Category Archives: ****

This is stuff I like, would purchase, and listen to repeatedly. This is most likely going to be the rating you see from me most often, as I usually cannot be bothered to review 1-3 stars albums in detail, and 5 stars, well they are exceptional and rare!

Rémi Geniet Plays Beethoven Sonatas – A Review

Beethoven’s piano sonatas

I haven’t written about Beethoven’s piano sonatas yet on this blog, except for mentioning Igor Levit’s beautiful rendition of the late piano sonatas here.

Why? No idea. It is such a massive body of work, 32 sonatas, no really weak stuff in there, the late sonatas being particularly challenging. How do you attack such a mountain, or more precisely mountain range?

Rémi Geniet

Rémi Geniet, a young French pianist, must have asked himself the same question. His answer is an album that covers 4 sonatas from the very early op. 2 to the very late op. 110.

Who is Rémi Geniet? A young (born 1992) French pianist, who released a beautiful Bach album two years ago that was highly praised. He also won several competitions including the Horowitz International Competition in Kiew.

Geniet Plays Beethoven Sonatas

Rémi Geniet Beethoven Piano Sonatas Mirare 2017 24/96

From Bach to Beethoven. A small step? Well not really, actually anything but.  But Geniet manages this challenge beautifully.

You get a mix from Beerhovens sonata cycle, as mentioned above from the very early sonata no. 2 to the penultimate sonata no. 31.

The really famous sonata here is the “Moonshine“, no. 14, probably the piano piece that even non classical listeners will have heard at some point. Attacking such an earworm is obviously tricky, we all have some form of reference in our head. And what references, from Schnabel, to Arrau, to Brendel, or more recently Paul Lewis or Ronald Brautigam.

How does he compare against such great names of the piano? Well, actually, quite well.
Take the first movement. This, if done badly, can drown in kitsch. No kitsch here, you get  simplicty, very clean playing , no “fuzz”. But actually, this makes the entire experience nevertheless extremely intense.

He takes extremely technically challengingthird movement (Presto agitato) breathtakingly fast, but with extreme precision. Again, this is truly impressive.

All this really comes without neglecting musical substance. Take for example the sonata no. 31. Beethoven’s late sonatas, like his late string quartets, are works of extreme intellectual substance. You simply cannot gloss over them. Pianists typically only tackle them later in the career. But here, similar to Levit mentioned above, Geniet just goes for it, and very successfully.

Overall rating: 4 stars (at certain moments of playing I’d give a 5 star, but there is so much competition out there in the Beethoven space, that it is hard to consistently outperform all the piano legends).

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

Sarah McKenzie – Paris In The Rain – A Review (more or less)

I’ve previously praised the young Australian singer Sarah McKenzie for her last album on Impulse, We Could Be Lovers, have seen her perform live, and mentioned her in my Top 10 Jazz Covers of Pop songs. I was even able to exchange a couple of friendly words with her during the above mentioned concert.

So in a nutshell, I really like her. Hence, when I saw on Facebook that she is about to release a new album, I gotvery excited.

(Side note: following artists I like is one of the few useful purposes for me of Facebook. Why is it that in my generation the only people that regularly post updates are the ones you don’t care about? There seems to be some form of inverse correlation between posting activity and content value, with some rare exceptions)

Paris In the Rain (Impulse 2017)

So, now the album has been out for weeks, and I’m only just about now writing about it.

Sarah McKenzie Paris In The Rain Impulse 2017 (24/96)

Why is that? Well, not because I didn’t listen to it enough. The thing is, I was really trying to like it, but in a way something was just a bit wrong. And I spent the last month trying to put my finger on it.

Is it the singing? Absolutely not, that’s beautiful as ever.

Is it the songs? No, we get standards, like Tea For Two, beautiful ballads, like Little Girl Blue, own compositions such as Paris in the Rain, see below (she also has 4 other own compositions on the album!).

 

 

Is it the musicians? Again, not really. Actually, they do play extremely well. Sarah and Impulse were able to assemble some great musicians here: Mark Whitfield und Romero Lubambo on guitar, Warren Wolf on the vibraphone, Reuben Rogers on bass, Gregory Hutchinson on drums.

The horns are excellent too, from Dominick Farinacci on the trumpet, Jamie Baum on the flute, to Scott Robinson and Ralph Moore on saxphone.

