Cathy Fuller's New & Notable Releases


Cathy Fuller's New and Notable Releases

Merel Quartet Plays Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn
The cover of the new recording by the excellent, Zurich-based Merel Quartet features a loving vision of Lucerne done in watercolors. The artist is composer Felix Mendelssohn, who had traveled there to regain his strength and peace of mind after the death of his sister, Fanny. The siblings were close in a deep, almost unfathomable way. Both of them were unnaturally talented. Both were nurtured in a cultivated environment. Fanny gave Felix invaluable advice. They trusted each other profoundly.

Felix was devastated at the loss of his sister. She died of complications from a stroke, suffered while rehearsing one of her brother’s oratorios. Felix died six months later of the same cause.

This new recording features the String Quartet in F minor by Mendelssohn, begun as a sketch while in Switzerland. Also featured is Fanny’s String Quartet in E-flat, played with love, warmth and mastery.

This is a stunning recording, brimming with life and longing, and sustained by an intelligent sense of line. The quartet's devotion to bringing across each of the two quartets as complete, unfolding constructions makes the experience all the more poignant. Gorgeous.

Label: Genuin Catalog: 11204

Morten Lauridsen's Mid-Winter Songs
It’s hard to read about the choral works of American composer Morten Lauridsen without bumping into words like “radiant,” and “luminous.” Musicologist and conductor Nick Strimple describes Lauridsen as "the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic, whose probing, serene work contains an elusive and indefinable ingredient which leaves the impression that all the questions have been answered... From 1993 Lauridsen's music rapidly increased in international popularity, and by century's end he had eclipsed Randall Thompson as the most frequently performed American choral composer."

Morten Lauridsen has taught at the University of Southern California for thirty years. He received the 2007 National Medal of Arts in a White House ceremony. The award cited the “musical beauty, power, and spiritual depth” of his choral pieces.

On this new recording, the Minnesota Choral Artists have the purity of sound and heartfelt connection to the text that gives the music the radiance it aims for. Matthew Culloton conducts.

Label: Minnesota Catalog: 3297

Kindred Spirits:  Two Ends of a Great Tradition
Thomas Zehetmair is chief conductor of the Northern Sinfonia in England, and Artistic Partner of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and he’s worked as a guest conductor with orchestras around the world. His latest CD is fascinating, pairing Symphonies by two great Viennese composers: Hans Gál and Franz Schubert. As Gál (1890-1987) once wrote: “There is hardly a place in the world so deeply imbued with the spirit of a musical past as Vienna. As the result of a unique constellation in the astral system of genius, the town was the focal point in the history of music for more than half a century, when Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert lived there in a continuous succession.”

The recording offers the vibrant Symphony No. 1 by Gál and the Sixth Symphony of Schubert. Both are played with exuberance and precision, and Zehetmair’s love for them features the wisdom about the overall sweep and structure that makes them fly.

Label: Avie Catalog: 2224

Harry Christophers Conducts Palestrina
Harry Christophers, who has enlivened Boston’s musical life as conductor of the Handel and Haydn Society, continues to produce glowing recordings with his vocal ensemble The Sixteen. This time, the focus is on Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, whose genius has been emulated by composers through the ages.

Christophers writes that it’s a “small wonder that Palestrina has been called not only ‘the prince and father of music’ but also ‘the saviour of church music.’ At the final session of the council of Trent, there were many discussions about the use of polyphony and whether or not it should be banned. In 1607, the composer Agostino Agazzari wrote ‘music of the older kind is no longer in use because of the confusion and Babel of the words.’ He went on to say that this music would have come very near to being banished from the holy church by a sovereign pontiff had not Giovanni Palestrina found the remedy.”

The Sixteen sounds as clear and agile as ever, and Christophers works hard at achieving an “ebb and flow” that allows the music to breathe. This is Volume I in a new series of reordings that will be devoted to Palestrina’s music.

Label: Coro Catalog: 16091

Gergiev's La Mer
Debussy’s music is radical, suggestive, and incredibly rich in its ever-shifting textures. Conductors are faced with subtleties of balance and gesture that require great clarity and imaginative sound from every instrumental voice. They need to convey an absolutely clear understanding of the formal structure of the music while keeping the flow completely natural. Too much heavy breathing can put a strain on the wings of the phrases, and too much indulgence on internal intrigues can bring it all crashing down to earth.

