Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 (CD review)

Martha Argerich, piano; Charles Dutoit, Montreal Symphony Orchestra. EMI CDC 7243 5 56798 2 6.

First, a prefatory note:  Since I first heard it in the mid Sixties, Maurizio Polloni's 1960 rendering of Chopin's First Piano Concerto (EMI) has been one of my top ten favorite recordings of all time. I never thought that anything could or would shake my confidence in that particular conviction. But then I should never have underestimated Martha Argerich, who continually amazes me with each of her releases. Her 1998 recording of the First Concerto is sublime. No, I will not go so far as to concede that it overshadows Pollini's version, but it comes closer than most other recordings I have listened to in the past fifty years or so.

In the first movement, Argerich and Pollini are equally poetic and equally heroic, and if anyone can find an advantage for either of them, he or she is a better listener than I. Amazingly, the interpretations are within two seconds of one another in the opening movement, and both are hauntingly beautiful in the big middle tune.

Martha Argerich
In the slow, second movement, however, I have to stick with Pollini.  Chopin himself describes the movement as "...calm and melancholy, giving the impression of someone looking gently towards a spot which calls to mind a thousand happy memories. It is a kind of reverie in the moonlight on a beautiful spring evening." Such is Pollini's account, which lingers ever that much longer in the moonlight than Argerich's.

In the final movement, the Rondo Vivace, again the two  performances are almost equally vigorous, but here I have to admit to a marginally greater fluency in Argerich's playing, even if she takes things at a rather heady pace. 

What I cannot deny is that EMI's sound has mostly improved over the years. It is richer, smoother, quieter, and more refined in 1998 than in 1960. I say "mostly," though, because the actual piano sound is a tad more well focused in the older recording and a bit more crisply defined. Perhaps for the first-time buyer of either disc, price may play a part in the decision or the couplings on the two discs.

The new Argerich issue combines the First Concerto with the Second (actually written earlier than the First). As expected, the Second also goes to the top of the pile, although I don't especially respond to much of the music except its lovely second movement. Pollini rounds out his mid-priced album with a collection of short solo Chopin pieces, all of them must-buys as well. So, in the end I'd have to advise any serious music collector to purchase both discs. The older recording is an acknowledged classic; the newer one was my personal choice for record of the year when it came out. What else can a person do but own them both?

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


Krenek: Complete Piano Concertos, Volume Two (CD review)

Double Concerto; Little Concerto; Concerto for Two Pianos; Piano Concerto No. 4. Mikhail Korzhev, piano; Eric Huebner, piano; Nurit Pacht, violin; Adrian Partington, organ. Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestra. Toccata Classics TOCC 0392.

In a booklet note accompanying this disc, author/teacher/conductor Peter Tregear writes, "Ernst Krenek's reputation as a 'one-man history of twentieth century music' is nothing if not well deserved." I think he probably means that the Austrian-born American composer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) produced over 240 works in his lifetime, adopting a variety of compositional forms along the way, from late-Romantic to atonality, from neoclassicism to experimental jazz, and from modal counterpoint to twelve-tone writing, serial techniques, and electronic music. He mainly earned a living, though, by teaching, lecturing, and completing the unfinished material of other composers, and today he may be more famous for his short-lived marriage to the daughter of Gustav Mahler than for anything he composed.

Anyway, in 2016 Toccata Classics released the first volume of Krenek's complete piano concertos with Mikhail Korzhev, piano, and Kenneth Woods leading the English Symphony Orchestra. It contained the first three of Krenek's four solo piano concertos, and this second volume with the same forces contains the fourth one, along with several other, shorter concerto works that make Volume Two even more varied and interesting than the first disc.

The program begins with Krenek's Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 123, which he wrote in 1950. What I said about the performance team last year still applies: Korzhev's piano playing is scintillating, Woods's direction is warmly encouraging, and the orchestra is uniformly precise. For me, the Fourth Concerto is also the most fascinating and perhaps the most consciously modern, meaning it's nothing that you're going to go away humming, but it's something that may rivet your attention from beginning to end. Also, interestingly, Korshev, Woods, and the English Symphony give it its premiere recording. You'd think somebody in the past sixty-odd years would have found the music attractive enough to record, but I guess some things just get lost in the shuffle. Thank goodness for people like Woods championing a good cause.

Kenneth Woods
So, the first movement starts us off in a somewhat tumultuous state (marked "agitato" or agitated and "pesante" or heavy), its cadences unremitting. The second, slow movement is both lyrical and slightly atonal, which also seems a contradiction, yet works. The third and final movement is the most stylistically varied, a kind of march, and the most insistently rhythmic. Pianist Korzhev gets us through it with verve aplenty, and Maestro Woods and his players accompany him with an equal zest.

Next is the Concerto for Two Pianos, Op. 127, written in 1951, in which pianist Eric Huebner joins Mr. Korzhev. It's in four short movements and alternates between the sublime and the frenetic. The fact that I did not particularly enjoy it seems irrelevant; it's vibrant, pulsating, and dynamic in the capable hands of the soloists and orchestra.

