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J Scott Morrison (Middlebury VT, USA)
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Mendelssohn: String Octet, Piano Sextet
Mendelssohn: String Octet, Piano Sextet
Price: £14.67

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mendelssohn on 'Original Instruments', 9 Feb. 2011
The String Octet, Op. 20, by Mendelssohn has been recorded many times, deservedly, and is a classic of the chamber repertoire. It is most often played in concert by an established quartet along with a younger quartet of their protégés. But on recordings it is often recorded by two internationally noted quartets who come together for the express purpose of playing this classic. This recording, however, is played by a somewhat different grouping of instrumentalists. The Solisti Filarmonici Italiana is a group primarily made up of professors from various Italian conservatories. And, further, they play in this recording on instruments outfitted with gut strings and French bows from the mid-19th century. Consequently the sound here is mellower than one hears with modern instruments and the group's approach is correspondingly rather more gentle on the whole. They do use vibrato but less than is often heard in modern performances. All that said, this performance of the Octet is quite enjoyable if not quite at the exalted level of the recording of, say, the Guarneri and Orion Quartets Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Octet in E-Flat Major for Strings.

The Piano Sextet, Op. 110, was, in spite of its high opus number, written a year before the Octet; that is to say, Mendelssohn was only fourteen when he wrote it! And one can hear the amazing distance Mendelssohn's abilities had come in the year between the two works. The Sextet is for the unusual combination of violin, two violas, cello, double bass and piano. It is neatly crafted but is clearly much less mature in both construction and inspiration than the Octet; still it IS Mendelssohn and thus ingratiatingly charming. It is relatively dark in color, owing to its instrumentation, and has two middle movements that are less high engaging than the corresponding movements of the Octet. Further, the finale does go on a bit too long and owes rather a lot to Carl Maria von Weber, but it is invigorating nonetheless. Nonetheless, I love the piece and I like this performance. The Solisti make a greater success with this performance than with the Octet and on repeated hearings I kept finding new and notable elements in their playing. Plus Jolanda Violante plays the scintillating piano part brilliantly. I can recommend this recording, then. More for the Sextet than for the Octet at least partly because it's a good performance and readers of this review will more likely already have a recording of the Octet but might not have one of the Sextet.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 21, 2015 5:42 AM BST


Chopin: The Mazurkas
Chopin: The Mazurkas
Price: £14.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Chopin Mazurkas, 7 Feb. 2011
Mirian Conti is an underappreciated Argentine-American pianist long resident in New York. She has recorded quite a bit, but primarily music of South American or contemporary American composers. I was quite taken with her CD of music by the late-lamented American composer Benjamin Lees Benjamin Lees: Piano Music 1947-2005. She has not recorded much music from the heart of the piano repertoire but here we get some Chopin that shows her to be completely at home in music of the high Romantic era. Chopin's mazurkas are, of course, based on a peasant dance from Poland but they are extremely sophisticated works that leave their peasant origins far behind without ever losing the basic dance rhythms. To be sure, these are not pieces one can dance to, but the feeling of the ballroom remains present, although more often a perfumed than a rustic one. Chopin varied the rhythms and tempi in these pieces in marvelous fashion. And he used notably sophisticated chromaticism, counterpoint and expression ranging from giddy joy to deep melancholy. Conti brings a depth of understanding to her playing that is a constant pleasure. For instance, her handling of the subtle counterpoint in Op. 63, No. 3 does not call attention to itself, but as one who has played the piece I can only marvel at her ability to convey the individual contrapuntal lines by varying dynamics and tone. More celebrated players have been known to smudge these lines. In Op. 68, No. 2 in A Minor she practically tears one's heart out with the expression of anguish. Her legato playing is a marvel to hear. For instance, in the Op. 33, No. 1 in G Sharp Minor, she varies the kind of legato she uses to great expressive purpose. This is coupled with a sophisticated variation in rhythmic motion that adds to the expressivity. Marvelous! And this mournful mazurka is followed by the joyful release of Op. 33, No. 2 in D Major, made all the more noticeable by the lilt of Conti's playing, particularly in the left hand.

This set is released by Steinway and Sons' newish label and it is to their credit that the recorded sound of the magnificently tuned and regulated piano is sensational.

