Moods.digital – a great new online concert platform

Moods Zurich

It is no secret, I really like Moods, the best Jazz club in the Zurich area and probably one of the best in Switzerland.

I´ve written about some of the concerts there in the past, which allowed me to discover some truly outstanding artists, from Julia Hülsmann via GogoPenguin to Sarah McKenzie.

Moods has recently been closed for a while. Partially this was to renovate the club, but another major reason was to make the club “digital”.

moods.digital

What is Moods.digital? To quote their website, “the facility features 10 full HD mobile cameras plus state-of-the-art broadcast studio“. In a nutshell, since March 2017 concerts are being recorded in high definition, and are now available for streaming, be it live during the event, or offline for later consumption. The site offers a number of different subscription options.

The video quality is truly impressive, comparable to professional televised concerts. Audio is also pretty good, and the overall experience really works. Audio quality actually gets quite a bit better with the recent introduction of the Sennheiser AMBEO 3D technology for the most recent concerts, which is optimised for headphone listening.

Shai Maestro Live at Moods – March 17 – 2017

I´ve written about this concert experience here. To quote myself: “I’ve been to many concerts in my life, this was one of the most memorable experiences I had.”

Well, now you have the opportunity of seeing and hearing what I saw, by simply following this link. What do you think? Did I exaggerate? Having seen the concert again now, I still love it, but look very much forward to your opinions.

 

Here´s the link to Mood.digital. You will find one of the recent concerts online that isn´t behind the paywall, check it out: James Taylor at Moods

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.

Adam Baldych & Helge Lien Trio: Brothers – A Review

Finally, another jazz review

As the subtitle of my blog indicates, I write about Classical Music and Jazz.

I really don’t have a strong preference between the two genres, I love them both very much. However, I’m not sure how much of an overlap there is between the following of the two genres among the readers of my blog. Please comment below and let me know if you prefer one style over the other, or if you like both like me.

In the beginning of my blog, I usually tried to alternate between Jazz and Classical for my blog posts. Recently, there has been a significantly higher percentage of classical on my blog. This is not because my preferences have changed, but rather because I prefer to review recent new releases, and not be reviewer no. 2173 to tell you that Kind Of Blue is a pretty decent album (it is by the way…)

And recently, the number of Jazz releases I like hasn’t been that big. And given that this blog is my personal one, I feel no obligation to write a bad review of an album I just don’t care about.

That’s why the average review score on my blog is somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, it’s just much more fun writing about stuff that is really good.

When I give lower reviews like the one that follows, it is typically about artists I care about, that often in the pre-streaming days I would have bought just for the name.

To wrap up this long intro: if you like Jazz and have been disappointed a bit by my blog recently, don’t dispair, I haven’t forgotten about this genre. I just can’t guarantee a 50/50 distribution of genres right now. The easiest solution is to subscribe to my blog, check out the headline, like this you can easily get alerted when a new post comes out.

Helge Lien

Helge Lien is one of these names. So far I’ve loved all his trio albums very much, see my review of his latest albums here and here. So I was very pleased to see that after Guzuguzu, Helge now released another album, on the German label ACT.

And as expected, I like very much what Helge does here.

So where is the obvious BUT?

Adam Baldych / Helge Lien Trio / Tore Brunborg – Brothers (ACT 2017)

Adam Baldych Helge Lien Trio Brothers Tore Brunborg 24 88 ACT 2017

Well, here it comes; It is the sound of Adam Baldych’s violin. Don’t get me wrong, Baldych is a fantastic musician. I can really appreciate his artistry here.

But I simply cannot get used to the sound of his violin in this context. It doesn’t fit.

So, this review, as usual on my blog, will be a very personal one.

There are tracks I really love, like the appropriately named Love, you get the full beauty of Helge’s trio, and Baldych decides to go pizzicato, during most of the track, i.e. plucking the strings, not using his bow.

But when he uses his bow all the time, I tend to switch off. A typical example is Faith, I simply can’t listen to the entire track.

Or take Cohen’s Hallelujah, a song I love even in the slightly cheesy Jeff Buckley version. If you’d take the violin out of this track, absolutely, like this, sorry, not my cup of tea.

Another solo addition to this album is the Norvegian saxophone player Tore Brunborg, that I knew from collaborations with Tord Gustavsen (Extended Circles) or Manu Katché.

Unfortunately, on this album he very much reminds me of Jan Garbarek. And I must admit, with a few important exceptions, that is a very particular sound I’m also not that fond of. So take a track like One or Brothers, which combine the two, and no way I won’t press the “skip” button before the track is over.

So, in a nutshell, great musicians, but not for me. You should still check it out, the playing is very good.

My rating: 3 stars

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

 

2017 Gramophone Awards: And The Winners Are… (and yes, I really agree)

Gramophone Awards 2017

This year I had a bit more trouble than usual with Gramophone´s selection for the albums of the year, see my posts here (Part I) and here (Part II).

However, at the end our judgments were together again.

