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Highly Reviewed Recordings

May 30 - June 12, 2012

BRITTEN, B.: Songs and Proverbs of William Blake / Tit for Tat / Folk Song Arrangements (English Song, Vol. 22) (R. Williams, Burnside)
(Naxos: 8.572600)

BRITTEN, B.: Songs and Proverbs of William Blake / Tit for Tat / Folk Song Arrangements (English Song, Vol. 22) (R. Williams, Burnside) (Excerpt)

‘This music has the power to connect the avant-garde with the lost paradise of tonality,’ said Robin Holloway once about Britten. He might have been talking about this Blake set, a standout in Britten’s still often underrated output of the 1960s, written for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau after his contribution to the War Requiem.

Putting this new Roderick Williams recording immediately up against the composer and Fischer-Dieskau is like going from hymns ancient to hymns modern. Williams finds an ideal emotional stance—involved, totally word-conscious but never melodramatic…as a recorded recital, Williams—and Burnside, who is similarly colourful but keeps an interpretative distance from pumping up the text—have created an outstanding achievement, one to set alongside the Gerald Finley/Julius Drake disc. Their remaining items, including Tit for Tat—Britten’s ‘reissue’ of early 1929-31 Walter de la Mare settings—shine in a similar way. The Potton Hall recording is clean and clear with excellent instrument/voice balance.

© 2012 Gramophone
Read complete review on Gramophone

RACHMANINOV, S.: Morceaux de fantaisie / Etudes-tableaux / Variations on a Theme of Corellli (Arghamanyan)
(PentaTone: PTC5186399)

RACHMANINOV, S.: Morceaux de fantaisie / Etudes-tableaux / Variations on a Theme of Corellli (Arghamanyan)

New All-Rachmaninov

Nareh Arghamanyan has developed by leaps and bounds since her 2008 Concours Musical International de Montréal victory, followed by a debut solo disc containing proficient yet overly rhapsodic performances of Liszt’s B minor and Rachmaninov’s B-flat minor sonatas. Arghamanyan’s new all-Rachmaninov recital reveals a more disciplined, controlled, architecturally aware, and expressively sophisticated artist.

The Corelli Variations benefit from the Armenian pianist’s unified tempo relationships and overall symphonic approach in terms of rhythmic discipline, intelligently scaled dynamics, and a wide range of tone colors. Notice, for example, the wonderfully unfolding continuity she achieves by linking Variations 5, 6, and 7, even though the latter seems a bit slow in relation to the composer’s Vivace directive. Conversely, Arghamanyan enlivens Variation 3’s “question and answer” dynamic contrasts with specifically characterized accelerations. Variation 8’s myriad tempo modifications, however, are Rachmaninov’s own, and Arghamanyan proportions them to utter perfection. While the scherzando Variation 10 could be communicated in a lighter, more playful manner, Variation 12’s marcato and legato contrasts truly hit home. Listen also to how Arghamanyan shapes the Intermezzo’s rhetorical phrases and virtuosic filigree more or less in tempo, yet with seemingly boundless nuance.

The shorter pieces prove no less absorbing. Arghamanyan’s thoughtful textural layering of the C-sharp minor Prelude Op. 3 No. 2 amounts to a newly minted rendition of an overplayed warhorse. She markedly differentiates the B-flat minor Serenade’s expansive cantabiles and quiet stabbing chords much as the composer did in his classic 1940 recording. Each one of the Op. 33 Etudes-Tableaux fuses virtuosic refinement, textural clarity, and a gift for revealing the narrative behind the melodies that many younger pianists lack. Out of curiosity I compared Arghamanyan’s C major Op. 33 No. 2 alongside Yuja Wang’s contemporaneous DG recording, and wound up preferring Arghamanyan for her more expansive phrasing and riper sonority, helped by PentaTone’s full-bodied, lifelike multi-channel sonics. Arghamanyan’s own booklet notes discuss her responses to the music in eloquent, articulate, and refreshingly non-indulgent prose. A terrific release in every way.

Jed Distler,

RONTGEN, J.: Symphonies Nos. 5, "Der Schnitter Tod", 6, "Rijck God, wie sal ic claghen" and 19, "B.A.C.H" (Porcelijn)
(CPO: 777310-2)

RONTGEN, J.: Symphonies Nos. 5,

Three Impressive Röntgen Symphonies on CPO

There are many definitions of “freedom” in music beyond the question of whether a work is tonal or not. Julius Röntgen’s harmonic language is conservative and traditional, but his style regarding form and content is completely free. These three symphonies demonstrate this fact particularly well. Symphony No. 5, inspired by the events of the First World War, has a finale setting a poem (and a melody) from the Thirty Years’ War, “There is a reaper and his name is Death, and he has power from the great God.” The next symphony in line, No. 6 in one movement, the opening of which you can hear below, borrows an early 16th century Dutch tune, “Great God, to whom shall I lament?” Both works ask for a mixed choir to sing the texts, the former also requiring a tenor soloist (here the pure-voiced Marcel Beekman).

Between 1930 and 1932, roughly speaking, Röntgen composed 19 symphonies (!), including his Symphony No. 19 on the BACH theme. He had apparently composed a piece on this theme in 1870 and played it for Liszt, who told its young composer that the work was junk. That episode ended Röntgen’s relationship with and respect for Liszt forever, but not his love of Bach. This symphony is an unpretentious, graceful essay in four tiny movements lasting only about 16 minutes. Only the finale is notably contrapuntal, but the music has a timeless quality somehow evocative of its subject. As with the other issues in this marvelous ongoing series, the performances are excellent. David Porcelijn, always a reliable guide to unfamiliar repertoire, gets impressive results from the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra. The choir sings beautifully, and the engineering is first class. Very highly recommended.

David Hurwitz,

SCRIABIN, A.: 12 Etudes, Op. 8 / Preludes / Piano Sonata No. 10 / Vers la flamme (Mustonen)
(Ondine: ODE1184-2)

SCRIABIN, A.: 12 Etudes, Op. 8 / Preludes / Piano Sonata No. 10 / Vers la flamme (Mustonen)


An extraordinary pianist for extraordinary music. This is Scriabin as you have never heard him before, played by one of music’s most formidable and compulsive free spirits.

…even in the Etudes, Mustonen’s acetylene technique dazzles and astounds, fragmenting a Chopin-inspired lyricism into so many shards of glass. The music is made to leap flame-like and uncontained from the page and you could cut yourself on Mustonen’s glittering sonority. Try the third Etude in B minor (Tempestoso), where Mustonen sets the cross-rhythms in jagged opposition, and you will hear a pianist of a truly astonishing force and individuality.

…in the volatility and dark musings of Russian Romanticism (Rachmaninov’s First Sonata, Balakirev’s Islamey), his originality defies comparison…Mustonen’s beady and dazzling pianism is truly hypnotic.

© 2012 Gramophone
Read complete review on Gramophone

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