I have now listened to this budget-priced two-CD set about five times and each hearing brings new things to delight me. I know that there are other marvelous recordings of the Mazurkas but this set deserves to be heard and treasured.

Scott Morrison


Bach: Goldberg Variations
Bach: Goldberg Variations
Price: £13.57

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Played and Recorded, but Ultimately a Little Soporific, 28 Jan. 2011
If I'm not mistaken this is the second time German pianist Chen Pi-Hsien has recorded the Goldberg Variations. She recorded it for Naxos back in the 1980s and that recording was liked by some but dismissed as more or less robotic by others. I never heard it. This one was apparently recorded in 2001 (or it is so indicated on the jewel box) and is just now being released on a label I'd never encountered before: Phil.harmonic., which, it turns out, is affiliated with Naxos. Having compared timings of a number of the variations, I'm pretty sure this is not the same recording as the 1980s one. Whatever the case, this is a beautifully played but strangely gentle and almost snooze-inducing account. The timing is short and that is not because Chen plays fast. It's because she eliminates many repeats indicated in the score. Sometimes her touch is reminiscent of Glenn Gould's staccato, although it is always less pointed than his, and sometimes her legato is rather more like that of András Schiff. There are some odd ornaments, first noticeable in the second bar of the Aria, that sound like they would be more appropriate in Rameau than Bach, but possibly I'm wrong about that as I'm not au courant on baroque ornamentation. Her tempi tend to be on the slow side actually and there are really no variations that are played no-holds-barred. Even the jolly quodlibet is played rather more like a solemn anthem. All that said, the sound of this recording is lovely -- it must be a particularly nice piano she is playing and the recording engineer/s did a marvelous job capturing its sound.

The bottom line is that this performance, while sonically beautiful, is rather faceless and even though the playing is thoughtful and well-done, it became soporific; considering the alleged original purpose of the Variations -- to help Count Kayserlingk get to sleep -- I suppose that might be considered appropriate.

Scott Morrison


Schubert: Piano Duets (Allegro In A Minor/ Andantino Varie/ Fugue/ Rondo/ Variations)
Schubert: Piano Duets (Allegro In A Minor/ Andantino Varie/ Fugue/ Rondo/ Variations)
Price: £13.18

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seldom Heard Schubert Masterpieces in Classic Performances, 25 Jan. 2011
Paul Lewis and Steven Osborne are two of the most lauded pianists in England, both of them are relatively young, and both of them record frequently, e.g. Lewis's complete Beethoven sonatas Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas and concertos Beethoven: Complete Piano Concertos, and Osborne's recording of music by Kapustin (try it, you'll like it!) Kapustin: Piano Music and Alkan Alkan: Esquisses, Op. 63. As far as I know this is the first time the two of them have recorded together. And what a recording this is! Schubert's four-hand duets are rarely heard in concert -- although they are often played at conservatories and by talented amateurs; though they were originally written as Hausmusik (music to be played privately in homes by amateurs) they are not trivial. Indeed, the Fantasy in F Minor is one of Schubert's absolute piano masterpieces, fully equal to any of his better-known works like the sonatas, moments musicaux or impromptus. But the other pieces included herein are wonderful, too. Needless to say Osborne and Lewis play them all gorgeously.

The first piece, the Allegro in A Minor, 'Lebenstürme' ("Life's Storms") has been given a blockbuster recording, live, by James Levine and Yevgeny Kissin; this performance is quite its equal in its drama and is far better sonically. The Andantino varié in B Minor is fairly slight but it is informed by amazingly subtle harmonic and melodic gestures. I immediately played it again to partake of those delights. The Fugue in E Minor is short, three minutes or so, and is expert in its use of the fugue form, a late interest of Schubert's. I gather Schubert may have written it originally for organ. The Rondo in A Minor has a melody that could have been used by Schubert in one of his Lieder; it is genially charming. Variations on an Original Theme in A Flat Major is a big piece, lasting seventeen minutes, and in it Schubert subjects his theme to all manner of styles and forms. I've never heard a better performance than this one. Lewis and Osborne are clearly enchanted by this piece. It should be mentioned that for two pianists who don't play regularly together their sense of ensemble is amazing.

