There Must Be An Angel: Mozart – The Weber Sisters

If reading the blog post title you wonder what the connection is between a 1990s Eurythmics title, Mozart, and some sisters called Weber, let me explain.

The angel is simply referring to Sabine Devieilhe, the young soprano on the album I’m about to write about. Not only she looks pretty much like one (see the cover photo below), she really has an angelic voice. Clear, bright, shiny, with a beautiful color and an amazing range.

I first noticed her in her debut recording on Erato, with Alexis Kossenko (previously mentioned for his Telemann recording here), Le Grand Théatre de l’Amour dedicated to Jean-Philippe Rameau.

Mozart: The Weber Sisters (Erato 2015)

Mozart: The Weber Sisters Sabine Devielhe Raphael Pichon Pgymalion Erato 2015

This is Sabine Devileilhe’s second album on Erato, recorded this time with Raphaël Pichon’s ensemble Pygmalion.

I hesitated for quite some time to write about his album as I’m generally not a big fan of “best-of” type albums. I don’t mind them for baroque music as much, as it can be sometimes a bit tedious to go through 3+ hours of an opera seria, but for Mozart and beyond I prefer to listen to the entire opera instead. However, the selection on this particular album includes quite a number of single arias that are not part of a larger opera and are not recorded that often.

Let me briefly explain the Weber Sisters title of his album, as this is kind of a concept album. The most famous Weber sister is Constanze, Mozart’s wife, but actually Mozart was a close friend of the Weber family and as the booklet extensively explains, was at some point in love with the youngest sister, Aloysia, and the middle sister, Josepha, also played an important role in his life.

What music do you get? Well known hits like the famous Queen of the Night aria, or the French song Ah vous dirais-je maman, but also as mentioned previously several lesser known arias. All this is beautifully player by Raphaël Pichon’s ensemble, and Devileilhe’s voice is an absolute pleasure to hear.

This albums was elected among the albums of the year by Classica magazine, and I fully agree that his album is highly recommended.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

My Favorite Versions of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

Christmas Music

Only three weeks left until Christmas. Usually, during this time there are three unavoidable things: Some singer releasing a Christmas album (that reminds me that I need to write a post about my favorite Jazz Christmas albums, watch this space), you hear Wham again on the radio 5 times per day, and most households that have some form of love for classical music play the Christmas oratorio, in a similar frequency to the Last Christmas repetitions on popular radio.

I’m very similar, during the month of December the Oratorio gets played at least 10-20 times. I wonder myself why I still like it. But let’s face it, this is Bach, and you can never get too much Bach.

Listening to this work you’re best of when you speak at least some German, as you get the entire beautiful Christmas story told to you by the Evangelist, but if you don’t, either get the booklet or just enjoy the music

(Side note: I’m not religious, but having grown up in a Western country Christmas has become more of a family tradition than a religious event for me like for many others).

Gardiner / Monteverdi Choir (DG Archiv 1987)

Bach Christmas Oratorio John Eliot Gardiner Monteverdi Choir English Baroque Soloists DG Archiv 1987

Gardiner’s version from 1987 is probably the best known, and it is still my favorite version. I’m not sure if my preference isn’t biased by the fact that I’ve heard it so much over and over again, but Gardiner plays with so much drive and energy, that although I must have heard this hundreds of times, it still doesn’t get boring.

There are obviously many alternatives.

Philippe Herreweghe (Erato 1992)

One of my favorite alternatives around is also a bit older. Philippe Herreweghe’s version is a bit more mellow than Gardiner, but still has all the beauty in both playing and singing.

Bach Christmas Oratorio Philippe Herrweghe Collegium Vocale Ghent Erato

I have listened to a number of more recent versions, but still go back to these two above most of the time. Among the more recent alternatives I’ve tried are Mazaaki Suzuki (polished, but a bit too behaved), Diego Fasolis (really fast, not my cup of tea), and Gramophone’s favorite version, Harnoncourt 2nd version on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (good but I like both versions above better).

My rating: 4 stars for both (I’m still waiting for the perfect version, but both come pretty close)

You can download the Gardiner here (Qobuz) and the Herreweghe here (Qobuz again)

Cavalli: L’Amore Innamorato – Christina Pluhar’s new album

Francesco Cavalli

I actually thought I knew my composers reasonably well, even more obscure ones, but Cavalli was new to me. I’m probably not the only one, this is one of the composers that was known only to early music

So I was a bit surprised to see two new  recordings on this Venetian composer coming out at pretty much the same time, Mariana Flores Heroines of the Venetian Baroque (which good excellent reviews in the French press by the way), and also from Christina Pluhar’s early music ensemble Arpeggiata.