Valery Gergiev offers beautiful, compelling Debussy by letting the London Symphony Orchestra players sparkle and sing within an elegant and very human context. It breathes and shimmers without the kind of excess that can spoil it. The orchestra sounds gorgeous.

Label: LSO Live Catalog: 0692

Julia Fischer's Poème
The music world was deeply saddened when conductor Yakov Kreizberg died in March of this year. Known as a warm, intelligent man with a fiery passion for conducting, he was just 51 years old. He died with his wife and two children at his side. (More from NPR Music.)

Kreizberg was Music Director of the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. The orchestra had what they called “profound musical and human ties” with their conductor. The final recording that Kreizberg was able to release features the Monte Carlo Philharmonic with the marvelous violinist Julia Fischer. As was true in the Mozart Violin Concertos recording that Kreizberg and Fischer made together, there is an immense warmth that emanates from their partnership.

Label: Decca Catalog: B0015535

Luc Beauséjour's Bach
The brilliant harpsichordist and organist Luc Beauséjour won the Erwin Bodky International Harpsichord Competition right here in Boston in 1985. He’s gone on to a stellar career. He founded the organization called “Clavecin en concert” in 1994, aiming to increase the public’s knowledge and love of harpsichord repertoire. He was born in Quebec, tours widely, and teaches in Montreal.

On his new recording, Beauséjour applies his intensely communicative sensibilities to a fascinating instrument that never had its hour of glory – the pedal harpsichord. Essentially two harpsichords in one, the second lies on the floor under the first and is played with the feet, exactly like the pedalboard of an organ. The bass strings are astonishing to hear, and add an element of richness that Beauséjour digs into with glee.

Label: Analekta Catalog: 9970

Bach Motets With Vocalconsort Berlin
Mozart famously stopped by Leipzig in 1789 on his way to Berlin and is said to have been deeply moved and inspired by hearing Bach’s motets. They are vocal masterpieces that showcased the Choir at St. Thomas Church and which continue to carry on a medieval tradition of choral pieces that illuminate text in sophisticated, often stunning ways.

Scholars have long thought that Bach had written six motets, but the official count has risen to seven, now including the double-choir motet Ich lasse dich nicht, thought for a while to have been written by his father's cousin Johann Christoph Bach. The motets require precision and beauty of sound, and when recording them care should be taken to reproduce those qualities without undermining the intimacy and emotionality of the music.

Bravo to Harmonia Mundi and to Marcus Creed and his Vocalconsort Berlin for preserving the clarity and warmth that brings such life to the motets.

Label: Harmonia Mundi Catalog: 90207

Mikhail Pletnev Conducts Tchaikovsky
“Fate … a sword that hangs constantly above our heads, like the sword of Damocles.” Tchaikovsky’s description of fate is deeply pertinent to his Symphony No. 4 – the fate motive keeps bursting through the seams of the first movement and reappears in the finale. Pianist/composer/conductor Mikhail Pletnev has applied his intelligence to this performance with the Russian National Orchestra and he’s come up with a coherent and still very urgent performance. A Super Audio CD with great sound on the Pentatone label.

Label: Pentatone Catalog: 5186384

John Eliot Gardiner Conducts Mozart
Sir John Eliot Gardiner has founded two important ensembles – the English Baroque Soloists (in 1978) and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (in 1990). He’s recorded some 250 albums with these and other groups, and his fame has come mostly through the care and knowledge that he brings to his period-instrument performances. His latest CD with the English Baroque Soloists was recorded in concert in London. It includes two of Mozart’s last three symphonies – Numbers 39 and 41 (“Jupiter”). Gardiner’s emphasis on clarity and color give these performances transparency, and his wisdom about Mozart’s prowess as a musical architect make for a very rewarding overall listening experience.

Label: Soli Deo Gloria Catalog: SDG 711

Zuill Bailey and Awadagin Pratt Play Brahms
Cellist Zuill Bailey grew up in Northern Virginia, influenced by the artistry of Rostropovich. He teaches in Texas and enjoys a fine career now, with critics frequently noting his panache and charm, and a rich, dark sound. Bailey’s latest recording features pianist Awadagin Pratt and music by Johannes Brahms. The Sonatas are here, as well as several smaller pieces in which Bailey plays with particular warmth.