The big piece here, and the last one of the program, is the Fantasy in F Minor. My benchmark recording for this work has long been that by Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu, recorded in 1984 and never out of the catalog Mozart: Sonata for 2 Pianos in D Major, K. 448; Schubert: Fantasia for Piano, 4 Hands in F Minor, D 940. Lewis and Osborne play it somewhat more gently than Perahia and Lupu. One noticeable difference is that in the faster portion at 7:45 of the piece their tempo is a good 25% faster than the older pianists'. I'm not sure I like it as well, but looking at the score I see that it is a valid interpretation of the score. Perahia and Lupu play that section more tenderly than Lewis/Osborne. The final moments of the piece are sometimes played with pumped-up drama; that is avoided here. The build-up to the climax is entirely believable without being over the top.

This disc is destined to be a favorite, I suspect, of pianophiles. I've had it in my player virtually non-stop for three days and can't seem to move on to anything else. I'm glad I have Perahia/Lupu but I certainly will put this disc right on the shelf next to theirs.

Enthusiastically recommended.

TT=76:06

Scott Morrison
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 4, 2013 10:41 AM GMT


Mahler: Symphony No. 9 [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Mahler: Symphony No. 9 [Blu-ray] [2011] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Lucerne Festival Orchestra
Price: £29.45

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Abbado's Spiritual Mahler, 24 Jan. 2011
Claudio Abbado formed the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2003; it is made up of principal orchestral players from all over Europe coupled with a core group of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, themselves mostly alumni of Abbado's Mahler Youth Orchestra, a marvelous ensemble in their own right. Performing as principals are such musicians as violinist Kolja Blacher, violist Wolfram Christ from the Berliner Philharmoniker, cellist Natalia Gutman, and Wiener Philharmoniker double bassist Alois Posch. All four members of the Leipzig String Quartet as well as harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet are likewise part of the ensemble; wind players include flutist Jacques Zoon, clarinetist Sabine Meyer and her woodwind ensemble, horn player Bruno Schneider, and trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich. So, even though they are, so to speak, a pick-up orchestra, they have been together through eight Festivals and play like a long-standing ensemble of the highest accomplishment. This DVD is one of the several they have made with Maestro Abbado of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, some of which I've reviewed here: e.g., Mahler - Symphony No. 7 / Claudio Abbado, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Mahler - Symphony No. 5 / Claudio Abbado, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, etc. I've been very impressed with all of them. This performance from the summer of 2010 of Mahler's last-completed numbered symphony, the Ninth, tops the list. This is a simply sensational performance. I had earlier reviewed a DVD of Abbado conducting the Mahler Jugendorchester in the Ninth, Mahler - Symphony No. 9 / Claudio Abbado, Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Accademia Di Santa Cecilia, Rome and raved about it; this one tops that one. In fact, it is, for me, the Ninth of a lifetime.

The Ninth is one of those works which comes to have a special place in the hearts of all who love it. For me, it is the symphony most likely to make me break down in tears at its conclusion. I did that with the earlier DVD and I certainly did it with this performance. The symphony ends as softly as it is possible to play (and to hear) and Abbado doesn't lower his right hand at the end of the symphony for a good two minutes. The audience maintains a rapt silence until Abbado finally lowers his hand and then they burst into a tumultuous ovation that goes on and on. Fittingly, I must say. One sees, in the audience, tears streaming down several faces. For me (and for many others), this symphony, written not long before Mahler's own death, is his farewell to life and I will admit that because of my advanced age and sometimes fragile health it reminds me in the most beatific fashion of my own mortality. Those final moments convey a peaceful acceptance of the inevitable, for Mahler and for me and, I daresay, for others. I suppose that knowing about Abbado's own fragile health adds to the emotion of the performance. The symphony's first and fourth movements are among the greatest slow movements ever written. And they are played as movingly as I've ever heard them.

To sum up, this is a great performance of a great symphony. It is filmed with taste (and includes an option to focus entirely on the conductor, although I prefer the usual visual highlighting of the players as well as the conductor) and the sound recording is excellent. I viewed this DVD in regular format, not Blu-Ray, and was mightily impressed; one can only imagine how the Blu-Ray will look and sound.

