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)

Fazil Say´s Chopin Nocturnes – Charming

Fazil Say

Fazil Say, a classical pianist from Turkey usually doesn’t leave people cold. Its often a love it or hate it affair.

The first time I heard Fazil was in a duo with a similarly polarising artist, Patricia Kopachinskaya, playing the Beethoven sonatas. It was clearly a memorable concert. And while fro Kopachinskaya I really don´t like everything she does, I really admire her artistic courage and ambition. She´s always in there with all her heart.

Fazil Say seems also quite emotional, but at least from his performances, his emotions typically translate into very sensitive playing, whether he plays Western classical music, or his own compositions.

I omitted to write about his great recent complete Mozart sonatas cycle recording, which I can really recommend you check out. There is not one boring moment in there.

So I was really intrigued when Say released his very recent Chopin Nocturnes album.

Chopin: Nocturnes – Fazil Say (Warner 2017)

Chopin: Nocturnes - Fazil Say 24/96 Warner Classics 2017

As expected, it is a beautiful recording. You get Say´s characteristic playfulness, sensitivity, interesting play with beautiful rubato.

The feeling you get is of a warm Mediterranean summer night. Chopin being one of the first tourists on Mallorca comes to mind, and Franz Liszt claimed the Nocturnes were inspired by Italian Bel Canto. Both very much apply here.

These are nuanced, intelligent interpretations. The only reproach I have is sometimes the tempi feel a bit fast.

Overall, Moravec´s legendary version not under threat of being kicked of the throne, but Say´s version is very much worth exploring. Recommended!

My rating: 4 stars

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

UPDATE Oct 1, 2017: Classic agrees, and gives this album 4 stars as well.

Krystian Zimerman plays Schubert sonatas

Krystian Zimerman

Krystian Zimerman is a living legend.

He is without doubt one of our most important pianists of the 20th and 21st centuries, and has produced a huge number of reference recordings.

I only saw him live once, couple of years ago in Lucerne, and was utterly impressed with his Chopin.

He obviously features in my Top 10 Favorite Classical Pianists, and when I heard that he’s about to release his first solo album since 1994 (!) I really couldn’t wait for it.

Franz Schubert’s late sonatas

And then he plays Schubert! D959 and D960!

The late piano sonatas are among my absolutely preferred works of him  (together with the late chamber works), and I’ve even written a blog post comparing 11 versions of D959. At the time, I selected Perahia, Brendel, and Uchida as my reference versions.

Franz Schubert: Piano Sonatas D959 and 960 – Krystian Zimerman (DG2017)

Franz Schubert Krystian Zimerman Piano Sonatas D959 & D960 Deutsche Grammophon 24 96

So, maybe it is a mistake to get too excited upfront. I really expected miracles here. I mean, take his Chopin Ballades, his Debussy, his Lutoslawski, his Brahms 1, his Liszt b-minor sonata. All miracles.

So you will have guess by now, that I was underwhelmed here.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a very fine recording. Obviously. It’s Zimerman after all. And he really makes these recordings very much his own.

But I’ve now played them over and over again, and I’m still waiting for the “wow”. I simply doesn’t come. I still don’t know what it is. Is it his rubato, his tempi? Is it maybe “too romantic”? I really don’t know.

There are so many subleties in his recording that I all appreciate individually. But the total doesn’t work for me. Well, hold on, “doesn’t work” is a silly way of saying I’m not blown away. It really all boils down to expectations.

Check it out, you have to, this is Zimerman after all. And I won’t be surprised if many of you disagree with my very personal opinion here. But for the moment, I’ll stick with the “cleaner” versions of Brendel and Uchida.

What do you think? I really appreciate your feedback here!

My rating: 4 stars

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

UPDATE Oct 1st, 2017: the French magazine Classica is less hesitant and gives this album a “CHOC”, i.e. 5 stars.

UPDATE Oct 7, 2017: Gramophone also is fully convinced, giving this album a “recording of the month” for October. The only more critical review I’ve seen so far is by Elvire James on the French site Classiquenews.com, saying this album has nothing new to offer. Well I really wouln’t go as far as that.

UPDATE Oct 9, 2017: ClassicsToday Jed Distler is in the same range as my rating, with an 8 out of 10 points, quoting some micromanaging.

