Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fine music played by an eloquent champion

From October 30, 2009:


Every once in a while the natural time-span of the CD - three-score minutes and ten - points to a great collection of works by a single composer. For example, Villa-Lobos's complete works for solo guitar fit nicely on one CD, providing a rare chance to give some focus to a notoriously unfocussed composer. Now violist Eliesha Nelson has put Quincy Porter's seven works that feature her instrument onto a superb new disc from the Dorian label.

Like so many composers from America, Quincy Porter found in 1920s Paris both inspiration and a congenial circle of fellow composers. He studied with Andre Caplet and Vincent d'Indy, and would have come across the greatest musical minds of the day: Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Debussy, and Ravel. But he came back to America with his own American voice.

Porter was an accomplished violist, as were Mozart and so many other composers. The result was an inside-out knowledge of the string quartet form (which explains the high quality of Porter's 9 quartets), and also an amazing body of music for the instrument. Included on this disc are works for solo viola, duos with piano, harp, harpsichord, and violin, and the 1948 Concerto for Viola & Orchestra. They come from the late 1920s ("Blues Lointains" from Paris, 1928), through the American works of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

The Duo for Violin & Viola (1954), like Villa-Lobos's 1947 Duo, looks back to Mozart's two great works for this intriguing combination of instruments. It has an often acerbic sound, though one in which the viola's natural sadness comes through. The second movement of this work is a stand-out: wistful (as Nelson calls it in her liner notes) but not sentimental. That's probably because in these performers' hands, the music is allowed to swing.


Nelson has strong support on this disc, from the technical team that provide lifelike sound in the chamber works especially, and from her fellow musicians. John McLaughlin Williams conducts the Northwest Sinfonia in the Concerto, and also plays the piano, harpsichord, and violin. What, he couldn't learn the harp for the 1957 Duo? (Actually, harpist Douglas Rioth is fine in extra-inning relief.) But Eliesha Nelson is the star here: her playing is eloquent, assured, and lovely in tone. Musicianship of the highest order is on display, from her first concept to the final note.

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