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!

Schubert: A Journey Through 11 Versions of Schubert’s Piano Sonata D959

The Cross Eyed Pianist

Sometimes, as a blogger, you may feel a bit alone. With my rather niche topic of Jazz and Classical music, I really don’t have that many people to exchange ideas with in my immediate surroundings, as most of my friends and family don’t care enough about this topic (my mother-in-law is the exception, she is a loyal reader, even if she often disagrees with my opinions).

Luckily, on the internet, you’ll be able to find like-minded people for every kind of interest, as small as it may be. I’ve met people virtually on several discussion forums and via this blog that I feel I have very compatible musical tastes.

And obviously then, there are the other bloggers. You can find on this blog the long list of all blogs I follow (at least those on WordPress), but some are really outstanding, and to be fair, much better than my little enterprise here.

One blog I follow very closely is Frances Wilson’s The Cross Eyed Pianist. Well, she’s got an advantage over me, she’s an actual pianist (my piano hasn’t been touched for over a year now, shame on me). I strongly recommend you check her out.

Schubert’s Late Piano Sonatas

I’ve mentioned Franz Schubert several times now on this blog, as I’m a big fan.

Unfortunately he died way too young, so there is only a number of categories I really admire in Schubert. Not necessarily his symphonies (see my comment on his last symphony here), but his Lieder (still only getting into them), his amazing chamber works (see here and here among others), and obviously, his piano music, which was his very own instrument.

I’ve previously written about David Fray’s beautiful album, as well as Andras Schiff’s recent recording on a fortepiano. Note that you can always click on the composer link on the right hand side of this blog to see all my articles on a given composer.

But I’ve not fully talked about the 3 masterpieces of his late piano sonatas, D958-960, which really give you a glimpse of what Schubert could have achieved had he lived longer. These were all recorded in his last year alive, at the tender age of 31. Imagine Beethoven dying after the Moonlight, no Waldstein, no Appassionata, no Hammerklavier!

To get back to Frances Wilson, what trigger this blog post was her excellent article on Schuberts D959 in A-Major, which not only inspired me to write this post, but also the title.

Frances Wilson and others are the reason why I don’t write a lot about the works themselves on my blog, these others are so much more talented.

So let me focus on what I typically tend to write about, which is “reviewing” (or probably rather commenting) the recorded versions of these pieces.

10 versions…

I often get asked, which is the “best version” of a classical piece. If I’d be honest, I cannot answer this. Most classical works have been recorded hundreds of times, and comparing them all is just really not feasible. Gramophone and Classica try, and have monthly articles around individual works where they try to achieve this, but even these traditional magazines with their decades of experience usually limit themselves to a smaller number of versions (or I guess, leverage their archived reviews).

So, as I said inspired by Wilson’s article, I wanted to write about the best version of Schuberts D959 I have on my hard disk, plus Paul Lewis from Qobuz (I could have included all versions available on Qobuz streaming, but then you wouldn’t read another blog post from me for a least 3 years)

I have a total of 10 versions (thanks to years spend on meta-tagging I can actually now easily find them):

  • Leif Ove Andsnes
  • Alfred Brendel
  • Martin Helmchen
  • Paul Lewis
  • Wilhelm Kempff
  • Radu Lupu
  • Murray Perahia
  • Arthur Schnabel
  • Andreas Staier
  • Mitsuko Uchida

You’ll noticed Andsnes and Perahia from my Top 10 Classical Pianists I just published, actually, the preparation for this review triggered the idea of that post.

I’m not going to review all 10 versions here in detail, but just highlight those that really stood out to me (which is tough, because there wasn’t really a negative outlier in this list.

… and not a single winner

I’ll name 3 in detail here, and honestly, I’m not going to name my winner, as it is just impossible.