Your turn to judge! Let me know what you think.

Søren Bebe Trio: Home – A Review

We Get Requests

Just a quick intro here paraphrasing one of my favorite Oscar Peterson album titles: I get contacted quite regularly to review albums.

I usually check out what I receive when it sounds interesting, but so far I’ve never received anything for review that was musically interesting enough for me to write about.

Given that this is my personal blog and I don’t intend to make any money of this (as a matter of fact, this thing is even costing me a bit of money every year to maintain).

This nicely gives me the opportunity to write about only music I care about, one way or another.

Søren Bebe Trio

Søren reached out to me some weeks ago. He did it very smartly, with some namedropping, quoting that he’d recorded his latest album at the great Rainbow studios with the great Jan Erik Kongshaug. He really is an exceptional sound engineer, so my curiosity was piqued. Nicely enough, the album is available for streaming on Qobuz and TIDAL, so it was easy to check out (although he also provided me with a free download link, so full disclosure here)

I must admit I had never heard of him before, shame on me, but even if you care about the Jazz Piano Trio like me, it is really hard these days to keep track.

In a nutshell, Søren with his trio is based in Denmark, and plays with Kasper Tagel on bass and Anders Mogensen on drums.

 

Søren Bebe Trio – Home (2016 Out Here Music)

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So what do you get? Let me put it in the Amazon way: Customers who bought this also bought…. Basically, if you like Keith Jarrett´s trio, and the nordic trios in particular in the style of Tord Gustavsen, you need to check this out.

You get beautiful, dreamy ballads like Floating (that the cover picture really represents well), but you also get slightly more uptempo pieces like A Simple Song. It really always stays very Scandinavian (although I always thought Denmark was different to Sweden and Norway, but here you find a lot of commonalities).

Check out the long ballad Trieste as a very representative example:

And all of this, not surprisingly given the recording venue & personnel, is very well recorded.

My rating: 4 stars. Definitely worth checking out.

You can find it here (Bandcamp)

Tingvall Trio’s New Album Cirklar – A Review

Tingvall Trio

When I started this post, I was suprised to notice that I hadn’t written a single post on this trio yet. I kind of assumed I had. But my search function told me otherwise.

Martin Tingvall’s Hamburg, Germany-based piano trio is a pretty international affair. Tingvall himself is Swedish, his Bass player Omar Rodriguez Calvo is Cuban, only the drummer is German.

They have a pretty strong following in Germany, but start to get better known beyond the borders.

Let me open a parenthesis here: I’m still surprised that Jazz is a very regional affair. You’d think that in the days of the internet any artist can be heard and known everywhere. And especially in a niche area like Jazz people wouldn’t really care where an artist comes from. But then again, quite often I see artists available due to some weird label rights in Europe, but not in the US, or vice versa.

Probably it boils down to the fact that album sales really don’t matter that much any more these days, and concerts are the main way a Jazz artists gets to their audience these days. And concerts quite often remain a very local affair. Great artists like Triosence for example rarely venture out of their native Germany. Parenthesis closed.

Tingvalls albums in the past have been very consistent, weird-sounding (to non Swedish ears) Scandinavian names like Vägen, Vattensaga, or Norr, and also have followed a certain style.

Tingvall Trio: Cirklar (Skip Records 2017)

 

Tingvall Trio Cirklar 24/96 2017 Skip Records

The latest album keeps this consistency. A weird name (that the booklet doesn´t bother explaining), and a very Tingvall-like Scandinavian-inspired jazz.

If you´ve followed my blog for a bit you know which kind of style I like in piano trio. Basically either the Oscar-Peterson swinging and grooving style, or the more melodic approach.

Tingvall clearly is the latter. They do groove up to a point in the faster tracks, but the real beauty is revealed in the slow tracks, that evolve into always interesting melodic and harmonic developments.

Track 4, Black Molnen is a perfect example of this, the type of ballad I just love.

 

Some may ask: but where is the Jazz in that? And I agree, this music is probably borderline in that respect. But to me, the melodic and harmonic beauty is just what I’m looking for.

