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J Scott Morrison (Middlebury VT, USA)
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Liszt: Annees De Pelerinage 2
Liszt: Annees De Pelerinage 2
Price: 11.76

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic Liszt, 2 Mar 2011
Michael Korstick, a pianist whose playing I've admired ever since I heard him thirty-five years or so ago when he was a student at the Aspen Music Festival, is a player I'd always thought of as thoughtful and scholarly, rather in the Alfred Brendel mold. I'd never really thought of him as a Liszt player. In this, his second CD of the Années de Pèlerinage, his playing is, in fact, not only thoughtful but expressively transcendent. This is glorious, poetic Liszt. The 'Italian Year' starts off with a piece that can be deadly dull in the wrong hands; but here the 'Sposalizio' is arrestingly subtle, with dynamic and tonal variety and beautiful phrasing. 'Il penseroso' can be even duller because it is such an inherently gloomy piece, but Korstick makes it not only beautiful but fascinating. The little 'Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa' makes for a light-hearted contrast before we hear the three 'Sonetti di Petrarca' which feature some of the loveliest silken playing I've ever heard in these wonderful pieces. The 'Dante Sonata' has its share of Lisztian bombast but it is also gloriously lyrical in Korstick's account.

The disc concludes with some late, sometimes cryptic, often confusingly abstruse, rarely heard Liszt, described by the booklet writer to be 'From the Cradle to the Grave': 'Cradle Song', 'Mosonyi's Funeral Procession', 'At the Grave of Richard Wagner', 'La lugubre Gondola No. 2', and 'Funeral Prelude and Funeral March'. The harmonic procedures in these pieces are unlike anything Liszt (or anyone else) had written previously and they point to the breakdown of tonality as firmly as did composers a generation hence. One can only admire the courage of the aged composer for striking out on this uncharted path. Korstick gives these pieces illuminative performances.

Scott Morrison


Louis Spohr: String Quartets (Complete)
Louis Spohr: String Quartets (Complete)
Price: 9.46

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yet More Spohr, 2 Mar 2011
Louis Spohr (1784-1859) is often dismissed these days, possibly because his music is so well-crafted that it sounds simpler than it is. And of course he's pooh-poohed because he's not Beethoven. But who is? Among other things this musical jack-of-all-trades was a virtuoso violinist, conductor, teacher and composer. And he's also remembered for inventing the violin chin rest and popularizing the use of the baton when conducting. Oh, and he also was the first to use letters in scores, saving rehearsal time when a conductor could simply say 'Let's begin again five measures after Letter D.'

He wrote 36 string quartets and this release is the 14th in Marco Polo's complete traversal of the lot. Here we get two genial, tuneful, beautifully constructed quartets that, while they are probably not masterpieces, are entirely enjoyable. Additionally there is a 'Potpourri', a ten-minute quasi-violin concerto. Spohr was a remarkable tunesmith, having the knack of constructing melodies that stick in the aural memory. He was able to manage long forms with skill and both these quartets and the potpourri are examples of that. I enjoyed this release much as I did the earlier issues.

The Moscow Philharmonic Concertino String Quartet (unwieldy name, that!) previously recorded Volumes 10, 11 & 12 in the Marco Polo Spohr quartet series. They specialize in playing rarities of the quartet literature. The quartet's members are Jaroslav Krasnikov and Sofia Krasnikova, violins, Olga Zhmaeva, viola and Victor Kozodov, cello.

Scott Morrison


Intermezzi Op.117, Piano Pieces Op.118 & 119 etc.
Intermezzi Op.117, Piano Pieces Op.118 & 119 etc.
Price: 11.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brahms's Final Piano Pieces, 23 Feb 2011
This issue is the fifth and final CD in a series comprising all of Brahms's solo piano works played by the fine German pianist Andreas Boyde. It includes some Brahmsian rarities about which more below.

