Michael Wollny Klangspuren (Live in Hamburg) – A Review

How did I miss this?

There is a live Wollny trio album out there and I only find out about it a year later. How is this possible? My bad.

Especially after I’ve attended his concert in Basel just some weeks after this album was released (see my concert review here).

But well, better late than never.

Michael Wollny Trio In Concert: Klangspuren – Live in Hamburg (ACT 2016)

I’m a big Wollny fan (thanks to an old friend from highschool who initially introduced me to him). See for example my reviews of his album Nachtfahrten, or my mention of one of his previous live albums in my 9 Outstanding Live Jazz albums. His album Weltentraum was also mentioned in my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

Michael Wollny Trio In Concert Klangspuren Live in Hamburg ACT 2016

 

 

 

This album is very close in spirit (and material) to the live concert I saw at Kaserne Basel in 2016. Given that it is to a large extend based on his Nocturne-style album Nachtfahrten, it has a lot of long, quiet, but intense passages. My favorite song is White Moon.

Wollny plays with his usual trio of Christian Weber and Eric Schaefer.

But don’t worry, the lion Wollny is occasionally let out of his cage for one of his more improvising elements.

Looking back at his recent studio albums, I rated Weltentraum a full 5 star, while Nachtfahrten was still nice, but only received a 4 star rating.

When we get to live albums, I´d suggest you get one of the Weltentraum live albums first, but this album is still very much worth having.

Wollny remains one of the most important Jazz pianists of our days.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here.

FYI, If you prefer to buy it as a physical album you also get a collectors edition that includes a DVD.

A Truly Moving Performance of Brahms Requiem by Yannick-Nezet Séguin and the Berlin Philharmonic: My Review

Serendipity

Who would have thought that I end up back at the Berlin Philharmonie so soon after the last concert by Simon Rattle just some days ago? Certainly not me.

This was really pure coincidence. I happened to stroll by the Berlin Philharmonic hall purely by chance. Suddenly, a guy approaches me, and asks “Would you want a ticket for the concert? Brahms, right now?” Well, who can say no to that? So 5 min later I find myself sitting in the Berlin Philharmonic hall watching as the BPO and the Rundfunkchor Berlin reassemble (I only got there during the break).

Ein Deutsches Requiem

I haven’t written that much about requiems yet on my blog. I have a certain respect for this category of music, as I always remember it is written for a very serious occasion, the death of a loved one. Maybe because of this I don’t listen to requiems enough.

I’ve previously mentioned Mozart´s requiem on my blog as part of My Must-have Mozart Albums. The other requiems I really love are Fauré’s (this really would need its own blog post), and obviously Brahms’.

Brahms German Requiem is a particular in many ways. First of all, it was written under very personal circumstances, around the death of Brahms own mother. Second, given Brahms´protestant background (he’s from Hamburg), he doesn’t use the traditional latin text of the catholic requiem, but instead parts of the Bible that are of personal importance to him. These are sung in German, hence the name.

Yannick Nézet Séguin – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra – Rundfunkchor Berlin – Hanna-Elisabeth Müller – Markus Werba

I was indeed very lucky last night. Not only I get to see again the BPO, one of the best orchestras in the world, but also finally get to see Yannick Nézet-Séguin live.

I’ve written a lot about his recordings, from his Cosi Fan Tutte to his FigaroMost recently I did a more ambivalent review of his Mendelssohn symphony box. But taken together, he is one of the most relevant conductors of the 21st century.

Yannick Nézet-Séguinm, The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Rundfunkchor Berlin, Brahms German Requiem Oct 19, 2017
Yannick Nézet-Séguinm, The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Rundfunkchor Berlin

Given his previous recordings, I expected this concert to be a relatively fast and lean performance. Well, from the first measure I was proven wrong. This was BPO beauty in full blast, with relatively slow tempo throughout.

Actually, I’m glad he did. Given the nature of this work, the grandiose and emotionally charged way Nézet-Séguin conducted this just worked out perfectly.

A word about the soloists: they don’t really have such an important role in this work (maybe with the exception of the central soprano solo Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit), and overall the soloists did an good job, but were not the most memorable parts of the evening. The audience seems to think the same: they got decent applause, but nothing out of the the ordinary.