TT=94:56; Format: NTSC 16:9; Sound: DTS HD Master Stereo, PCM Stereo; Region: 0 (worldwide); Disc Format: DVD9

Scott Morrison


Bach: Andras Schiff (French Suits Nos.1-6/ Overture In B Minor/ Italian Concerto) [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Bach: Andras Schiff (French Suits Nos.1-6/ Overture In B Minor/ Italian Concerto) [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Andras Schiff
Price: £34.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schiff's Magisterial Bach, 23 Jan. 2011
András Schiff has been lauded for decades for his playing of Bach. His performances tend to draw lavish praise (and occasional disapproval: I remember not liking his 'Goldberg Variations' set the first time I heard it and then grew to love it immoderately over time). This DVD of his performance of the six French Suites is a logical follow-up to his earlier DVD of the English Suites Bach: English Suites. He plays the suites in numerical order in what looks to be a smallish space in a Protestant church in Leipzig during the Bachfest in the summer of 2010. He had, of course, earlier recorded (audio only) the French Suites to general acclaim Bach: The Six French Suites and these present performances do not vary markedly from those. As you likely know, his playing of Bach is marked by smoothness (no Gouldian staccato here) and utter clarity of the polyphonic strands. There is no Romantic stretching or dramatic shaping of phrases, no major variation of dynamic, but tone is varied beautifully and completely at the service of the music. Audio for this DVD is nigh perfect. He is playing a Hamburg Steinway that was customized by Angelo Fabbrini. Schiff and Maurizio Pollini have recenetly been dedicated to Fabbrini's pianos and one can hear why; the sound of this piano is simply gorgeous and clearly it responds sensitively to Schiff's touch. The concert ends with Schiff playing Bach's Overture in the French Style in B Minor, BWV 831 and finally the Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971.

There is a second DVD lasting just over 30 minutes. It is entitled, rather inaccurately 'András Schiff Explains Bach'. Better is should be called 'András Schiff Talks About Bach.' It is filmed in the same church and features for most of its length a head-and-shoulders shot of Schiff sitting, relaxed on a bench, and speaking in monolog. He speaks in German; there are subtitles available in English and French. He appears to be a gentle, soft-spoken man whose reverence for Bach is evident. He mentions starting every day, when there is a piano available, by playing Bach for about an hour. (I seem to remember that Rostropovich did the same thing -- at the piano, not the cello.) Schiff calls Bach the 'greatest composer of all time' -- just as Anthony Tommasini has just done in today's New York Times -- and expresses awe at the amount of music Bach wrote. 'It has been calculated that if one simply copied out his all his music by hand it would take several decades.' He also comments that no one in today's hurlyburly could find the silence that Bach required to do his work. (He points out that Bach always worked in a room away from his home with all its noisy children.) He speaks at length about the music in the French Suites, pointing out something I'd never quite realized -- that the first three are in minor keys, the last three in major keys. And he points out that Bach would never have expected anyone to play all of them in order in a concert. 'It takes a madman like me to do that.' The last five minutes or so show Schiff sitting at the piano, talking about the structure of the French Overture in B Minor, demonstrating at the keyboard. Fascinating and illuminating.

One could wonder, I suppose, why one would want to watch a DVD of someone playing the piano, but the videography is such that certainly for students of the piano Schiff's playing could be instructive. He is one of those pianists whose entire energy flows through his arms and hands, while he sits quietly with none of the bodily dramatics that some pianists indulge in. Seeing the undemonstrative majesty in his playing adds to the aural experience.

Recommended.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2011 3:52 AM GMT


Wagner - Ring Without Words
Wagner - Ring Without Words

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wagner's Ring Without All Those Interfering Singers, 21 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Wagner - Ring Without Words (DVD)
There is little question in my mind that the most glorious music qua music in Wagner's Ring cycle resides in the sumptuous orchestral 'accompaniment'. Indeed, like many I have enjoyed the orchestral portion of the Ring much more than I have the entire theatrical production itself. Others, like Stokowski, have felt the same way; Stoky made a condensed version of the Ring for orchestra alone Music From the Ring. Loren Maazel did, too, (at the behest of Wieland Wagner no less!) and that's what we get here with Maazel conducting the magnificent Berliner Philharmoniker, a live concert in 2000. (Actually the DVD is taken from TWO live performances from October 17 & 18, 2000.) One big difference between Stokowski's and Maazel's arrangements is that Maazel's is played straight through with no pauses, whereas Stoky's treats each section as complete in itself and with some additional music for endings and the like provided by Stokowski. Maazel has not added a single note of his own. Sometimes this makes for awkward transitions between sections, but this does not in itself ruin the whole. Further, Maazel has provided, in the booklet, a kind of synopsis for each section so that one has an idea of the action as one goes along.