This disc contains Brahms's last solo piano works -- the previous disc included the related Op. 116 -- the Opp. 117-119, a group of short autumnal and mostly gentle pieces that Brahms composed right after he'd written those marvelous final chamber pieces that included the clarinet, the ones inspired by clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld. The composer referred to the Three Intermezzi, Op. 117, as 'three lullabies of my sorrows' ('drei Wiegenlieder meiner Schmerzen') and indeed they are gently nostalgic in tone. None of the pieces in the final three opus numbers require virtuosic digital ability, but they do need exquisite musical taste which Andreas Boyde, a major recent pianistic discovery for me, has in abundance. See my review of Volume 3 of this series: Johannes Brahms: Complete Works For Solo Piano, Vol. 3. Compared with the recordings of, say, Stephen Kovacevich or even that great Brahms player Julius Katchen, his playing is more inwardly expressive. He recognizes that Brahms was conveying his feelings of having recently lost so many friends and relatives in a relatively short time and perhaps contemplating the end of his own life. The Piano Pieces, Op. 118, a set of six short pieces, and the Three Piano Pieces, Op. 119, generally continue the gentle mood, but the final piece of Op. 119 is the energetic, mostly major-key Rhapsody in E Flat, an oddly upbeat (and utterly wonderful) swan song.

The disc concludes with a number of works that were not published in Brahms's lifetime. First there is the 'Suite Fragment in A Minor, WoO' ('Werke ohne Opuszahl' = 'Work without opus number'), a collection of three baroque dances: Sarabande, Gavotte, Gigue. These were written in 1854-55 but apparently Brahms didn't think they were fit to be published. Next comes another two baroque dances here designated 'Suite Fragment in B Minor, WoO', comprising a Sarabande and a Gigue. You will hear that Brahms later reused some of the suites' themes in his Op. 36 String Sextet and the Op. 88 String Quintet. Then comes a brief and all-but-unknown 'Piano Piece, WoO in B Flat Major'. And finally there is the minute-long unnamed piece, here called 'Albumblatt' ('Album Leaf'), dated 1868, written in an album for Clara Schumann's younger sister, Marie Wieck, herself a fine pianist.

A wonderful end to a wonderful series of Brahms playing by Andreas Boyde.

Scott Morrison


Piano Dances
Piano Dances

5.0 out of 5 stars Charming Schubert Miniatures Played Beautifully, 22 Feb 2011
This review is from: Piano Dances (Audio CD)
I'd never heard anything by pianist Paolo Bordoni except his recording of all of Schubert's piano waltzes recorded way back in the 1970s. Schubert - Complete Waltzes It was marvelous and a real keeper; indeed, I still have that set of LPs. But then I ran across this recording of Schubert 'Piano Dances' from 1994 and knew I wanted it. Well, I was not disappointed. Bordoni has a real way with the exuberance, the gentle lyricism, the nave charm of Schubert's lighter works.

The only drawback, and it is minor, is that the 65 minute disc has only nine tracks because, for instance, the sixteen short German Dances are all on one track -- this means you can't easily pick out only one of the dances to hear, you pretty much have to start at the beginning and hear them in order. This is not really a problem for most listeners because each dance tends to be less than a minute long and they flow from one to the other. This is also true for all the other collections -- the 17 Ländler, 11 Écossaises and so on.

This is wonderful music for those times when you want charmingly beautiful music for relaxation or background but which also repays close attention.

An easy recommendation.

Scott Morrison


Ghedini: Piano Music Vol.2
Ghedini: Piano Music Vol.2
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: 4.75

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Rest of Ghedini's Piano Music, 22 Feb 2011
This is the second of two CDs comprising the complete piano music by the almost forgotten Italian composer, Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1892-1965). My review of the first CD is here: Ghedini: Complete Piano Music Vol.1 The composer was born in Cuneo, educated in Turin, spent his career mostly as a teacher there and in Parma and finally as director of the music conservatory in Milan where, among others, he taught Luciano Berio, Guido Cantelli and both Claudio and Roberto Abbado. In his day he was also known as a conductor and pianist. The pieces on both discs run in roughly chronological order. The earliest piece on this disc, the Sonatina in D Major, is from 1913 and sounds a lot like mid-19th century music by, say, Mendelssohn. Melodic, charming, fairly lightweight. And ultimately trivial, although Ghedini's fascination with counterpoint, something that lasted throughout his life, is already evident here. Of course, Ghedini was only twenty-one when he wrote it. The next work, from nine years later (1922), is a set of four pieces for children (written for his two little daughters) -- Puerilla, 4 Little Pieces on Five Notes -- and in spite of their chosen limitations (the melodies and accompaniments can all be played within a hand-span without changing position on the keyboard) they have personality and show a major harmonic advance compared to the earlier work. The four pieces are depictions of an ant, a cat, a cuckoo, and a hen.

