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. 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 for 2 weeks. Thanks for visiting!
We begin with a couple of high-quality offerings featuring music for violin and piano. Mark DeVoto gave a warm welcome to a typically enterprising anthology from Bridge Records entitled “Airy” showcasing that “prolific New England master of the short piece, John McDonald, who offers ten works on this panorama for the violin, accompanying nine of them himself. The titles range from Lyrical Study and Brief Pastiche on a Theme by Schoenberg (from the Violin Phantasy, Op 47) to Mad Dance and Lines After Keats and finally Airy, all suggesting an expressive range from Webern-like aphoristic gestures to big granitic blocks of sound. There’s also a spectrum of delicate atonality to grandiose dissonant harmony crabbed around major triads and everything in between, but the control is complete and the foci of interest are changing all the time. Remarkably for our gritty times, all of these works feature a violin that is constantly singing and always strong but never harsh. Joanna Kurkowicz’s performance is so thoroughly in command that even the intonation becomes expressive, particularly in the Sonata for solo violin, at fourteen minutes the longest work on the disc.” (on iTunes/on Amazon)
On Decca Classics, Leonidas Kavakos and Yuja Wang team up with formidably eloquent results in Brahms’s three magnificent violin sonatas. As Evan Dickerson tells us, this is their first collaboration on disc and “it shows great promise in their partnership; together they present a singular vision. The First Sonata is aptly ruminative in its opening movement, with both artists quickly establishing a judicious sense of balance between light and shade that continues throughout. There is a succulence to Kavakos’s tone that, in combination with a convincing tempo choice, works to benefit the third movement of the Second Sonata. The Third arguably comes off best of all: Wang brings gravitas to the piano accompaniment when required without ever making it stolid, whilst Kavakos embraces the music’s emotional range with ease and bravura playing. This generously filled disc is completed by the inclusion of the discreet Wiegenlied (played in a charming arrangement) and an impulsively propelled performance of the Scherzo from the ‘F.A.E.’ Sonata.” (on iTunes/on Amazon)
The final release in Kenneth Wood’s superbly invigorating series of Gál and Schumann symphonies for Avie records won plaudits from Andrew Achenbach: “The First of Hans Gál’s four symphonies was completed in November 1927 and premiered in Düsseldorf 13 months later. It is a compact, skilfully wrought and immensely personable creation, scored with a marvellously deft touch, full of first-rate ideas and boasting a highly affecting slow movement (‘Elegie’) – small wonder it was performed frequently in Germany prior to Hitler’s rise to power (after which Gál, a Viennese-born Jew, was summarily dismissed from his post at the Mainz Conservatory and his music banned). Hats off to the indefatigable Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan for rounding off their revelatory Gál symphony cycle for Avie in such commensurate, urgently communicative fashion and bringing to Schumann’s comparably sparkling and life-enhancing ‘Spring’ Symphony such boundless vitality, scrupulous fidelity to the printed score, delicious wit and (above all) entrancing freshness of new discovery. This stylish and consistently invigorating coupling represents both an exemplary rescue act and genuine tonic to boot. Investigate without delay!” (on iTunes/on Amazon)
Gavin Dixon likewise had a lot of time for the last instalment in Marek Janowski’s Henze symphony cycle for Wergo, containing “works from opposite ends of the composer’s career. Symphony No 2 (1949) is a sombre reflection on recent wartime memories. The Tenth, completed in 2000, is a portrait of Simon Rattle, for whom it was written. Despite the composer’s changes of direction over the intervening decades, the style of the two works is surprisingly similar, full of imaginative orchestral detail but always broadly symphonic in scope. Both works are currently served by a single other recording, the Second with Henze himself conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, the Tenth from the Montpellier Orchestra under Friedemann Layer. True to form, Janowski gives dynamic and focussed readings. His Tenth is clearly superior to Layer’s, simply for the quality of the playing. In the Second, Henze’s own DG recording wins for its more engaging sense of atmosphere, although Janowski again compensates with his clarity of detail. This new recording can be highly recommended nonetheless.” (on iTunes/on Amazon)
Lastly comes a sparkling new SACD from BIS featuring Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen in the three cello sonatas by Bohuslav Martinů. These works span the period from 1939-1952, and, as Rob Cowan points out, this is not the first time that Isserlis has recorded them: “His first version, from the late 1980s (with pianist Peter Evans, and available on Hyperion Helios) was in general softer grained than this energetic and spiky new version, where Olli Mustonen splashes all three works with a wealth of colour. Just try the opening Poco allegro of the First Sonata, a sort of energised valse macabre, Isserlis really throwing himself at the notes, Mustonen dancing around him hot foot à la Glenn Gould. The Lento is again vividly pointed, the finale even more intense and pungent than the first movement. Mustonen’s own Sonata takes the sighing melancholy of Rautavaara as its starting point, or seems to, whereas Sibelius’s Malinconia (which, in spite of its mournful spirit, makes taxing demands on the pianist) is charged with a sense of tragedy. The other two Martinů Sonatas are easily as good as the First, the Second fairly neo-classical in style whereas the highly accessible Third brings the disc to a joyful conclusion. First rate in every way.” (on iTunes/on Amazon)