Of course Wagner was a genius of the orchestration and there are few orchestras in the world who can do his music as much justice as the Berliner Philharmoniker; their playing is simply marvelous, rich and voluptuous. One is struck, in this neatly filmed DVD, by how young many of the players of the BPO are and how much enjoyment they are getting from their own participation. Of course, by 2000 the orchestra had undergone massive personnel changes. It's amusing, for instance, to see the marvelous principal oboist, Albrecht Mayer, as a practically baby-faced very young man.

One could wonder whether having a visual record of what is primarily an auditory experience, namely the performance of an orchestral work, is worth having. I submit that it is. This is an endlessly fascinating experience, or at least it was for me. But best of all, we don't have to deal with all those tiresome singers and all that bothersome stage action. And it only takes 75 minutes to get through the whole Ring!

Scott Morrison


Smaczny: Hearing The Silence [DVD] [2011] [2010]
Smaczny: Hearing The Silence [DVD] [2011] [2010]
Dvd ~ Claudio Abbado
Price: £22.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Too Adoring for My Taste, But It Has Some Good Moments, 20 Jan. 2011
This prize-winning documentary by the noted music documentarian Paul Smaczny from 2004 comes very close to a hagiography of Claudio Abbado. There are some very high-toned elements -- among them quotations (read by Bruno Ganz, the wonderful Swiss actor) of poetry by Hölderlin, a favorite of Abbado's, accompanied by dreamy landscapes -- as well as some wonderful, simply wonderful musical excerpts, usually too short. Abbado is notoriously shy of interviews and yet there are a number of clips of him talking with an unseen interviewer. The problem, though, is that he doesn't reveal very much in them. Far more revealing are the comments from colleagues like the young British conductor Daniel Harding, and members or former members of the Berliner Philharmoniker such as violist Wolfram Christ, oboist Albrecht Mayer, concertmaster Kolja Blacher. Still, their comments come close to being fluff -- how democratic Abbado is (in comparison to his unnamed predecessor, Karajan), how he wants to be called 'Claudio,' not 'Maestro,' how he enjoys making music, and so on. The most valuable comments, actually, and there are a lot of them, come from Abbado's friend Ganz who actually describes Abbado's platform behavior and his conducting technique. (I will add the Harding also comments that Abbado has 'the most beautiful left hand in the world.')

By far the most valuable parts of this 67-minute film are the clips of performances (with several orchestras including the ones he currently works with a lot, the Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra) of music by Dvorák, Mahler, Debussy, Nono, Webern, Stravinsky, Brahms, Beethoven, et al. The title of the documentary seems to be taken from Abbado's comment, in response to a question about what audiences he likes best, that he loves the audiences that hold their applause after the quiet ending of a piece, and an example is shown in a clip of an extraordinarily long such silence after a performance of the Brahms Requiem. (One can't help but notice, though, that the silence is at least partly in response to Abbado's frozen stance, head bowed, eyes closed, at the end of the piece. Applause starts only after he makes a move to relax a bit.)

There are some fascinating glimpses of the young Abbado from the 1960s conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and talking with the doyen of Austrian music announcers, Marcel Prawy, and including the well-known anecdote about how Abbado and his fellow-student Zubin Mehta got to watch rehearsals of the VPO under great conductors by joining the orchestra's chorus.

I found myself just a tad embarrassed by the unrelentingly adoring tone of this documentary; others might not react so. Frankly, as I consider Abbado to be one of the greatest conductors alive, I would prefer to spend my money on his recordings and DVDs of performances of great music, the latter, particularly those from the Lucerne Festival, seeming to be coming out almost monthly these days.