From the same year, Ghedini's longest piano work, lasting almost twenty minutes, is the Sonata in A Major. The sonata's epigraph is Villon's 'Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?' ('But where are the snows of yesteryear?'). And indeed the sonata, particularly the middle movement, is drenched in nostalgia. The outer movements are lively, perhaps hinting at the joys of times past. Harmonically and formally the work is complex and colorful. (Somewhat strangely, the final movement, although written long before Aaron Copland's invention of the 'wide open spaces of the American prairie' sound, sounds for all the world like it could be from the same hand that wrote 'Appalachian Spring'!) The piece ends by dissolving into pastel colors and finally silence.

'Fantasia' (1927) is a virtuoso piece that is dramatic and turbulent with stormy octave and chordal passages. It also contains a large fugato section that is vaguely Hindemithian. The work had a popularity with Italian pianists for a time but, oddly, Ghedini wrote no more piano music until thirteen years later in 1940. His fascination (and skill) with contrapuntal textures comes to the fore in that work, the 'Divertimento contrapuntistico' (1940). It is irrepressibly playful and extremely virtuosic.

'Capriccio' (1943) is dedicated to Luigi Dallapiccola and thus not surprisingly percussive and modernistic. The dynamic range is quite wide and the polyphony virtually atonal and occasionally chordal rather than linear. 'Ricercare super "Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum"' ('Ricercar on "As the hart panteth after the water brooks"', Psalm 42) was written in 1944 and is based on a Gregorian theme. It is dour, austere, bleak and perhaps reflects the times, the final years of World War II. (Pianist Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi here plays a late revision of the work from 1956.) This is a powerful, spare, lean work that takes several hearings to make its impact.

Finally, there is a brief 'Allegretto' (1957) that was written as an examination piece for intermediate piano students. It is a playful march that concludes with a flourish.

Bianchi, who also played on the first Ghedini piano disc, is a fine exponent of these works. If one had to choose only one of the discs I'd be hard pressed to make a recommendation. In general the works on CD 1 are more conventional and thus easier to 'get', but the works on this disc are meatier.

Scott Morrison


Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli - The Vatican Recordings:
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli - The Vatican Recordings:
Price: 13.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quintessential Michelangeli, 17 Feb 2011
This CD was recorded live at the Vatican in June 1987 and has been issued a number of times before, e.g. Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: The Vatican Recordings, sometimes in conjunction with other Vatican recordings, sometimes not. This record label -- Memoria ABM -- seems to be devoted to preserving and issuing Michelangeli recordings as its name implies. Nothing has been done to the recording -- it is in its original sound (mono, and slighter closer than is the norm) and includes the applause of the audience.

The performances are quintessential Michelangeli -- rhythmically crisp (with occasional rushing), exceptionally clean, Apollonian and yet emotionally expressive. There have been Michelangeli recordings of this repertoire -- Beethoven's Op. 3, No. 2; Chopin's Andante spianato et grande polonaise, Op. 22; and Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit -- before and many will already have those. But these, too, are special and worth the slightly higher than normal price of this offering.

Scott Morrison


Various: Italian Intermezzo (Works By Verdi, Leoncavallo, Puccini, Wolf-Ferrari)
Various: Italian Intermezzo (Works By Verdi, Leoncavallo, Puccini, Wolf-Ferrari)
Price: 14.31

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Heaven!, 15 Feb 2011
Although it is rarely commented upon, one of the glories of Italian opera, particularly that of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is the orchestral intermezzo -- the music that goes between scenes and which both gives time for changing scenery and for commenting on the preceding or upcoming scene. And, strangely, although I could be wrong, I don't recall any other CD in recent times that has consisted entirely of these wonderful orchestral morsels alone. We're all familiar with the intermezzi that exist in the standard repertoire, but how many of you know the music of Puccini's 'Edgar', Catalani's 'Loreley' (or even his most famous opera, 'La Wally') or Wolf-Ferrari's 'I Quattro Rusteghi'? Well, all those and more are here and they are played utterly gorgeously by the BBC Philharmonic under the knowing direction of Gianandrea Noseda (who, among other things, is a fixture in opera houses like his own Teatro Regio in Turin and our own Metropolitan).