The true star of the evening was the Rundfunkchor Berlin, under Gijs Leenaars.  Their performance was just amazing. Not surprisingly, they received standing ovations at the end. Well deserved

Yannick Nezet Seguin Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem Oct 19 2017
The BPO hall organ was a major player in the performance

 

The highlight of the evening for me was the second movement, Und alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras.  The combined power of the BPO, the powerful BPO hall organ, and the 80+ voices power (but also nuances) of the choir made this a performance I will never forget.

Truly outstanding.

My rating: 5 star

P.S. If you want to see it yourself, and are not in Berlin (note that there are some tickets left for tonight Oct 20 and tomorrow Oct 21), you can also see the Saturday performance streamed live in the Digital Concert Hall.

 

The Cunning Little Vixen – Janáček´s enchanting opera with Rattle´s Berlin Philharmonic

Leoš Janáček

In spite of the fact that I don’t write about them very often, I do very much like Czech composers. I just checked: so far two entries on Dvorak (none of them dedicated to him), another short mention of Martinu as part of a concert review. No entries for Smetana, same for Janacek.

Why is that? I really don’t know. Janacek in a way really flew under my radar screen. I had a couple of his string quartets which I liked, but not much beyond this.

So how do I end up seeing an opera he wrote?

Very simply: I was in Berlin, hadn’t been to see the Berlin Philharmonic for a while, and was able to spontaneously secure last minute tickets. Typically, the BPO with Rattle is booked out, prohibiting spontaneous trips to the amazing Sharoun concert hall.

Luckily, like me, the Berlin audience wasn’t familiar with this opera (original title: Příhody lišky Bystroušky) by Janacek at all.

I’m very glad I went, it was a fantastic evening.

The Cunning Little Vixen – Simon Rattle – Berlin Philharmonic – October 12, 2017

To be fair, my curiosity was helped by the fact that there were some amazing lead singers, with Gerald Finley and Lucy Crowe in the main roles, of Forester and Vixen respectively.

Furthermore, the always interesting Peter Sellars was responsible for the staging of the play, which was performaned not at one of Berlin many opera houses, but instead the traditional Berlin Philharmonic concert hall.

The opera itself has been only very rarely performed, you will find only a handful of recordings on your regular streaming service.

I hope this new performance will make it onto a formal recording, but I´ll make sure to check out the Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin philharmonic, where I hope this recording appears soon.

 

Berlin Philharmonic - Simon Rattle - Janacek - Cunning Little Vixen
Rattle during the opening of Janacek´s Cunning Little Vixen

 

The Berlin philharmonic and Rattle really shined, this outstanding music, that changes from sentimental to funny to very introvert by the minute.

The story (sung in Czech, but translated in real time on the displays) is full of double double-entendres and little nuances, and really goes beyond the animal fairy tale nature one could immediately expect looking at the title.

 

IMG_5484
Gerald Finley, Lucy Crowe, and Paulina Malefane

 

As mentioned above, Finley and Crowe were outstanding soloists, but the remaining cast was also very good, only some of the choirs and children roles were not fully up to the same standards, but this didn’t hurt the overall impact.

Peter Sellars didn’t have a lot to work with, there was basically one small stage with only the occasional table and chairs added, and large LCD screens with videos to illustrate the scenery (from a creek in the woods to moving images of chicken).

Sellars also used the entire space, with the chorus occasional singing from above you, and with some of the lead singers freely roaming the entire building.

 

Petter Sellars staging of the Cunning Little Vixen, Berlin Philharmonic
Peter Sllars creative use of space: note the choir on the upper balcony

 

The Berlin public in the nearly sold out hall was as enchanted and enthusiastic as I was, we got more than 10 minutes of standing ovations and cheering.

 

Berlin Philharmonic, Cunning Little Vixen, Janacek, Rattle
An enthusiastic Berlin audience after the performance

A truly memorable evening.

My rating: 5 stars

Tartini and Verancini: New Types of Pasta? A Review of Rachel Podger’s Grandissima Gravita

Rachel Podger

After my so-so review of Adam Baldych’ recent Jazz album, where I declared I didn’t really like the sounds of the instrument, one of my readers asked me whether I like the sound of Baroque violin.

Let me put one thing clear: Very much so indeed! And when we get to baroque violin, there are few better players out there than Rachel Podger. I’m a big fan of her.

I’ve previously praised her Biber Rosary sonatas, that deservedly so won a Gramophone award in her category in 2016, and I also love her ventures beyond baroque, for example her outstanding Mozart violin sonatas (see my review here), which also made it into my Must Have Mozart albums.