As mentioned above, faster tracks on this album don´t always work for me. Track 5, Skansk Blues, is too much of a regular blues to be attractive. Blues obviously live from simplicity, but here the recipe just gets a bit too repetitive.

The title track, another ballad, then again gives me exactly what I want from Tingvall. If you like this track, buy the album.

That’s not to say that I only like the slow tracks on this album. Tidlös for example is a very groove uptempo track that has just the right amount of creativity. And Bumerang (See clip above) is quite well done, too.

Finally, Elis Visar really gives you the feeling of an open Nordic landscape.
Overall, really worth checking out.

 My rating: 4 stars

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

My Reflections on the 2017 Gramophone Awards – Part I

2017 Gramophone Awards

The 2017 Gramophone Awards nominees have been published. As in the two previous years(2015 and 2016, let me add my comments and reflections on the proposed selection.

Overall, this year I was suprised how very few of the recordings I actually knew.

Therefore, this year I’ll only do two overall post on this, unlike the posts per category I did in recent years.

Baroque Instrumental

Bach: Orchestral Suites: Zefiro

Johann Sebastian Bach: Overtures - Zefiro - Alessandro Bernadini - Arcana - 2017 (24/96)

I very much liked this recording, giving it 4 stars here. Is it good enough for album of the year? Well, maybe.

Bach: Goldberg Variations – Mahan Esfahani

I was never as enthousiastic about this album as was Gramophone, my rating in my review was a lukewarm 3 stars. So definitely not my album of the year.

I haven’t heard any of the other albums, with some Telemann and Vivaldi, but will check in and maybe report back later.

 

Baroque Vocal

Hyperion doesn’t stream, so I cannot comment about Cohens/Arcangelos cantata album.

Bach: Matthew Passion – Gardiner

Bach St Matthew Passion John Eliot Gardiner SDG 2017 24/96

As reviewed here, I fully agree that this is a five star album very much worth having.

 

I haven’t heard any of the other recommended albums, from Blow (never heard that name before), Couperin, Monteverdi and Scarlatti, but will check them out, as they are by Les Arts Florissants and Christophe Rousset among other, that I really admire.

Chamber

I haven’t heard any of the first three recommended albums, as they are all 20th century stuff which really isn’t my cup of tea, from Ades, via Bacewicz, Berg, Schönberg, and Webern. I’ll leave this to others.

I´d be interested in trying the Bruch String Quartets as I have very little chamber music from this composer, but Hyperion doesn´t stream so I have no way of risk free trying.

Then there are two Schubert albums. Quatuors 12 and 15 by the Doric Quartet. 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.

Finally, there is the Death and the Maiden and a quartet by Sibelius by the Ehnes Quartet. Unfortunately, Onyx is another label that doesn´t stream.

So basically, there´s unfortunately not a lot I can contribute to this category, which I usually love.

Choral

Several albums in here that are just not my cup of tea, eg. Berkeley or Elgar. Even Haydn´s Season, here with Paul McCreesh, is not a piece of music I´m particularly passionate about. Better to shut up then.

I´m more curious about the Cherubini album by Hervé Niquet, I´ll check that one out later today.

There have been a number of recent recordings of Rachmaninov´s All-Night Vigil, and I´m also very interested by this latest recording of John Scott. I will report back on this one as well.

And then there is my highlight of the year:

Mozart: C-minor Mass – Mazaki Suzuki

Mozart: Great Mass in C-Minor Exsultate Jubilate Masaaki Suzuki Bach Collegium Japan BIS 2016 24/96

Truly a new reference, see also my review here

Concerto

Let me maybe start by the one recording I can really recommend in here:

Mozart: Violin Concertos – Isabelle Faust

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

I gave it a four star rating, as I don´t consider Mozart´s violin concertos to be essential, but the playing is truly five star.

I´m not a very huge fan of Lisa Batiashvili´s Sibelius and Tchaikovsky album, but this is more due to Barenboim, not Batiashvili´s fault. Augustin Hadelich Tchaikovsky is straightforward, but also not that much my cup of tea.

I will certainly check out Alexandre Tharaud´s Rachmaninov album and report back.

I can´t comment on the albums by Adams and Beach.

I´ll skip the contemporary and early categories, as I don´t feel qualified enough here.

