6
UPC 094634721226

CHAMBER – Beethoven String Quartet No 7/String Quartet No 11, Artemis String Quartet

When Beethoven started composing his String Quartets, he adhered to the philosophy that they had to be in groups of six. (Witness
the quartets of both Haydn and Mozart.) So Beethoven beginning
in the genre gave us the six  magnificent quartets that comprise
his Opus 18. But just as Beethoven revolutionized the symphony and the piano sonata and made them all his own and set the course for the rest of the 19th century, he also did so with his string quartets. No less important nor less magnificent were the Opus 59 quartets that followed, quartets dedicated to  Beethoven’s friend and patron Count Rasumovsky, hence the nickname “The Razumovsky Quartets,” Beethoven’s Opus 59 numbers 1-3. The 2003-04 edition of “The Penguin Guide” cite the Takacs Quartet as the benchmark for the three.

But the Razumovsky No 1 is the second work on this disk. The
Artemis Quartet, whom I’m hearing for the first time, begin their program with the String Quartet No 11 in f minor, the “Serious Quartet.” What will strike you as you place this disc in your player and start to listen is the strength, urgency, musicality and sound of the Artemis Quartet as well as the ambiance of where these performances were recorded (the Jesus Christus Kirche in Berlin). This being my maiden voyage with the Artemis Quartet, I thought their playing of this Beethoven rivaled the last recordings the Juilliard Quartet made, and then I found out reading the Artemis’ web site that they studied with the Juilliard!

What you have with the Opus 95 is Beethoven at his experimental
best, taking an extroverted art form and making it totally his own! You start off with a bang in a short first-movement allegro con brio (think Symphony No 5, first movement) that’s a breath more than 4 minutes in length. There’s a powerful unison (all the instruments playing the same music) that alternates with sweet lines before the next unison, with abrupt modulations which probably shocked listeners for the first time, and the ensemble plays tossing the lines back and forth all movement, right to the quiet ending, which is also experimental.

The first movement gives way to a sweetly quiet allegretto (think Symphony No 7, second movement) in place of the andante or even adagio that you usually find in the quartet structure (again, more experimenting) but in a minor key opposed to the customary major, although the second theme, as started by the violins IS in major, before we end the movement with a major chord played sotto voce (very quietly) so that we end the movement as we started it, before the attaca into the third movement. (Think here the end of the fourth movement of the 6th Symphony going into the beginning of the fifth movement.)

We start the third with the same power and urgency of the first,
yet again mixing power with sweetness in a rondo where the music
keeps coming back and alternating like the scherzo of, say, the 7th Symphony, where you have the same material, just orchestrated differently.

The fourth movement begins with a larghetto that gives way to the allegretto agitato then a final allegro, so we keep building and building to, if you’ll pardon the pun, a scherzo crescendo ending IN MAJOR where you exhale slowly from the catharsis of what you’ve just experienced!

The second piece on the CD, the first of the Razumovsky Quartets, is about as less experimental as Beethoven’s Symphony No 1! The quartet starts off with a beautiful cello solo that’s tossed around between the instruments and you even have a section where the viola and cello are playing in horn fifths with each other! (A horn fifth is a compositional device that mirrors the harmonic writing of French Horns where at first the two horns are in octaves, then fifths then thirds before reversing the process.) And all throughout the playing is warm and beautiful.

I could sit here and laud the praises of the playful scherzando second movement and the achingly beautiful slow third movement which leads into the Russian-themed finale, but I think I just did! With the CD coming in at 57:36, the Artemis had time for the Grosse Fugue, but that’s a VERY minor complaint to a wonderfully played performance with great character and flair, warmly recorded and a lot of fun! I’m looking forward to the next installment of what might be a Beethoven Quartet cycle.

