A Review of a VERY BIG Rach2 by Trifonov and Nézet-Séguin – Stunning

Daniil Trifonov and Yannick Nézet-Séguin

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I’m a big fan of both artists (e.g. see here for my review their previous Rachmaninov album, or here for a report my recent experience of Nézet-Séguin live, or just use the search function).

Trifonov is without doubt one of the best pianists of our age, and I start to regret not having included him in my list of my Top 10 classical pianists, maybe that blog post needs an update at some point. And Nézet-Séguin is on his path to be one of the truly great conductors of the 21st century.

So when I saw they just released the legendary Rach 2 together, I bought the album immediately.

Destination Rachmaninov: Departure. Piano concertos No. 2 & 4 – Daniil Trifonov – Yannick Nézet-Séguin – The Philadelphia Orchestra

 

Daniil Trifonov Yannick Nézet-Séguin The Philadelphia Orchestra Destination Rachmaninov - Departure Deutsche Grammophon 2018 24/96

There is no lack of great recordings of Rach2. Andsnes, Zimerman, Buniatishvili (although this recording is bit controversial), not to mention the greats like Richter, or even the composer himself.

How to play this piece? Do you try to keep it more factual, or do you go with the full romantic power of the piece?

Some lessons can be taken from the recording of Rachmaninov with Leopold Stokowski, featuring the very same Philadelphia Orchestra than the current recording. And one thing is clear, already at the time (1924), they went BIG. A lot of power, a lot of rubato, a lot of everything. And guess what, that works! (well the composer should know, you’d presume)

Trifonov and Nézet-Séguin take a very big approach here. You can really float in the big sound of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and soloist and conductor clearly connect. Trifonov clearly is a virtuoso of the highest caliber, so the technical challenges of this massive work just go unnoticed.

Overall, there is a lot of rubato, and the tempo is relatively slow. In some of the slower passages, one even gets reminder of a Bruckner symphony.

Some would argue this is too much. I haven’t seen many reviews yet, but I predict this recording will be a love it or hate it affair.

To make it clear: I love it!

You also get concerto no. 4, but to this day, I’m like quite a large majority of music lovers, I love nos. 2 and 3, and just don’t get 4. So no comment from my side.

What you do get on top is much more interesting, at least to me. Rachmaninov did his transcription of the Violin Partita BWV 1006, a true gem, that I should probably add to my blog post on transcriptions of the Chaconne. Very much worth discovering.

I’m kind of curious about the album title, Departure, and am really wondering where this train takes us next. Let’s hope to an equally spectacular Rach 3!

My rating: 5 stars.

I’m curious to see if my prediction holds true, and there will be both raving and bad reviews of this. I’ll report back when I see them. In the meantime, try before you buy!

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

 

Alina Ibragimova’s Mesmerizing Bach Concertos

Alina Ibragimova

Regular readers know that I’m a fanboy of some violin players, notably Rachel Podger (see last weeks post on her Four Seasons, and several others, e.g. this one) and Isabelle Faust (see for example here and here).

Since this year, I have to add a third name to that list, Alina Ibragimova. I’ve seen her live earlier this year playing French chamber music, and was blown away.

The real reason why I haven’t heard more of her is quite simple: Hyperion doesn’t allow streaming. Given that having access to a great streaming service is now my number one source for new music discovery, and how much new music there is to discover, it’s just hard to buy stuff blindly these days.

Plus, on the Bach violin concertos in question, I really had more than enough choice already in my library (just checked, 15 versions of BWV1041), not to mention the hundreds of versions available via streaming. And there is great stuff like above mentioned Rachel Podger, Julia Fischer, Janine Jansen, Giuliano Carmignola, just to mention a few.

So the hurdles for buying this were high. But I’m very glad that today I clicked on “Buy” on the Hyperion website this weekend and added version number 16 to my library.

