Monday, September 1, 2014

Isserlis Energizes Martinu Cello Sonatas

Martinu: Cello Sonatas 1-3
Works by Sibelius and Mustonen
Steven Isserlis, cello
Olli Mostonen, piano
BIS SACD

Steven Isserlis turns in an attractive program of cello music with this new SACD. Bohuslav Martinu wrote in a very distinctive style; one that was remarkably consistent throughout his long and prolific career. Martinu wrote tonal works, but they were his own version of tonality. Dancing syncopations and shimmering chords are Martinu trademarks, and they're here in abundance.

Playing two or more of Martinu compositions back-to-back -- especially ones using the same forces -- can have the effect of blurring them together. Isserlis avoids this by interspersing works by two composers whose styles complement Martinu's, simultaneously providing contrast and creating a coherent program.

Jean Sibelius' Malinconia, Op. 20 is a dark work, written after the death of the composer's infant daughter. Isserlis convincingly brings out the pathos of the work, while at the same time savoring the beauty of Sibelius' extended melodic lines.

Pianinst Olli Mustonen not only partners with Isserlis in these performances; he also provides a sonata as well. Mustonen's post-romantic composition fits in nicely with the Martinu and Sibelius works, with plenty of rich sonorities and juicy melodic tidbits.

Isserlis doesn't hold back in these performances. Martinu's music has a certain lightness to it, but Isserlis makes it more compelling by really digging into the notes. The urgent character his technique brings to these works makes them, in my opinion, some of the best recorded versions of Martinu's cello sonatas to date. And if you have an opportunity, listen to this release through an SACD player. The intimate nature of this chamber music becomes all the more vivid with the additional sonic details the format provides.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mariann Shirinyan Takes Over Mozart Series

Mozart: Piano Concertos Volume 4
Concertos Nos. 12 and 23
Marianna Shirinyan, piano
Odense Symphony Orchestra
Scott Yoo, conductor
Bridge Records


Although this is the fourth volume of Bridge Records' survey of the Mozart piano concertos, it's actually the first to feature pianist Mariann Shirinyan. She replaces the previous soloist (who has since left the label) to continue the series with Scott Yoo and the Odense Symphony Orchestra.

Not to worry, though. Shirinyan is more than capable of continuing the series. She performs with a light touch, and subtle phrasing that sometimes is only apparent after repeated listening. The liner notes suggest that Shirinyan wrote her own cadenzas. Whether she did or not, Shirinyan seem to take the opportunity to delve deeper into the music rather than dazzle with fireworks, making them sound like organic parts of the movement, rather than the showstoppers they can sometimes become.

All in all, a pleasurable listening experience from start to finish. I look forward to volume five!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gilbert Kalish Performs Old Favorites

Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert
Gilbert Kalish, piano
Bridge Records

In this recording, Gilbert Kalish presents an appealing program of works he knows well. The opening and closing works are the final piano sonatas of their respective composers -- Haydn and Schubert, with a selection of short works by Beethoven in the middle.

Haydn's Sonata No. 62 in E-flat (Hob.XVI:52)  was composed for a gifted performer, and is one of Haydn's more complex piano works. Nonetheless, Kalish keeps things light and elegant. His well-rounded phrasing and subtle emphasis captures Haydn's reserved elegance perfectly.

Kalish also plays Franz Schubert's Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat, D. 960 in a slightly reserved fashion -- but it works. Rather than overwhelming the listener with emotion, Kalish's performance reveals the beautiful construction of the work. One hears the intricate patterns and lines of the sonata, rather than a furious rush of notes.

The Bagatelles, Op. 119 of Beethoven balance nicely with the two sonatas. These are short, relatively simple works (by Beethoven standards). Each bagatelle is lovingly performed by Kalish, turned into miniature gems by his musicianship.

Kalish plays with the fluid assurance that comes from a lifetime of music-making. He isn't trying to prove anything, or even assert his personality. He just plays, and it sounds like he's enjoying every moment. As did I.