New York City is still the world capital of jazz. The number of high quality jazz venues and outstanding muscians playing there is second to none.
I’m about to head to New York today for a short trip. The last time I was there, about 5-6 weeks ago, I had the opportunity, on a Sunday night, to go to my favorite of all the clubs, the legendary Village Vanguard.
The club is a tiny affair in Greenwich Village. It was founded in 1935, and became a full time jazz venue in 1957.
So, as mentioned above, I had the opportunity to see Fred Hersch live. Fred Hersch has the reputation of being one of the most intellectual of all jazz pianists. When you see him, that doesn’t surprise you, he looks somewhat like a university professor (which by the way he is as well, with former students like the above mentioned Brad Mehldau).
I’m not going to review the concert, which as usual in this fantastically intimate space, was a real pleasure, but instead point you to an album that was recorded 4 years ago in a very similar situation.
Fred Hersch Trio – Sunday Night At The Village Vanguard (Palmetto Records 2016)
This album captures very well the very typical Fred Hersch style as well as the intimate acoustics of the venue. My favorite track is For No One, a very delicate ballad.
I strongly suggest you check this album out, and obviously, if you ever get to NYC, make sure to check out what may potentially be the best jazz club on the planet, as I will most certainly do tomorrow night.
This is another favorite category of mine, as typically it is mainly piano recordings.
This year, interestingly enough a solo violin recording starts the selection, Giuliani Carmignola’s recent recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas. I’m really puzzled by this choice. Let me make it clear, I really like Carmignola (his Four Seasons are among my absolute favorites), and I also love the solo sonatas and partitas. However, Carmignola’s version sounds completely “wrong” to me. I know this is a very unspecific remark, and I’m not going to dwell on it, as this won’t be helpful for my readers. But I’ll stick with Milstein anytime.
So let’s rather go directly to the recording that is most likely going to make my Top 5 Classical albums of the year 2019, and that I sincerely hope will win this category: Yuja Wang’s fantastic Berlin recital.
As you can see from my review, I really love this album. It has completely changed my perception of Wang as an artist. This recital combines a fantastic selection of repertoire, a playing that is both nuanced and passionate.
I’d like to thank my reader Ed for his comment on the article flagging the extra album of the 4 encores she played at this concerto. This is a must have as well. You could argue with DG why they simply didn’t include this into the main album, but in any case this 4 track album is very cheap, and a must have.
Next in line is another favorite artist of mine, Igor Levit. I haven’t yet formally reviewed his latest recording of the Beethoven sonatas, but have seen him play a selection live at this year’s Lucerne festival, and can already say his set is worth checking out. You may not like all his choices, especially on his sometimes extreme tempi, but this will be a worthy addition to the long catalogue of complete sonata recordings, more to come).
But Gramophone focused on Levit’s other release in the last 12 months, his very personal album “Life”.
I’ve reviewed it here, and if you haven’t done so yet, you should absolutely check out this five star gem.
I’ve only just started listening to another recommendation of this selection, Alexander Melnikov’s recording of Debussy’s 2nd book of Préludes.
As you know, I’m far from being a Debussy expert, I typically just go to my complete Debussy recordings by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, but my first impression of this album is very positive. What is very interesting about this recording is the sound of the piano, an Erard, presumably from the time of Debussy. Melnikov has recorded quite a bit on period instruments, and it truly gives a different color and perspective.
I can’t comment on the two other albums that made the original 6 album shortlist, Steven Osborne’s recording o fthe late Beethoven sonatas, and Stephen Hough’s “Dream Album”, as Hyperion still refuses to stream and I refuse to buy albums blindly.
Now, as you know in the meantime Gramphone has narrowed down the shortlist from 6 to 3 albums. The finalists are Carmignola, Wang, and Levit.
I’m willing to bet that Wang will be the winner this year, and it would be well deserved!
I presume this will be the last part of this year’s mini-series on the Gramophone Awards. Maybe I’ll do one more post on the remaining categories lumped together (Choral, Contemporary, Early Music, and Opera, Recital, Solo Vocal) if I find time, but I’m much less comfortable and familar here, so let’s see. So most likely you’ll hear back from me on the Gramphone Awards once the winners are announced on October 1st.
What do you think? What would be your favorites among all these albums?