 

Alfred Brendel

Schubert: The Last Three Piano Sonatas Three Piano Pieces D 958 959 960 946 Alfred Brendel Philips

This was my first ever version, and I can still count it among the best out there. Brendel is an extremely intellectual pianist, and he’s probably one of the key people who put Schubert’s piano music on the world stage. I haven’t included him in my Top 10 pianist list, as I’m not a universal fan of his playing, but for Schubert, he really is among the top references.

 

Murray Perahia

Perahia actually made it into my Top 10 list. He’s a pianist I admire from Bach to romantic repertoire, he always seems to get it right. Same here, this is really worth checking out.

And, last but absolutely NOT least,

 

Mitsuko Uchida

Mitsuko Uchida plays Schubert

I’ve already previously mentioned her in my article about Andras Schiff, she absolutely remains among my favorite versions of this work.

She has such a light, delicate and beautiful touch. To me Schubert’s piano music is even closer to Mozart than to Beethoven, even if Schubert was a great admirer of the latter. Uchida is one of the best Mozart players we have, and approaching Schubert in Mozart style really feels right.

My rating for all 3: 5 stars

Two lessons learned here:

  1. Never ask for “THE BEST” version of a certain work. It just doens’t exist, you’ll almost always find several versions that are each outstanding in their own way
  2. I’ll almost certainly not do another of those huge comparisions in the near future, they are just so time consuming. I’ll leave that to the professionals. It was fun though.

As usual, I’d be interested in your opinion, are there other versions out there?

Frances mentioned Goode and Pires, which I both haven’t heard, anything else out there?

You can find the albums here:

Alfred Brendel: here (Qobuz)

Perahia: here (Qobuz)

Mitsuko Uchida: here (Qobuz) and much cheaper here (Prestoclassical)

My Reflections on the 2016 Gramophone Awards (Part V): All The Rest

And All The Rest

After 4 parts on my favorite categories of the 2016 Gramophone Award nominations, I discovered that I simply don’t have enough to say about most albums in the other categories, so I decided to lump all remaining categories (Baroque Instrumental, Choral, Contemporary, Early Music, Opera, Orchestral, Recital, Solo Vocal) into one big “super-post” and only write about the albums I really care about in this remaining sections.

So, here we go:

Baroque Instrumental

Masaaki Suzuki plays Bach Organ Works (BIS 2016)

I must admit, I bought this album initially because I finally wanted to have a well recorded modern version of the Toccata d-minor BWV565, probably Bach’s best known work even for lay people.

Masaaki Suzuki plays Bach Organ Works BIS 2016 24/96

Well, that and the fact that I truly admire Masaaki’s efforts with the Bach Collegium Japan, and have pretty much his entire Cantata cycle. So I was curious to hear him as a soloist.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed. BIS can usually be trusted for recording quality, and this recording delivers (although has quite a bit of reverb from the Marinikerk in Groninen, so if you don’t like this, look elsewhere).

The good thing of this album is as well that once you go beyond the Toccata earworm, there is lots of beautiful music to discover. I don’t listen to organ very regularly, so this album pushes me in the right direction.

And Masaaki surely knows how to play. This album has received some controversial reviews, some like Diapason and obviously Gramophone love it, some critisize Suzuki takes too many liberties. Well, I’m certainly in the first camp.

My rating: 4 stars

 

WF Bach Keyboard Concertos – Maude Gratton (Mirare 2015)

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Concertos pour Clavecin et Cordes / Cembalo Concerts Maude Gratton Il Convito

I’ve reviewed this album previously and unfortunately, it still isn’t my cup of tea.

 

Biber: Rosary Sonatas – Rachel Podger (Channel Classics 2016)

Ah, Rachel Podger. I’m a big fan, and like pretty much everything she recorded, see also here.

Biber: Rosary Sonatas - Rachel Podger Channel Classics 2016 DSD

Sometimes, even in the music world, there seem to be trends.

You barely heard about Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (to quote his full name) for years, and all over sudden, you get 3 recordings of the Rosary Sonatas in a row.

Not sure about the exact order, but we got Ariadne Daskalakis on BIS, Hélène Schmitt on Aeolus, and Rachel Podger in the space of about 12 months.