Bach: Violin Concertos – Alina Ibragimova – Jonathan Cohen – Arcangelo (Hyperion 2015)

 

Alina Ibragimova Bach Violin Concertos Acrangelo Jonathan Cohen Hyperion Records 24 96

So, this version immediately rises to the top  of my recommendations.

Before I talk about the soloist, let me first spend some words on the excellent orchestra. Given it’s young age, it was founded in 2010 by Jonathan Cohen, it is not yet as well known as for example Les Arts Florissants or other historically informed ensembles.

However, it immediately becomes audible that this really is a world class ensemble. They play with both precision and joy, and really are essential in making this album so enjoyable.

Now to Ibragimova. She keeps things very simple. Very little vibrato (HIP obliging), but even beyond that, she keeps everything very transparent and clear. To my ears, this is exactly what this music needs, it is of such an outstanding beauty (take for example the adagio of BWV 1042) that really there is nothing that needs to be added. It is just blowing you away by the sheer power of the music.

Outstanding!

I think I have to return to Hyperion’s website (link below) more often. Ibragmova’s Mozart sonatas just received fantastic reviews, and I’ll need to see how they compare to my favorite version with, again, Rachel Podger (see here).

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Hyperion Records, download) or here (Prestoclassical, CD)

P.S. I know I’ve been reviewing a lot of baroque music recently, I promise a bit more diversity going forward

 

A New Excellent Four Seasons Recording by Rachel Podger

Antonio Vivaldi (again)

In my post last week about Vivaldi’s violin concertos where I mentioned that I’m not such a particular fan of the “Red Priest”, I got a lot of reader reactions.

Many of them where trying to convince me that there’s more to Vivaldi, and that he certainly hasn’t written the same concerto 400 times as Stravinsky famously joked.

Well to set the record straight: I do like Vivaldi, kind of. Not all of it, and only in certain doses. And just to prove that I do, I’ll be doing a little mini-series about Vivaldi now.

The Four Seasons (again)

And yes, please don’t kill me if I start with the most overplayed piece of classical music ever (well, in close competition with the opening of Beethoven’s 5th symphony probably).

I’ve written about my favorite version of the four seasons already, it is the version with Giuliano Carmignola. This, to this day, is outstanding. So why do I really need to write about yet another recording (Discogs shows nearly 2,500 entries of this work already…)?

Well, because Rachel Podger just recorded it!

I’ve written about Rachel Podger several times already, e.g. her recent album Grandissima Gravita, her magnificent Mozart sonatas, and her Biber Rosary Sonatas, which won a 2016 Gramophone Award in her category. So be warned, like Gramophone I really tend to like her recordings and hardly ever find fault with them.

Vivaldi: Le Quattro Stagioni – Rachel Podger – Brecon Baroque (Channel Classics 2018)

Vivaldi Le Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons) Rachel Podger Brecon Baroque Channel Classics DSD 2018

So, sorry to repeat myself, but this is yet another outstanding recording by Mrs. Podger.

Her ensemble, Brecon Baroque, isn’t particularly large. This conveys a nice sense of intimacy. The entire recording is extremely nuanced, subtle, but always joyful.

The highlight of the album is the 3 movements of Winter. The Allegro non-molto is even a bit scary, you can feel the shivers of the cold in the opening chords (and I’m writing this on a sunny spring weekend).

And when you get to the second movement of the Winter, the Largo (which has always been a favorite of mine), it is the most “swinging” largo I’ve ever heard, you can really feel yourself taking a nice walk in the sun in a white winter landscape.

So, I’m sure you already have a Four Seasons recording in your collection. If you don’t, this is a must have. if you do, you should still strongly consider this, it is one of the best versions ever recorded, in a very particular and individual style. And as a plus, Channel Classics is known for their excellent recording technique, so this is an audiophile gem as well.

And to top it of, you get two other violin concertos by Vivaldi thrown in  (and yes, they don’t all sound the same!).

