Monday, 24 November 2014

CD Reviews - November 2014

Baroque violinist Johannes Pramsohler returns with his second album on his own label, Audax Records, this time with friends Varoujan Doneyan (violin), Gulrim Choi (cello) and Philippe Grisvard (harpsichord), under the name of Ensemble Diderot.  I contributed to a crowd-funding initiative to support this recording, and I have to say I am not at all disappointed with the end result.  This is an outstanding recording and one which deserves the widest recognition possible.  The repertoire is chamber music from the Court of Dresden from the first half of the 18th century, to where the great German violinist and composer Pisendel moved from Leipzig, and established phenomenal influence over a whole network of composers, some of whom we know well - Handel and Telemann, for example – but some of whom will be new names for most.  In fact the three central works on this disc, Trio Sonatas from Johann Fux (1660-1741), Johann Fasch (1688-1758) and Ignác Tůma (1704-1774) are world première recordings.  They are joined by a Trio Sonata from Telemann’s ‘Musique de Table’, and then the whole disc is topped and tailed by two Handel Trio Sonatas.  There are some great background notes from the great Reinhard Goebel (although not a great deal of specific commentary on the works themselves).  But what stands out above all is the bright, lively and delicately poised musicianship on show.  The two violins fizz and shine with perfectly matched tones, and the continuo from harpsichord and cello compliment the solo lines throughout.  The repertoire is also a revelation – one might think a whole disc of Trio Sonatas, with alternating fast, slow movements would pall, but not so.  In the Fux, there are the most beautiful, delicately ornamented duets between the two violins, and in the faster movements, they engage in a game of tag, with each violin taking over from the other as the lines rise and fall.  The Fasch feels slightly less inspired in comparison, with the rising and falling sequences feeling a little more mechanical – but again, the players create interest here nonetheless.  The Tůma fragments (just two movements here) are fascinating, the second of which has exciting faster outer sections sandwiching a short adagio.  The finale of the Telemann has a real fizz, and the Handel that ends the disc is a real joy.  If you have the slightest interest in Baroque music and/or the violin, you must hear this.

Louis Lortie is on his third volume of Chopin, and he continues his practice of alternating pieces (here Nocturnes and Impromptus), paired by connected key relationships.  This works very well, and avoids the danger of monotony that can creep into whole discs of Nocturnes, say.  He then gives over the second half of the disc to the third Sonata.  I particularly like Lortie’s approach to Chopin – as I have commented before, he allows the music to speak, and it is the composer that is foregrounded, not the pianist himself.  Right from the first notes of the delicate Nocturne in C sharp minor at the start of the disc, he draws us into Chopin’s world – and once we are there, he releases the wilder, declamatory nature of that Nocturne’s middle section.  And the fiery Impromptu that follows makes perfect sense here – with the reverse pattern of a beautifully tender and lyrical central section, highlighting Lortie’s sensitivity and beauty of tone.  This sums up his approach overall – the passionate, virtuosic moments always have a context, and are not just fireworks displays for the sake of it, and the lyricism so essential in Chopin is never lost.  When it comes to the Sonata, the constant rippling of the Scherzo has real energy.  The Finale might be the one place where a little more abandon would be acceptable, but within the context of Lortie’s consistent style, this is a great performance.

Chopin, F. 2014. Louis Lortie plays Chopin, Volume 3. Louis Lortie. Compact Disc. Chandos CHAN 10813.

(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared in GScene, November 2014)

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