After that is the Double Concerto for Violin and Piano, Op. 124 from 1950, with violinist Nurit Pacht joining Mr. Korzhev. This work is in six or seven movements, depending on how you break up the final one. Despite the number of movements, the whole piece is quite brief, the movements only two or three minutes each. The dialogue between the violin and piano (the violin usually dominant) is casual and intimate, the music dance-like. The performers do up the work in an elegant manner, giving it a modern yet quaintly old-fashioned feeling.

The program ends with the Little Concerto for Piano and Organ, Op. 88 from 1940, with organist Adrian Partington joining in the fun. The orchestral accompaniment is the most diminutive in this selection, the score almost salon-like in its chamber setting. The music is also at its most poetic here, the organ gently filling in a quiet background. There is nothing ostentatious about the piece, just a sweet, generally tenderhearted little ditty performed with warmth and affection.

Producer Michael Haas and engineer Ben Connellan recorded the concertos at Wyastone Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales in September 2016. The sound is a little close and sometimes highlights instruments unnecessarily, but it nevertheless provides good orchestral depth and excellent clarity. There is nothing harsh, bright, or edgy about the sonics; indeed, it is quite the contrary, with smooth, detailed sound all the way around, especially the highs, which truly shimmer and glisten.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


Classical Music News of the Week, December 9, 2017

ICE Winter and Spring Concerts in NYC

The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) announces their spring 2018 season in the New York area, all following the theme of celebrating composer relationships, both past and future.

On Sunday, January 21, 2018 at 8pm, ICE continues its residency at Brooklyn's National Sawdust, performing a concert of world premieres by Okkyung Lee, Nicole Mitchell, and Lu Wang. Featured ICE musicians include bassoonist Rebekah Heller, guitarist Daniel Lippel, saxophonist Ryan Muncy, clarinetist Joshua Rubin, pianist Cory Smythe, flutist Alice Teyssier, and harpist Nuiko Wadden. The program will feature Okkyung Lee's ha-yeom, Nicole Mitchell's Inescapable Spiral, and Lu Wang's Ryan and Dan.

On January 10,12, 13, 18, 19, and 20, 2018 at 7:30pm at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, the Prototype Festival will present ICE in the world premiere performances of Mikael Karlsson's opera The Echo Drift, with libretto by Elle Kunnos de Voss & Kathryn Walat. Commissioned, developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects, HERE, and American Opera Projects, The Echo Drift was originally developed by Karlsson and Kunnos de Voss in a full-length workshop presented by the Embassy of Sweden in Washington DC in 2014, and follows convicted murderer Walker Loats, who is trapped in a tiny, timeless prison cell. Using the visual world of animation, The Echo Drift unravels a cycle of deceit, temptation, seduction, and fantastical perception featuring a live chamber ensemble, electronics, and a six-channel surround sound system.

From January 24 to February 3, ICE reprises Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang's the whisper opera in 13 performances at NYU Skirball. With direction and design by Jim Findlay, the whisper opera features sopranos Tony Arnold and Alice Teyssier and ICE musicians Kivie Cahn-Lipman (cello), Claire Chase (flute), Ross Karre (percussion), Joshua Rubin (clarinet). The small audience and musicians are enclosed in an intimate onstage set, as the opera, performed almost entirely in whispers, explores the question: "What if a piece were so quiet and so personal to the performers that you needed to be right next them or you would hear almost nothing?" the whisper opera was premiered at Lincoln Center's 2013 Mostly Mozart Festival, and since toured across the US and Europe.

On Thursday, March 1, 2018 at 8pm, ICE returns to the Miller Theatre for a Composer Portrait celebrating young Irish composer Ann Cleare. ICE musicians perform some of Cleare's most striking works in an ensemble led by Steven Schick, including the square of yellow light that is your window, inspired by fellow Irish artist Oscar Wilde; Dorchadas; eyam iv for contrabass flute and ensemble; and a world premiere of a new work for voice, bassoon, viola, cello, bass.

Continuing their season theme of composer relationships, on Thursday, March 22, 2018 at 7pm, ICE publicly addresses the famous Harvard Norton Lectures by Leonard Bernstein, given in 1973, in Bernstein's "Unanswered Questions" at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at the New York Public Library. Originally titled "The Unanswered Question," in reference to Charles Ives's immortal orchestral work, the extremely opinionated and charismatic lectures became a flashpoint for music historians, composers, performers, and audiences. Forty-five years later, and on the occasion of the Bernstein centennial, ICE attempts to bring the perspective of hindsight to Bernstein's achievement. Structured as a dialogue with musical performances, this event allows ICE to use its new-music expertise to gain a modern point of view on the questions that Bernstein so eloquently raised.

For more information, visit iceorg.org

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Handel's Messiah in Grace Cathedral
American Bach Soloists present their annual performances of Handel's masterpiece, Messiah, in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, December 13-15.

Suzanne Karpov, soprano (debut)
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, countertenor (debut)
Zachary Wilder, tenor
Hadleigh Adams, baritone (debut)
American Bach Choir
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Wednesday December 13 2017 7:30 pm
Thursday December 14 2017 7:30 pm
Friday December 15 2017 7:30 pm

Grace Cathedral, 1100 California Street at Taylor, San Francisco, CA.

