My Favorite Winterreise by Christoph Prégardien and Andreas Staier

Lieder

Lied” is a German word that literally just means song. Interestingly enough, the word “Lied” or the plural, “Lieder“, has made it’s way into the English language, at least for those interested in 19th century classical music.

In German, there is another word, Kunstlied, literally Art Song, that differentiates this particular category from anyother Lied, which could be anything from a childrens lullaby to Justin Bieber’s latest hit.

This art form really peaked in the romantic times of the 19th century. People at the time loved romantic literature, romantic poems, and obviously romantic music. The latter followed what is commonly known as Wiener Klassik.

What is so special about the Kunstlied, is the combination of masterful composing by greats like Schumann or Schubert, and the great poetry of Goethe, Schiller and others. Obviously, if you don’t speak German, you’ll have to rely on your booklet or internet translation of the lyrics. I strongly recommend you do, the text often is breathtakingly beautiful.

If I’m not mistaken, I haven’t yet written about any Lied recording on my blog. This is because I really dived into this art form only rather recently, and am still in the process of discovery. It is a gratifying journey, as this, together with chamber and piano music, is where my beloved Franz Schubert really shines.

Schubert’s Winterreise

Winterreise is one of the best known song cycles. This blog post was triggered by a post I read yesterday by fellow blogger The Well Tempered Ear (which you should check out).

Winterreise just is the perfect music for these cold winter days (assuming you’re somewhere in the Northern hemisphere). Here you really need to follow the lyrics. These 24 songs are based on poems by a lesser known poet, Wilhelm Müller, and losely tells a story of a wayfarer in Winter. Just make sure you put on the fireplace (if you have one) or turn on the heating, get a nice cup of your favorite hot beverage, and start listening to the journey. You’ll be glad you’re inside in the warm.

My Favorite Version: Christoph Prégardien with Andreas Staier (Teldec/Warner Classics 1997)

As said above, I am still at the beginning of my discovery of the Schubert song cycles, but I’ve been through already quite a number of versions of the Winterreise. Probably every great tenor of this world has recorded it, and sticking to just one version is pretty much impossible. I’m pretty sure I’ll have future posts on other versions coming.

Schubert: Die Winterreise - Christoph Prégardien - Andreas Staier Warner Classics

So why this one now? Well, it is just the intricate balance of Prégardien, one of the best tenors of our time, and Andreas Staier’s beautiful and nuanced Fortepiano.

Most of the recordings obviously are with modern Steinways. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound of these (and still aspire to own one in the future). But for a work written in 1827, it pays off to get the more subtle sound of a fortepiano. This gets you to a whole new level of transparency. A must have.

My rating: 5 stars

 

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

 

P.S. This will most likely be the last post of the year, as I’m looking forward to some relaxing days with the family over the Christmas holidays.

I thank all my readers for their continued interest in my blog, and wish all of you a great holiday break, wherever you are in the world!

Shai Maestro: The Stone Skipper – Not Really A Review

Shai Maestro

Let me start by saying that I think that Shai Maestro is one of the most talented Jazz pianists out there. I’ve been a fan since I saw him live for the first time some years ago for his debut album, which I’ve reviewed here with 5 stars, and I’ve also listed him in Musicophile’s 25 Essential Jazz Albums.

With this introduction, it is very clear that there will be a “But” coming. And yes, unfortunately there is.

Artists Want To Evolve

I understand that artists want to evolve, explore new territories, be creative. This is why they are great artists. Think of Miles Davis dismissing his early stuff as old in the later years, he famously said “It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.”. 

The same goes for painters, or any other creative force. If you look at the different periods of Picasso, you’d hardly guess it was always the same artist. Similarly, I was very much surprised how unexciting Van Gogh’s early work was, and how much of his most admired paintings are from the last few years of this live. If these artists hadn’t evolved, humanity would have missed a lot.

However, what about the people who like a certain style of the artist? Sometimes this can be probably extremely frustrating for the artist, for example can you imagine an Eagles concert without Hotel California?  Other artists just move on and probably lose some of their initial audience when they evolve to a new style.

The Stone Skipper (Sound Surveyor Music 2016)

After this long introduction, you’ve probably guessed that I’m not too happy with the evolution that Shai Maestro, together with his core trio of Jorge Roeder et Ziv Ravitz, has taken on this album.