So what is it? It was only when I read that this album was produced again (like the previous one) by Brian Bacchus, when the penny dropped. It is just a bit too perfect! That may sound a bit silly, but the album could use a little bit of “dirtiness” to my ears.

Bacchus, while not a household name, has worked with some of the greatest names in Jazz (e.g. John Scofield). However, he also produced Norah Jones and Gregory Porter. Not that I’m comparing this album to Norah Jones, unlike her this is 100% Jazz, but you get the total perfection of a Norah Jones album. This really doesn’t fully replicate the full energy I felt when I saw her live. I’d really love it if her next album will be a live one!

So why I strongly encourage you to check out this album, I’d even more recommend you see her live. As mentioned, she’s on facebook, and here’s her website that has the tour dates.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find the album here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters).

Rafal Blechacz Plays Bach – Beautifully!

Where’s the Jazz gone?

Yes, I know, I’ve been writing an awful lot about classical music since the new year, and Jazz has suffered a bit. This has a multitude of reasons: reader requests (for my essential 25 classical albums), concert visits (see my report on Alondra de la Parra here), or exciting new releases, such as the one I’ll be writing about in this post.

I simply haven’t seen that many exciting new Jazz releases recently. However, I have some in the making, including Sarah McKenzie’s latest album, so if you’re more into Jazz than Classical and follow my blog, don’t dispair, I’ll get back to it.

Bach: Again?

Yes, I know, I write an awful lot about Bach. If you look at the stats (you can find them in the large categories menu on the side) of my posts about different composers, he leads by far with 25 posts as of today (mid February 2017), even ahead of my beloved Johannes Brahms (with 17 posts so far).

Why is this? Well, I think I’ve written before, you can never have enough Bach. He is probably the most important composer of all times, at least to me. Maybe I should rename my blog title after all.

Rafal Blechacz

I’ve written about Blechacz several times already, first about his amazing Chopin Preludes, then mentioning him both in My Top 10 Classical Pianists, and more recently, even adding his Preludes to my 25 Essential Classical albums.

Maybe that is a bit too much praise for a 31 year old pianist who has only recorded a small handful of albums so far, one of which I didn’t even like (his 2013 recording of the Chopin Polonaises). And then again, maybe it isn’t. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him live once and was really impressed.

So in a way it was a big bet putting him (together with Benjamin Grosvenor, another outstanding young talent) into my Top 10 pianists, while leaving out geniuses like Horowitz or Richter.

Well, luckily, we now have one more piece of supporting evidence with his latest release on Deutsche Grammophon.

Johann Sebastian Bach – Rafal Blechacz

Johann Sebastian Bach - Rafal Blechacz - Deutsche Grammophon 2017 24/96

 

The title of the album couldn’t be simpler: Johann Sebastian Bach. A clear statement.

You get an interesting mix of the Italian Concerto BWV971, partitas no. 1 and 3, and some smaller pieces including the ear worm piano arrangement of the Cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, better known for my English speaking readers under Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring.

So how does Blechacz (winner of the legendary Chopin competition) move from Chopin, the master of the romantic piano, to Bach, back to completely different music, that was composed for instruments that were very far from the modern Steinway?

Actually, suprisingly well. And if you think about it, it is not that surprising at all. Chopin was heavily influenced by Bach. Note the title “Preludes”, which is taken straight from the baroque repertoire, and is clearly inspired by the Well-Tempered Clavier.

Let’s put this new album against some tough competition:

My favorite version of the Italian Concerto is by another of my Top 10 classical pianists, Murray Perahia, on his 2003 SACD, and Blechacz really doesn’t need to hide here. What differentiates Blechacz I guess is his very individual touch, always gentle, even when he plays loudly. I wouldn’t replace Perahia by Blechacz, but I could very easily live with both versions, having their individual quality. Side note: Two other versions of this concerto I can recommend are by Claire-Marie Le Guay on her beautiful Bach album, and if you prefer to listen to this on a harpsichord, go for the brilliant Pierre Hantaï.

On the partitas, my preferred versions are again Perahia, but also Igor Levit’s beautiful recording (both on Sony). Claire-Marie Le Guay also has recorded partita no. 1 on the above mentioned album. Can Blechacz add new insights? Well, maybe not insights, but a different viewpoint. He has a beautiful playfulness, making this a really individual take on Bach. I find it very enjoyable.