But when I saw that he was playing the closing concert of the fall Lucerne Festival, which is always dedicated to the piano, and I happened to be in the area, I had to check it out.
Piotr Anderszewski at the 2018 Piano Lucerne Festival, KKL Lucerne, November 25, 2018
If I needed any more convincing, the program helped.
Anderszewski started off with parts of the Wohltemperiertes Klavier, especially the second book of the Well Tempered Clavier that I must admit I listen to much less than the first volume.
This was really an amazing experience. Amazing intensity, while at the same time never too extrovert, a dense flow of sound, that really took you in as a listened.
During the break, we got to admire the beautiful Christmas tree that Lucerne built up in front of the KKL’s main entry, together with a illuminated ice skating ring for kids that looked like taken out of a fairy tale (ok, I actually don’t know any fairy tales that feature ice skating rings, but you get the picture). Together with a glass of bubbly the break passed quickly.
Now, it was clearly also the most convincing reading for me, given that I heard it live for the first time, but bad pun aside, it was a fascinating reading.
What struck me most was the speed, or actually lack of it, that Anderszewski took. In many parts he really stopped time, or so it seemed. This may not be a performance that works on a recording, but in the beautiful acoustics of the large KKL hall, it worked wonders, and it truly became a transcendental experience in some moments.
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)
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)
I got a lot of feedback on the different channels about my post of the Top 5 Jazz Albums of 2017. Among others from fellow music lover and blogger Melvin.
He recommended Omer Klein´s latest album Sleepwalkers. I must admit I had never heard the name before. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad sign, given how much I care about this kind of music, but probably it just speaks to the fact that we’re truly living in the Golden Age of the Piano Trio with so many fantastic artists out there.
Omer Klein is yet another pianist coming out of Israel, like so many other excellent Jazz musicians (how does such a small country do that?).
Anyhow when I noticed that Klein was scheduled for last Sunday and I happened to be in Switzerland that weekend, I knew what I had to do.
Omer Klein Trio Live At Moods – January 18, 2018
Moods remains my favorite Jazz club in Switzerland. Just the right size, good acoustics, nice drinks, and an excellent program.
So, what did we get?
Let me start by say that what I thought from my original listening to Sleepwalkers confirmed itself. As you know if you read my blog on a regular basis, I’m a sucker for melodies. Omer Klein´s trio is much more focused on rhythms and modal changes than on melodies.
So initially, for the first moments, I was a bit skeptical.
However, I was very quickly won over by the sheer musical power this trio had to offer. The technical abilities of all three musicians, including Haggai Cohen Milo on bass, were just outstanding. Nothing ever seemed complicated to them, they played with so much ease and fun the most complex passages, I was just blown away.
But let’s be clear, this was never technical ability for the sake of it, this was always just driven by the music. All three musicians are clearly passionate about what they are doing, and were visibly having fun during the concert.
In a way, the real driving force behind most songs was the spectacular Amir Bresler on drums. His drive and groove was just fantastics (hence the slightly cheesy title of this blog post borrowed from Austin Powers).
Very interestingly, this trio didn’t follow the typical format of Jazz concerts, where after the intro the musicians get to solo. They played constantly in a very intertwined way (only in the very last song, Bressler got to show off a bit). Songs typically lasted 8-10 minutes and more, and were never boring in any way. Also, there wasn’t´a single standard in the entire concert, only originals.
Overall, an excellent concert. The audience was amazed, and so was I.
If you get a chance to see them live, please do. They are exceptional musicians.
And if they don’t play near you, luckily this concert was recorded and will be put onto the Moods.digital streaming website. This is a subscription well worth having, as you can access all concerts since early 2017 at Moods, recorded in excellent audio and video. I´ll publish a link later when it becomes available.
As most of you, I have made a couple of New Years resolutions. Among them was, not suprisingly, exercise more and eat healthier. Well, 7 days in and, while improving, I’m far from where I want to be (although slightly better than last year).
Another resolution was to go to more concerts. There are so many fantastic concerts out there, and I have the privilege of often being in places that offer excellent musical performances on a regular basis. Berlin is a case in point, where I happened to be quite a bit recently.
So, I guess starting with my first concert on January 6 is a good starting point for the last resolution. Let’s see how I continue from here.
