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Highly Reviewed Recordings

January 25 - February 7, 2012

BARTOK, B.: Violin and Piano Works, Vol. 1 (Ehnes, Armstrong) - Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 / Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2
(Chandos: CHAN10705)

BARTOK, B.: Violin and Piano Works, Vol. 1 (Ehnes, Armstrong) - Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 / Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2

What pushes this release over the top is the brilliant fiddling of James Ehnes, combined with the incredibly intelligent idea of putting all of Bartók's string concertos together on a single disc. Ehnes, for his part, is just as comfortable on the viola as he is on the violin. He digs into the rustic Hungarian melodies in the finale of the Viola Concerto or the beginning of the Violin Concerto No. 2 with a richly resonant gusto that never turns crude, while at the same time his impeccable intonation gives the slithery chromatics of the First concerto real shape and direction. He's a phenomenal artist, make no mistake. Gianandrea Noseda's accompaniments are very good--bracing and very well paced. As so often from these forces, however, the orchestra is a touch bland--never less than proficient, most of the time a good bit more than that, but also not as arresting and colorful as it could be. Still, as I said, the quality of Ehnes' playing and the value of the program earn this disc a top recommendation. Anything less would be churlish.

David Hurwitz,, October 7, 2011

BACH, W.F.: Concertos / Trios (Wienand, Schreiber, Graulich, Saller, Petersilge, Coppieters)
(Carus: Carus83.357)

BACH, W.F.: Concertos / Trios (Wienand, Schreiber, Graulich, Saller, Petersilge, Coppieters)

Perhaps Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is the Rodney Dangerfield of the sons of Johann Sebastian, but like that successful "don't get no respect" comedian (Dangerfield, not Bach!), there was undoubted genius and clever competence behind the creative productivity. Without question Wilhelm Friedemann, Bach's eldest son, was one of the 18th century's more inventive, adventurous, and exciting composers, and if you need proof, you'll find it all over this exceptional program, part of an ongoing series from Carus.

Friedemann was neither a copycat nor a patsy to fashion, although he certainly paid homage (occasionally) to his father's style and offered what can only be described as engaging, entertaining, and often startlingly unconventional works. In the two harpsichord concertos we find both the familiar parlance of Classical style and, particularly in the lovely, lyrical slow movements, pages directly lifted from father Sebastian: the sighing figure in the D major concerto could be from a lost aria for one of the Passions. The Adagio of the G minor concerto is worthy to stand next to similar movements from Sebastian Bach or Mozart.
The concertos spare nothing in virtuosity for the keyboard player, neither do they follow the straight, conventional path of theme and development. There are sudden twists and turns, harmonic shifts, and dazzling passages of ensemble and solo expression. The two Trios are slightly more conventional, in the Classical sense, but never lacking in appealing thematic ideas nor exciting ways to expand and develop them. The performers here are first rate, most notably harpsichordist Sebastian Wienand and violinist Anne Katharina Schreiber, and the sound recording is ideal. Three of these pieces--the two trios and the G minor concerto--purportedly are recorded here for the first time, and if so "bravo" to Carus and to these superb performers for bringing this outstanding music so immediately and memorably to our attention. Highly and enthusiastically recommended. [1/20/2011]

David Vernier,, January 20, 2011

SCHUMANN, R.: String Quartets Nos. 1-3 (Doric String Quartet)
(Chandos: CHAN10692)

SCHUMANN, R.: String Quartets Nos. 1-3 (Doric String Quartet)

The Zehetmair tend to play up the extremes in the music… But the Doric are equally colourful and give them a real run for their money. Their very opening to this quartet is beautifully managed…before giving way to the lolloping Allegro that…attempts a carefree demeanour but doesn’t quite manage it. That ambiguity of mood is superbly conveyed by the Doric.

The Doric are not afraid of using portamento either, applied with particular elegance to the entwining melody that opens the third movement…

It’s in No 2 that I find the Doric particularly compelling. The opening movement again has the warmth that they brought to the Adagio of No 1, while they superbly manage the rhythmic instability of the third movement, capturing its darting, febrile quality with precision and grace. Throughout, they relish the work’s Beethovenian shifts of mood, playing up Schumann’s unique combination of whimsy and fervour. And their ending of the quartet is a superbly adrenalin-pumped affair. These are performances that make you fall in love with the music all over again.

… the Third Quartet…is done to particularly poignant effect here… The shifts in mood are a real challenge, here superbly caught, such as the hymnic third movement which yields to more agitated writing, a gear-change that you simply don’t notice here, so naturally is it done.

The recording is immediate and present…

Harriet Smith, Gramophone
To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.

MACMILLAN, J.: Visitatio Sepulchri / Sun-Dogs (Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra)
(BIS: BIS-SACD-1719)

MACMILLAN, J.: Visitatio Sepulchri / Sun-Dogs (Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra)

Easter for Christmas this year: MacMillan’s Visitatio Sepulchri—shortlisted in this year’s Awards—is one of his most assured and joyous yet searching sacred works yet. Sun-Dogs, a challenging a cappella setting of poems by Michael Symmons-Roberts, is a perfect complement. Conducted by Celso Antunes and the composer. Outstanding.

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.

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