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

Superb Adams and Glass from Canada

From October 20, 2010:


Composer John Adams has called the two piano pieces China Gates and Phrygian Gates "my opus ones,... my first coherent statements in a new language". Written in 1977 and 1978, they have a theoretical framework as complex as Schoenberg's or Bach's, but they sound completely organic, as if produced by some natural process.

Adams calls Phrygian Gates "a behemoth of sorts". The work requires a pianist gifted with significant technical abilities, in much the same way as Liszt's B minor Sonata or Villa-Lobos's Rudepoema. Such skills are on display in David Jalbert's fine new recording from Canada's ATMA label. He has the dexterity to manage Adams' separate-hand waves (a much more complicated and more musical version of patting your head and rubbing your stomach), and he can turn on a dime when Adams abruptly shifts modes, as a gate (analogous to logic gates in computers) changes its state. As well, he has the stamina to dilineate Adams' architecture built from long arches of sound. China Gates uses similar ideas but is much less complex. It has a delicacy that the larger piece doesn't have, and Jalbert brings out plenty of beauty from this simplicity.

The Orphee Suite by Philip Glass was transcribed for piano by Paul Barnes, based on Glass's 1991 chamber opera, which was inspired by the great 1950 film by Jean Cocteau. Jalbert's version of this dramatic music is preferable to Barnes' own recording, released on Orange Mountain in 2003. It seems to me more incisive, less sentimental. As well, the ATMA disc has exceptional sound.

David Jalbert's 2008 recording of the Shostakovitch Preludes and Fugues is a favourite of mine. It was, quite rightly, very well received, and this new disc should bring similar praise.

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