A lot of firsts
This concert was a lot of “firsts” for me. First concert of the year, first time I’m listening to a concert performance of any of the three composers on the program (more about that later), first time I see Alina Igrabimova and Cedric Tiberghien in concert, first time the two are actually mentioned on this blog (beyond a small side note in passing), and first time a Berlin´s new Pierre Boulez Saal.
Pierre Boulez Saal
The Pierre Boulez Saal is the latest of the classical music venues in Berlin. It was built as part of the Barenboim-Said academy. It formally opened in March of 2017. It was planned by architecture legend Frank Gehry as a Salle Modulable, i.e. with a lot of flexibility.
Entering the building, I really like the architecture of the overall hallway, with a nice mix of traditional and modern elements over the several floors.
However, entering the Boulez Saal itself, I was a bit underwhelmed. Being a big Frank Gehry fan, I kind of expected more. It kind of reminds me of a smaller Roman amphitheater, just more wood, less stone.
And honestly, who designed the patterns covering the seats? This weird mix of blue and red reminds me of some of the public transport seats in Europe that use complex patterns to deter graffiti. I don’t expect the typically 50+ classical music audience to be big into graffiti, so no idea what went on here.
But well, I shouldn’t be too negative, the acoustics were quite nice, you have excellent visibility from pretty much all seats, and to really honor the concept of a roundish concert hall, the piano was turned during the break having the artists face the other way in the second half of the concert.
Anyhow, there is quite an intriguing concept behind the hall, and it is hard to take pictures in there (and unfortunately forbidden during the concert, so no pictures from the artists here…), therefore I suggest you check out this video:
Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien
Two young, brilliant artists that I’ve never mentioned on my blog in 2+ years. How come? I actually like both.
The reason is more or less technical. Both mainly record for Hyperion, and Hyperion doesn’t allow streaming. As mosts of my initial reviews are typically based on streaming (I like to sample before I buy), I haven’t really formally reviewed any of their recordings yet. However, the samples I was able to listen to were, plus the raving reviews everywhere, really made me curious.
32 year old Ibragimova has some highly praised albums, including her Bach solo sonatas, Ysaye´s solo sonatas, the Beethoven and Mozart sonatas with Tiberghien, and a really enjoyable recording of the Bach violin concertos. Tiberghien is not only her regular duo partner, but has also done some very nice solo recordings that are worth checking out.
So I was very enthusiastic to be able to see both of them live.
Ibragimova and Tiberghien At Boulez Saal playing Ysaye, Vierne, and Franck – January 6, 2018
And actually, to be fair, the first one isn’t even French but Belgian, Eugene Ysaye. I had heard about him, but never the Poème élégiaque that started the performance. As rare as it is for me, it is actually very refreshing hearing a piece of classical music performed for the very first time. You have a much more open reception.
And I was blown away. This relatively short piece was inspired by Shakespeare´s Romeo and Juliet, and you could certainly hear all the passion of this inspiration in there. Ibragimova played with a wonderful intensity, and Tiberghien was the perfect partner, never overshadowing, which the powerful sound of a Steinway can easily do.
Next came a composer I literally had to google. Louis Vierne. You may say Louis who? Turns out he’s relatively well known in France, but his reputation beyond the French borders is still very low. So I had no idea what to expect.
A violin sonata from a composer mainly known as an organist? Again, I was very positively surprised. My personal highlight was the second movement, Andante. I was literally mesmerized by the beauty of it. Isn’t it enjoyable that there is still so much beautiful music to be discovered?
After the break, we got my personal highlight of the evening, César Frank´s A-Major sonata. This piece I was much more familiar with, both from historic recordings with Heifetz, and from Isabelle Faust´s recent album on Franck and Chausson.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a Faust fanboy. But what Ibragimova and Tiberghien did last night was even significantly better than Faust´s excellent recorded performance. Given that this was a live event, the performers took quite some liberties on timing, but only to the benefit of this music. The audience, like me, was extremely enthusiastic.
As an encore, we got a beautiful work of one of Vierne´s pupils, Lili Boulanger, the less-well known sister of Nadia Boulanger, who unfortunately passed away at the young age of 24. The Nocturne was again of outstanding beauty.
Overall, an evening of extreme emotional intensity and passion
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 Figaro. Most 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.
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
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.
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.