There are familiar and well-loved pieces here -- the Prelude to Act III of 'La Traviata' with its implications of Violetta's tubercular frailty, the Intermezzo from 'I Pagliacci', the 'Dance of the Hours' from Ponchielli's 'La Gioconda'. All played with silken strings, pulsing emotion and lilting rhythms. But just as compelling are such things as the Prelude to Act II of Giordano's 'Siberia' (an opera I'd never even heard of), the delicate 'Dance of the Water Nymphs' from Catalani's 'Loreley', the Intermezzo from Puccini's 'Suor Angelica' with its mixture of loneliness and reverence. And that from Mascagni's 'other' opera 'L'Amico Fritz', which almost never gets revived these days because of its ludicrous plot; but its Intermezzo is a gently throbbing cri du coeur.

The only unfamiliar pieces here that I couldn't much respond to were the two Intermezzi from Catalani's 'La Wally.' I know there must be more to them that I can discern if only because I know that Arturo Toscanini so loved the opera that he named his daughter for its title character. For all that, though, these two intermezzi are here played with convincing sincerity. (For that matter, I've never much responded to the most famous aria from 'La Wally', 'Ebben? Ne andrò lontana', which featured so prominently in the movie 'Diva' and in Jonathan Demme's movie about AIDS, 'Philadelphia', so I'm sure the deficiency is mine, not Catalani's.)

Whoever had the idea for this CD should get an award. It is wholly satisfying both for its musical and technical aspects, and for its emotional impact.

Scott Morrison


Mozart: Divertimento KV 563, Preludes & Fugues
Mozart: Divertimento KV 563, Preludes & Fugues
Price: 13.79

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A More Than Respectable Performance of Mozart's Great String Divertimento, 14 Feb 2011
There is no question in my mind, or in that of many others, that Mozart's Divertimento for String Trio in E Flat Major, Op. 563, is one of his greatest works and indeed one of the greatest chamber works of any composer. For myself, I love it beyond any other chamber music Mozart wrote. There is something ineffably engaging both emotionally and intellectually about this piece. Of course, it is not a divertimento as we generally understand that term. This is not background or wallpaper music. I know that it probably got its name because it is in six movements, like a suite or divertimento, but the impetus behind the music is utterly serious. And string players know this; it is one of the pieces that string players love to play for their own enjoyment. Indeed, the first time I heard it in live performance the players were Itzhak Perlman, violin, Pinchas Zukerman, viola, and Ronald Leonard, then the principal cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a performance that remains imprinted in my memory of great musical experiences. In the many years since then I have never heard a bad performance or recording of the work. There is something about it that brings out the best in musicians.

That said, where does this recording by the Hermitage String Trio fit? Well, it is a perfectly respectable reading, quite mainstream, nothing outré about it. It is a bit on the tame or cautious side. For instance those viola licks that in the right hands can make your jaw drop don't elicit that reaction. Musical, yes; startling (as they can be), no. Yet, the sense of ensemble, of one-mindedness, does obtain to this performance. Clearly the Hermitage group -- formed a mere six years before this recording was made in June 2010 -- think and play as one. If they have any weakness it is that lack of daring that one hears in such recordings as the one by Gidon Kremer, Kim Kashkashian and Yo-yo Ma Mozart: Divertimento, K.563 or by the Grumiaux Trio Mozart: Complete String Trios & Duos or the Leopold Trio Mozart: Divertimento K. 563/K. 424. And then, of course, there is the no longer easily obtainable (and ancient but still marvelous) recording by Heifetz/Primrose/Feuermann which many, myself included, think is one of the great chamber music recordings of all time.

The disc is filled out by two of Mozart's Preludes and Fugues for String Trio (Nos IV & V) from the group of six 'Fugues with Slow Preludes' K404a, based on music by Bach and written in 1781 for his patron, Baron van Swieten.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 30, 2011 8:59 PM BST


Plays Mozart & Beethoven
Plays Mozart & Beethoven
Price: 9.85

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and Exceedingly Musical Mozart and Beethoven, 10 Feb 2011
Jill Crossland is a player I'd heard of but don't recall hearing either live or on record. On the basis of this CD, originally issued on the Calico label in 2003, I will be looking for other things she has recorded. She is from Yorkshire, studied with Ryszard Bakst and Paul Badura-Skoda. If I had to characterize the playing on this disc I would say that it is elegant, thoughtful, individual without being outré, and exceedingly musical throughout. I enjoyed this disc repeatedly and each time through found new things to make me go all slack-jawed at their beauty and their rightness.

