Wonderful Bach Concertos with Isabelle Faust

Isabelle Faust

I mentioned two blog posts ago that I’m a fanboy. I’m a fanboy of Igor Levit, of Murray Perahia, of Sabine Deviehle, but probably one of my favorite artists these days is Isabelle Faust.

I’ve reviewed her countless time on this blog, playing Bach, Mozart, Brahms (here and here), Beethoven. And there are other albums I could have mentioned as well.

The only time I was ever disappointed by a recording by Isabelle Faust was her version of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto with Pablo Heras-Casado.

Therefore, when I went on my “quest” last year to see all of my favorite violin players in one year, I obviously had to go for Alina Ibragimova, Janine Jansen, Lisa Batiashvili, Julia Fischer, and yes, maybe the queen of all, Isabelle Faust. I was very lucky I managed to squeeze all of these live performances into one year.

Isabelle Faust offered one of my preferred programs (I saw her on Lake Geneva last summer during the festival at Château de Tannay), playing exclusively Bach. The program included some of the violin concertos, but also some chamber works. The concert (only slightly spoiled by being in the main air corridor towards Geneva airport) was not surprisingly hugely enjoyable.

So what a pleasure it was when I saw that Faust just released a very similar program on Harmonia Mundi

Bach: Violin Concertos – Isabelle Faust – Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (Harmonia Mundi 2019)

Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Concertos Sinfonias Overture Sonatas Isabelle Faust Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin Bernhard Forck, Xenia Loeffler Harmonia Mundi 2019

Isabelle Faust had recorded the violin concertos previously around the year 2000, with Helmut Rilling for the Hänssler label (included in their complete Bach edition). Already this recording was really very nice.

But here it get’s even better. The keywords here are precision, balance, and a complete lack of showmanship. This is one of the most introvert recordings of these concertos that I’ve ever heard.

Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a lot of freedom with these works, at witnessed by the very beautiful recording of Alina Ibragimova with Arcangelo which I reviewed last year.

So this recording is the complete opposite. That said, I like it probably even a bit better. You really hear all the complexity of Bach’s counterpoint, the delicacy of the different instruments and their balance to form something bigger together. And Faust, just as she did in Tannay, wasn’t the star of the show, but really just one more musician as part of a team.

Another similarity to my Tannay experience is also that this album not only includes all violin concertos, including the reconstructed ones, but also one of the Orchestral Suites, several individual tracks such as the Sinfonia BWV1045, and some chamber music, the trio sonatas BWV 527 and 529. In total, you get nearly 2h30 of music.

If you like Bach and historically informed performance, this album is an absolute must have.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Youn Sun Nah’s Latest Album Immersion – Really Not My Cup Of Tea

The Borderline between Jazz and Pop Music

Youn Sun Nah, while typically being classified as a Jazz singer, has always been on the borderline between Jazz and Pop. Nothing wrong with that, many great singers like Melody Gardot or Norah Jones successfully navigate both sides of the equation very well, at least in my personal opinion.

Youn Sun Nah’s greatest effort on the Jazz side of things were brilliant albums such as Lento or Same Girl. I’ve mentioned the brilliant cover she did of Metallica’s Enter Sandman on Same Girl in my post on my favourite Jazz covers of Pop songs here.

It is very understandable that artists want to evolve their musical style. Not surprisingly therefore, her previous album was called She Moves On (2017). I didn’t review this one on my blog, already because it really didn’t move me very much. And it is usually much more fun to write about albums I like, hence the large number of 4 and 5 star reviews here.

So why did I make a difference here? Well, it is rare that an album really puts me off and annoys me. I rarely have that (exceptionally for some reggae and rap albums), but typically just move on to something else.

In the Jazz territory, there’s one other similar example of an album that I really couldn’t stand, which was Diana Krall’s Glad Rag Doll, produce by T-Bone Burnett. If you wanted to torture me, you could easily use this album, just put it on repeat.