My rating: 5 stars

 

You can find it here (Channelclassics), and here (NativeDSD), in both cases you get it in native DSD resolution up to multichannel.

I ended up as usual buying it here (Qobuz, PCM 24/192 only), as with my Sublime subscription it is quite significantly discounted (and no, I’m still not sponsored by Qobuz).

 

UPDATE April 23, 2018: Gramophone agrees, giving it an Editor’s Choice in it’s May 2018 issue, with this statement: “If ever a disc were self-recommending, this is it: one of today’s most consistently brilliant Baroque violinists, records one of the era’s most famed and engaging works. Enjoy!”. Please note that Gramophone, very much like me, is a bit positively biased on Podger.

Murray Perahia Plays Beethoven Sonatas – Could This Be The Best “Moonlight” Ever?

Murray Perahia

Did I mention that I love Murray Perahia? Yes, actually, I did. He’s mentioned in my Top 10 Favorite Classical Pianists, his recent Bach Album made my Top 5 Classical Music albums of 2016.

So when a new Beethoven album from the great master came out on Deutsche Grammophon, I bought it pretty much immediately, without checking out the version via streaming as I’d typically do otherwise. His latest Beethoven sonata recording dates back to 2008, since then he’s been much more focused on Bach.

Beethoven: Sonatas No. 14 and 29 – Murray Perahia (Deutsche Grammophon 2018)

Beethoven: Sonatas No. 14 and 29 - Murray Perahia - Deutsche Grammophon 2018 24/96

Perahia attacks two of the most famous Beethoven sonatas here. No. 29, Hammerklavier, and the one that even non-classical listeners would recognize, the Moonlight.

Let me start by saying you immediately hear that Perahia has been playing a lot of Bach recently. If I had to summarize this album in one word, it would be “Clarity”, or “Transparency”. The counterpoint complexity of Bach certainly shines through on this album. Nothing is ever “too much”, even for these two sonatas that both mark the transition from the “classical” period to the starting “romantic” era.

Let’s start, as Perahia does, with the Hammerklavier heavyweight. This is one of the most pianistically challenging piano pieces out there. Especially if you’re trying to follow Beethoven’s original metronome marks, which some have considered unplayable. Perahia starts with a quite ambitious speed, but at no point this ever feels forced.

You get plenty of nuances especially in the beautiful Adagio, and the highlight could be the last movement, which stars seemingly simple with a little Largo, but then builds into a compex fuga type Allegro & Presto, where you can clearly hear that Beethoven knew his Bach, so Perahia really shines here.

I have yet to find my “perfect” Hammerklavier. Recently, the impressive version of Ronald Brautigam (played on an actual Hammerklavier-type historic instrument), or Igor Levit’s beautiful recording of the late sonatas, or you can obviously go back to the classics and pick your Serkin, Brendel, or Arrau. Actually, the complexity of this masterpiece is such that no one version will ever be “perfect”, you’ll always need more than one interpretation of this jewel.

Going to the Mondschein sonata, I’m going to contradict myself immediately: This could well be “the” perfect version of the Moonlight sonata, at least of the world famous Adagio sostenuto. 

Let me explain: He takes the movement relatively fast, with 5:16 I have only 3 versions in my library that take less time (my fastest version is Schnabel by the way, with 4:51).

What is so outstanding about this version goes back to the word I used earlier, “clarity”. This is played in a very plain, no-nonsense style. With such an overloaded romantic piece, there often is a tendency of just doing a bit too much, too much rubato, too much dynamic variation, etc. etc.

But honestly, this outstanding beauty of masterwork doesn’t need any of this. This apparent simplicity is just what makes this music truly shine. I can’t get enough of it. This could well become my new personal reference for No. 14.

My rating: 5 stars

 

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

 

UPDATE Feb 28, 2018: For once, we have an album where all critics agree. In their respective March editions, both Gramophone (Editor´s Choice & Recording Of The Month) and Classica (CHOC) give this album their highest rating.