What’s even more difficult: all of the above are very good.

Nevertheless Podger has an edge over the two others in my ear due to the sheer beauty of the playing. Now, you could argue, is beauty the right approach for these works.

Well I’m not religious, but if Wikipedia is correct, the Mystery of the Rosaries are meditations on important moments in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. I personally would want these to be beautiful. The outstanding recording quality of Channel Classics in DSD only makes it more breathtaking. 

My rating: 5 stars

In any case, check out the two others as well before buying.

My prediction

So who will win in the category? Both Suzuki and Podger have made it into the final three, I’d expect a tight race here. I personally give the edge to Podger.

Opera

I recently bought Netrebko’s beautiful recording of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and enjoyed it a lot, so I really need to check out the recording of Pique Dame that Gramophone recommends here by Mariss Jansons, but I haven’t done so yet, so will refrain from any comment at this stage.

The only album in the opera category I’ve heard (and own) is:

Verdi: Aidi – Antonio Pappano – Anja Harteros – Jonas Kaufmann (Warner 2015)

Verdi: Aida Pappanis Anja Harteros Jonas Kaufmann

Well, no change to my previous five star rating (see the review here), and I wouldn’t be surprised if this album will also win. Like the Tchaikovsky mentioned above, it made it into the final three candidates.

Orchestral

I’m a bit surprised myself that I wasn’t able to write a dedicated blog post about the Orchestral category, but there are simply too many albums nominated from composers that I dont’ care enough about, often 20th century, from Casella, Dutilleux, Elgar, to Vaughan Williams.

So just a quick note about two albums in this section:

Schubert: Symphony No. 9 – Claudio Abbado – Orchestra Mozart

Schubert Symphony No. 9 Abbado Orchestra Mozart Deutsche Grammophon 2015

Going to be brief here, I love a lot of the stuff that Abbado did with his Orchestra Mozart, this isn’t my favorite. I’d much rather go with Dohnanyi as reviewed here.

And then there is Andris Nelson’s BSO recording of Shostakovich symphony no. 10. I don’t have that one yet, but really like his even more recent release of symphonies no. 5 and 9.

Shostakovich Symphony No. 10 Andris Nelson Boston Symphony Orchestra Deutsche Grammophon 2016 24 96

Given that I haven’t heard 90% of the albums in this category, predicting the winner is obviously preposterous. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Nelsons wins here.

Recital

I’ve only spent a decent amout of time with one album in this section, the excellent Weber Sisters.

A side note on the Ricercar Cavalli album, I skipped through it, but found the Christina Pluhar album released pretty much at the same time more exciting. I may need to revisit that though.

And I gave Jonas Kaufmann’s Nessun Dorma as a present to my mother-in-law, she’s a big Kaufmann fan, and I must admit, the album is really worth checking out.

Mozart and the Weber Sisters – Sabine Devieilhe – Raphael Pichon – Ensemble Pygmalion

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

I’ve already reviewed this album, with 5 stars.

And I keep going back to it over and over again.

This is again one of the rare birds of albums where Classica (Choc de l’année), Diapason (5 stars), Gramophone (Editor’s choice, Gramphone Award nominee), and Telerama (4F) all agree.

She is nominated among the final 3 contenders in this category, I really hope she wins!

 

So in summary: Podger’s Biber, Pappano’s Aida, and Devielhe’s Mozart are the must have albums for me here, with Suzuki’s organ works also highly recommended.

 

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions!

 

You can find the albums here:

Bach Suzuki Organ Works

WF Bach Cembalo Concertos

Biber Rosary Sonatas Podger

Verdi Aida Pappano

Schubert 9 Abbado

Nelsons BSO Shostakovich 10

The Weber Sisters

 

 

My Reflections on the 2016 Gramophone Awards (Part IV): Chamber

This is the 4th part of a series of posts about the nominated albums for the 2016 Gramophone Awards. You’ll find the rest of the series here.