Cavalli was a singer and Monteverdi protégée who later started writing his own operas. At his time, he was famous enough tube noticed by Louis XIV’s Cardinal Mazarin to play his operas at the wedding of the Sun King.  (That’s probably relatively speaking even better than being invited to play at Kimye’s wedding these days. But I digress.)

L’amore innamorato (Erato 2015)

Christina Pluhar’s ensemble L’Arpeggiata has released some great albums, although the recent ones, especially the “jazzy” Purcell, were reviewed rather controversially.

Cavalli: l'Amore Innamorato Christina Pluhar l'Amore Innamorato Christina Pluhar L'Arpeggiata Erato 2015

I haven’t yet seen any reviews on this new Cavalli album, but I think this will be less controversial, as was their initial Monteverdi Teatro d’Amore album from 2009.

It is basically a lot of fun. The beautiful voice of the Spanish soprano Nuria Rial (helped by Hana Blažíková) is a big part of the fun, but Pluhar’s early music ensemble really is playing with a lot of dedication here.

The program is a best-of of Cavalli’s operas (apparently he wrote at least 24), and this is probably a good thing, as following a full early baroque opera seria can sometimes be a bit tedious.

No boredom here, this is thoroughly enjoyable. I suggest you check it out! I’ve added a Youtube sample below.

My rating: 4 stars

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (HDtracks).

UPDATE November 22: Alexandra Coghlan reviewed this album on Sinfinimusic and gave it 5 stars.

David Fray’s elegant and intimate Schubert

Franz Schubert and the piano

I’ve been writing quite a bit about Schubert recently (see here and here). I’ve said before that one area where this amazing composer really excelled was chamber music. This is to be expected given that he grew up learning the violin. However, soon after that instrument (started at the age of five), he also got his first lessons on the organ, and he became a decent player of the piano as well (although never to the professional standard of other composers, and he rarely performed in public).

Many of his piano works (let’s keep “late in perspective, the guy died at the age of 31…) are nearly as outstanding as his chamber compositions. Namely, the late piano sonatas, the Impromptus, the Moments Musicaux and the Wanderer-Fantasie. I’ll be writing about all of these later.

And finally, his third category of musical excellence was the Lied or song obviously. I’ve only recently started to fully discover the riches of this repertoire, and will also come back to this.

Side note: If you want a great overview of his piano works, played at the highest level and very well recorded, there is, besides the obvious Alfred Brendel, mainly Mitsuko Uchidas’ great box on Decca, which can sometimes be found very cheaply (e.g here and here)

David Fray playing Schubert

So, with all these great recordings already existing (and you could easily add Paul Lewis, Radu Lupu, Paul Badura-Skoda etc. etc.) recordings, why bother buying another version in 2015?

David_Fray_Jacques_Rouvier-Franz_Schubert_Fantaisi

David Fray is a young French pianist. He got his lucky break when he was asked to jump in for Hélène Grimaud (they shared the same piano teacher) at some concerts. He has some other musical background: his father in law is the famous conductor Riccardo Muti. He already recorded several Schubert albums earlier, but this is the first time I noticed him.

He plays the lesser known Sonata D894 (nicknamed “Fantasie“), and some smaller works, including two for four hands with Jacques Rouvier. What is so special about his Schubert? Two words come to mind: elegance and fragility. In some parts this Schubert sounds more like Bach than a composer who was at the beginning of the romantic period. With this comes an outstanding transparency, but also a really intense intimacy. Very very touching.

Critics for once seem to like this album as well, Gramophone named it Editors choice, Classica gave it the “Choc”, 5 stars from Diapason, the only review I saw that didn’t like it was the BBC, calling it “Beautiful, certainly, in its way; but static.”. Sorry, dear old BBC; but I don’t hear anything static in here.

Erato is a label that usually cares about sound quality, this one is quite well recorded as well, much better than the sometimes a bit harsh sound of some of Brendel’s old recordings, so one more argument to get this new recording (if you need one more).

My rating: 4 stars (the playing only would be 5 stars, but this sonata is not as essential to have for me, albeit very nice to have)

Get it here as download (the 24/96 version is worth it), or here for a physical album