For more information, visit http://americanbach.org/

--American Bach Soloists

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale: Handel's Messiah
Join us Sunday for a timeless holiday tradition: experience Handel's Messiah – a season favorite – in all its historical glory with Nicholas McGegan and America's leading period instrument ensemble Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale performs with an international cast of stars.

Sunday, December 10, 3:00 pm
Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Avnue, Rohnert Park, CA 94928

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Yulia Van Doren, soprano
Diana Moore, mezzo-soprano
James Reese, tenor
Philip Cutlip, baritone

For more information, visit https://gmc.sonoma.edu/event/3532154-philharmonia-baroque-orchestra-chorale-handel-s

--Green Music Center

New Distribution Deal for LSO Live in North America
[PIAS] America Announces Distribution Deal with LSO Live, Mariinsky and King's College labels.

[PIAS] America is pleased to announce that starting January 22, 2018 it will begin distribution of the LSO family of classical labels including LSO Live, King's College and Mariinsky. Also, in March 2018, the LSO will launch a new label, Colin Currie Records, which will also be distributed by [PIAS] America.

LSO Live is the London Symphony Orchestra's own record label. Launched in 1999 with the aim of reaching new audiences for classical music as well as dedicated listeners, it was the first of the new breed of artist-owned labels which have helped revitalise? the market for classical music.

LSO Live recordings are owned by the Orchestra itself. The players, conductors and soloists are stakeholders in the recordings on which they appear and LSO Live works with some of the world's leading producers and sound engineers. The musicians not only choose what should be recorded, but are also involved throughout the production process, ensuring only recordings they are happy with get released.

The recording label of King's College, Cambridge was created in 2012 to capture the heritage of the Choir and organ of King's College and the unique acoustic of King's College Chapel. The Mariinsky label, launched in May 2009, draws on the theatre's rich legacy and historical ties to the great Russian composers.

For more information, visit https://pias-america.com/

--Sarah Folger, Publicity Manager, [PIAS] America

Piano Trio Presents Two Premieres in Chicago
Piano Trio presents two premieres by Grammy-nominated composer and Chicago native in four upcoming Chicago concerts.

Sheridan Solisti Trio, comprised of internationally- acclaimed musicians pianist Susan Merdinger, violinist Michaela Paetsch, and cellist Steven Sigurdson, are joining forces for four upcoming Chicago concerts featuring two premiere performances. The concerts include the the world premiere of the trio arrangement of "Ghost Tango" (originally written for piano and cello, in 2012) by Grammy-nominated composer, Ilya Levinson, as well as a USA premiere of "Solar Rays" by Chicago native, Aaron Alter.

Pianist Susan Merdinger, who Fanfare Magazine has hailed for her "magic touch" and for keeping audiences "spellbound from first note to last," recently performed at the Logan Center for the Arts on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chamber Music Series in her sixth engagement on the CSO series. Merdinger has graced the New York stages of Carnegie and Merkin, as well as many of the finest venues of Europe, Canada and Mexico.

Among many other accolades, violinist Michaela Paetsch has distinguished herself as the first female violinist to record the 24 Caprices of Niccolo Paganini (Teldec). In addition, Paetsch has won prizes in the Queen Elisabeth, Tchaikovsky and Dealey International Competitions, which resulted in her solo engagements with major orchestras and conductors in Europe and Asia.

For over 20 years Steven Sigurdson, cellist, has enjoyed a successful orchestral career, including being among the first cellists hired for Michael Tilson Thomas's celebrated New World Symphony in Miami, as well as a 13-year tenure as Associate Principal Cellist of the Florida Philharmonic.

Concert event details are available at Concordia University Chicago: 708-209-3062; The Family Piano Company: 847-775-1988; Merit School of Music: 312-676-3686; and Northbrook Public Library: 847-272-6224. Or at https://www.susanmerdingerpianist.com/events

--Susan Merdinger, Sheridan Solisti Trio

Explore Mahler Chamber Orchestra Learning
A few weeks ago, during our annual MCO Academy orchestra project, we did much more than merely share the stage with this year's 45 Academy students – from our five partner institutions spanning three continents – in three concerts.

During our project week at Orchesterzentrum|NRW, in any given practice room, MCO musicians could be found coaching Academy students in individual lessons or in chamber music rehearsals. Questions and ideas were exchanged not only at a mentoring session, but also in the hallways of Orchesterzentrum|NRW before, during and after rehearsals every day. And deaf students from our partner school in Dortmund, whom we met through a "Feel the Music" session last year at Konzerthaus Dortmund, joined us for rehearsal one morning.

Musicians of the MCO care deeply about creating transformative experiences in music together – and just as much about sharing these inspiring moments with the world around them. Not only do we work intensively with the next generation of orchestra musicians; we also actively bring music to the next generation of audiences through a variety of projects. We hope that you can get to know more about the different facets of MCO Learning: http://www.mahlerchamber.com/

--Mahler Chamber Orchestra

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa