Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"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, December 16, 2017

Top Ten Discs for 2017

This is my third Top Ten Discs post for Music for Several Instruments. Here is last year's, and the one from 2015.

These are in the order in which I reviewed them. It was a good year for music, and a tough job to narrow down more than 120 reviews to a list of 10.

Telemann's Surprises

2017 was a big year for the great Prussian composer, the 250th anniversary of his death. This outstanding release from Il Giardino Armonico features Giovanni Antonini as conductor, but also as a soloist on recorder and chalumeau, an early version of the clarinet.

Modernism & the Avant Garde in Brazilian piano music

The second volume in Aleyson Scopel's complete series of Cartas Celestes by José Antônio Rezende de Almeida Prado shows off this young pianist's dazzling skills, and it points as well to the importance of this major work of a great 20th/21st century composer.

The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and conductor Christian Lindberg are working on a complete cycle which is set to surpass by quite a margin those by Sergiu Comissiona and Alun Francis. The 14th Symphony is complex music, sometimes dense but also vividly beautiful.

Scott Metcalfe's Blue Heron provides the outstanding choral disc of the year, with this final disc in the Peterhouse Partbooks series. The disc is full of music of genius from composers whose names aren't well-known, or even known at all. Volume 4 of the series made my 2015 list.

Though the recordings in this 3-disc set from the Amar Quartet are at least a couple of years old, when Naxos put them together it really emphasized how important Hindemith's String Quartet cycle is in its entirety. That's enough to push this into my Top 10.

Even though I'm pretty much all-in with Villa-Lobos, I was not expecting a Villa-Lobos Symphonies disc to break into my Top 10. The newly cleaned-up and edited scores, impressive playing by OSESP, and masterful, nuanced direction by Isaac Karabtchevsky, whose reputation has been very much burnished by this superb series, all come together to make this disc, and this series, something special. And this should be a major push for Villa-Lobos's own reputation as well, I think.

The late flowering of Elliott Carter was amazing; so many of these works show the touch of genius, and many come from after Carter's 100th birthday. What a valuable compilation!

The folk-inspired music of Andrea Tarrodi is both complex and accessible. Tarrodi is an important new voice, and she receives the best possible support from the superb Dahlkvist Quartet.

Giovanni Antonini's second disc in this Top Ten is very much expected: volume 3 of the Haydn 2032 series showed up in my 2016 list, but that was with Il Giardino Armonico. He'll be recording the later Haydn symphonies with the superb Kammerorchester Basel. It's not just about Haydn, though; the Joseph Martin Kraus symphony on this disc is absolutely amazing.

Two recordings of the Philip Glass Etudes in the same month, November 2017! Jenny Lin has the measure of this music, from the greatest living composer.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Atmosphere and adventure under the sea

Seascapes, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

The Gothenburg Combo are guitarists David Hansson and Thomas Hansy. Their new disc Seascapes is a dramatic presentation of events from one of the greatest adventure stories, Jules Verne's 1870 classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: A Tour of the Underwater World. Most seascapes in music, from Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture to Debussy's La Mer, are atmospheric, and there's a certain amount of that here. Indeed, this minimalist-style music lends itself to such scene-painting, with the trance-like effect of repeated notes supporting harmonic changes making one think of the regular rhythms of the sea, from the gentle lapping of small waves to the nearly regular repetitions of larger breakers. The ebb and flow of the tides and changes in weather provide a dynamic that keeps the ocean's quotidian rhythms from becomes monotonous, but it's the drama of Verne's story that really drives Seascapes. Along the way are some folk-inspired episodes, with the Spanish guitar music of Sor and Villa-Lobos showing up a number of times. And there are many effective scenic paintings,
of birds of paradise, of the picturesque ruins of the lost under-sea continent and brightly coloured coral. This is a fascinating project that shows impressive musical and theatrical talent. Very highly recommended.