Stenhammar – Serenade & Excelsior (2014) [eClassical 24-96]

Stenhammar – Serenade & Excelsior (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | 1 CD | Digital Booklet | 1.01 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: eClassical

‘Finland has Sibelius, Norway has Grieg and Denmark Nielsen – so what about Sweden?’ This question, often put to Swedish musicians and music-lovers, is one that has no simple answer. Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927), a personal friend of both Sibelius and Nielsen, would seem to be the obvious candidate – but when his name is suggested the usual reaction is ‘Stenhammar who?’

The symphonic overture Excelsior!, written for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1896, was composed only four years after Stenhammar made his début as a composer. Stenhammar had not yet entirely found his own voice, but the work displays an infectious exuberance and enthusiasm, contrasting with the more reflective ‘Interlude’ from the composer’s final large-scale work, the cantata Sången from 1921.

Closing the disc is the Serenade in F major, often regarded as Stenhammar’s finest orchestral score.

This is the Royal Flemish Philharmonic’s first recoding for BIS.

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Karen Geoghegan, Juanjo Mena – Weber: Symphonies No 1 & 2, Bassoon Concerto (2012) [Qobuz 24-96]

Karen Geoghegan, Juanjo Mena – Weber: Symphonies No 1 & 2, Bassoon Concerto (2012)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Digital Booklet | 1.23 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz

This is the fourth release by the BBC Philharmonic under its Chief Conductor, Juanjo Mena, and the discography is going from strength to strength – their recording of orchestral works by Falla was ‘Recording on the Month’ in BBC Music. They are joined on this recording by the bassoonist Karen Geoghegan.

Weber wrote the waltz Aufforderung zum Tanze (Invitation to the Dance) in 1819, around the time when he was also working on the opera Der Freischütz. The two works crossed paths once more, in 1841, when the latter was performed at the Opéra de Paris. Berlioz had been commissioned to orchestrate Aufforderung zum Tanze so that it could be incorporated into the opera, and he did so by melding Weber’s polished and elegant original with his own sound world, with customary panache. It is the version included on this disc.

Also featured are Weber’s Symphonies Nos 1 and 2. That these works should be so neglected is partly down to historical accident; they were composed just four years after Beethoven’s monumental ‘Eroica’ Symphony, the work which ditched the rulebook once and for all, and which turned the genre from classical perfection into a personal musical manifesto. So when Weber’s symphonies saw the light of day, overshadowed by the great master, no one took much notice.

Weber wrote the first symphony between 14 December 1806 and 2 January 1807, while the second took just over a week, from 22 and 28 January. Yet, there is no evidence of undue haste in the finished works, quite the opposite in fact. They strongly display what Debussy aptly described as Weber’s ability to ‘scrutinise the soul of each instrument’.

Also on this disc is the composer’s Bassoon Concerto. Much of the work’s appeal derives from Weber’s ear for sonority, and in particular the dark-hued palette natural to the bassoon. The finale has the bassoon playing a jester of great agility, yet with enough elegant touches to dispel any clichéd ideas of the instrument as a figure of fun. The movement builds to an assured and almost reckless virtuoso ending. Karen Geoghegan is the soloist in this work. Gramophone said of this young artist that ‘lyrical, mellifluous playing seems to come as naturally as wit and charm’.

Composer: Carl Maria von Weber
Performer: Karen Geoghegan
Conductor: Juanjo Mena
Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

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Kristian Bezuidenhout – Mozart: Keyboard Music Vol. 4 (2013) [Qobuz 24-88.2]

Kristian Bezuidenhout – Mozart: Keyboard Music Vol. 4 (2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/88.2 kHz | Digital Booklet | 1.25 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz

On volume four of his widely acclaimed traversal of Mozart’s music for solo keyboard, fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout performs on an instrument by Paul McNulty, modeled on a Viennese original by Anton Walter & Sohn (c.1805). The program includes Piano Sonatas in D major K.311 and G major K.283 and the lovely Variations on ‘Je suis Lindor’ in E flat Major, K.354. As with the other volumes in this exceptional series, Bezuidenhout brings out colors and shadings in these works that are only possible when performed on a fortepiano.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer: Kristian Bezuidenhout

