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.

Spring is Coming, Just the Right Time For a Beautiful Vivaldi Album

Wow, a month without a post. Well, initially the flu got me, and then I had really busy times at work. I promise, I try to increase my posting frequency again.

Antonio Vivaldi

I’ve said it before, I’m not a big fan of Vivaldi in general. A lot of his music is a bit repetitive to my ears (Stravinsky famously said ” Vivaldi had written the same concerto 400 times”), and overall, I only listen to the four seasons about once per year, and not much beyond this. I try his operas every once in a while, but usually don’t finish the album.

But then again, Vivaldi, especially his concertos, are often just the music one needs for a sunny spring day, with their energy and vibrancy.

So therefore, the other day I decided to get myself a new Vivaldi album to celebrate the arrival of spring.

I’ve previously written about how much I like Giuliano Carmignola’s recording of the Four Seasons, so when I looked for a promising Vivaldi album and I saw this 2016 album, I was intrigued:

Vivaldi: Concerto per Due Violini – Giuliano Carmignola – Amandine Beyer – Gli Incogniti (Harmonia Mundi 2016)

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So, here we have said Carmignola, and on top of that Amandine Beyer, another very well-known baroque violin player. Very promising. I wasn’t always a fan of Beyer, sometimes her sound strikes me as a bit to “thin”, but I’ve been positively surprised by her Pachelbel album.

So how do these two outstanding soloist play together? Well, to make it quick: delightfully! This album is just a pleasure to listen to for all four concertos.

I’m really not the only one recognizing this as an excellent album, it actually received an Editors Choice from Gramophone, a Diapason d’Or, as well several other critics awards.

What about the music? Well, they are Vivaldi violin concertos, so I’m still willing to say, if you’ve heard one, you have a pretty good idea what to expect. Nevertheless, here are some nice gems, like the very nuanced interactions of the two soloists in the Allegro of RV529, so I promise you won’t get bored.

Especially on a sunny spring day!

My rating: 4 stars

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

Bach: Mass in B-minor by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants – A Review

William Christie and Les Arts Florissants

William Christie, now at the age of 73, is one of the greatest conductors of the historically informed practice (HIP).

The Baroque Ensemble Les Arts Florissants he founded is among the best period ensembles out there. I’ve written about them several times already, e.g. about their Händel Album Music for Queen Caroline, or their Monteverdi Madrigal recording.

I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing William Christie with his ensemble twice already, once performing Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the London Barbican Theatre, and more recently, with Xavier de Maistre at Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie.

Bach’s B-Minor Mass BWV 232

I’ve written about this masterpiece twice already, initially about Philippe Herreweghe’s 3rd recording, and later about John Eliot Gardiner’s new recording.

I’ve said previously that this is one of the most important masterpieces ever written, and really never get tired of hearing it. In the liner notes to this album, William Christie calls it “[Bach’s] testament, his epitaph, a legacy to those who would follow him

Bach: Mass in B-minor – William Christie – Les Arts Florissants (Harmonia Mundi 2018)

J.S. Bach Mass in B-minor William Christie Les Arts Florissants Live in Paris Harmonia Mundi 24/96

This is a very intimate recording (in spite of being live, this was recorded in 2016 at the Philharmonie de Paris). Both singing and playing are very delicate and balanced.

Tempi are relatively fast (especially compared to the old Karl Richter style) but never rushed. To quote Christie again from the liner notes: Quicker tempi suggest a more physical and dance-like approach to the music“.

Honestly, I really don’t know what to criticize here. I’m a fan of the lighter, more intimate approach, and of the faster tempi. I prefer this even to the very good 2015 Gardiner recording.

It doesn’t kick my all time favorite of Philippe Herreweghe of the throne of “best B-minor ever” for me personally, as the latter just adds a tiny bit more “sparkle”, but this an album really very much worth having.

My rating: 4 stars (actually very close to 5 stars, I just still give the edge to Herreweghe)

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

 

 

 

 

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack De Johnette – After The Fall – A Review

The Keith Jarrett Trio

Having Keith Jarrett in the sub-title of my blog, I obviously had to get excited.

Wow, a new recording of the legendary Keith Jarrett Trio?

Well, “new” is relative, we’re actually talking about a live recording from 1998 in New Jersey, that slept in some drawer for now about 20 years.

1998 wasn’t a bad time for Jarrett’s legendary combo, with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack De Johnette on drums. Standards in Norway, one of my favorite live albums ever, was recorded just a year later, so, musically, my expectations were high.

This was also an important moment for Jarrett himself, as he just recovered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which stopped him from playing for nearly two years in 1996-1998. In the liner notes, Jarrett calls this concert a “scary experiment”, as it was his first live appearance since the Italian solo concerts (that were also just recently released as A Multitude Of Angels, see my review here).

 

Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette – After The Fall (ECM 2018)

 

Keith Jarrett Gary Peacock Jack DeJohnette After The Fall ECM 2018 24 44

And to make it clear, musically, this album is all you could ask for. The tracks on average 8-9 min longs, which is very enjoyable, as the musicians really get to develop the material and interplay.

This is a “double album” (a term that feels a bit silly in the days of downloads and streaming, but in reality it means you get a total of 1h45 of music and pay about the price of two regular albums should you decide to purchase it, so still has some form of meaning).