Chamber Music

I’ve written quite a bit about chamber music on my blog already, it is one of the most beautiful and intimate forms of classical music.

Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello and Piano – Xavier Phillips – François-Frédéric Guy (Evidence 2015)

I’ve only recently “discovered” François-Frédéric Guy for me, in his album of the Brahms piano sonatas, reviewed here. As you can see from that review, I was really impressed with wh

Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello & Piano - Xavier Phillips - François-Frédéric Guy Evidence 2015

Xavier Phillips was another new name to me (which also tells me I’m not reading Gramophone with enough attention, given that all of these award-nominated albums obviously were previously praised by Gramophone).

The catalogue of complete Beethoven cello recordings has seen two recent excellent addition in recent years, with the excellent Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin on fortepiano (Gramophone Award finalist in 2014) on Hyperion, and even more recently Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov.

So do we need yet another new recording? Well, while this new album doesn’t replace Isserlis and Queyras, it is certainly a strong contender.

As said before, I really liked Guy on Brahms, and his transparent, clear style works very well here. Phillips has a beautiful tone, and this recording, while very singing, has also a certain etheral style to it. Very much worth checking out.

My rating: 4 stars

Berg: Lyric Suite – Renée Fleming and Emerson Quartet

Berg/Schönberg/Webern: Belcea Quartet

Berg: Lyric Suite - Emerson String Quartet Decca 2015

Berg Webern Schönberg: Chamber Music Belcea Quartet

Berg twice, plus some more Zweite Wiener Schule.

As much as I love the Klimt on the cover, I’ve tried over and over again to get used to this kind of music, but haven’t managed. It’s just not my cup of tea. I can listen to Berg’s Violin concerto occasionally, but beyond that, the only thing I want is find my Ipad remote and turn back to Beethoven or Brahms as soon as I can.

Given my complete lack of competence and understanding here, I’ll just shut up and let you make up your own mind (you’ll find the Qobuz links below).

Brahms: String Quartets 1 & 3 – Artemins Quartet

Now we’re getting back to a composer I absolutely love (see also the subtitle of my blog).

That’s the good news.

Brahms: String Quartets No. 1 & 3 - Artemis Quartet Erato 2016

Now to the bad news: I personally think that Brahms’ String Quartets are among his weakest contributions to the genre of chamber music. I love everything he did with piano (naturally, he was a very good pianist), I like his string sextets and quintets already a bit less, and I never got to like the string quartets.

Honestly, when I want a string quartet, I’ll just pick between Schubert, Beethoven, Haydn, and occasionally Mozart. More than enough brilliant choice here.

But you don’t care about that, you care about what I think about their playing? Well, here’s the problem: If I don’t really like the music, my judgment is clouded at best. Sure, they do a fine job, but the entire thing just doesn’t touch me enough. So this will be another one where I refrain from any rating. Just so much: If you unlike me like the Brahms quartets, it’s worth checking out (which you probably would have guessed without me as well).

Bruckner: String Quartet, String Quintet – Fitzwilliam Quartet

You may, like me, rub your eyes and ask yourself if you just ended up in the wrong section. No this is not “orchestral”, we are in chamber music.

I must admit somewhere in the back of my head I had heard Bruckner did some Chamber music, but seriously had never heard it before. I could double check this fact, as my pretty large digital library doesn’t contain a single recording of these works.

Well at least I’m not alone, even the 30M+ library of Qobuz only features a very small handful of recordings of this work.

Bruckner: String Quintet - String Quartet - Fitzwilliam String Quartet - Linn Records 2016

Now the problem: The Fitzwilliam has recorded on Linn Records. While this usually means you get excellent recording quality, it also means no streaming.

Now, from the couple of other albums available for streaming of these works I must admit I haven’t made up my mind if I care enough about them to buy this new album (currently I rather don’t think so). Don’t get me wrong, I love Bruckner (see here), but I’m not sure his chamber music is for me.