Shai Maestro Trio The Stone Skipper 24 96

This review has been in the making for several weeks now, as it pains me to write something negative about a great artist.

You still get the occasional Jazz trio, but quite a lot of the songs are going beyond Jazz. You’ll find a lot of elements inspired by Lo-Fi music, some more ethnic singing, some choral parts, the occasional synthesizer, etc. etc. etc.

Honestly, I’m probably (or actually most assuredly) a bit conservative, but most of this is not my cup of tea.

And this is in spite of the great musicians that Shai has been working here, including the fantastic singers Theo Bleckmann and Gretchen Parlato.

Let me give you some examples. The opening track A Man, Morning, Street, Rain has some typical lo-fi elements, sounding a bit like played from an old Gramophone, including even the cracks of the record. I don’t really sense a direction here.

You’ll find some choral elements in Without Words”, but again, I’m lacking structure, melody here. Or take Kunda kuchka, where you get the ethnic elements. I’m sorry, but I personally find myself skipping through those tracks very quickly.

So unfortunately, I probably really don’t get this album. Note that I’ve read several reviews in France that love this album (Jazz News has called it “Indispensable“), so really take my very personal opinion here with a huge grain of salt. Again, artists need to evolve, whether we like it or not.

My rating: 3 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz), apparently it is not yet formally released in the US (the artist says “coming soon” on his facebook page).

 

Update March 18: I’ve now seen Shai Maestro live playing the songs from this album, and here the music gets it’s true meaning! It really was an amazing concert.

Mozart’s C-minor Mass: A New Reference by Masaaki Suzuki

Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan

Can a Japanese ensemble play Bach? Of course they can, and even at an astonishing level.

I’ve yet to hear a recording with Suzuki and his Bach collegium Japan that wasn’t worth checking out at least.

The only thing you can sometimes say about their recordings is that they can be a bit too polished, too perfectionist, and therefore a bit too well behaved.

Moving from Bach to Mozart, they already released a quite beautiful recording of the requiem in 2014.

The C-Minor Mass

I’ve written previously about this absolute masterpiece by Mozart, and recommended Louis Langrées version, and Herreweghe’s classic. This recommendation is still valid,  however, the Japanese really throw in a new very serious competitor.

Mozart: Great Mass in c-minor / Exsultate Jubilate – Masaaki Suzuki – Bach Collegium Japan –  Carolyn Sampson – Olivia Vermeulen – Makoto Sakurata – Christian Immler (BIS 2016)

What is spectacular about this album is the sheer transparency. The typical precision of the Bach Collegium really helps illuminate every little detail in the recording.

The typical outstanding recording quality by BIS obvously helps.

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

This really draws you into the work, and makes it sound like something new, that you’ve never heard before.

Of the two female singers, while I like Olivia Vermeulen, Carolyn Sampson is even more gorgeous. Listen to her in the Et Incarnatus Est, and it really will make you cry. Such a beauty!

The Exsultate Jubilate K165 in contrast is nice, but clearly a work of a very young Mozart (he was 17 when he wrote it). You won’t regret getting it, but we’re far away from the masterpiece that is the K427.

In summary, will this kick Herrweghe off the throne? Well, not exactly, but in my opinion he gets to share the top position from now on.

Check it out!

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (eclassical)

UPDATE December 2, 2016: In the latest December issue, Gramophone agrees, giving it an Editor’s Choice and calling it one of the best period instrument choices.

A Multitude Of Angels – A review of the “new” Keith Jarrett solo album recorded by Jarrett himself

Ah, yet another blog post that starts with me complaining that I’m not writing often enough. I guess you don’t care about my excuses, so let me just say I really try to improve the frequency of my writing. So let’s stop whining and get into it.

A New Keith Jarrett Recording?

So, a new Keith Jarrett album! Out of the blue (at least to me)! Very nice surprise obviously for a blog that has Jarrett in the sub-title.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: I personally find the title quite cheesy (although Jarrett is very serious about it in the liner notes), and the cover even more so (which is sad given that I do quite like the general ECM sober cover style).

But let’s face it, you won’t buy this album for the title nor the cover, but for the music.

And we’re talking about A LOT of music. Should you decide to buy this on CD (do people still do this?), you’ll get 5 of them, should you decide to download, you may initially be disappointed to get only 12 files, but you’re still getting 4h57 for your money!