(I haven’t written about it yet, but her Bach concertos, especially the album on double and triple concertos, is also outstanding).

So you can see a theme emerging up there, with a special focus on violin sonatas with small ensembles.

So, not surprisingly, I was very tempted when I saw her latest album come out.

 

Grandissima Gravita – Rachel Podger – Brecon Baroque (Channel Classics 2017)

 

Grandissima Gravita Pisendel Tartini Veracini Vivaldi Rachel Podger Brecon Baroque Channel Classics 24/96

 

What’s the downside? You get several Italian baroque composer that are really not that well known, from Giuseppe Tartini, to Francesco Maria Veracini, to the only non-Italian in the group, Johann Georg Pisendel, a German but who during a trip to Italy became friends with the only well-known composer of this album, Antonio Vivaldi.

So what do we get from these relatively little known Vivaldi contemporaries? Well, musically, this is not a must have. Already Vivaldi is not my favorite cup of tea among the baroque composers, and his contemporaries are usually even less interesting to me.

But after the first stream, I went ahead and bought the album immediately?

Why is this, will you ask after my somewhat negative intro?

Well, it is simply because Podger, with her small ensemble, Brecon Baroque, plays with so much passion and energy that you simply cannot help to be drawn into the music.

I keep playing it over and over again. I really don’t think you could play this any better.

Add on top the outstanding recording quality of Channel Classics, and you have an album that you really should be checking out!

My rating: 4 stars (5+ star playing, down-graded due to the interest of the repertoire)

You can find it here (Native DSD) and here (Qobuz)

Yes, Cecile McLorin Salvant could well be the leading Jazz singer of the 21st century: A Review of Dreams and Daggers

Cecile McLorin Salvant

I’ve written several times about Cecile McLorin Salvant already, about her amazing album For The One To Love, which also featured in my Top 5 Vocal Jazz albums for 2015. I also already had the pleasure of hearing her live, an outstanding experience.

This young singer has already received so much praise, including a Grammy and a DownBeats critics poll, that I’m hardly presenting you a scoop here, but a new album by such a great artist really needs a blog post!

Dreams and Daggers (MackAvenue 2017)

Cecile McLorin Salvant Dreams and Daggers 24 96 MackAvenue 2017

A couple of initial comments: this is a live album, recorded in 2016 at the legendary Village Vanguard in New York that has given us outstanding live albums already back in the days of Bill Evans. And the recording quality is excellent, you really only notice the live character of this album from the audience´s enthusiastic clapping and her occasional comments to the public.

Second comment: you get a double album here. Some could argue, is this a bit long? Actually not at all, you actually really don’t want this album to end.

Third comment: this album is formally slightly less innovative than the first two ones, you get more Irving and Gershwin standards, and the playing by Aaron Diehl and his great musicians is relatively mainstream. Some of you will take that as a criticism. Actually, not at all!

Because McLorin Salvant manages to put her very personal spin on even old try familiar standards like Devil May Care or You’re My Thrill.

My favorite track is Somehow I never could believe, which starts out as a sensitive ballad where Aaron Diehl already gets to shine in the long intro, but the real hero is Paul Sikivie on bass. And then you get Cecile´s voice, which on this track sometimes is even close to whispering. Amazingly intense.

A note on the title: You have Dreams, representing pretty much what you’d think it means. But what about the Daggers? Well, according to McLorin Salvant, this is about the songs about more complex topics, like feminism, racial identity, self-doubt, that really force you to listen to the lyrics.

This album is a must have for any jazz lover. The year is not yet over, but I´d be surprised if this album doesn’t end up in my personal top Jazz albums for 2017.

In my very first post about her I asked the question in the title Will Cécile McLorin Salvant Become The Most Important Jazz Singer of Our Century?.

Well we obviously still have 83 years to go in this decade, but she’s clearly up to a very good start here.

My rating: 5 stars

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

François-Frédéric Guy Live at Maison de la Radio Paris – Sep 29, 2017

François-Frédéric Guy

I’ve written previously about Guy´s great recording of the Brahms piano sonatas. As I was in Paris last weekend, I noticed him giving a piano recital at the Maison de la Radio. Liszt, Beethoven, and Brahms sonata no. 3. I was lucky enough to still get tickets.

Guy is one of those underrated pianists that outside of his home country typically are not well known. But I heard good things about his Beethoven cycle as well, and had very high expectations.

