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Highly Reviewed Recordings

April 17 - April 30, 2013

SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Cello Concerto No. 1 / Cello Sonata (Bertrand, Amoyel, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rophe)
(Harmonia Mundi: HMC902142)

SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Cello Concerto No. 1 / Cello Sonata (Bertrand, Amoyel, BBC
National Orchestra of Wales, Rophe)

This is one hell of a performance of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. Emmanuelle Bertrand and conductor Pascal Raphé team up to produce one of the most intense and neurotic versions yet of this intense and neurotic piece.

The horn, clarinet, and timpani soloists also are all excellent.

The couplings are interesting and apt, and no less well done. Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata…[is] a big, serious, very beautiful piece that both Bertrand and pianist Pascal Amoyel play with the attention to detail that it deserves…it’s the concerto that most lingers in the mind here–it’s just sensational, and may well become your “go to” version of the piece.

- By David Hurwitz © 2013

Piano Recital: Sudbin, Yevgeny - LISZT, F. / RAVEL, M. / SAINT-SAENS, C.
(BIS: BIS-1828)

Piano Recital: Sudbin, Yevgeny - LISZT, F. / RAVEL, M. / SAINT-SAENS, C.

Right from the big, bell-like chords that kick off Liszt’s Funérailles through the accelerated march that ends the piece—an angry, resolute apotheosis to his Hungarian countrymen killed in the 1849 uprising against Austrian rule—Sudbin faithfully recreates Liszt’s harrowing and finally liberating and uplifting tribute.

Sudbin’s Transcendental Etude No. 10 is suitably hair-raising, but then he’s able to turn on an emotional dime, rending the Etude No. 11 in shimmering patterns of light and dark, with the subtlest inflections of tempo and dynamics.

The intersection of the fleshly and divine occurs for both Petrarch and Liszt in Sonnet 123, where, as Sudbin expertly expresses things, “Liszt manages to capture this celestial serenity and tenderness in an extraordinary way, by the amorphous nature of the speed (Lento placido), by expressive indications (dolcissimo, dolcemente) and by using a dynamic range between p and ppp. This last sonnet is like a hallucinogenic, amorous dream…” Sudbin spins the dream in a gorgeous haze of notes.

It’s evident that Sudbin has lived with all these pieces a long while and has thought deeply about them individually and as parts of an extraordinary recital—one that I urgently recommend.

-  By Lee Passarella © 2013 Audiophile Audition, March 2013

STRAUSS, R.: 4 Last Songs / Orchestral Songs (Isokoski)
(Ondine: ODE982-2)

STRAUSS, R.: 4 Last Songs / Orchestral Songs (Isokoski)


As a great fan of Jessye Norman’s first recording of Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs, I can say without impugnity that this brand new version is as fine, and can be seen as the anti-Norman at the same time…Soile Isokoski, with her infinitely brighter tone is accepting and loving, and her final song is the epitome of simple peace. Indeed, the four-song cycle clearly aims in that direction, but it is more often chock-filled with a sentimentality that, while not entirely unwelcome, in essence is unnecessary given the lushness of the music. Isokoski’s reserve is almost religious in the purest sense of the word—there’s faith written all over the four steps of the four songs. And needless to say, she has the technique to carry Strauss’ long lines upward and back downward with ease, and her sound is beautiful.

The other 11 songs on the CD are similarly well thought through and performed. Despite the many wonderful versions of the Four Last Songs (and many of the others) by singers as diverse and great as Norman, Schwarzkopf, and Janowitz, no lover of Strauss’ songs or of great, elegant, un-prima-donna-ish singing should be without Isokoski’s.

- By Robert Levine © 2013

MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 1, "Titan" (Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, Bernard)
(Park Avenue Chamber Symphony: PACSNAXOS0021)

MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 1, Great Mahler can come from places off the beaten track. The best live Mahler First I ever heard was by Yoav Talmi and the Waterloo Festival Orchestra, a performance which had the entire audience on its feet after the final chord. Sadly, the festival closed down after that. Similarly, think of all the fine Mahler recordings by Anton Nanut and the Ljubljana Radio Symphony, including a very good First. Now we have a First by David Bernard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, and I honestly can say I have not been as thrilled by a recording of this work since I first heard the Horenstein/Vienna Symphony account in high school. For one thing, Bernard’s orchestra really seems excited to be playing this piece. The orchestra’s tone color is especially notable, with dusky strings plus winds and brass that are full of character. The closest coloration to the PACS I’ve heard in a recording is on the old Otmar Suitner/Staatskapelle Dresden version, which also is a highly agreeable performance. David Bernard conducts this score with a true feeling of Gemütlichkeit; at any point in the rendition you just can sink into the atmosphere he creates. The attention to detail is simply marvelous. Every phrase and balance means something, and Bernard takes nothing for granted. Tempos are beautifully judged throughout. This is not a slow Mahler First, unlike Tilson Thomas and Tennstedt in Chicago, yet there is plenty of time for all the musical points to be made. Finally, David Bernard really has the Mahler ethos down pat, something a conductor either has or doesn’t have. You are convinced that were the composer still with us, he might conduct a performance like this.

As the symphony opens, the world of nature awakens with beautifully delivered clarinet and trumpet fanfares. The lower strings grind like Mother Earth arising from her slumber. It’s a fantasy world of birds twittering, trees swaying, and the breeze humming, almost as if the orchestra were a giant Aeolian harp, making music from the wind. The next movement seems related to the third movement of Beethoven’s “Pastoral,” with peasants rejoicing while their heavy tread is marked in the lower strings. The B section sounds like a wine-inspired rustic song, as Bernard secures string playing of great affection. When the A section returns, it develops a countrified ecstasy. A tangy double bass solo opens the third movement, almost like a rebec, soon matched by a splendid solo bassoon. The music here is ominous. The B section has a somber, generally Jewish atmosphere that informs the color of the rest of the movement, which ends with some unusually evocative effects in the percussion. The last movement opens in a kind of orchestral convulsion, with pungent brass. The next, quiet section is taken at a delicious, operetta-like tempo. Bernard’s conception of the return to the A section’s material is extremely subtle. He introduces the concluding theme like a chorale. The return of motives from the first movement leads to playing of immense tenderness. Bernard builds up tension before the final peroration, which concludes the symphony in a beautifully majestic exhortation.

The sound engineering is very good, clear and well balanced with just a hint of cloudiness in the tuttis. I could list a number of fine recordings by more famous conductors and ensembles, but that would be to miss the point. The fact is that great music-making occurs in all sorts of locales, and David Bernard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony give us great Mahler. Theirs is a reading that combines sensitivity and power in just the right proportions. One of the traps of music criticism is to review the reputations of the artists rather than the performance itself. I only hope that David Bernard and his orchestra secure the reputations they so richly deserve. 

By Dave Saemann © 2013 Fanfare Magazine (May/June Issue)

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