Youn Sun Nah – Immersion (Arts Music 2019)

Youn Sun Nah Immersion 24/48 Art Music 2019

So, what do we get on Immersion? A LOT of synthesizers first of all. Nothing wrong with synthesizers, I used to own several of them in my high school and student days. I’m just not so convinced they are the best combination for Jazz-type albums. But I presume that’s the point, this is actually not an Jazz album.

You also seem to get quite a bit of drum machines (or if it is a real drummer, he uses a heck of a lot of effects). You also get a lot of sound effects.

One example of the extensive use of synths is the cover version of Leonard Cohen’s beautiful Hallelujah. This is recorded over “carpet strings” (do people still use this expression?) that are just wobbling in the background. This really so completely misses the point of this song.

But the most annoying is a minimalistic ballad version of You Can Hurry Love, where the only instrument is a bell- or gamelan-like e-piano that sounds like somebody has taken the good old Yamaha DX7 out of the garage (or more likely, out of Logic Pro).

OK, I’ll stop my rambling here, you’ve got the point, I just don’t like this album.

My rating: 2 points.

If you still want to try it out, which you should, as I think this album may be a love it or hate it affair, you’ll find it here (Qobuz)

Händel At Its Best with Emmanuelle Haïm, Sabine Devielhe, and Lea Desandre

Of being a fanboy

Yes, you can accuse me of being a fanboy. I’m a Belieber. Well, not exactly of the Canadian with the interesting haircuts, but there are some artists that I just pretty much like every single album of.

This list includes the brilliant Igor Levit, the amazing Isabelle Faust, but also French soprano Sabine Devielhe. I really must pay attention that I don’t just praise an album just because they release it. At least I’ve got one example to prove that even my gods are not perfect, but these are really the exception to the rule. Anyhow, I’ll stay vigilant, and please let me know in the comments if you disagree, as always! I really like hearing your opinions.

Sabine Devielhe hasn’t faulted me yet. Whether you take her Rameau album Le Grand Théâtre de l’Amour (not yet reviewed on my blog as released before I started it), her fantastic Mozart album The Weber Sisters, her more recent release Mirages, this young Soprano and her beguiling voice are always amazing.

Handel: Italian Cantatas – Emmanuelle Haïm – Le Concert d’Astrée – Sabine Devielhe – Lea Desandre (Erato 2018)

Handel Italian Cantatas Sabine Devielhe Lea Desandre Le Concert d'Astrée Emmanuelle Haïm Erato 2018 24/96

In this album, we get another favourite of mine, Emmanuelle Haïm. I’ve first encountered her on another Händel album, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno with the great Nathalie Dessay, and have praised her fantastic Messiah.

Young French/Italian Mezzo Lea Desandre wasn’t on my radar screen yet, but after this album she certainly will be.

So what do you get on this album?

Well, you get Händel’s beauty, but in lesser known works. These cantatas, as the well written booklet tells me, were all written in Italy (hence non-surprisingly the album title). But unlike with many of the longer baroque operas, you don’t need to worry about the rather complicated and cumbersome stories. The cantatas do have stories (nicely enough shorter) as well, which you can follow thanks to the extensive booklet, but you can just be like me, and just enjoy the breathtaking beauty of this music. My personal favorite is track no. 10, Se vago rio fra sassi.

I’m a bit late to the party recommending this album, it’s already been Recording of the Month by Gramophone, has received a Choc by Classica, and 5 stars by Diapason.

So don’t hesitate and just go buy it now. You won’t regret it.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Mare Nostrum III – Delightful


Paolo Fresu, Richard Galliano, Jan Lundgren

Three outstanding musicians. I had the pleasure of seeing two of them live. French accordionist Richard Galliano back in the 1990s, in a fantastic concert with Michel Portal on the clarinet, and Italian trumpet magician Paolo Fresu nearly two decades later in another beautiful duet, with Ralph Towner. The only one I haven’t seen yet is Jan Lundgren, Swedish pianist, but I do own several of his albums.

So you get the picture, a really weird combination of instruments. Does it work out? Very well so. This is not at all French musette style (the light French popular music) that you often hear Galliano play, this is something entirely different.

