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  Highly Reviewed Recordings

   September 22 - October 5, 2010

Chamber Music with Guitar (American) - KERNIS, A.J. / LIDERMAN, J. / MACKEY, S. (Awakenings) (D. Tanenbaum, Plitmann, A. Strauss, Kernis)
(Naxos / American Classics: 8.559650)

Chamber Music with Guitar (American) - KERNIS, A.J. / LIDERMAN, J. / MACKEY, S. (Awakenings) (D. Tanenbaum, Plitmann, A. Strauss, Kernis) The classical guitar has come light years since Andres Segovia raised it to the status of a concert instrument, and this superb new disc features exquisitely wrought works by North and South American composers. Aaron Jay Kernis brings the lustrous voice soprano Hila Plitmann to his poetic "Two Awakenings," and Jorge Liderman's "Aged Tunes" is a marriage of sonorities for guitar and string quartet. The San Francisco Conservatory Guitar Ensemble displays its virtuosity in Steven Mackey's 15-minute dreamscape "Measures of Turbulence."

Kurt Loft,, August 26, 2010

Takako Nishizaki Plays Suzuki Evergreens, Vol. 1
(Naxos : 8.572378)

Takako Nishizaki Plays Suzuki Evergreens, Vol. 1

At the age of nine, Takako Nishizaki became the first student to complete the (then new) Suzuki method, which her father Shinji Nishizaki helped to develop and subsequently taught. This seven-disc series of "Suzuki Evergreens" is thus a touching tribute both to her father and to her famous teacher, and it would be difficult to imagine a project like this realized with more obvious affection or lavished with more care. Given the fact that most of the material on these discs consists of short works, transcriptions, and arrangements of both familiar favorites and unfamiliar pieces, it will appeal first and foremost to young violin students, who surely will find much to emulate. Nishizaki demonstrates that there is no piece so simple or technically unchallenging that does not benefit from being played beautifully.

This third volume, however, sustains a level of interest well beyond the didactic. The two "learning" concertos by Friedrich Seitz (for violin and piano) are delightful, and certainly reward repeated listening. It's easy to imagine young violinists playing them with pride, and Nishizaki's singing tone and unaffected phrasing ensures that the music's melodic charm really shines. Terence Dennis accompanies with all the necessary sensitivity and discretion.

Next come two lullabies, Schubert's D. 498 and Brahms' famous Op. 49 No. 4. In each case the vocal original is immediately followed by Nishizaki playing a transcription for violin and piano. The opportunity to compare the two versions offers students (and ordinary listeners) the chance to hear how the violin realizes an aesthetic ideal: approximating the expressive qualities of the human singing voice. Sopranos Birgid Steinberger and Mitsuko Shirai make fine soloists in the two songs.

The program ends with the outer movements of Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 3 No. 6, followed by the first movement of Bach's Concerto for Two Violins (twice--initially just Violin II plus piano, and then with both solo parts plus orchestra; Violin I plus piano appears on the next volume in this series). Once again Nishizaki turns what easily could have sounded like a thankless chore into a remarkably absorbing listening experience. It's fun hearing Bach's solo parts disentangled and then reunited.

Given the highly varied provenance of these recordings and the very different forces required, the engineering is consistently good. Violin students, whether Suzuki trained or not, certainly should collect this series. Regular listeners with an interest in this repertoire should start with this third volume, and move on to the other discs at will.

David Hurwitz,

TYBERG, M.: Symphony No. 3 / Piano Trio (M. Ludwig, Mekinulov, Ya-Fei Chuang, Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta)
(Naxos: 8.572236)

TYBERG, M.: Symphony No. 3 / Piano Trio (M. Ludwig, Mekinulov, Ya-Fei Chuang, Buffalo Philharmonic, Falletta) We are lucky that Marcel Tyberg entrusted his musical manuscripts to a family physician before he was carted off by the Nazis in 1943, to eventually die at the Auschwitz death camp. The Third Symphony, not heard until its Buffalo Philhamonic premiere under music director JoAnn Falletta, is classically structured and rich in ideas as well as sheer beauty. The same is true of the gorgeous earlier Piano Trio, impressively played by orchestra principals and pianist Ya-Fei Chuang. It’s hard to imagine anyone not loving this music.

John Terauds,, August 30, 2010

BRITTEN, B.: Illuminations (Les) / Prelude and Fugue / Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (Les Violons du Roy, Zeitouni)
(ATMA Classique: ACD22601)

BRITTEN, B.: Illuminations (Les) / Prelude and Fugue / Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (Les Violons du Roy, Zeitouni)

Quebec soprano Karina Gauvin has focused much of her career in 18th-century repertoire, but this disc happily proves she hasn’t restricted herself to early music. Gauvin has plenty of competition in recordings of Britten’s Les Illumination, from Peter Pears and Ian Bostridge to Felicity Lott, but the lustre of her voice and the eloquence of her delivery make her interpretation especially appealing. The strings of Les Violons du Roy provide shapely and emotionally direct readings with the immediacy of chamber music and a great deal of raw energy. What one misses is a certain suavity of sound that can give this piece a shimmering transcendence.

Elissa Poole, The Globe and Mail

Cello Recital: Warner, Wendy - MYASKOVSKY, N. / SCRIABIN, A. / SCHNITTKE, A. / PROKOFIEV, S. / RACHMANINOV, S. (Russian Music for Cello and Piano)
(Cedille : CDR90000-120)

Cello Recital: Warner, Wendy - MYASKOVSKY, N. / SCRIABIN, A. / SCHNITTKE, A. / PROKOFIEV, S. / RACHMANINOV, S. (Russian Music for Cello and Piano) New Cello-Piano Duo Brings Insights into "Russian Soul"

I'm generally suspicious of national stereotypes but a new CD recording of cello and piano works by Russian composers illuminates and gives life to the concept known as the "Russian soul." The recording by Chicago-based Cedille Records brings together cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova in a collection by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Scriabin and Schnittke. But it's the opening work by a composer I had never heard of, Nikolai Miaskovsky (1881-1950) that was the real headliner for me.

Miaskovsky, who served on the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory from 1921 until his death, composed 27 symphonies, however he never won the fame of his contemporaries, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. His work is little performed today. But from the first notes of his Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, Op 81, which opens this CD, one is struck by the lyrical beauty and deep melancholy of the piece which seems to express something quintessentially Russian. It's simply a gorgeous and moving piece of music that has never before been recorded on American soil by an American artist by an American label. How exciting to discover a new landmark of late Russian romanticism, which alone is worth the price of this recording!

The very useful program notes which accompany this CD includes an essay by the pianist, Nuzova who grew up in Russia but moved to the United States as a teenager to escape anti-Semitism. The sonata, she says, has a pervasive, nostalgic quality that is subtle and subdued in its expression. Nuzova says the music reminds her of a poem by Konstantin Balmont (1867-1942) called "Wordlessness" and she includes an English translation.

Let me just quotes one stanza:

"The reeds are unstirring, the sedge doesnn't quiver.
Deep quiet. And wordlessness, utterly peaceful.
The meadows spread out faraway and forever.
In everything - weariness, muteness and bleakness."

The poem is a perfect fit for the music.

Cellist Wendy Warner, also has a Russian connection. As a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, she had the rare opportunity to learn from the legendary Russian virtuoso and human rights activist Mstislav Rostropovich.

She and Nuzova, both strikingly attractive in the cover photo, meld together seamlessly in this CD. They also give us a witty, minor-key minuet by Schnittke, a Prokofiev transcription from "Cinderella," an encore piece by Scriabin and Rachmaninov's sprawling Cello Sonata, which to my mind is not one of his most inspired creations but which is delivered with utter conviction and intensity.

Cedille has been around for 20 years, devoted to showcasing classical artists from the Chicago area. We must be thankful to the company for bringing us two undiscovered gems - the Miaskovsky and the beautiful poem by Bal'mont.

Alan Elsner, The Huffington Post, September 5, 2010

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