Here was my overall recommendation looking at the nominees, as published in Part II of my post:

I´d say, the only must-haves in this selection are the Shostakovich with Nézet-Séguin, Perahia´s French Suites, and Suzuki´s c-minor mass (with Gardiner´s Matthew Passion just behind).

Faust´s violin concertos, Antonini´s Haydn, and Niquet´s Cherubini are a very good recording of only nice to have (to my ears) music. And in the Solo Vocal category, Goerne´s Brahms album is a no brainer.

So, let´s take a look at this years winners:

Choral

 

Mozart: Great Mass in C Minor Exsultate Jubliate Bach Collegium Japan Masaaki Suzuki Carolyn Sampson Olivia Vermeulen Makoto Sakurada Christian Immler

 

Bingo. And fully agree.

 

Concerto

 

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

Bingo again. Extremely well played.

Instrumental

 

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

Absolutely, a 5 star album all the way.

 

Orchestral

 

Haydn 2032 no. 4 Il Distratto Giovani Antonini Il Giardino Armonico

Agree, it doesn’t get better when it gets to interpreting Haydn´s symphonies.

Solo Vocal

Brahms: Vier ernste Gesänge - Matthias Goerne - Christoph Eschenbach - Harmonia Mundi 2017

And yes again.

 

So 5 times alignment, not too bad.

 

If you take the other categories, I really need to check out the winner of Baroque Instrumental, called The Italian Job with Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima. From Caldara to Torelli, probably worth discovering.

Baroque Vocal has a recent Hyperion recording of some Bach cantatas with Jonathan Cohen´s Archangelo, I´ve heard good things about this ensemble, and will certainly have a closer look at the Hyperion website (unfortunately they don´t allow streaming of their content).

In the Early Music category, a John Dowland album won that simply isn´t my cup of tea musically, I´m too ignorant on contemporary to even comment on that category.

In the Opera category, a recording of Berg´s Wozzeck by Fabio Luisi won, I simply don´t have a BluRay player to check that one out.

But I´ll make sure to have a look at the album in the category Recitalwhere an album by the great Joyce di Donato In War And Peace won, that really sounds interesting.

So, what do you think? Who would you have chosen?

 

 

 

 

Isabelle Faust and Pablo Heras-Casado play Mendelssohn – Too HIP?

Isabelle Faust

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a huge Isabelle Faust fanboy.

Actually, I was mentally expecting another 5 star album when I saw what was just released, not suprisingly given my previous reviews (see here for the violin concertos of Mozart and Brahms, Brahms violin sonatas, her Beethoven sonata cycle is another reference for me,  or her recording of Schumann’s violin concerto and piano trios).

 

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto / Symphony No.5 / The Hebrides – Isabelle Faust – Pablo Heras-Casado – Freiburger Barockorchester (Harmonia Mundi 2017)

 

Isabelle Faust Pablo Heras Casado Mendelssohn Violin Concerto Symphony No. 5, The Hebrides Freiburger Barockorchester 24 96 Harmonia Mundi

So, why don’t we get another 5 star review here?

Several reasons.

I’ve mentioned before in my review of the Mendelssohn’s symphonies by Yannick Nézet-Séguin that I just cannot relate very much to symphony no. 5. So I’ll leave the judgment of that work to others. I was hoping to like Heras-Casado’s previous recent recording of Mendelssohn’s 3rd and 4th (review not published), but found it a bit too rough on the edges to be really of my liking.

So, what about the centerpiece here, the violin concerto? Well, I cannot be to hard on Faust overall, her playing is flawless and impressive as usual. So what’s not to like?

Well, here we go into personal taste. I’ve always really liked the “historically informed” practice (HIP) using little vibrato, and often gut strings. I really feel it adds something to the music compared to the classical performance style of the 1960s-1980s.

And that’s exactly what Faust does here. Very, very, very little vibrato. Her Stradivarius, “Sleeping Beauty”, always had a slightly slimmer, shinier tone than others, which usually worked wonders for me.

But I’m sorry, it really doesn’t work for me at all with Mendelssohn. I just miss the fat romantic sound.

I’ve now played this album four times in the last days to see if it grows on me. And I just can’t get over it. So I’ll always refer you back to other recordings, like Janine Jansen’s beautiful album with Riccardo Chailly (mentioned in my 25 Essential Classical albums). Vibrato all the time (even though Chailly has done a good job putting a little bit of HIP into the Gewandhaus’ playing). And I just love it.

But that is not to say you shouldn’t check this album out. This really is purely based on personal preference, both Heras-Casado and Faust do an excellent performance.

The highlight of this album to me is the Hebrides overture, where the above mentioned roughness of the Heras-Casado and the Freiburger’s really works to paint the rough Northern landscape.

My review: 3 stars (and really only based on personal taste, you need to check it out to form your own opinion)

 

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

 

UPDATE Sep 23, 2017: The Guardian very much disagrees with me and gives this album a five star review. They like the roughness. Well, as mentioned above, you hav to listen to it to be the judge.

UPDATE Oct 5, 2017: Dave Hurvitz on Classicstoday has his full review behind his paywall, but I guess the title of the review gives his opinion away: “CD From Hell: Faust and Heras-Casado Starve Mendelssohn”. looks like this album generates rather strong reactions one way or another.