To mention some individual songs, Scrapple from the Apple is a very groovy bop track. Old Folks is beautiful ballad. And we get standards like Autumn Leaves with very enjoyable solos (unfortunately, like in so many concerts, Jarrett cannot stop himself from “singing” along. If any digital company could ever invent the AI-driven Keith Jarrett/Glenn Gould humming filter, i’d be extremely grateful).

So, where is the but?

Well, very similar to his recently released solo album A Multitude Of Angels, this album wasn’t professionally recorded, but was basically using Jarretts own DAT (Digital Audio Tape recorder).

And as much as I didn’t mind the shoe-box sound created by this recording set-up for Angels, for a trio where you need to better capture the nuances and interplay of three instruments, I find the sound quality a bit off-putting (and this in spite of the fact that this was remastered at the legendary Rainbow Studios in Oslo).

So, in conclusion, as a hard-core Jarrett fan, this is a must have. If you don’t mind the poor sound quality, I can recommend it as well.

However, if you don’t yet own most of his catalogue, there are many other live albums that benefit from the outstanding sound quality that ECM normally is famous for, like Standards in Norway, or Live At Blue Note from 1994 (one of my 25 Essential Jazz Albums), that you may want to check out first.

My rating: 4 stars (1 star taken off for sound quality)

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

Dolce Duello – A Truly Great “Duel” of Cecilia Bartoli and Sol Gabetta

I’m a bit late reviewing this album, it actually already came out some time ago.

In spite of the fact that I’m a big fan of Sol Gabetta (I’ve now seen her live twice, once in Lucerne and once in LA) and Cecilia Bartoli is obviously already a living legend, I presume it was the extremely cheesy cover (see below) that put me off a bit initially, and I kind of ignored it.

But then, this album ended up being a Gramophone Editor´s Choice, and was highly praised by pretty much every reviewer out there.

So I had a closer look.

Cecilia & Sol – Dolce Duello (Decca 2017)

Cecilia & Sol - Dolce Duello - Capella Gabetta - Andrés Gabetta 24/96 Decca 2017

Sol Gabetta is a very talented Cello player from Argentina, who now lives in Switzerland. And does the famous Italian mezzo-soprano Cecila Bartoli really need an intro?

So, what do we get here? Most of the album is a mix of Italian and German baroque arias from Albinoni, Händel, Porpora, or Caldara. This may look like a slightly random selection, they were obviously all chosen to ensure the Cello gets appropriately featured.

And the result is really very touching. The instrumental backing is Sol Gabetta´s own baroque ensemble Cappella Gabetta, with her brother Andrés as Concert Master. You really are drawn in by the purity and beauty of this album. My favorite tracks is track 5, from Händel´s Ode For Saint Cecilia´s Day.

As an add-on, we get a recording of Boccherini´s Cello Concerto. While I kind of like this concerto, I´d actually have preferred to get more of the “duels”. But well, we really can’t complain, this is a beautiful album throughout.

My rating: 4 stars (5 star playing throughout, I’m just not a particular Boccherini fan).

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

 

GoGo Penguin Latest Album A Humdrum Star – A Totally Subjective Review

What is Jazz?

The question of what actually constitutes Jazz is as old as the music itself. In the 1970s, Jazz tried to cross-over into rock creating subgenera such as Jazz-rock and Fusion, and also some singer-songwriter pop music in the style of Norah Jones or Katie Melua could often be found in the “Jazz” boxes of your average record store.

And obviously, one of the most important movements of the last 3 decades, electronic music in all its ways, has had an influence on Jazz as well. The late Esbjörn Svensson was one of the first to bring electronic elements into the Jazz trio, and many have followed since, blurring the lines even further.

GoGo Penguin

Gogo Penguin is a young Jazz trio from Manchester, that, while using the traditional piano / bass / drums combination, is influenced very heavily by electronic music in the style of Massive Attack, especially on the rythmic side, but at the same time clearly draws inspiration from the minimalist movement.

I’ve praised their previous album, Man Made Object (their first release on BlueNote), here, even naming it as one of my top 5 Jazz albums of 2016, after having seen them live at Moods Zurich in 2016.

So I had really high expectations when they recently released their latest album.

A Humdrum Star (BlueNote 2018)

I purchased A Humdrum Star blindly the moment it came out, and was expecting to write a review pretty soon afterwards. However, its now been out for 2 weeks and I still hadn’t written the review.

Gogo Penguin A Humdrum Star BlueNote 2018 24/88

Why?

Basically, I wasn’t very impressed after the first couple of listening sessions, but was really hoping this album would grow on me. Now I can unfortunately safely report, it didn’t. Let me make it clear, this is very good music from very talented musicians.

However, it simply doesn’t work for me. Is it the even increasing influence of minimalism, or electronica? Is it maybe a decreasing focus on the melodic vs. the rhythmic elements? Some songs feel a bit more stuck in loops and patterns than before.

So in a nutshell, this is not my album of choice from them. I recently revisited their earlier albums Fanfares and v2.0, just to double check, and A Humdrum Star is personally my least favorite of their discography.

I still very much suggest you check this out, your conclusion may be very much different to mine.

I´ll make sure revisit this occasionally, and maybe it will grow on me over a longer period, but so far I´ll rather go back to Man Made Object.

My rating: 3 stars (objectively and musically speaking, this is at least 4 stars, but as mentioned, it doesn’t “stick” for me, hence this more neutral rating)

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

 

 

 

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.