 

Instrumental

Bach: French Suites – Murray Perahia

Johann Sebastian Bach: The French Suites - Murray Perahia (24/96) Deutsche Grammophon 2016

Yes, absolutely, great album. A must have. See also here

 

Bach: Goldberg Variations: Beatrice Rana

Bach: Goldberg Variations - Beatrice Rana Warner Classics

I´ve now played this album many times, and still haven´t fully made up my mind. I kind of like it, but it´s really not my personal reference.

I´d like to comment about Cedric Tiberghien´s Bartok album and Pavel Koselnikov´s Chopin Mazurkas, but due to Hyperion´s no streaming policy I can´t. Side note: I really understand why labels don´t want to support streaming, as the business model is not very attractive, but on the other hand it really limits discovery. Maybe labels should invent a streaming model where you can listen to an album only 2-3 times and then need to purchase it. I find that album´s I can´t test I often don´t buy.

 

Liszt: Transcendental Etudes: Daniel Trifonov (Deutsche Grammophon)

Liszt: Transcendental: Daniel Trifonov Deutsche Grammophon

I haven´t reviewed this album yet, but have listened to it many times. And yes, it is very good, justifying the Artist of the Year he received last year.

Mozart/Schumann: Fantaisies – Piotr Anderszewski (Warner)

Mozart/Schumann.: Fantaisies - Piotr Anderszewski Warner

I wasn´t such a big fan of Anderszewski´s Bach album that won 2 years ago, but this one (only one listen so far, so beware) sounds really very good. I´ll report back.

Click here for Part II of this article.

 

 

 

One Of My Favorite Handel Oratorios: Il Trionfo Del Tempo E Del Disinganno by Emmanuelle Haïm

Georg Friedrich Händel

I haven’t written that much about Händel yet.

My index (you can find all blog post in relation to any composer on the right, or just do a free text search) shows only 3 articles. Namely, his opera Rinaldo, Christie’s exciting album about Music For Queen Caroline, and, obviously, the Messiah.

This may indicate a lack of interest. Well actually, not at all, Händel is my second favorite baroque composer (JSB takes first place by a large margin).

My “problem” with Händel is that his true masterworks are his operas and oratorios, all of which are quite long, and require quite a long attention span, and time that I don’t always have.

But then again, there truly are pieces that are worth checking out.

Let me write about one of the first I really fell in love with.

Händel: Il Trionfo Del Tempo E Del Disinganno – Emmanuelle Haïm, Il Concert D’Astrée (Erato 2007)

 

Handel: Il Trinofo Del Tempo E Del Disinganno - Emmanuelle Haïm - Le Concert d'Astree - Natalie Dessay - Ann Hallenberg - Sonia Prina - Pavol Breslik Erato 2007

Il Trionfo Del Tempo E Del Disinganno was Händels very first Oratorio.

I’m not sure you really care about the story. I do speak some Italian and am able to follow, but honestly, like with many of the rather confusing stories (to me) of the baroque operas, you basically have personified Beauty, Pleasure, Time and however you best translate disinganno (probably somewhat around “disillusion”) about their relative merits. The story ends with beauty being frustrated and wanting to become a nun.

So in a nutshell, never mind the story, but just enjoy the outstandingly beautiful music.

Emmanuelle Haïm & Le Concert d’Astrée

Who is playing here?

Emmanuelle Haïm, a French cembalo player, has established herself as one of the leading conductors of baroque music over the last 15 years. She had some great mentors having worked with William Christie and even Simon Rattle. She founded her own baroque ensemble, Le Concert d’Astrée, in 2000. I’ve already written about her outstanding Messiah, and a very beautiful Mozart c-minor mass with Louis Langrée and the same ensemble.

But obviously, an oratorio not only needs outstanding orchestral playing, but also beautiful voices. Nathalie Dessay is truly one of the best baroque singers ever, and Ann Hallenberg and Sonia Prina are of outstanding beauty as well.

One track to look out for is Lascia La Spina, the original version of Lascia ch’io pianga, already mentioned in my post Top 10 Music That Gives Me Goose Bumps.

Again, as mentioned above, you are in for nearly 2h30 of music here, but it is worth taking the time for it.

My review: 4 stars

You can find it here (Prestoclassical)