Label: Telarc Catalog: 32664

William Alwyn's Violin Concerto
English composer William Alwyn wrote more than 70 film scores between 1941 and 1962. He was a man of many talents – a poet, an artist, and a virtuoso flutist who played with the London Symphony. He was also a fine writer. "Composing in Words" is a collection of some of his best essays; he’s also written about his Northampton childhood; film music; Elgar; Puccini; and the process of composing his own Third Symphony. His wife was was the talented composer Darleen Carwithen.

Just released on Naxos is a beautiful, rich performance of Alwyn’s Violin Concerto, The piece was first heard in 1940 in a reduction for violin and piano with the composer at the keyboard, after which the piece fell straight into oblivion – forgotten for 50 years until it was recorded in 1993. It has still not received a professional public concert performance!

Violinist Lorraine McAslan plays with the rhapsodic temperament and warm, nuanced sound that makes the piece sound like an old friend. The hushed reverie of the second movement is beautiful, and the English qualities of the finale are beautifully paced and balanced by conductor David Lloyd-Jones and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

Label: Naxos Catalog: 8.570705

Xiayn Wang Plays Danielpour
American composer Richard Danielpour was born in New York City in 1956, and he has Boston ties – he studied at New England Conservatory. He also studied at Oberlin and the Juilliard School, and has gone on to receive a huge number of prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim Award and residencies from the MacDowell Colony, the Copland House and the American Academy in Rome. He teaches at the Curtis Institute and the Manhattan School of Music and cares very much about mentoring young musicians.

Danielpour’s second book of piano preludes was written in 2009. “The fine line between dreams and memories, between reality and fantasy has always intrigued me,” he says. “The ancient Greeks believed that the ‘real’ world was the unseen world.”

Pianist Xiayin Wang plays these evocative, polished miniatures masterfully. This Naxos CD also features the first book of preludes written in 1992.

Label: Naxos Catalog: 8.559669

Schubert's "Rosamunde"
The play “Rosamunde, Queen of Cyprus” faded almost immediately from the stage. But Schubert’s touching and masterful score, written to enlarge the action on stage, will last forever. The music has all the dancing and sighing that comes from the heart of Schubert, and there are recordings that give it an overly polished sound. Schubert’s melancholy never wears makeup and his gleeful dancing should make an honest clatter on the floorboards. This is Musikkollegium, the Swiss Orchestra, with Douglas Boyd conducting. Boyd manages to keep on communicating through all the propulsive drive and the wistful distractions.

Label: MDG Catalog: 9011633

Vadim Gluzman's Bruch
Of the many fascinating features of this moment in the history of music is its parade of talented and uniquely-voiced violinists – another golden age of players. This time they are all keenly aware of the sound of the wider world and it seems to me that they have made a priority of being true to their own voices. New on the excellent BIS label is violinist Vadim Gluzman playing music by Max Bruch. The fact that he plays on the “ex-Leopold Auer” (on loan from the Stradivari Society of Chicago) is a boost to that individuality, of course, but it sounds like neither owns the other. “When I walk on stage and start playing – I am flying,” he says. “And the moment when people trust you and follow you anywhere you take them is the moment of truth.” This kind of deep love for the concert experience can sometimes make recordings hard for an artist, but this one has a special and spontaneous sound.

Label: BIS Catalog: 1852

Daniel Hope's "The Romantic Violinist"
It was the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim who introduced Brahms to Robert and Clara Schumann in 1853, changing the life of Brahms and the course of musical history. Joachim’s playing was so unique and expressive, he became the most influential violinist of the 19th century. His performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto at the age of twelve in Leipzig, with Mendelssohn conducting, was apparently so vivid that it brought the piece out of 40 years of oblivion. Dvorák and Schumann wrote their Violin Concertos for Joachim, whose intelligent and thoughtful music-making consistently trumped the superficial virtuosity that was, and still is, so easy to find in other composers.

Daniel Hope was more captivated by the unique sound of Joachim on old recordings than by any of the other “vintage” violinists. A biography that he received as a gift brought him further into the world of the great Hungarian, and now Hope has produced a recording that pays homage to his multi-faceted life. It features pieces by Joachim, the Concerto No. 1 by Bruch, and several pieces by Brahms. He also includes Clara Schumann’s Romanze, Op. 22, and music by Schubert and Dvorák.

The playing is plush, warm and intimate. Daniel Hope plays with the kind of disciplined intensity that just won’t let you go. He loves to communicate in other ways, too. He’s written two best-selling books published in Germany: Family Album and When do I applaud? He’s scripted many performance pieces, including “An Audience with Beethoven,” for Mia Farrow, and “Forbidden Music”, featuring poetry and music written by prisoners at Theresienstadt. He’s presented for radio, film and television and his website features a video blog that he films and produces himself.

Label: Deutsche Grammophon Catalog: B0015212

Concertos by Brescianello with La Cetra Baroque Orchestra
The stunning energy of La Cetra Barockorchester Basel is enough to make you wonder why you don’t know composer Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello. He was a slightly younger contemporary of Telemann, Bach and Handel, and he was one of many Italians who left their mark, notably in German-speaking areas. There’s very little music by Brescianello that has survived. His opera Tisbe is known. Beyond that, most of what has been preserved is chamber and orchestral music. He lived and worked in Stuttgart, taking in both German and Italian traditions while managing to add a personal and rich voice of his own.

The Baroque Orchestra of Basel, La Cetra, founded in 1999, has developed a tremendously vibrant, synchronized sound that makes this music thrilling to hear.

Label: Glossa Catalog: 922506

Trio Mediaeval's "A Worcester Ladymass"
No medieval music was meant to be performed for an audience, and so every ensemble that dips into what is known about it must devise their own sound and vision.
For Trio Mediaeval, the guesswork and intuition required in creating these performances is so stimulating to the imagination that it feels to them almost as though they are creating contemporary music. They like to present contemporary music alongside medieval music, and they do that in a magical way on their new recording, A Worcester Ladymass. This music was found at a Benedictine abbey in Worcester, England, but it had to be cobbled together from fragments into a 13th-century Mass. When they realized that there was no Credo amongst the manuscripts, they asked composer Gavin Bryars to write one. He also offered a Benedicamus Domino. Both have just the right qualities to slip inside the atmosphere of the mass while quietly retaining a sense of “now”.

The crystalline sound that comes from the trio’s voices is made even more stunning by the Austrian monastery where they made this recording. Gorgeous.

Label: ECM Catalog: 1529802

Sir Colin Davis Conducts Walton
Soaring themes and driving rhythms characterize William Walton’s symphonic music. Those qualities are brought to life with real vibrancy in this new performance recorded at the Barbican, London. Sir Colin Davis conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in Walton’s Symphony No. 1, written in the 1930’s. From the LSO’s own label, LSO Live.

Label: LSO Live Catalog: 681

Violinist Augustin Hadelich Plays Poulenc
The young violinist August Hadelich is winner of the 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant. He has a warmth and energy in his playing that audiences find riveting. His latest recording is called “Echoes of Paris.” Especially arresting is the loving performance of the Poulenc Violin Sonata, written in homage to the great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was executed by the Fascist regime in Spain in 1936. Hadelich brings out its sorrowful and lyrical qualities in a way that I’ve never heard. He writes, “It’s one of my favorite sonatas, and I perform it often … audiences are deeply moved by it.”

Visit Augustin Hadelich's site for more information, and to download sheet music for cadenzas he's written.

Label: Avie Catalog: 2216

Hear Augustin Hadelich in our Fraser Performance Studio, from 2008:

The Jerusalem Quartet's Mozart
Mozart’s “Prussian” Quartets were written for the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II, who was a pupil of the French cellist Jean-Pierre Duport. The extra attention that Mozart paid to the cello opened up a new universe, with sonorities created in part by Mozart’s exploration of the whole cello. In the second movement of the B-flat Quartet, K. 589, the cello even reaches up higher than the viola. The superb Jerusalem Quartet has just recorded that B-flat Quartet (with cellist Kyril Zlotnikov playing on Jacqueline du Pré’s “Sergio Perresson” cello, loaned to him by Daniel Barenboim.) A beautiful CD with all the sparkling details given room to breathe. Also included are the C Major, K.157 and B-flat, K.458 (“The Hunt”).