Virgin Classics 7243 545738 2 8

CHORAL – Nicholas Gombert Missa Media Vita in Morte Sumus

I first came to the music of Gombert in my music history classes, and have always found his choral writing beautiful.
Gombert was born around 1500 and died 1556, or possibly after 1556. Gombert may have studied with Josquin, but he may not have. We may not have much information about Gombert, but what we do have is music that is breathtaking, and this performance of the Missa Media Vita is no exception.

Gombert served in the court of Charles V and, after an indecency
which resulted in his being forced into servitude as a galley slave, returned splendidly, first to the Church in Tournai, France, and later as what would amount to a “free lance” composer of motets, which we have on this recording as well as the Mass. In fact, the Hilliard Ensemble, who perform the music on this CD, adhere to the late-Renaissance tradition of inserting other material than the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus (which is not here and probably not composed) and Agnus Dei that make up the standard Mass setting.

What you’re going to hear is not only beautifully sung music that’s beautifully composed, but you’re also going to notice a device of Gombert’s where the voices weave constantly and seem to avoid any rests. And while the Mass itself is written for 5 voices, the motets will vary between 4 and 6 voices, and you’ll hear “wrong” notes to color the vocal lines and the harmonies, giving you very unexpected surprises from time to time.

Richard Taruskin in his mammoth work “The Oxford History of Western Music” (2004) says of Gombert’s music “We have little information about the way in which such music struck listeners,
but we do know that it enjoyed great prestige among composers,
who found Gombert’s technical control impressive enough to go on
vying with it for several generations. Indeed, as late as 1610, more than fifty years after Gombert’s motets first saw the light of day, Claudio Monteverdi…published a parody Mass (a mass that is based on existing sources such as motets or chansons) that rewrote and recast “In illo tempore” (a motet of Gombert’s) in a truly heroic scale. Gombert was first and last a composer’s composer.”

While I have not seen a review of this CD, I have no doubt that reviewers in the major magazines will pick this recording a best
selection of the month in which it’s reviewed. “BBC Music Magazine” in its February 2006 issue talks about Gombert’s compositional style as having “…the ingredients of texture, melodic phrasing, harmonic interplay and formal growth…” while the “2003/2004 Penguin Guide” says of Gombert’s compositional style from his last Magnificats “…among the most glorious music of the Flemish Renaissance.”

ECM New Series 1884 B0005917-02
UPC 602498187920

SOUNDTRACKS – John Williams, “Munich”

As we all may remember from  watching the captivating images on
TV in 1972, “Munich” is as serious a subject matter and score as was what Williams wrote for “Schindler’s List.” Williams is wonderful yet again, mixing both “Semitic” music to depict the
Middle East, music for cues, and, in typical John Williams fashion, some of the most scrumptious music you’re ever going to hear. You also have one of the most beautifully orchestrated and performed versions of “Hatikva,” the Israeli National Anthem, that you’re ever going to hear. And for those of you who know Smetana’s “The Moldau” from his “Ma Vlast” (My Homeland), it’s
stunning how much one resembles the other.

Also in “Munich” you’ll find the beautiful “Prayer for Peace” that feels in the same mode as the violin solo in Schindler, but played by the full orchestra; “Avner and Daphna” is reminiscent of the love music from “Star Wars Episode II,” which is as lovely an oboe solo as in “The Attack of the Clones” where Anakin and Padme are staying by the lakeside; there’s the traditional use of a cello in “Thoughts of Home” which composers such as Bruch and Bloch, just to name two, use to tug on your heartstrings to represent Jewish longing; and the constantly recurring music of the “Prayer for Peace,” in which Steven
Spielberg, in the liner notes, writes that “For me, the quintessential movement of John’s score for MUNICH entitled ‘A Prayer for Peace’ embraces the history of this tragedy while deeply honoring the memory of the members of the Israeli team who were murdered on September 6, 1972.” I’m sure John Williams wrote the “Prayer for Peace” thinking about how different the politics of the Middle East of 2005 are from the politics of the Middle East of 1972, yet how much they’re the same, and how much we all hope for peace.

Decca B0006093-02
UPC 602498791424

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