François-Frédéric Guy: Clair de Lune – Liszt, Beethoven, and Brahms – Live at Maison de la Radio, Paris

Maison de la Radio, hidden in the quite 16th arrondissement of Paris, is a 1960s building that has housed French public radio for decades now.

They have several rooms for public concerts, but the biggest one is the beautiful Auditorium, very recently renovated.

Auditorium of Maison de la Radio, Paris
Auditorium of Maison de la Radio, Paris

Therefore I already had a visual treat, before the music even started

Auditorium Maison de la Radio, Paris
Auditorium Maison de la Radio, Paris

 

The concert itself started with Liszt, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude from his Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. Liszt these days often tends to be underestimated compared to the big names of Brahms and Beethoven. And maybe his orchestral work is not always top notch, and even his very large piano work sometimes tends to go a bit overboard.

But when Liszt gets it right, and is well played (not obvious, given the technical hurdles), it is really just outstandingly beautiful. This was the case here, I was mesmerized by the beauty of this piece.

François-Frédéric Guy at La Maison de la Radio (c) 2017 Musicophile
François-Frédéric Guy at La Maison de la Radio

After this fantastic start came the title piece of the concert, Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata no. 14, (Clair de lune in French). I wasn’t as taken by this part of the concert as I was by the Liszt. One part of the problem was potentially that a young teenager noisily dropped his cell phone and it fell several steps down in the middle of the quiet intense beginning. This kind of stuff really can ruin my mood for a bit.

It may also have been simply the fact that we all have heard the Mondscheinsonate so many times, that we form a certain idea in our head. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautifully played (even with the occasional false note in the Presto), with a lot of rubato in the slow movement, a very personal version. So let’s just blame it on the noisy kid that I couldn’t enjoy this part as much.

After the break, Guy started his Brahms sonata. And wow, he really played is as intensely as I’ve ever heard anybody play Brahms. You could literally see how physically exhausted he was after this long piece of music with its 5 movements. An outstanding experience.

François-Frédéric Guy at La Maison de la Radio
François-Frédéric Guy at La Maison de la Radio

Guy got the applause he deserved, and thanked us with not only one, but two encores.

After another Brahms, we were all ready to get up and leave, but he sat down again, and guess what he played: Für Elise. Yes, that one. the one that every piano student plays, the one that even people who don’t know anything about classical music recognize immediately. And guess what, it showed that there is so much more in this music than typically meets the eye.

A beautiful closure to an evening full of emotions.

My rating: 4 stars

Why Music Gives Me Goose Bumps

No new album review today, but a slightly different topic, still related to music.

Goose bumps

One of my very early and quite popular blog posts was about the emotional impact of music. I called it “Top 10 Music That Gives Me Goose Bumps”, followed by two posts with readers suggestions to the same topic (you’ll find them here and here, please do check them out as they give some excellent music recommendations).

To me, emotional music up to a point that it triggers physical reaction, is totally normal. Right? Music touches us very deeply, that’s why we all listen to it, and crazy people like me even spend a significant amount of there spare time writing about it (with a much larger chunk of the same spare time spent listening to it).

So, this must be a universal thing, right?

Turns out it’s not.

Some science

I actually have a science background (even if I moved out of science early in my career). So I’m still very interested in science, even if today instead of having a subscription to Science (yes, I had that in my early years, a bit over the top I admit if you’re not in acacemia), I now follow science more via the layman’s press and increasingly also via social media.

I came across this article Brain connectivity reflects human aesthetic responses to musicpublished in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience late 2016.

It already starts with an interesting statement: Humans routinely experience pleasure in response to higher order stimuli that confer no clear evolutionary advantage. They then quickly explain that it is highly unlikely that our appreciation of arts has no evolutionary advantage, because otherwise it would not have survived that long.

Later in that article they describe the fact that not everyone experiences intense emotional responses to music. It’s hard for me to believe when you’re so passionate about a topic, but by observation, I must admit they are right.

And here comes the fun part: Real-time ratings of experienced pleasure and psychophysiological measures recorded during music listening showed quantifiable differences between individuals who report experiencing chills and individuals who do not. Ok, chills probably is the better word than goose bumps (clearly showing that I’m not a native speaker).

So, what are those differences? Well, it turns out it’s all about white matter connectivity. Turns out, if you’re reading this blog, your brain is probably wired somewhat differently to the average population.

I assume we should just enjoy the fact that our brains have developed such a powerful connectivity, and go back to enjoying music immediately!