August 2021 opinions on basic data


JS Bach: cello suites
Justin Pearson, cello; Pedro Silva, 5-string cello; Katherine Rockhill, piano
Hunt for the dragon VALLP014 (5LP). 2021. Mike and Franáoise Valentine, Prod .; Matt Sartori, Petronel Butuc, John Webber, engs.
Perfomance ****
Sound **** ½

Here experienced musicians step into the background and the recording takes the helm: five LPs of solo (and near-solo) by Bach, recorded with a single stereo array of tubes, AKG C12 clones (by Flea), vintage Focusrite Pres and a Sony reel-to-reel connected to Northeast Cable. Varnishes were cut on a Neumann VMS 80 lathe and vinyl was pressed at Optimal. The sound engineer (Mike Valentine) is a 15 year old BBC veteran. Webber, the mastering engineer, is best known (to me) for his 2020 Atlantic remaster of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.

The musicians are experienced but not well known. Silva, the five-string cellist, and Rockhill, the pianist (the set includes Schumann’s piano-accompanied version of Suite No. 3) are graduates of the Royal Academy of Music. But this set belongs to Pearson, principal cellist and artistic director of the London National Symphony Orchestra. You may have heard him play the cello solos in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. Its sound is broad and elegant. His interpretations are mainstream to my ears, although he is unmistakable with the arpeggios in Suite No. 3 Prelude, and there are other striking moments as well.

Due to COVID, the suites were recorded with one rich church acoustics, or rather two rich church acoustics. With only two microphones, the microphone placement is crucial, but also a matter of taste. The sound is beautiful, broader and more diffuse than, for example, that of Starker. The set comes in a beautiful box with an illustrated booklet and a paperback: The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin. A nice, albeit expensive, package.??Jim Austin

Beethoven: Hope amid tears: Beethoven cello sonatas
Emanuel Ax, piano; Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Sony 690197 (24/96 FLAC). 2021. Steven Epstein, Prod .; Richard King, Ing.
Performance **** ½
Sound ****

A good 33 years after their first early digital recordings of Beethoven’s five sonatas for piano and violoncello and variations on themes from Mozart’s Magic Flute, Emanuel Ax and Yo-Yo Ma join forces for a second, much better-recorded go-around. Her whole-hearted joy in the second movement of Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5 No. 2 does not sound like slowed down elders and reflects a mature understanding that bliss opens a gate to the divine.

The music and the making of music are equally wonderful. The touch of an ax is light as a feather; at other times it radiates with the same warmth that characterizes Ma’s approach to all but the most energetic passages. But as happy as both men can be, neither shrinks from the deep sadness and the feeling of parting that permeate parts of the later sonatas. Beethoven’s hearing deteriorated when he composed the Sonata in A major op.69. Although he wrote “In the midst of tears and worries” on the copy that he dedicated to Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein, most of these tears only come to light in parts of op.102 in the last two sonatas op.102 from 1815 No. 1 face to face with Beethoven’s distress and the light that glowed even more intensely in the midst of the tragedy.

Some of Beethoven’s later melodies seem like old friendships whose beauty deepens with every encounter. If you think you know the Magic Flute, wait until you see Beethoven how far he can go in his fabulous 11-minute variations on “A Girl or a Bitch.” Jason Victor Serinus

Brahms: Symphony No. 3, Serenade No. 2
Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer
Channel classic CCSSA43821 (CD). Jared Sacks, item no. and engl.
Power *** ½
Sound *** ½

I couldn’t help but think that Iván Fischer didn’t trust the symphony. In the tricky first movement, he pays attention to details like the throbbing string afterbeats, but when the horns get them it’s a bit nasty. But whenever he tries to lean on key arrival points or set them up with Rubato and Agogics?

The plausible andante is more urgent than flowing, and the second theme is confidently designed. The legato of the strings, on the other hand, protrudes slightly through the reed decorations and extends nicely into the swaying tips. In the great melody of the Poco Allegretto, the slender, nasal cellos disappoints far from Szell’s dark intermezzo, although the sad horn of the summary makes up for it a little.

