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ClassicsOnline - Your Classical Music Source Highly Reviewed Newsletter
Sunday, February 26, 2012

Highlighting the latest highly reviewed recordings: Available at ClassicsOnline

GRIEG, E.: Orchestral Music, Vol. 6 - From Holberg's Time / Lyric Suite / Melodies (Malmo Symphony, Engeset)

GRIEG, E.: Orchestral Music, Vol. 6 - From Holberg's Time / Lyric Suite / Melodies (Malmo Symphony, Engeset)
Naxos: 8.572403
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(New York Times Excerpt)

A new addition to a generous series of Grieg recordings on the Naxos label offers his music for strings, beautifully played by the Malmo Symphony Orchestra of Sweden under the conductor Bjarte Engeset. Writing for just this segment empowered Grieg, and these works are masterly. Grieg often mined folk tunes for melodic ideas, and many of the pieces here are arrangements of his songs and piano pieces. “Two Elegiac Melodies,” originally songs, shimmer and glow in their string versions. In the second one, “The Last Spring,” every twist in the beguiling melody, at once poignant and consoling, is cushioned with Grieg’s plaintive chromatic harmonies.

-- Anthony Tommasini , © 2012 The New York Times
 
RACHMANINOV, S: Piano Concerto No. 3 / Symphonic Dances (Ohlsson, Atlanta Symphony, Spano)

RACHMANINOV, S: Piano Concerto No. 3 / Symphonic Dances (Ohlsson, Atlanta Symphony, Spano)
Aso Media: ASO1003
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Pianist Garrick Ohlsson launched his career in 1970, when he became the first American to win the International Chopin Competition. Since then, he's performed and recorded an exceptionally wide range of piano literature — Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and much more. But there's one romantic warhorse he's avoided in the recording studio until now:Rachmaninov's flashy and notoriously finger-twisting Piano Concerto No. 3.

All my piano heroes share a common tradition — that showmanship can hinder the honest interpretation of a composer's intent. That dedication to pure music-making is what most characterizes Ohlsson.

At one time, it was fashionable to dismiss Rachmaninov as a second-rate composer who wore his heart on his sleeve, but this pianist shows that there's plenty of muscle in Rachmaninov's musical craft.

When Ohlsson walks onstage, at 6-feet-4, he's an imposing figure. He looks like he could crush the piano with one big chord, and he does have a massive technique that makes short order of Rachmaninov's famously difficult passages. But Ohlsson can move from thunder to silk with extraordinary ease.

This is music composed on a grand canvas; its opulent textures and rhapsodic melodies require exquisite interactions among pianist, conductor and orchestra. And the Atlanta Symphony, with conductor Robert Spano, joins Ohlsson in this deeply inspired collaboration.

Ohlsson's recording of the "Rach 3" has given me new interest in this very familiar piece. I can't stop myself from repeating movements, even skipping around to sections just to get another taste of their emotional impact. Rachmaninov's third piano concerto is a heroic work, certainly, and Garrick Ohlsson is the piano hero who has brought us one of its finest performances. Tom Manoff, NPR.org , Deceptive Cadence blog

-- Tom Manoff, NPR.org , Deceptive Cadence blog
 
MORTENSEN, F.: Symphony / Pezzo orchestrale / Evolution / Per orchestra (Munich Radio Orchestra, Mikkelsen)

MORTENSEN, F.: Symphony / Pezzo orchestrale / Evolution / Per orchestra (Munich Radio Orchestra, Mikkelsen)
Simax Classics: PSC1306
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10/10 Artistic and Sound Quality

Finn Mortensen didn't write very much music over the course of his relatively short life (1922-83), and a good bit of it has been recorded. The Symphony, for my money the best work in its genre by a Norwegian composer, appeared previously on this same label documenting the early partnership of the Oslo Philharmonic and Mariss Jansons. At that time the orchestra was nothing special; neither were the sonics. This newcomer is superior in all respects.

The work takes Hindemith as its starting point, and is beautifully written and scored. Three of its four movements employ a clear sonata form, while the finale is a brilliant quadruple fugue. The second subject of the first movement, a triadic theme similar in feel to the principal idea of Barber's Second Essay, returns as the fourth fugue subject, bringing the work to a majestic conclusion completely free of bombastic straining after effect. After the symphony Mortensen turned to free atonality (Pezzo Orchestrale), strict serialism (Evolution), and finally a bit of everything (Per Orchestra). It really doesn't matter which style he preferred; his writing is so lucid and purposeful that even his thorniest music conveys an unerring sense of rightness. You listen, and understand.

These performances certainly make a great case for the cause. Terje Mikkelsen gets really fine playing from his Munich orchestra, whether they are making the strange sounds required in the avant-garde works, or in the maniacal fugal finale of the symphony (Mortensen's fugues always sound slightly insane, but in a good way). For contemporary music fans, this superbly recorded release is a must.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
 
BACH, C.P.E.: Keyboard Concertos, Wq. 23, 31 and 112/1 (Rische, Leipzig Chamber Orchestra, Schuldt-Jensen)

BACH, C.P.E.: Keyboard Concertos, Wq. 23, 31 and 112/1 (Rische, Leipzig Chamber Orchestra, Schuldt-Jensen)
Haenssler Classic: CD98.639
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10/10 Artistic and Sound Quality

It's simply wonderful to hear this music played on C.P.E. Bach's preferred instrument: the piano. The high level of contrast embodied in all of his music, and most particularly the carefully indicated dynamics (as soloist Michael Rische points out in his booklet notes), are simply impossible to realize on the harpsichord--indeed, possibly on any of the instruments readily available in Bach's own time. In this sense he truly was forward-looking, and while there are some excellent recordings on period instruments (including BIS's ongoing complete edition), there's no question that the music comes to life more effectively on a modern piano.

The performances here are full of the enthusiasm of a new discovery. The minor-key concertos are marked by many of those eruptive gestures that make Emmanuel Bach's music so distinctive: abrupt pauses, strongly accented rhythms, tangy dissonance, and huge intervallic leaps. Rische relishes the music's quirkiness without letting it fall apart into a series of disconnected fragments (another advantage, by the way, of using a modern instrument with its superior sustaining power). The Concerto in C major, for piano solo, is particularly remarkable--a virtuoso display piece full of arresting ideas, with a profound central Largo that Rische plays for all that it's worth.

The accompaniments by the Leipzigers under Morten Schuldt-Jensen are bold and gutsy, clearly influenced by period practice, but rather more timbrally appealing than the original-instrument norm these days. Hänssler has engineered it all beautifully, with natural balances and realistic tone quality. It's easy to understand why this music fell out of fashion given the evolution of the classical piano concerto in the hands of Mozart and Beethoven, but this is great music, and when performed sympathetically on modern instruments it sounds as fresh and new as the day it was written. It can stand toe to toe with anything that came later.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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