Scott Morrison


Various Composers - Hearing the Silence (Abbado) [DVD] [2008]
Various Composers - Hearing the Silence (Abbado) [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Claudio Abbado
Price: £5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bit Too Adoring for My Taste, But It Has Some Good Moments, 20 Jan. 2011
This prize-winning documentary by the noted music documentarian Paul Smaczny from 2004 comes very close to a hagiography of Claudio Abbado. There are some very high-toned elements -- among them quotations (read by Bruno Ganz, the wonderful Swiss actor) of poetry by Hölderlin, a favorite of Abbado's, accompanied by dreamy landscapes -- as well as some wonderful, simply wonderful musical excerpts, usually too short. Abbado is notoriously shy of interviews and yet there are a number of clips of him talking with an unseen interviewer. The problem, though, is that he doesn't reveal very much in them. Far more revealing are the comments from colleagues like the young British conductor Daniel Harding, and members or former members of the Berliner Philharmoniker such as violist Wolfram Christ, oboist Albrecht Mayer, concertmaster Kolja Blacher. Still, their comments come close to being fluff -- how democratic Abbado is (in comparison to his unnamed predecessor, Karajan), how he wants to be called 'Claudio,' not 'Maestro,' how he enjoys making music, and so on. The most valuable comments, actually, and there are a lot of them, come from Abbado's friend Ganz who actually describes Abbado's platform behavior and his conducting technique. (I will add the Harding also comments that Abbado has 'the most beautiful left hand in the world.')

By far the most valuable parts of this 67-minute film are the clips of performances (with several orchestras including the ones he currently works with a lot, the Mahler Youth Orchestra and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra) of music by Dvorák, Mahler, Debussy, Nono, Webern, Stravinsky, Brahms, Beethoven, et al. The title of the documentary seems to be taken from Abbado's comment, in response to a question about what audiences he likes best, that he loves the audiences that hold their applause after the quiet ending of a piece, and an example is shown in a clip of an extraordinarily long such silence after a performance of the Brahms Requiem. (One can't help but notice, though, that the silence is at least partly in response to Abbado's frozen stance, head bowed, eyes closed, at the end of the piece. Applause starts only after he makes a move to relax a bit.)

There are some fascinating glimpses of the young Abbado from the 1960s conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and talking with the doyen of Austrian music announcers, Marcel Prawy, and including the well-known anecdote about how Abbado and his fellow-student Zubin Mehta got to watch rehearsals of the VPO under great conductors by joining the orchestra's chorus.

I found myself just a tad embarrassed by the unrelentingly adoring tone of this documentary; others might not react so. Frankly, as I consider Abbado to be one of the greatest conductors alive, I would prefer to spend my money on his recordings and DVDs of performances of great music, the latter, particularly those from the Lucerne Festival, seeming to be coming out almost monthly these days.

Scott Morrison


Wolosoff: Songs Without Words (Songs Without Words/ 18 Divertimenti For String Quartet)
Wolosoff: Songs Without Words (Songs Without Words/ 18 Divertimenti For String Quartet)
Price: £7.72

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Music You Can LIKE!, 20 Jan. 2011
I tend to be an old fogy about pop music masquerading as classical music. For instance, I haven't heard anything by Michael Daugherty that I ever particularly want to hear again, in spite of his being all the rage among those who say that new music should include popular (or populist) elements. So, I wasn't really expecting to find much to like in the music of Bruce Wolosoff's 'Songs Without Words' for string quartet. But it seems to me the difference between Daugherty's oh-so-knowing and oh-so-ironic music and that of Wolosoff is that the latter is perfectly sincere and doesn't put on any airs at all. It is simple, tuneful, graceful, swings when it needs to, can convey true emotion rather than comic-book SLAM POW, and bears rehearing.

I particularly like 'Dancing on My Grave', a full-out bluesy Texas boogie; 'The River', a sweet, soft song; 'Reverence', a songful duet for cello and violin; 'The Sidewalk Strut', which abounds in blue notes and violin portamenti; 'Young Love', a tune which seems to cry out for lyrics; 'Creepalicious', which made me laugh out loud; 'Cat Scratch Fever', with its walking fifths and tenths; 'Getting Down', which is pizzicati and jazzy; 'Fire and Ice', a hoedown; and 'The Last Kiss'. Oh, hell, I like 'em all!

Carpe Diem is a quartet that has carved its own niche, much like the Kronos Quartet did in the generation before them. It just occurs to me that the grandfather of Wolosoff's pieces may be Kronos's 'Purple Haze' by Jimi Hendrix.

Buy it, you'll like it.

Scott Morrison


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