 

Melody Gardot Live In Europe – A Must Have Album – My Review

Melody Gardot

I’ve been a big fan of Melody Gardot for years now. I’ve mentioned her on this blog a couple of times already, reviewing her previous album Currency of Man, which also made my Top 5 Vocal Jazz Albums of 2015, as well as mentioning her great contributions to the compliations albums Autour de Nina, and Jazz Loves Disney.

She is a fantastic talent, with an amazing voice, and a very versatile style, from her early vocal jazz/singer-songwriter style albums Some Lessons, Worrisome Heart, and My One And Only Thrill, via the latin Swing of The Absence, to the much more soul-oriented Currency Of Man.

However, so far I haven’t yet seen her live (what a miss), so I was very excited when this latest live album was announced in late 2017.

Now it’s out, and I must admit it exceeded even my high expectations.

Live in Europe (Decca 2018)

Melody Gardot Live In Europe (24/48) 2018 Decca

So, what’s so great about this album?

First of all, the length, 1h45, so the band can really take the time to develop the songs, with the longest example, Morning Sun taking more than 12 minutes. Not one too many by the way, as this is one of the true highlights of the album.

The other great thing is that this in many places is a very minimalistic, “unplugged” style album, just Melody’s fantastic voice with very little instrumentation, which makes this even more special, and a very intimate experience. One example is the opening track, Our Love Is Easy, which over quite a while has her together with only a double bass. Outstanding!

This is a mix of several concerts in Europe, and you get the full bandwidth of styles. Lisboa (nicely enough taken from a concert in Lisbon) is an excellent example that the band can do a true latin samba-style swing, you get her “classics” like My One And Only Thrill, but even the more soul-type songs like Morning Sun get a very special, fresh treatment.

Melody Gardot is clearly surrounded by outstanding musicians here, as witnessed in the nearly 4 minutes instrumental intro of The Rain.

Another highlight of the album is March For Mingus, as it is really swinging and groving like crazy. The “original” of this song was a short 1:02 fragment on Currency of Man, which finally gets the 11:03 that it truly deserves.

Get this album as fast as you can! This is an instant classic.

My rating: 5 stars

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

Isabelle Faust & Kristian Bezuidenout Play Bach Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord – A Sheer Pleasure!

Isabelle Faust

Regular readers of this blog know that I´m a self-declared fanboy of the German violinist Isabelle Faust, as seen here, here, or here.

While I wasn´t too much of an admirer of her recent Mendelssohn concerto recording, as it was “too HIP for my taste”, generally I tend to buy pretty much everything she releases.

Her Bach violin solo sonatas recording (in two volumes, also on Harmonia Mundi) is already excellent, so I was very curious to see how her latest release of the Bach would turn out.

Kristian Bezuidenhout

I was particularly curious given that we get the amazing Kristian Bezuidenhout on the harpsichord, a South-African pianist and keyboard player focusing on historic instruments that I’ve already mentioned in My Must Have Mozart Albums.

Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed!

Bach: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord – Isabelle Faust & Kristian Bezuidenhout (Harmonia Mundi 2018)

Bach Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord Isabelle Faust - Kristian Bezuidenhout Harmonia Mundi 2017 24 96

Unlike the famous sonatas for solo violin, these sonatas are much less often played. Which really is a pity as it is beautiful music that are really worth being explored in more detail.

By the way, these duo sonatas could also be performed in trio form with an optional viola da gamba. Here we  get the duo form.

I complained about the Mendelssohn lacking some richness in sound and playing.

Here honestly I wouldn’t know what to criticize. The sound of Faust relatively bright Stradivarius is just perfect here in all its brilliance , even singing in a way, and Bezuidenhout plays a harpsichord that has a beautiful rich body.

Harpsichords occasionally can sound a bit thin, making some Bach harpsichord recordings sound more like a typewriter.