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)

Brahms in Cinemascope: Andris Nelsons and the BSO’s New Symphony Cycle

Brahms’ Symphonies

As you can see from the subtitle of my blog, I’m a huge Brahms fan.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been that happy with most of the Brahms symphony cycles recorded in the last 30 years. To be fair, even more than for other composers, the legacy left by the glorious recordings of Furtwängler, Klemperer, Walter, and even Toscanini, made it not easy to do something better (except for the recording quality).

We’ve had some very modern light “HIP” approaches from Gardiner and Dausgaard, both of which I appreciate as they give a very fresh point of view, and benefit especially the lighter middle symphonies (I consider 1 & 4 the heavyweights).

But unfortunately, most of the recent complete symphony recordings didn’t impress me much (see also this post where I was desperately, and in vain, searching for a modern reference of the 1st symphony). The only box I like (and still, not for every symphony) is Riccardo Chailly’s cycle with the Gewandhaus, which takes a nice middle way between the heavy romantic recordings of the past and the HIP inspired gut-string recordings of today.

Andris Nelsons

I’m a big fan of Andris Nelsons since he took over the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I put his Shostakovich into my best albums for 2016. I even specifically mentioned in said blog post about Brahms 1 that I was hoping for a new reference recording to come from Nelsons and the BSO.

Well, my wishes have been heard. The BSO has recently released their first full Brahms cycle. And I must admit I initially didn’t plan on buying it. The album is not available for streaming on my favorite streaming provider (except for the 4th), and the 1st is so critical to me that I didn’t want to buy blindly.

Well, then the September 2017 issue of Gramophone comes out, and gives it an “Editor’s choice”. I haven’t always been in agreement with Gramophone recently (see my comments about the 2017 Gramophone awards), but an Editor’s choice still means something. Then I started googling and also found this excellent review by John Marks, formerly with Stereophile.

So there you had me. I bought the box blindly.

Brahms: The Symphonies – Andris Nelsons – Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO Classics 2017)

 

Brahms: The Symphonies - Andris Nelsons - Boston Symphony Orchestra 24/192

So, what do you get?

Well, let me start by saying, if you like Brahms, you need to have this box. Nelsons takes the learnings from the great classics, mixes in the beautiful BSO sound, and brings a very beautiful Brahms style to life.

I’d call it Cinemascope, as you really see all the colors, on a very big screen. His approach is never rushed. You get to see all the fine details that Brahms managed so well.

Let’s talk about the individual symphonies, and let’s take them backwards.

Symphony No. 4

I’ve mentioned above that No. 4 is one of the two heavyweights for me. I particularly love the variations of the fourth. I’ve mentioned Nelsons taking it relatively slow. He takes 10:08 for this movement. This is not yet the 11:29 of a Bruno Walter, but also not the 9:35 of a John Eliot Gardiner, or even the 9:23 of a Chailly (interestingly, Furtwängler uses 9:47, starting slowly but accelerating over time, which works for me).

But, this music can take the tempo. There is so much going on in these fantastic variations, and Nelson lays it all out in front of you. And he keeps the power during the entire movement, which isn’t easy.

Symphony No. 3

Going one back to no. 3: here the heavier approach works, but not as well as for no. 4. It gives the famous Poco Allegretto (known from movies and commercials) an even more sentimental character. In some way this speed, with the tremolo of the violins, makes the quiet anti-climax of the ending sound like we’ve just moved directly into a Wagner opera.

Brahms wasn’t a particular fan of Wagner, but actually this shows that while they may have disagreed on structure, there are more similarities between the two than you’d think.

Symphony No. 2

Symphony no. 2 is sometimes considered Brahms’ Pastorale. And here is where I have my biggest problem with the slower tempo, it tends to take away some of the lightness of this music. Here I’d much rather have a Chailly or Gardiner. That said, it is still a beautiful recording.

Symphony No. 1

And now let’s move to symphony no. 1, my absolute favorite of the four (here’s why). And you’ve probably guessed it by now: Nelson’s style is just perfect for this romantic work.

My appreciation of any interpretation of this symphony is often already formed in the first seconds: the chromatic increased with the dramatic tympani needs to grab me immediately (as do Furtwängler and Klemperer), otherwise, I’m already lost. Nelsons takes a very special approach here, the tension is there but he doesn’t release it yet. Beautifully done. Movements 2 and 3 are nice, but basically just fillers between movements 1 and 4. The finale really summarizes what I love about Brahms. A lot of variation and developments (you never know what comes next), and then so outstandinly beautiful moments as the famous horn solo (at 2:56 for Nelsons), followed by the even more amazing melody of the cellos (at 5:12).

It is still a bit too early days, but this has the potential to become my new modern reference version of Brahms 1.

My rating: 5 stars.

I was hesitating a bit, as you’ve seen above that not all of the four performances are 5 stars to me (1 and 4 certainly are, 3 up to a point, 2 would “only” be 4 star), but this is overall a very convincing new reading of the Brahms classics. Check it out!

You can find it here (BSO website) and here (Qobuz)