So another album without any rating from my side. Sorry.

Schubert: String Quintet – Quatuor Ebène

Schubert String Quintet - Lieder - Quatuor Ebène - Gautier Capuçon - Matthias Goerne ERATO 2016

NOW we’re talking. Already reviewed here, and I can only reiterate my strong 5 star rating here. Just go, get it!

Tippett: String Quartets – Heath Quartet

Who? Could you repeat that name?

Well I shouldn’t brag, rather shut up, this just shows again how ignorant I am in 20th century music.

But as I’ve previously said about Britten, I love English composers. Especially when they are called Purcell. Or actually, only if they are called Purcell. For all the rest, really not my cup of coffee (or more appropriately, tea).

 

So, who should win?

Well, if you’ve read so far, you’ll have noticed that I’m rather biased this time (ok, all the time), and actually would give the Award without hesitation to the Quatuor Ebène.

Well, but I’m not Gramophone, and knowing the three finalists the jury there has chosen (they were released some days ago), I know they won’t make it. The Beethoven, my other favorite, is out as well.

Basically, the Emerson Berg, the Artemis Brahms, and the Heath Tippett are in the final selection.

Well, over and out for me at this stage. Let Gramophone’s jury do their job.

 

You can find the albums here:

Beethoven Cello Philips

Berg/Emerson

Belcea

Brahms Artemis

Bruckner

Schubert

Tippett

 

 

 

Christoph von Dohnányi – A Totally Underrated Conductor

Christoph von Dohnányi

Why are conductors get so much more well known that others? The classical music industry has it’s own mechanisms of getting attention. I’m not sure I’ve fully understood them yet.

In any case, let me take a recent release by German conductor Christoph von Dohnányi as trigger to write about this conductor I really like a lot, but probably isn’t as famous as he could (or should?) be?

Von Dohnányi, born in Berlin in 1929, started his training as… a lawyer. Yes, he went to law school in Munich before deciding that music was more his thing. Well to be fair, he had some family history, his father Ernst (Ernö) von Dohnányi  was a pianist and composer.

You could assume that  Dohnányi’s talent was rather quickly recognized, given that in his early years he worked with giants like Leonard Bernstein and Georg Solti.

Later on, he became conductor of major orchestras like the Cleveland Orchestra, that Georges Szell had really turned into a world class ensemble, and the Philharmonia orchestra, of Karajan and Klemperer fame.

He also worked with many other leading orchestras, be it in Boston, New York, Paris, or Vienna.

His recording of the Mendelssohn symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic are still among my absolute favorite versions, especially for no. 3 and 4.

Nevertheless, I as said initially, I don’t see his name pop up as often as you think as one of the great conductors of our time.

Schubert’s Symphonies

I’ve said it before, I’m not a big fan of Schubert’s symphonies in general. OK, there is the beautiful Unfinished, but anything before that to me is only of passing interest. On the other hand, Schubert obviously was an absolute genius for chamber music (e.g. here, and here), piano music (see this review), or the Lied. Unfortunately, he passed away way too early. You can only wonder what Schubert’s music would have been had he reached the age of Beethoven or Brahms.

I also have somehow a difficult connection to his so called Great Symphony, or no. 9 in C-major.

Side note: Actually C-major is a really boring key. It’s the one you play on a piano if you just leave out all the black keys. By musicologists and composers it is often described as noble and majestic. I personally like minor key quite a bit more. But let’s close the parenthesis here.

What really annoys me (well that’s a strong word) about Schubert’s symphony no. 9 is what Robert Schumann called the Himmlische Längen (heavenly length) of this work, there are just some repetitions too many for me.

But that minor annoyance set apart, it is still a beautiful piece of music.

Especially when it get’s played by a conductor I really like…..

Schubert: Symphony No. 9 – Live in Concert – Christoph von Dohnányi – Philharmonia Orchestra (Signum Classics 2016)

 

Schubert: Symphony No. 9 Live In Concert Christoph von Dohnanyi Philharmonia Orchestra Signum Classics

Another parenthesis here: what do you plan to do when you’re about to turn 87 years old? Still working? Probably not.

