Classical Ear is an iPhone app, of the music discovery variety, that delivers a new review to your phone (or iPad) each weekday, along with a sound clip, other relevant information, and links to purchase. Below you’ll find highlights from our past 2 weeks of reviews, and links to the music itself via iTunes or Amazon; please note that purchasing through these links offers much-appreciated support to Classical Ear. You can learn more about the app, and about us, from our homepage, where you can also sign up for our monthly newsletter. You can download the app from the iTunes app store here to access full reviews and our archive – it’s free to try for 2 weeks.
Two solo piano offerings to begin with, both of which drew appreciative comments from Rob Cowan. For the Ondine label that prize-winning young Finnish virtuoso, Paavali Jumppanen, came up with a sparky “Beethoven sonata collection for Sundays and Bank Holidays, when you feel like a change from the norm. Jumppanen thinks hard through all five works, maybe just a little too hard in the case of the three Op 2 sonatas, where every repeat is greeted with lavish embellishments – not just the odd prettifying appoggiatura, but reams of added notes. At first hearing I was both stimulated and impressed, but come the second and third times around, I was beginning to have my doubts. The one exception is Op 2 No 3 where, in the opening allegro con brio, the frantic busy-ness really works and the soul-searching adagio is played with an appropriate sense of gravitas. The two late sonatas are more conventionally interpreted, the Hammerklavier’s first movement repeat respectfully free of embellishments, the fugal finale both powerful and laudably fluent. The great adagio is profoundly moving (Jumppanen never lets his relatively slow tempo impede the music’s flow) and the A major Sonata is very well judged throughout.” (on iTunes/on Amazon)
Rob also found much to relish in Alain Planès’s new Bártok anthology for Harmonia Mundi: “I’d recently been listening to DG Eloquence’s unmissable reissue of Béla Bartók’s (almost) complete piano music recorded back in the early 1950s by the Bartók pupil Andor Foldes (480 7100). Should you invest in that 4-CD set, you could usefully supplement your purchase with this very different but wholly excellent Alain Planès all-Bartók recital which includes two major works that Foldes never recorded, namely the composer’s own solo piano transcription of his magnificent Dance Suite and, as important, the often striking Fourteen Bagatelles that Busoni so admired. Planès gives an especially imaginative performance of the latter, its range of invention stretching from ruminative quasi-improvisation to the fierce waltz that ends the set, in reality a wildly speeded up version of the romantic first movement of Bartók’s First Violin Concerto. Planès is less uncompromisingly forceful than Foldes in the Sonata but his versions of the ‘Four Old Songs’ from Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs and the popular Six Romanian Folk Dances are full of subtle musical incident.” (on iTunes/on Amazon)
Next up, nearly two hours’ worth of both the most diverting fare and superlative wind playing imaginable from that star-studded ensemble, Les Vents Français, on a Warner Classics twofer devoured by Andrew Achenbach: “Disc 1 is devoted to French repertory spanning nearly a century, from the sunny, consummately crafted Quintet by Paul Taffanel (completed in 1876) via wholly captivating 1930s offerings from Ibert (Trois Pièces brèves) and Milhaud (the suite La Cheminée du roi René) through to André Jolivet’s Sonatine for oboe and bassoon from 1963 (a delightful find). The companion CD houses at least two masterpieces in the wind-quintet medium (Ligeti’s witty 6 Bagatelles and Barber’s gorgeous Summer Music, both from the mid-1950s), alongside sparky morsels by Zemlinsky (the 1939 Humoreske) and Sándor Veress (the 1933 Sonatina for oboe, clarinet and bassoon), and concludes with Hindemith’s bracingly inventive Kleine Kammermusik, Op 24 No 2 (completed in 1922). All these performances are simply past praise in their idiomatic flair, flawless blend and exquisite grace. Perfectly judged sound and balance too. Miss at your peril!” (on iTunes/on Amazon)
Back to the Classical era for our final two offerings. Evan Dickerson gave a warm welcome to Ray Chen’s new Sony recording of Mozart Violin Concertos Nos 3 and 4 as well as the Sonata No 22 for piano and violin with the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach: “The cover photo might show Ray Chen clothed and styled by Armani, but the recording reveals him as an equally stylish Mozart interpreter. Words such as poised and elegant come to mind when describing his thoroughly modern interpretations, rather than the weightier tone that Anne-Sophie Mutter (DG) and others have on occasion brought to the works. The cadenzas in both concertos are his own, and they are discretely appropriate rather than revealing insights into the material they are drawn from. An admirable lightness of touch is brought to the works by the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra, too, with most pleasing results. Christoph Eschenbach swaps the baton for the keyboard to accompany the Sonata in A major, K 305. Despite being just two movements this lesser work is a demanding jewel, particularly in the theme and variations. Chen and Eschenbach play it as equals, revelling in its twists and turns.” (on iTunes/on Amazon)
Lastly, a delicious Haydn triptych from the Quatuor Modigliani on Mirare which John Kehoe found to be a real tonic: “It’s astonishing that Haydn could take the string quartet from nowhere to the high achievement of the B flat Quartet Op 50 No 1 by his early ’40s. The Modiglianis’ relatively sober discourse in the first movement is absolutely in keeping with the reflective set of variations that follows. The Minuet is utterly Haydnesque, elegant yet surprising. In the zestful finale, each of the four voices takes it in turn in to lead the way home. Haydn’s six Quartets, Op 76, are all masterpieces. The first, in G major, is the Haydn who has experienced much, a master at ease with his gifts. Simply put, these players know him well and have absorbed deeply what he has to say. Compelling musicianship. The G major Quartet, Op 77 No 1, is the first of a set of three which turned out to be Haydn’s last string quartets. It is wondrous music of sublime simplicity. Here, as throughout, the Modigliani Quartet deliver performances of unforced naturalness and maturity. Highly recommended!” (on iTunes/on Amazon)