In the Mozart Sonata in F Major, K.533/494 one is struck by how much this latish Mozart sonata presages the Romantic style developed by Beethoven. Having played this sonata myself I have to say that this notion had never struck me before. This does not mean that Crossland indulges in Romantic hyperindividualism or undue drama, but rather that she shapes phrases, particularly phrase-ends, and tone in a rather more 19th-century way that one usually hears in Mozart. The middle movement Andante is played on the slow side and yet the long line is maintained in such a way that one is kept in anticipation of where it will go next. There is a sense of inevitability at the same time one feels a kind of spontaneity in the playing; quite a skill, I'd say. The Allegretto rondo finale is played a bit on the slow side, as compared to other performances one hears, but with complete believability. One is more used to a faster tempo that contrasts with that of the Andante but Crossland's approach somehow enhances and extends the effect of the middle movement. One realizes that Crossland thinks closely about formal architecture in a credible and insightful way.

Beethoven's Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 is generally subtitled 'The Tempest' and the general assumption has been that it somehow is related to Shakespeare's play of that name, but in fact Beethoven did not call it that nor was it called 'Tempest' until after his death. Most scholars, including the redoubtable Donald Francis Tovey, now disown that designation. I make this point because Crossland's way with the sonata does not emphasize its storminess, but focuses rather more on lyricism and elements of mystery or suspense. The sonata's recurring upward, slow arpeggiated passages are played very softly and slowly and they function as suspenseful scene-setters. Others have done this but I don't recall hearing it done quite so pointedly. The Adagio is played in a style that anticipates the kind of Adagio Beethoven wrote in the late sonatas. One holds one's breath and time stands still. Those bass triplet tattoos again emphasize the suspensefulness of the movement's long-lined arc. The finale starts innocently enough and has always seemed to me to be not of a piece with the rest of the sonata, but Crossland makes that beginning merge into the more agitated and increasingly chromatic passage that follows. A very satisfying performance.

The Op. 110 Sonata is one of the absolute glories of Beethoven's writing. And it is one of the hardest to pull off, not because of its requirement for virtuosic technique per se, but because of its complex interpretative demands. The Haydnesque first movement is marked 'con amabilità' ('amiably') and it is certainly that. In Crossland's hands there is also a slightly darker undertone. The sonata-allegro first movement is followed by a short scherzo that is indeed jocose. Crossland plays the movement a bit slower than one generally hears -- it is often played at breakneck speed -- and the benefit is that the one can respond to the movement's rhythmic and harmonic surprises more readily. I had mixed feelings about her tempo but have been won over with repeated hearings. The finale is a sectional movement with opening recitative, first arioso section, first fugue, second arioso section, second fugue (inversion of the first), and brief homophonic and triumphant conclusion. The movement can fall apart into discrete and unrelated sections in lesser hands. Crossland has clearly thought careful about their interrelatedness; the movement may be considered as describing increasing despair and final acquisition of confidence and triumph. Crossland conveys the human drama with conviction and skill.

Sound of the recorded piano is just a bit closer than one might like, but it is not objectionable.

This is a marvelous recital and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2011 5:36 PM BST


Complete Works for Piano
Complete Works for Piano
Price: 14.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Excruciatingly Boring Mendelssohn-and-Water, 10 Feb 2011
The booklet that comes with this CD of the complete piano music of German composer Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927) gives us virtually nothing about the composer herself except for her dates and that she had a music-loving family and had been a pianist whose 'networking' included the likes of Clara Schumann, Brahms, Liszt etc. The music included here is a collection of character pieces (including a 'sonata') filled with almost unceasing arpeggios, utterly predictable and even trite harmonies and gestures and a kind of etiolated Mendelssohnian prettiness. Ultimately, listening to the disc is like eating a whole box of chocolates at one sitting, with an accompanying aural nausea.

The majority of the booklet notes are several pages of fatuous comments putting forth the notion that women can composers who are the equals of men. Of course, that's true. But the music contained herein does not prove that point by any means.

The pianist, an attractive Croatian woman named Ana-Marija Markovina, gives the works a reasonable presentation although she does have some problems from time to time with unsteady tempi.

One oddity of the disc is that since not all of Le Beau's piano music can actually fit on the disc -- the total timing runs something over 82" -- the option to download the remaining pieces from the record label's website is proffered. I didn't bother.

Scott Morrison


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