Reviews: Listeners can choose from among a number of historical-instrument performances of Mozart’s keyboard works. There are the compelling irregular, somewhat abrupt versions by Andreas Staier, the expressive readings of Ronald Brautigam, the clean-lined treatments of Malcolm Bilson, and now a cycle by South African-British fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout on the Harmonia Mundi label. Bezuidenhout is a somewhat experimental player, and his ideas (as in his bizarre concerto readings) can backfire. But one of the strengths of his series has been his choices among fortepianos built by American-Czech maker Paul McNulty, copying instruments by Viennese builder Anton Walter of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s time. Here he uses a copy of an 1805 Walter instrument, a real powerhouse that’s a couple of decades too late for much of the music. But it works, for these are for the most part big works in which Mozart was exploiting every bit of the new instrument’s capabilities; Bezuidenhout’s slight exaggeration of pianistic effects allows him, as it were, to bring out Mozart’s excitement at discovering these capabilities. The two minor-key fantasies and the Prelude and Fugue in C major, K. 394, are presented here in muscular, intense readings that work very well. Even better are the 12 Variations on “Je suis Lindor” in B flat major, K. 354, which can be a very tricky work to bring beyond the mundane. In Bezuidenhout’s hands it’s a sonic adventure. It might be argued that, composed in the year 1778, these variations are close to the dividing line between fortepiano and harpsichord, but Bezuidenhout certainly makes a strong case for them as piano works, and a work written for his own virtuoso use in Paris would likely have been conceived with the latest technology in mind. The location of the recording by Harmonia Mundi USA is not specified, but it is quite fine: the inner workings of the fortepiano are heard but not fetishized.

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VA – DXD Tracks Sampler (2006-2013) [2L Norway 24-352]

Various Artists – 2L, The Nordic Sound: DXD Tracks Sampler (2006-2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/352,8 kHz | Time – 97:16 minutes | 7,84 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: | Front cover

From combined musical and audiophile criteria we have compiled the most excellent recordings 2L have to offer. Two of the albums presented in this collection was nominated for the American GRAMMY Awards “Best Surround Sound Album” and “Best Performance”. Discover what the unique Nordic Sound is all about!

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Brahms: German Requiem – Gergiev, Maltman, Matthews, London Symphony Orchestra (2014) [LINN 24-96]

Brahms: German Requiem – Gergiev, Maltman, Matthews, London Symphony Orchestra (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | 1 CD | Front Cover | 1.29 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Linn Records

Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra present Brahms’ greatest choral work, the ‘German’ Requiem, featuring soprano Sally Matthews and baritone Christopher Maltman. Gergiev’s first Brahms release on LSO Live, Symphonies Nos 1 & 2, Tragic Overture & Haydn Variations was awarded 5/5 by BBC Music Magazine.

Intended to be for ‘all humanity’, Brahms’ ‘German’ Requiem is a powerful work – its central themes of melancholy and comfort are universally applicable. Non-liturgical, yet sacred and devotional in spirit, it showcases the great romantic melodies for which Brahms was renowned, and has become a popular work with choirs all over the world – admired for its mystical, consolatory and contemplative tone.

Composer: Johannes Brahms
Performer: Christopher Maltman, Sally Matthews
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus

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Michael Nyman / Valentina Lisitsa – Chasing Pianos (2014) [Qobuz 24-96]

Chasing Pianos – Michael Nyman / Valentina Lisitsa (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | 1 CD | Digital Booklet | 1.37 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz

A coming together of two artists with enormous followings – Valentina Lisitsa, with her dazzling artistry and hundreds of thousands of followers on YouTube, and Michael Nyman, with his hugely popular film soundtracks. This release, in the year of Nyman’s 70th birthday, features tracks from his multi-award-winning score for the 1993 smash hit film The Piano.

Acclaimed for his music’s innovation, punchy simplicity and universal appeal, Nyman, during his career as a music critic, coined the term ‘minimalism’ for an emergent musical genre – one to which he would make extensive contributions in many of his early scores and inspire a vast global audience.

The disc is packed full with 77mins of material, full of irresistible energy. The album includes all ten solo piano transcriptions from The Piano, together on one album for the first time.

Composer: Michael Nyman
Performer: Valentina Lisitsa

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V.S.O.P. – The Quintet (1977/2013) [HDTracks 24-96]

V.S.O.P. – The Quintet (1977/2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96kHz | Time – 71:31 minutes | 1,38 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: | Front cover
Genre: Jazz

Live recorded performance of the quintet group V.S.O.P. led by Herbie Hancock. Herbie stayed close to his love of acoustic jazz in the ’70s, recording and performing with V.S.O.P. (reuniting him with his Miles Davis colleagues).

With the cheers and huzzahs from their 1976 one-off reunion still resounding, the reconstituted Miles Davis Quintet minus Miles went on the road in 1977, spreading their 1965-vintage gospel according to the Prince of Darkness to audiences in Berkeley and San Diego, CA. In doing so, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, plus interloper Freddie Hubbard seem to pick up where they left off, with a repertoire mostly new to the five collectively and developed from there. It isn’t exactly the same — you miss Miles’ brooding presence and sense of space in Hubbard’s busy, fiery playing, and Hancock is a more harmonically daring, assertive player than he was with Miles — but the interlocking telepathy and individual virtuosity of the musicians is pretty amazing. This also isn’t the best tape from the tour; they were even tighter and more volatile in Japan five days later on Sony’s Tempest in the Colosseum. The V.S.O.P. tours amount to a pit stop in the general shape of Hancock’s evolution, but their influence upon the direction of jazz as a whole in the ’80s and ’90s would be staggering.