And closing the album with Myra Hess’ arrangement of the Bach cantata is a beautiful round-up to a new addition to the Bach universe.

Is this album essential? Maybe not. Is this album immensely enjoyable? Absolutely yes!

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters, currently offering a 20% discount for the week that I’m writing this).

 

UPDATE April 2, 2017: In its April 2017 issue, Classica agrees, calling it a “CHOC”, i.e. 5 stars, and praising it immensely.

 

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Cannonball Adderley Live

Cannonball Adderley

So far, I’ve written only about one album (see my review of “Know What I Mean here) by the great alto saxonphonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.

This is a bit of a sin as I really like him. I recognize that Parker and Coltrane were the more creative and influential artists, but in real life I listen to Adderley albums quite regularly, and more often than the first two giants. So watch this spot for more on him.

Mercy Mercy Mercy! Live At “The Club” (Capitol 1966)

So what triggered me writing about this particular album? Well, quite simply, I heard it on the radio. In this case it was Radio Swiss Jazza music only channel run by the Swiss public radio, which unlike it’s classical counterpart, actually often plays really good music.

Who else do we have at this live gig at Club de Lisa in Chicago? Let’s start with Nat Adderley on Cornet, his brother. They often played together and are very complementary.

Then on piano we have Joe Zawinul, the Austrian pianist & keyboarder, who had joined Adderley earlier, but became much more famous later playing with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew, and with Wayne Shorter on the fusion band Weather Report.

To finish the quintet’s line up, on drums we have Victor Gaskin, and on  bass Roy McCurdy.

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Live at "The Club" Capitol / Blue Note 1966

So what do we get on this album?

This is 1966, so just the end of the hardbop era before things started moving on towards Free Jazz and Fusion. None of that here, this is still 100% solid hard bop. What you get, is essentially Fun and Games, as the first two titles are called.

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even mention this album which is nothing but solid, non-outstanding hard bop (with a lot of energy though), if it didn’t include the title track, Mercy Mercy Mercy, written by Joe Zawinul earlier this year, and which became a chart hit (yes, in the 1960s Jazz tracks still could be come chart hits), and has been covered a lot since.

What is so special about this track, no. 3? It’s 5:10 of pure drive, but laid back. Not sure how they pull of this contradiction in terms, but I guess it is Joe Zawinul on his Wurlitzer e-piano is the one who really kills here. The Adderley brothers get to play occasionally, but fundamentally this truly is a Zawinul song through and through.

Check it out:

 

My rating: 4 stars (with Mercy Mercy Mercy deserving 5 stars on its own).

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

Mozart’s Violin Concertos with Isabelle Faust – Highly Enjoyable

Happy New Year!

Dear readers, I hope many of you were able to have some days off during the holidays over the last weeks. I’d like to thank you again for your interest in my blog, and look forward to sharing more exciting music with you in 2017.

As always, I really appreciate any form of feedback. Do you like my articles? Let me know! Hate them, let me know as well! Any form of feedback is useful.

Mozart’s Violin Concertos

Let me start by saying that as much as I like Mozart, his violin concertos aren’t very high on my priority list. They are the works of a teenager, written between ages 16 and 20. That said, they are enjoyable, and at least one version of them should be in any classical music library.

But which one? In My Must-have Mozart Albums, I’ve already recommended Giuliano Carmignola’s great recording with the late Claudio Abbado and the Orchestra Mozart  he founded (which unfortunately lost funding some time ago).

However, regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Isabelle Faust (see here, or here), so when she released a recording of the complete Mozart concertos, I obviously had to check it out. Unfortunately, it took some months for reasons unknown to me for this to be available on Qobuz, my streaming provider (and I didn’t want to buy this blindly).Now Qobuz finally has it, so here comes my review.

Mozart: Violin Concertos – Isabelle Faust – Il Giardino Armonico (Harmonia Mundi 2016)

Mozart: Violin Concertos Isabelle Faust Il Giardino Armonico Giovanni Antonini Harmonia Mundi 2016 24/96

Not only you get Isabelle Faust here, as mentioned above one of my all-time favorite violinists, but you also get Giovanni Antonini with his Giardino Armonico. They have done countless excellent baroque albums in the last 30 years. More recently they moved up to the Viennese Classical period with Haydn, in their excellent Haydn2032 cycle (see my review of vol. 3 here), so Mozart is a logical next step.

