Bach | Brahms | Berg: Antonio Chen Guang, piano. (Steinway & Sons 30069)
Pianist Antonio Chen Guang, winner of the first Olga Kern International Piano Competition has chosen a rather unusual program for this release, comprising Bach’s Italian Concerto, Brahms’s Variation and Fugue on a theme by Handel, and Berg’s Piano Sonata. To my ears, his performance of the Bach, one of my favorites, is a little smoother than ideal, but is still a fine performance in excellent sound. The elephant in the room for this CD is the sheer eclecticism of the program. Personally, I would rather listen to the Berg than the Brahms. Many others no doubt feel quite the opposite, but it is hard to imagine many folks being excited about this particular concatenation of compositions by these particular three B’s, which might appeal as a one-time live recital performance but not so much as a CD to be played again and again.
Beethoven Reimagined: Gabriel Prokofiev, electronics; Yaniv Segal, BBC National Orchestra of Wales. (Naxos 8.574020)
2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, replete with tributes of all sorts (although certainly diminished by the pandemic in terms of live events). Naxos gets into the spirit of things with a lively and stimulating release featuring an arrangement for orchestra of his Violin Sonata No. 7 by Garrett Schumann (b. 1987) and conductor Yaniv Segal (b. 1981) that they have titled Sonata for Orchestra in C minor, Op. 30, No. 2b. No fancy tricks or sounds here, just a solid orchestral performance of a piece that sounds as if could have been composed by Beethoven, which of course it was, actually. Very nice! It is followed by A Fidelio Symphony, an instrumental suite arranged by Segal of music from Beethoven’s lone opera. Again, very straightforward and very nice. The final piece on the program is BEETHOVEN9 Symphonic Remix (2011) by Gabriel Prokofiev (b. 1975), which does give us some fancy tricks and sounds, as Prokofiev reimagines the final movement of Beethoven’s immortal Ninth in an arrangement for electronics and orchestra. Yes, it is strange trip, but it is also a joyous journey. All in all, Beethoven Reimagined succeeds brilliantly as an imaginative and enjoyable tribute to LvB.
British Violin Sonatas, Volume Three: York Bowen, Sonata op. 112; John Ireland, Sonata No. 2; James Francis Brown, The Hart’s Grace; William Alwyn, Sonatina; Eric Coates, First Meeting. Tasmin Little, violin; Piers Lane, piano. (Chandos CHAN 20133)
As you might expect by the time you get to a third volume of just about any recording project of this type, this program consists of works that are not widely known, especially on this side of the pond. But particularly for lovers of the violin, this is an interesting collection of some enjoyable music. Tasmin Little has had a long and distinguished career as one of the preeminent British violinists and she plays these pieces with skill and love. As a big fan of the orchestral music of William Alwyn, I was especially eager to audition his Sonatina, which turned out to be a real treat for my ears and soul. The Coates First Meeting, which was my first meeting indeed for this piece, ends the program wistfully and wondrously, capping a most enjoyable recital by musicians Little and Lane. If you enjoy music for the violin, then you really might want to give this fine recording a listen.
Cello Libris–Works by Geoffrey Gordon. Program includes Concerto for Cello and Orchestra; Fathoms; Ode to a Nightingale. Toke Muldrop, cello; Lan Shui, Copenhagen Phil; Mogens Dahl, Mogens Dahl Chamber Choir; Steven Beck, piano. (BIS 2330)
This is a disc likely to appeal foremost to those listeners not afraid of somewhat challenging contemporary music, especially those with a passion for the expressive capabilities of the cello. American-born composer Geoffrey Gordon (b. 1968) highlights the expressive capabilities of the cello in three rather varied and challenging works, each of which takes literature for its inspiration. The Concerto, which is in eight rather than the usual three or four movements, refers to Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. It is hardly tuneful, but those with a tolerance for more modern composition styles should not be driven out of the listening room and in fact may be swept away by the sheer energy of the playing. Next up is Fathoms for cello and piano, which consists of a prelude followed by five impressions of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Again, Moldrup’s cello gets quite a workout in this frenetic and imaginative extended sonata. The final piece, Ode to a Nightingale, which refers to the Keats poem, combines cello and chamber choir in a composition that has some fascinating moments but strikes my ears at least as reaching a bit too far. If you are a fan of the cello and enjoy more “out there” music, this generously filled (81:40) release might be worth an audition. More conservative listeners will probably be well advised to pass.
Ciurlionis: Kestutis Overture; In the Forest; The Sea. Modestas Pitrénas, Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra (Ondine ODE 1344-2)
It is always interesting to discover a new composer and delightful when the music turns out to be enjoyable. These three compositions by the Lithuanian composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1875-1911) are all quite enjoyable and should appeal to a wide spectrum of classical music fans. They are squarely in the European tradition, tonal and tuneful, with drama and sweep, particularly in The Sea. Should you be looking to hear some enjoyable orchestral music that you most likely have never heard before, this fine new release from Ondine would be a good one to audition.
The Diabelli Project: Rudolf Buchbinder, piano. (Deutsche Grammophon 483 7707)
Those of us old enough to remember discovering rock music in that crazy decade of the mid-60s through the mid-70s well remember the “concept album” and the “double album,” exemplified in one fell swoop by the Who’s Tommy. Today, those of us still alive and kicking in the COVID-19 era, as well as those younger listeners who have developed an interest in classical music, now have a new concept double album to enjoy. This remarkable release from the venerable Rudolf Buchbinder consists of two CDs. The first contains Buchbinder’s performance of Beethoven’s Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli in C major, the second includes his performance of Diabelli’s original waltz followed first by New Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, comprising 11 variations by contemporary composers, which is in turn followed by eight variations penned by composers such as Hummel, Liszt, and Schubert. For those who delight in piano music, this thoughtfully imaginative release should be quite the delight.