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Highly Reviewed Recordings

December 14 - December 27, 2011

SAARIAHO, K.: D'OM LE VRAI SENS / Laterna Magica / Leino Songs (Kriikku, A. Komsi, Finnish Radio Symphony, Oramo)
(Ondine: ODE1173-2)

SAARIAHO, K.: D'OM LE VRAI SENS / Laterna Magica / Leino Songs (Kriikku, A. Komsi, Finnish Radio Symphony, Oramo)

Susana Välimäki’s moving note in the booklet…raised expectations hugely and the resulting work does not disappoint.

The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra partner Kriikku admirably in this enchanting concerto and under Oramo’s sensitive direction provide beguiling accompaniments… These delicate settings of Eino Leino’s ‘Looking at you’, ‘The Heart’, ‘Peace’ and ‘Evening Prayer’ (to give their English titles) make a beautifully refined set, mutually supportive one for the others… Komsi, for whom they were written, proves an exemplary executant.

Laterna magica (2008)…showcases the Finnish orchestra splendidly. Ondine’s demonstration sound caps a marvellous issue. Recommended.

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.

Guy Rickards,  Gramophone

IRELAND, J.: Piano Concerto / Legend / Rhapsody / A Sea Idyll (Lenehan, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Wilson)
(Naxos: 8.572598)

IRELAND, J.: Piano Concerto / Legend / Rhapsody / A Sea Idyll (Lenehan, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Wilson)

I am delighted to welcome to the catalogue a splendid new recording of what is undoubtedly the finest of all British piano concertos… Worthy to rank with the finest 20th-century works in this form, its poetic lyricism and distinctive melodic inspiration are in the ageless tradition of the greatest English music. After its jiggy first movement it offers one of the most gently beautiful slow movements of any piano concerto written last century, and its bright finale has an indelible main theme that you won’t be able to get out of your head once the work concludes. John Lenehan…is again at his finest here. …the RLPO is on first-class form under the understanding direction of John Wilson…

A CD not to be missed by all lovers of English music.

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.

Guy Rickards,  Gramophone

FREITAS BRANCO, L. de: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 / Prelude (Damas, Tomasik)
(Naxos: 8.572334)

FREITAS BRANCO, L. de: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 / Prelude (Damas, Tomasik) Francophile romantics, and fans of violin sonatas, will discover a pleasant surprise in this new album of music by Luis de Freitas Branco, a Portuguese composer, teacher, musicologist and critic.

At age sixteen, Branco studied in Lisbon with Belgian organist-composer Désiré Pâque, who introduced him to Cesar Franck's music. And it must have made a great impression on the young composer if his four-movement first violin sonata of 1907 is any indication.

More specifically, the opening andantino begins with a lilting theme that sounds very much like a first cousin to the openingallegretto that begins Franck's own beloved violin sonata. But the following development and recapitulation are of such sophistication it's hard to believe they came from a seventeen-year-old.

The rhythmically jittery allegretto has Iberian as well as Gallic roots, while the highly chromatic adagio is all Branco. The finalallegro begins with a bold theme that undergoes an animated development full of bravura passages. The music then transitions into a subdued episode with Franckian cyclic references to previous ideas. A stirring climax follows putting the cork in a French bottle of Portuguese wine.

The second violin sonata (from 1938) is much more progressive, with sweeping material of late romantic temperament in the opening allegretto. The infectious vivace has twitchy outer sections surrounding a sobbing melody, while the andantino is a moving da capo aria for the violin.

An intriguing bipolar theme that soars skywards, only to fall back to earth, dominates the final allegro. This is an inventive sonata form movement with a peremptory coda ending a work, which arguably ranks with the best chamber music of the period.

The disc closes with an encore of sorts in the form of Branco's Prelude for Violin and piano from 1910. French impressionism holds sway here, which supports Branco having once declared that Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande was the most important event in his artistic development.

Our soloists in these recordings (the only ones available of this music) are Portuguese violinist Carlos Damas and Polish pianist Anna Tomasik. They make a sensitive and enthusiastic case for this rarely heard but superbly crafted chamber music.

Bob Mc Quiston, NPR Deceptive Cadence/ Classical Lost and Found

BIBER, H.I.F. von: Mystery Sonatas (Wedman)
(Dorian Sono Luminus: DSL-92127)

BIBER, H.I.F. von: Mystery Sonatas (Wedman)

A true inspiration—a heartfelt pilgrimage through Biber’s Rosary Sonatas

Even before the 2004 tercentenary of Heinrich Biber’s death, his Mystery Sonatas were enjoying a revival that has continued to inspire new recordings. John Holloway received Gramophone’s 1991 Baroque Instrumental Award for his. Those who followed include Reinhard Goebel, Marianne Ronez, Monica Huggett, Alice Pierot, Pavlo Beznosiuk, Andrew Manze, Riccardo Minasi and Elizabeth Wallfisch. Some recordings involve varied continuo forces, others are more austere; the actor Timothy West reads exhortations from a Jesuit Rosary psalter on Beznosiuk’s CD.

The meditative nature of these sonatas, associated with Rosary prayer, will be evident to anyone listening to them familiar with their genesis. Biber’s imaginative use of scordatura (nonconventional tunings) in all but the first of the 15 sonatas provides enormous unseen challenges for violinists. These qualities attract particularly adventurous musicians, among whom the American Julia Wedman must surely be counted. Technically assured, she is musically equal to the remarkable demands of the music. She uses a wide array of continuo instrumentalists but never all at once and always to achieve subtle effects.

Rather exceptionally, one suspects, Wedman has approached Biber’s music as a true pilgrim, interpreting key moments in the life of Christ thoughtfully, vividly and with evident personal humility and warmth. Her performances exude humanity and have about them a radiance that somehow transcends the sound of her lovely 1694 instrument. Among the highlights are the darkness of the B minor Sonata No 3, “The Nativity”, the anguished Lamento of No 6, “The Agony in the Garden”, the sound of dawn in No 11, “The Resurrection”, and the frenzied opening movement and Gigue of No 13, “Pentecost”. In the sublime concluding solo Passacaglia, “The Guardian Angel”, she conveys wonderment and serenity. Both Biber’s music and Wedman’s performances are inspirational.

Julie Anne Sadie, Gramophone

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