Finally, the finale lets more and more varied orchestral colors weave and shine through the sonority, with the woodwinds being emphasized in the quieter passages. But Fischer makes the coda a little too clear: instead of hearing the outline of the simulated theme, we hear its individual musical strands, as if we were not seeing a complete impressionistic painting, but the individual blobs of color.

Fischer relaxes in the serenade as he did not in the symphony. The flowing, nimble first movement stays on the right side of the line, its concise accents gently muted. The conventionally weighted second and third are nicely toned, with enough rays of light to vary the dark hue of the third. The fourth has a beautiful elevation and lightness; the fifth is bold and pastoral. Lively wind instruments illuminate the performance; likewise the mild ambient sound with one or two roaring bass pizzicatos.??Stephen Francis Vasta


Nino Rota: Chamber Music
Eric Le Sage, Emmanuel Pahud, others
Alpha746 (24 / 88.2 download). 2021. Louise Burel, Prod .; Jean-Marc Laisné, Ing.
Performance **** ½
Sound *** ½

Indelible memories of Rota’s film scores for Fellini, Visconti, Zeffirelli and Coppola have tarnished his reputation as a meritorious composer. Of the nearly 100 albums on Tidal and / or Qobuz that contain Rota’s music, only a handful are dedicated to his classical compositions. While Rota never strived for the timeless depth of Beethoven, his artistically crafted chamber music shows a lovable mastery of color, mood, joy and melancholy.

This recording, recorded in the cramped acoustics of the Salon Festival International de Musique de Chambre de Provence, features pianist Éric Le Sage, clarinetist Paul Meyer, flautist Emmanuel Pahud, violinist Daishin Kashimoto and seven other players. Nine are Nonetto at their best in 24+ minutes, which took almost 20 years. In this mature work by one of Toscanini’s protégés, you’ll hear shades of Fellini in the first movement and an Italian version of the keystone head running through the final vivacissimo (!). But in between you experience beautiful, touching and undoubtedly lovable music. I particularly liked the large structure up to nowhere at the end of the second movement.

Rota was already known for his film music when he appeared for the second time as a promising classical composer with the Piccola offerta musicale in 1943 at the age of 32. Dedicated to one of his teachers, Alfredo Casella, the 4-minute work demonstrates a delicious understanding of instrumental color. The Trio for Flute, Violin and Piano is a much more serious work, at least at the beginning, and every short piano prelude is a gem. Highly recommended.??Jason Victor Serinus


Vaughan Williams: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 6
London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Antonio Pappano
LSO Live LSO0867. Andrew Cornall, Prod .; Neil Hutchinson, Jonathan Stokes, engs.
Perfomance ****
Sound ****

Listeners accustomed to Vaughan Williams in his pastoral and folk song style will find these two symphonies troubling. No. 4 hurls jagged, angular episodes one at a time; even in less agitated passages, unstable harmonies and irregular meters perpetuate a general discomfort. The sixth, supposedly the horrors of the 2nd.

Born in Britain, Pappano brings his operatic temperament to the dramatic intensity of these scores. Rhythmic energy in themes and accompaniments drives the music forward, and he pays attention to color: note the seamless transition from tenor saxophone to bassoon in the epilogue of the Sixth. The various walking bass patterns keep the mood unbalanced. The conclusion of the Sixth creates havoc and finality, and the conductor encounters the relentless turbulence of the Fourth head-on. He confidently shapes the metric patterns of the scherzo and gives the finale a hearty boast, although I wouldn’t swear that everything is precisely coordinated.

The LSO plays confidently. The woodwinds? the plaintive oboe and the lonely flute of the fourth; the cor anglais and tenor saxophone of the sixth are conspicuous. The strings carry the extended pianissimo of the Epilogue of the Sixth superbly.

The technology is alive; Despite all the hustle and bustle, the ambience does not darken any details. Brass eruptions register with depth; in the first movement of the sixth, the reeds are dramatically placed in the center. At some peaks the heights get hard.??Stephen Francis Vasta