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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

La Chronique du Disque (November 2014)

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For those unfamiliar with our monthly recordings review - If Sound Quality (SQ) and Overall Impression (OI) grades need further context, feel free to visit earlier posts in this series.

My Suggestions for November

Ravel, Sayat-Nova & Kradjian: Troubadour and the Nightingale

There are many excellent chamber ensembles out there, but one of the best kept secrets is probably a small orchestra that keeps a modest schedule in Winnipeg. The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra flies under the radar, but has had some high flying associations in the past (British early music specialist Roy Goodman was its music director not so long ago) and their current director, Anne Manson, is nothing to sneeze at. Isabel Bayrakdarian is a well-established Canadian soprano that has some traction internationally, singing both in early and modern music settings. She and her husband, pianist and composer Serouj Kradjian collaborated with Ms. Mansom on this recording of Eastern music by Ravel and 18th centurty Armenian poet, musician and ashik Sayat-Nova. The Ravel songs, mostly based on Greek and Jewish tradition, are sung in their original languages rather than French, adding to the Eastern atmosphere. The sound is excellent, and the singing is superb. Well-worth the listen! SQ - A, OI - A.

Horn Concerto, 1, 2,: Bourgue(Hr)Du Closel / Camerata De Versailles

The Haydn horn concertos, like Mozart’s constitute probably the best the classical era had to offer to the instrument. Both composers went so far as to add horn solos in significant works of theirs (Hatdn’s Hornsignal symphony, Mozart’s Posthorn serenade…). This recording of a period ensemble playing Haydn interweaves two short orchestral pieces to two horn concertos by Papa Haydn, performed (I think) on a modern horn by Daniel Borgue. The treatment of the music is spot on, and the horn playing is just right. I like this! SQ = A-. OI = A-.

Beethoven - The Complete Music for Cello and Piano

Last week’s post featured a pair of “un-numbered” Beethoven sonatas for cello and piano, and this two-disc set (which claims to provide the “complete” Beethoven for Cello and Piano) does NOT have them programmed. However, there are here a pair of strong (one of them legendary) duos tackling the material. The Richter/Rostropovich pairing is given the task of performing the five “numbered” sonatas, and this set stands the test of time. This is real musicianship at play, and the performances are crisp. The second pairing features the French cellist Maurice Gendron accompanied by Jean Françaix (yes, the composer!) in a collection of variations for cello and piano. Again, the performance here is excellent. These recordings have been often reissued, and may already be in your collection but oif they are not, here’s your chance to add them! SQ = A-, OI = A.

Wagner: Symphony in C Major

The American Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1962 by Leopold Stokowski, probably to fill the void left at Carnegie Hall when the Philharmonic moved to its new digs at Lincoln Center. Stokowski assembled the best available young talent (Richard Stoltzman at clarinet broke his teeth in that orchestra, Jose Serebrier was Stokowski’s resident assistant) in a long-term project to demystify orchestral music and make it accessible and affordable for all audiences. Today, Leon Botstein is the orchestra's music director and principal conductor. The ASO continues its “educational” mission to bring music to the masses, and one way it does so is through the distribution of live recordings, many of whom are “single track” or “single work” releases available on eMusic. My next two suggestions are taken from that series, starting with this performance of Wagner’s early Symphony in C. This work, though it is not unpleasant to listen to, does not bear the hallmark of Wagner, the operatic giant; it sounds more like a late Schubert symphony. People need to cut their teeth, and at 21 years old, that’s exactly what Wagner is doing here. I view this more as a study in orchestration and form exploration than an early attempt at the Wagner signature style. SQ = A-. OI = B+.

Steinberg: Les métamorphoses Suite, Op. 10

Maximilian Steinberg (1883 –1946) was a Lithuanian composer, who studied at the St-Petersburg Conservatory under Rimsky-Korsakov. A friend and classmate of Stravinsky, he often half-jokingly thought of Steinberg as “the teacher’s pet”; indeed, Steinberg married Rimsky’s daughter and took over for Rimsky at the Conservatory after his death. Steinberg played an important role in Soviet music life as a teacher of composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Galina Ustvolskaya and Yuri Shaporin. As a composer, Steinberg is today little known though early on he was occasionally even more highly estimated than his student colleague, Igor Stravinsky. He rejected Stravinsky's and other modern styles, usually preferring the style of his teachers and showing the influence of the nationalistic Mighty Handful as well. Among the works he left behind is a 1913 ballet Les métamorphoses – which contrasts with Stravinsky’s 1913 seminal ballet, Le Sacre du Printemps. History tells us Stravinsky brought Steinberg's ballet to DIaghilev, wanting to help out his friend, and an unimpressed DIaghliev agreed to mount a significantly cut-down version, mostly not to make a bad impression on Rimsly's widow who still marshaled some influence... This recording of the suite from the ballet highlights “how the other half lived”, those that were in the outside of the avant-garde movement that is… Interesting if only for that reason. SQ = A-. OI = B+.

November 28, 2014, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "In Memoriam: Claudio Abbado" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more on our blogs in English and in French.