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Twilight Transmissions – Temple Of Abandonment (2014) [Bandcamp 24-44,1]

Twilight Transmissions – Temple Of Abandonment (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz | Time – 61:03 minutes | 676 MB
Official Digital Download – Source: | Front cover
Electronic / Dark ambient / Drone ambient

Here is a guide through abandoned mental institutions where the insane were used as test subjects. Inspired by Jeff Duke, he takes the plunge off the deep end with Twilight Transmissions into the word of forgotten realms of madness.

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Trio Wanderer – Beethoven: Complete Piano Trios (2012) [Qobuz 24-96]

Trio Wanderer- Beethoven: Complete Piano Trios (2012)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Digital Booklet | 4.01 GB
Genre: Classical | Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz

Already established within Viennese culture by Haydn and Mozart, the trio genre was taken to new limits by the inexhaustible imagination of Beethoven’s genius: “a serene joy come from an unknown world”, was E. T. A. Hoffmann’s reaction on hearing the Trio in D major Op.70 no.1. The Wanderers have ventured into the Beethoven piano trios and mastered every inch of its topography. What better guide could there be for us to follow with total confidence, in their 25th anniversary year?

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Orchestra/Ensemble: Wanderer Trio

Reviews: Even more than with their Schubert, Trio Wanderer’s perspective on Beethoven is so fresh it’s almost disconcerting. The prevailing impressions are of delicacy, beauty of tone and a spirited playfulness that’s often eclipsed when performers go all out for high seriousness. Rarely has the C minor Trio sounded less tragic and more lyrical and impish. Sometimes this is convincing. The major-minor contrasts in the second movement of Op. 70 No. 2 are handled beautifully. The teasing finale of the Ghost Trio, is a delight. And the Wanderers make a good case for the version of Op. 11 No. 1 with violin (instead of the more familiar clarinet); you’d think this must be how Beethoven first conceived it. In the famous Archduke, the prevailing impression is of gently affectionate, quick-witted, intimate discourse, making the Scherzo memorable.

But however valuable it is to be reminded that Beethoven isn’t all gruffness, imposing grandeur and heaven-storming intensity, it is decidedly odd to find those qualities so little in evidence on this recording. If there’s passion here, it’s of the intellectual, rather than the physical kind. Despite the Trio Wanderer’s strong sense of the long line, and of the role rhythm plays in powering the argument, this is a Beethoven of subtle frissons rather than thrills. It’s the imaginative brilliance of the writing that stands out in the slow movement of the Ghost, but there’s little sense of a darker presence in the background. The slow movement of the Archduke glides serenely from variation to variation, but I don’t get much sense of an emotional exploration. I’m glad I’ve heard these beautifully recorded performances. They’ve opened up vistas on this music I’ve barely glimpsed before. But as an overall view of Beethoven, this is just too – in both senses of the word – partial.

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東京ザヴィヌルバッハ (Tokyo Zawinul Bach) – Afrodita (2012/2013) [DSD128]

東京ザヴィヌルバッハ (Tokyo Zawinul Bach) – Afrodita (2012)
DSD128 (.dsf) 1 bit/5,64 MHz | Time – 49:20 minutes | 3,37 GB
Official Digital Download – Source: | Front cover
Genre: Electronic

Electro-jazz outfit Tokyo Zawinul Bach return with its first album since 2008, though this time it’s an entirely solo effort with keyboard wizard Masayasu Tzboguchi playing all of the instruments as well as handling mixing and production duties. Imagine a collision between Kraftwerk, YMO and Weather Report viewed through a twenty-first century filter and you have something of an idea of the TZB sound.

The nine tracks on Afrodita feature a blend of Fender Rhodes, synths, samples and slightly out of kilter beats that make for a refreshing mix. Titles such as Nostalgica, Nomadic and Tribal Junction reflect the mixture of musical influences featured with moments of retro electro sitting alongside more Afro-centric rhythms, and this together with some hip-hop beats on some tracks makes it difficult to pigeonhole Tzboguchi’s music.

Three tracks in particular deserve special attention. Nostalgica, with its reedy synths and Fender Rhodes has hints of classic jazz fusion from the seventies and eighties, yet remains firmly rooted in the present day. Sagittarius has a wonderful head-nodding beat with an infectious main synth riff that pulls you back again and again, while Pastel Yogurt is an intense fusion workout built around a bass synth riff that features an intriguing tempo-shift half-way through. Afrodita is a strong outing from start to finish and is well worth investigating.

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