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.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

An excellent recording, but short measure

From October 12, 2013:


Constanze Muller tells the fascinating story of Krzystof Penderecki's Piano Concerto in the CD liner of this new Hanssler CD from Polish Radio. It's something of a soap opera, and as happens so often in that genre, a similar story has played out many times before.

The reaction to the premiere of the work that Penderecki wrote in response to the events of September 11, 2001 began a critical and polemic firestorm that took years to subside. Once the darling of the avant-garde, the composer was criticized in the strongest terms for bringing back Social Realism to the music of Eastern Europe. True believers so often see as a sell-out the artist with a career longer than a couple of years and any kind of growth and development. Villa-Lobos was skewered by modernists in Brazil for moving to a more accessible and populist style. Many of Bob Dylan's fans were scandalized by his use of electric guitars. Some of this is perhaps just hipsterism: "I liked Penderecki better when he was remembering the Hiroshima victims in his 1960 Threnody. Much more authentic!"

There is a whiff of banality in the Piano Concerto, if one takes it all at face value. But surely Shostakovich has shown that every large-scale work with a political subtext can not be judged only by the obvious outer layer. That the work has a number of layers is clear after a couple of listens.

This recording, with pianist Florian Uhlig and Lukasz Borowicz conducting the Polish RSO, came out only months after the early 2013 release of a very well-received Naxos CD that features pianist Barry Douglas, who premiered the 2007 version of the Piano Concerto. That CD included a second work, the Flute Concerto. At less than 38 minutes, the Hanssler disc gives short measure. As well-played and well-recorded as the new disc is, I would opt for the Naxos disc, and save some money in the bargain.

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