So, how does it sound? Two words, transparency and energy! Antonini takes the same inspiring approach he uses to awaken Papa Haydn, and plays it with a lot of verve and swing. And even Faust, who can be a tiny bit intellectual in her approach at times, gets fully into the mood and goes with the flow, making this youthful music just highly enjoyable. I seriously wouldn’t know what to criticize on this recording. This really is on par with Carmignola, if not even slightly better.

In summary: highly recommended (all reviews I’ve seen vary between very good and outstanding, so I’m not really going against the consensus here).

My rating: 4 stars (full 5 star playing, but as mentioned above I don’t think Mozart’s violin concertos are truly essential, so one point off for repertoire).

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

 

Recommended: The 2nd volume of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words by Ronald Brautigam

Yes, I really like Mendelssohn (this is already my 5th blog entry on him). His works are unfortunately still underrated by many.

And his Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words) are truly among my favorite works, quite simple if you listen superficially, but so much beauty and detail can be found in there.

I’ve spoken very highly of the first volume of the Lieder ohne Worte by Ronald Brautigam.

Recently, he has released the second volume, the books 5-8 of these now complete recordings of these beautiful musical poems.

Mendelssohn: Lieder Ohne Worte books 5-8 – Ronald Brautigam (BIS 2016)

Felix Mendelssohn Lieder Ohne Worte Books 5-8 Ronald Brautigam 24 96 BIS 2016

If, like me, you liked the first edition of the books 1-4, this is a clear must have.

It is again played on a contemporary copy by Paul McNulty of a Pleyel piano from the 1830s, with a beautiful mellow sound, which I’ve already praised in my previous review.

The booklet is also very much worth checking out, not only for getting a picture of the instrument being used on p. 30. Horst A. Scholz really does an excellent job in describing the individual pieces. Given that eclassical offers the booklets for free, I highly suggest you have a look.

In short: if you like Chopin or Schumann, and are curious about the sound of a piano the way Mendelssohn may have  heard and played it, go for it!

My rating: 4 stars (although the more I listen to it, the closer this fortepiano recording  gets to the 5 stars I gave to Perianes modern piano version).

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

Update December 28,2016: In their December issue, Classica agrees and gives this album a 4 star rating.

Jazz Loves Disney – Who Would Have Thought This Actually Is A Great Album?

Verve

Verve obviously is one of the great classic record labels of the Jazz history, where Norman Granz to produce all the classics from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald to Oscar Peterson.

These days, Verve, as most other traditional Jazz labels, is part of one of the big players, in this case Universal Music. However, in spite of being part of this large multinational company, and some major restructuring, Verve still puts out some beautiful recordings

They also able to pull together artists from other labels to do some great compilations. Interestingly enough, these compilations aren’t best-of’s of previously recorded material, but actually new productions that were done just for these albums. A great example is the beautiful album Autour de Nina, reviewed here.

Walt Disney

Well, I must admit, for my side, I’m not a huge disney fan. OK, I liked the Jungle Book as a kid, but hated Mickey Mouse.

That said, Disney truly cared about music in his movies.

Did you actually know that the Jazz standard Someday My Price Will Come made famous by Miles Davis actually came from Disney’s Snow White? I must admit, I completely forgot about that.

Walt Disney’s movie A Silly Symphony from 1935 is another great example of the usage of classical music in a movie.

Anyway, I wasn’t prepared at all to actually like the following album:

Jazz Loves Disney (Verve 2016)

Jazz Loves Disney 24/44 Verve 2016 Gregory Porter Jamie Cullum Stacey Kent Melody Gardot

Well, first of all, look at the names of the artists here: We’ve got Melody Gardot and Stacey Kent, two of the best current Jazz singers out there, but the other names are equally impressive.

As usual with this kind of album, the production is quite perfectionist. So this could all feel as artificial as being trapped as a character of Arielle, but it actually doesn’t.

It really swings nicely, and really shows a whole new aspect of these songs.

My absolute favorite is The Bear Necessities in a beautiful duet by Raphael Gualazzi and Melody Gardot (yes, Jungle Book again), but there really isn’t a really weak track on this album

Check out these trailers to get an impression:

Check it out!

My rating: 4 stars
You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Acoustic Sounds)