A Multitude Of Angels (ECM 2016)

Keith Jarrett A Multitude Of Angels Modena Ferrara Torino Genova Solo Concerts ECM 2016

So where is this album all over sudden coming from? Well unfortunately it doesn’t comprise any recent concerts, like the one in Lucerne I attended a year and a half ago (I know they were recording that, so I hope it will eventually be released).

In this case, we’re talking about 20 year old material. These are live recordings from four concerts in Northern Italy, as you see from the cover specifically Modena, Ferrara, Torino, and Genova, all in October 1996.

We were lucky, at the time, Jarrett hat a DAT recorder (one of the earliest portable digital recording techniques) and some microphones with him and was taping his own concerts.

In the liner notes, Jarrett explains that he’s listened to these recordings many times and claims them to be “a pinnacle in his career”. Lucky for us, we finally get to share this pleasure.

How do you describe 5 hours of improvised music?

Well to make it short, I don’t even try. Let me just summarize my impressions: These are indeed beautiful recordings. Are these to my ears the pinnacle of Jarrett’s career? I personally wouldn’t go as far. We’re still in the “old days” of Jarrett’s concerts with long 40 min uninterupted playing, very shortly before he had to take a break for health reasons. While there really is a lot to love here, my only point of criticism would be that sometimes I’d have liked a bit more stylistic variability.

So if you’re a first time Jarrett solo concert buyer, and you won’t get the cheap price on Qobuz (see last paragraph), you may want to go for some other concerts first, like the legendary Köln, or Bremen Lausanne. But if you like Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts, this one is clearly one to go for.

My rating: 4 stars.

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

 

Alice in Grieg’s Wonderland

The usual excuses first

I’ve been crazy busy the last weeks being home on average about 1-2 nights per week, the rest full of business and private travel. Therefore, my blog writing has suffered quite a bit.

And this is not because of a lack of interesting new albums to write about. Well, on Jazz, it partially is, while I do have two reviews upcoming, this site may be a bit disappointing for you currently if you’re more in to Jazz than Classical music. Hope you bear with me.

But with regards to classical, there have been a number of interesting albums released recently, all of which I have planned to write about, including Andreas Staier’s new Schubert Trios, Benjamin Grosvenor’s new release, Adam Laloum getting into Schumann and Schubert, the Chiaroscuro Quartet playing Hadyn, the Belcea Quartet playing Brahms, etc. etc.

OK, so the paragraph above should put enough pressure on me to actually write all these reviews in the next weeks, where hopefully my travel activity should be a bit more measured.

Alice Sara Ott

Alice Sara Ott is a young pianist (born 1988) of German and Japanese origin. She’s recorded already quite a number of albums but the only one I have had on my radar screen so far is her recording of the Complete Waltzes by Chopin. I kind of liked that album, but then again the waltzes are about my least favorite Chopin works relatively speaking, so I didn’t spend much time on it.

Wonderland

Honestly, the title of her latest album put me off a little bit, the wordplay is just a little bit too obvious. But then again, you don’t buy a book for it’s cover, and the same logic should apply for classical albums.

Wonderland Grieg Piano Concerto Lyric Pieces Alice Sara Ott Deutsche Grammophon 2016 24/48

And I’m happy I went further, because this recording of the piano concerto is really worth it.

I’ve previously written about Javier Perianes who did a similar coupling of the piano concerto with the Lyric pieces (see my review here), and this recording, while being quite different, is really at the same level.

If you want to compare the two, Perianes is probably the more energetic, Ott with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the BR symphony takes a more lyrical approach. You’ll get lots of rubato (the concept of “stealing” time to give it back later, i.e. variations of the tempo), with some moments being even extremely slow (already in the opening bars for example).

But unlike the recent recording of the Schumann piano concerto by Melnikov, where I was a bit put off with the slow speed of the third movement, here all slow moments make perfect sense to me. And don’t get me wrong, when the piece needs energy and passion, you’ll get plenty.

Does this version beat my reference version from Leif Ove Andsnes? Well, not exactly, but it is clearly a worthy alternative.

As a “filler”, you don’t get the usual coupling with Schumann, but similar to Perianes, you get a selection of the Lyric pieces, and given that these are little gems, they are very much worth having. To lighten things up a bit more, you even get piano transcriptions of Grieg’s most famous piece, Peer Gynt, in the mix.

My rating: 4 stars

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