None of that here, this is music that is engaging, even dancing, with two equal partners that visibly enjoy playing together.

The recording beautifully showcases the close connection these two masters have developed musically, and makes this entire recording a sheer pleasure to listen to.

My rating: 5 stars

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

UPDATE Feb 28, 2018: Gramophone agrees and gives this album an “Editor´s Choice” in their March 2018 issue.

Schuberts String Quartet no. 15 by the Doric String Quartet – Outstanding

Why streaming is a good thing – at least for the consumers

It´s amazing how our listening habits have changed in so little time since streaming arrived. I was personally late to the game, only started less than two years ago (about the time when I started this blog).

In the not so “old days”, one had to go to a record store and listen to new music there. That was an adventure on its own, and if you had a good CD (or vinyl) dealer, you even got some great advice.

Well, we can safely assume that CD stores will mostly go the way of video rental stores, with few exceptions. You may like this trend or not, but for me, streaming has opened up  new worlds.

You basically get every single new album, the day it is out, directly onto your computer, in CD quality or even better. And this for a relatively modest fee, about the price of 1-2 CDs. I’ve  discovered so much new music like this, stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise have explored.

So from a customer perspective there is a real gain. From a musician perspective, things are obviously different, as musicians only make very little money from streaming if you’re not Beyonce. I assume for this reason, many smaller labels, like ECM, Chandos, or Hyperion didn’t allow streaming until now.

It looks like things are changing again, as labels do realize that streaming may be a tricky business model, but if you’re not on it, you’re out of mind for too many music lovers. ECM came first recently, Chandos just started, and I hope Hyperion will follow.

It is just that especially for classical music there is no decent way to sample music before you buy now that CD stores are gone, and the 30 seconds snippets from Amazon may work for Bruno Mars, but not for a 50 minute classical piece.

Which lead to me often ignoring recordings, like this particular one. I’ve mentioned it previously in my post about the 2017 Gramophone award nominations. To quote myself “I have only heard it once on the radio (again, also Chandos doesn´t stream), and liked it, but wasn´t blown away. Not interesting enough for me to spend money blindly on it“. There you go. I’ve simply ignored a truly great recording just because of their lack of streaming.

But please, fellow music lovers, remember, no musician can live off streaming only. So, please, if you like something, buy the album, or go to their concert. We want these great musicians to be able to live off what they are doing!

Schubert: String Quartets No. 12 & 15 – Doric Quartet (Chandos 2017)

I haven’t written about String Quartet No. 15 yet. That’s a shame. I’ve mentioned No. 13 “Rosamunde”, and obviously Death and the Maiden, No. 14.

No. 15 is the last one, and to me pretty much on par with the two others as well as the outstanding String Quintet (see here and here for my favorite versions).

No. 15 is a true masterpiece, and longer than most of Schubert´s symphonies. My initial versions of this were the great Alban Berg Quartet and the Quartetto Italiano.

Schubert String Quartet No. 12 and 15 - Doric String Quartet (24/96) Chandos 2017

The Doric String Quartet is a young UK-based quartet, with Alex Redington and Jonathan Stone on violin, Hélène Clément viola, and John Myerscough on cello. The quartet has won a number of prices and awards yet, including several high praises by Gramophone.

And as already mentioned above, my superficial listening on the radio simply wasn’t enough to make up my mind. The playing is truly excellent, showing all the passion that late Schubert requires, but at the same time the attention to detail that shows all the little nuances that Schubert is so good at hiding in the music. This is truly breathtaking.

Did I mention you also get the Quartettsatz, a one movement quartet from Schubert? We won’t say no to this!

My rating: 5 stars

As mentioned previously, Gramophone agrees, this was and Editor´s Choice, and shortlisted for the 2017 Gramophone Awards. Germany´s Fono Forum also gives 5 stars.

You can find it here (Qobuz, who at the time of writing has a special offer on all Chandos), and here (Chandos own online store)