Mare Nostrum III – Paolo Fresu – Richard Galliano – Jan Lundgren – ACT 2019

Mare Nostrum III Paolo Fresu Richard Galliano Jan Lundgren ACT 2019 24/96

So what do you get? Well, the style of music is hard to describe actually. This is mainly very slow, pensive music making you wish you’d sit on a terrace let’s say on the Amalfi cost, after tourist season late September, with a light breeze, and maybe a glass of limoncello.

Are you any smarter now? Probably not, but if you like my little analogy above, you’ll like the album. Fresu really is the star here on this album, his subtle trumpet tones pretty much carry the entire album, though the trio doesn’t have a leader, and plays as if they’ve played together forever. Well, that’s not so suprising, they actually have. The first album of this series (the III indicates the volume number), was already released in 2008. Volume II is much more recent, in 2016, and was already reviewed on my blog here.

Overall, if you like this rather contrasted choice of instruments, or if you simply like beautiful music, you should check this out.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

(Note that Qobuz is now available in the US as well, so I won’t give alternative download sources any more. If you’re in a non Qobuz country, Prostudiomasters typically is a good source).

FYI, at the time of writing Qobuz has a 20% discount on the volume II of this album.

Another Excellent Recording of the Mendelssohn Piano Concertos by Ronald Brautigam

Mendelssohn again

Pretty much simultaneously two recordings of the Mendelssohn piano concertos were released, by Jan Lisiecki and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, as reviewed by me recently, and another one by Ronald Brautigam with the Kölner Akademie under Michael Alexander Willens.

So, which one should you get?

Mendelssohn Piano Concertos – Ronald Brautigam – Michael Alexander Willens – Die Kölner Akademie (BIS 2018)

Mendelssohn Piano Concertos - Ronald Brautigam Die Kölner Akademie - Michael Alexander Willens BIS 2019 24/96

Well, it’s not an easy choice.

I won’t do a full review here, as fellow music blogger Konsgaard has already done an excellent job here.

Let me focus more on the differences to Jan Lisiecki. The obvious one is the choice of instruments, Brautigam plays on his typical reconstructed Fortepiano, a Pleyel this time, and the Kölner Akademie clearly plays on historical instruments.

Overall, this gives a rougher, more unpolished, wilder sound than the more polished sound of Lisiecki’s modern Steinway.

Honestly, it’s very hard to choose. Both in their own way are excellent. I probably have a slight preference for Lisiecki and the Orpheus, the sound is just SOOO beautiful.

But then again, Brautigam clearly knows a thing or two about Mendelssohn. Furthermore, the two recordings differ by the choice of the “fillers” that you get on top of the piano concertos.

For Lisiecki, he intersperses some of the beautiful solo piano pieces. Brautigam and Willens instead go for some other lesser know pieces of the piano and concerto repertoire, the Rondo brilliant, the Capriccio brilliant, and the Serenade and Allegro giojoso. None of these works are particularly memorable individually, but taken together they really complement the piano concertos well, and are nice discoveries.

So back to the question, which one to choose? Well, while
my slight preference goes to Lisiecki, in the days of streaming, just check out both and make up your own mind. You won’t regret either of the two.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (eclassical).

Jan Lisiecki Plays Mendelssohn – Recommended!

Felix Mendelssohn

I am a big fan of Felix Mendelssohn, who I consider to be one of the most underrated composers of the Romantic period.

Mendelssohn’s critics sometimes call the music “too simple”, “just beautiful”, “no depth”. However, I really disagree. There is much more to Mendelssohn than just superficial beauty.

I just love his Lieder ohne Worte (songs without words), take for example the beautiful recordings by Ronald Brautigam or by Javier Perianes, his symphonies, particularly the good old classics of the Scottish and the Italian, or many others of his solo piano works.

However, his piano concertos were underrepresented even in my typical listening. Of course, I have the reference recordings with Andras Schiff and Murray Perahia, but don’t go back to them as often as I should.

Therefore, I was very happy to see that they were released twice in new excellent recordings over the last months, by above mentioned Brautigam (more about this in a later post), and most recently by young Polish/Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, who I already had the pleasure to see live.