Well, not so for our hero of the story here, who recorded this beautiful album at the age of 86, in a live performance.

What do I like about this recording?

Well, in a nutshell it has just the right balance of gravitas and lightness that this work needs. You have the big sound of a major orchestra, but there is never anything static about it, always positive tension, and most of all, a lot of fun and joyfulness.

I suggest you read this insightful interview with the conductor about this particular recording here on Prestoclassical.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz), and here (Signum Records)

 

 

Quatuor Ebène & Gautier Capuçon play Schubert’s String Quartet – Can’t get enough of it

On my absence

2016 has been a very bad year for me posting-wise so far. Last year I was usually able to stick to my self-imposed posting schedule, of about 2 per week.

Since the beginning of the year this frequency has plummeted. Sorry for that. There is a couple of reasons involved, too much business travel, late nights at the office, some long week-ends / short vacation, and most recently, a nasty gastro-intestinal flu that isn’t fully over yet. Plus there’s been a bit of a writing block on the occasional days that I could have written.

Well anyhow, I really hope you should be able to read my posts more often in the future, fingers crossed.

Thanks in any case for your loyalty, my dear readers. Very much appreciated.

Schubert’s String Quintet

Yes, I’ve written about it before. Schubert’s string quartet, to me personally the highest peak that chamber music ever reached (sorry LvB fans).

I’ve already recommended the Pavel Haas Quartet’s version here, the Takacs also have done a beautiful version.

So there is obviously no need to talk about it again.

Quatuor Ebène

Well, actually there is. The reason is called Quatuor Ebène. This French quartet is noteworthy not only for being one of the leading classical string quartets of our time, but also do crossover, i.e. interpret Jazz and contemporary musical classically.

I must admit the term crossover usually makes me run away as fast as I can, as it is usually just horrible André Rieu / David Garrett / Vanessa Mae etc. trash (sorry, but I really can’t help it, that’s about the only word that expresses what I feel about this stuff).

But obviously to every rule there is an exception. Ebène is one of the few classical artists to really pull this off well!

Back to Schubert.

Schubert: Quintet & Lieder – Quatuor Ebène – Gautier Capuçon – Matthias Gerne (ERATO/WARNER 2016)

Schubert String Quintet - Lieder - Quatuor Ebène - Gautier Capuçon - Matthias Goerne  ERATO 2016

I would have checked out this album even without a “Choc” from Classica and an Editor’s Choice recommendation by Gramophone. But obviously, having the highest possible endorsement from both of my favorite classical magazines helped.

Let’s write about the Quatuor first. They are joined by Gautier Capuçon on 2nd cello. Gautier is the younger brother of the well-known violinist Renaud.

So what makes this recording so special? Two words spring to mind, rough and fresh. Rough isn’t meant that this is not high quality playing, far from that. But there is a real direct quality in the playing, that let’s you notice all the little angles and details than more polished recordings.

I’ve mentioned the energy that sets apart the Pavel Haas Quartet’s reading. You’ll find some of this here, but overall this is even more “chamberesque” (is this a word?) and intimate in this reading with Ebène.

This recording never just let’s you enjoy it, this album forces you to live the music.

The String quintet is already nearly 1h long, so many other artist would have just stopped there. Here however, you get an interesting bonus. Schubert is obviously famous for his Lieder (songs), and many of his chamber works are inspired by his songs (e.g. Death and the Maiden, see also here).

Usually, these songs have a piano arrangement. I must admit, I’ve never heard them with a string quartet supporting the singer. Well, here we go. And obviously, you don’t just get any kind of singer, you get Matthias Goerne, a Schubert legend. It is surprising how well this works. This is really way more than just a filler.

My rating: 5 stars – absolutely worth checking out, even if you already own the Haas or another reference version.

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

 

 

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