Jan Lisiecki Plays Mendelssohn (Deutsche Grammophon 2019)

Jan Lisiecki Mendelssohn Orpheus Chamber Orchestra 24/96 Deutsche Grammophon 2019

Lisiecki plays here with the excellent Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, an American orchestra that always plays without a conductor.

Leif Ove Andsnes took a similar approach with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, some years ago, and I really was suprised how well this can work.

You really don’t miss a conductor here either, the musicians and the soloists really listen to eachother, and are as integrated as they possibly could be.

Both Lisiecki and the Orpheus take relatively swift tempi, and really give the music the emotional pleasure you just need to have when listening to these works. They may not have the depth of a Beethoven or a Brahms, but they are oh so enjoyable!

Futhermore, Lisiecki also attacks some of Mendelssohn’s works for solo piano, notably the Variations sérieuses and the Rondo capriccioso. As a kind of encore we get also one of the Lieder ohne Worte.

These solo works are also very well played, although sometimes I feel Lisiecki’s touch could have been a tad lighter. But this is complaining at a very high level.

Overall, this is a very welcome addition to the Mendelssohn discography and I can thoroughly recommend buying this album!

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

My rating: 4 stars

The Legendary Klemperer Recording of Brahms’ Requiem

Happy New Year

Can one still wish a Happy New Year three weeks in? Well I’ll just do it anyway, given that the Chinese New Year is anyway still ahead of us.

Requiems

I didn’t often use to write, or even listen to, Requiems. While I acknowledged the beautiful music of Mozart, Verdi, Fauré and others, it always felt “wrong” listening to music meant for mourning the death of somebody.

Well, now it is me being touched by a death in the family, that I still have a hard time mentally acknowledging, let alone fully digest. It turns out that the beautiful music written by these legends is just what you need in these situations.

So bear with me, you’ll read more about requiems on this blog this year. Don’t worry, life has to go on, so I’ll write about other stuff as well.

Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem

Given the subtitle of my blog, it is not surprising that Brahms’ is the only requiem I’ve already written about, in my review of Nézet-Séguin’s live performance in Berlin back in 2017.

So I won’t repeat myself here, just re-alert you to the fact that this is a requiem that doesn’t use the typical latin text of pretty much any other requiem around, but instead uses handpicked parts of the bible that Brahms chose himself, and it is sung in German, hence the name.

It remains among my absolute favorite requiems.

Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem – Otto Klemperer – Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra – Elisabeth Schwarzkopf – Dietrich Fischer Dieskau

Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) Otto Klemperer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Dietrich Fischer Dieskau Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra EMI Warner Classics

I tend to often write about contemporary recordings here, a) because typically they are recorded much better sonically, b) because there’s already been written so much about the great classics, and c) because performance practice evolves and I could for example not really enjoy Bach played in the 1960’s symphony style, before historically informed practice came in the 1970s.

That said, there are some classics that have truly stood the test of time, and if there ever is one, this could be the one.

Otto Klemperer is an absolute Brahms legend, his symphony cycle was my first and still is one of my favorite ever.

And take a look at the soloist cast of this 1961 recording: We have Elisabeth Schwarzkopf AND Dietrich Fischer Dieskau! We get the full dramatic power of the Philharmonia Orchestra under Klemperer, that already made his stereo symphony cycle (also on EMI, Warner classics) so great. By the way, if you like this, you may want to consider getting the entire Klemperer Brahms box on Warner. I’ll provide a link below.

My favorite part of this requiem remains the intimate, simple, and amazingly touching Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (You now have sorrow). This is really what sets this requiem apart from all the other Latin ones with their Days Of Wrath (Dies Irae). Just look at the consoling text:


You now have sorrow;
but I shall see you again
and your heart shall rejoice
and your joy no one shall take from you.

Behold me:
I have had for a little time toil and torment,
and now have found great consolation.

I will console you,
as one is consoled by his mother

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prestoclassical)

If you prefer to get the entire Klemperer Brahms Warner box, which I highly recommend, as you’ll get all the symphonic works as well for just a little more money, you’ll find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prestoclassical)