Label: Harmonia Mundi Catalog: 902076

Violinist Michael Ludwig Plays Beethoven and Dvorak
While the recording industry convulses under the pressure of new media, orchestras are creating their own labels. That means that the electricity of live concerts is becoming more available on disc and through download. I think it’s wonderful. JoAnn Falletta has been Music Director of the Virginia Symphony for twenty years and she has just released a new recording on the Symphony’s Hampton Roads label. Featured are two pieces recorded in concert with violinist Michael Ludwig. The Dvorak Romance glows as it should thanks to the beautiful breaths he gives its lines and the gorgeous sound he coaxes from his rare fiddle, made in the late 1700’s by Lorenzo Storioni in Cremona.

Label: Hampton Road Catalog: 008

Gryphon Trio Plays Beethoven
Beethoven’s piano trios demand everything from musicians -- the prowess to send an audience hurtling through time on the composer’s wild and swirving roads, and the wisdom to stop time completely when all things suddenly hover, threatening to disintegrate. The Gryphon Trio of Canada has been playing together since 1993, collaborating with musicians outside the realm of “classical” music, and commissioning like mad. Their new CD features three of Beethoven’s piano trios, including the “Ghost”. A very fine and thoughtful recording.

Label: Analekta Catalog: 9860

Mitsuko Uchida's Schumann
One of the recordings that I have most savored by pianist Mutsuko Uchida features the etudes by Claude Debussy. Her tremendous control of dynamics and nuance, and her ear for atmosphere, pare perfect for Debussy’s other-worldly ways. Her new recording of Schumann features that same tremendous control with a very unique sense of timing and playfulness. She has thought these pieces through and let them roll around in her imagination. It’s nice to have a second CD in the set with an interview about the pianist’s approach to Schumann.

Label: Decca Catalog: 478 2280

The Helsinki Philharmonic and Einojuhani Rautavaara
Einojuhani Rautavaara is as important to today’s Finland as Sibelius was to yesterday’s. The Helsinki Philharmonic has now recorded his orchestral work called “A Tapestry of Life”, written in 2007. It happens that I heard the premiere of this piece in Helsinki. The composer was sitting just a few rows ahead of me and I kept him fixed in the corner of my eye. He seemed deeply satisfied. I heard three performances and grew fonder of it with each one. Rautavaara had only recently recovered from a burst aorta (most people don’t recover!), and yet, at 79, he had a kind of towering warmth. This is a CD that deserves many focused listening sessions.

Label: Ondine Catalog: 1149

Brazilian Guitar Quartet Plays Villa-Lobos
The Brazilian Guitar Quartet has done it again.  Their warm, disciplined energy and mind-boggling technical prowess is directed this time at the music of Villa-Lobos.  As always, their own arrangements are beautifully crafted. The two string quartets that are included (numbers 5 and 12) are done with the kind of taste and understanding that makes these players so completely convincing.  An atmospheric wave of rhythm and color.  Fabulous!

Label: Delos Catalog: 3409

Julia Fischer Plays Mozart
German violinist Julia Fischer was born in in Munich in 1983.  Since 2006 she has been teaching at the Hochschule für Musik in Frankfurt am Main.  It was also in 2006 that she was appointed Artist in Residence at the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra,  and that orchestra’s Chief Conductor, Yakov Kreizberg, has become a real partner in music for her.  All of Fischer’s recordings with orchestra feature Maestro Kreizberg. That kind of mutual respect and understanding makes for concerto performances with life, energy and sparkle.  Fischer plays with care and reverence for Mozart’s intentions, but she never sounds constrained.  Getting Mozart to fly a little and stay off the ground can be difficult if soloist and conductor are strangers, but this collection goes all that much farther.

Label: Pentatone Catalog: 5186453

American Music with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players
These brilliant musicians of the Boston Symphony have a gorgeous new recording of pieces by the American composers Lukas Foss, Michael Gandolfi, William Bolcom and Osvaldo Golijov. It’s a thrilling, vibrant tribute to the color and innovation that comes from four American masters, three of whom supervised the performances. Don’t miss it!

Label: BSO Classics Catalog: 01

Joyce DiDonato's Diva, Divo
Joyce DiDonato celebrates the rich dramatic variety of the mezzo-soprano voice in this collection of arias for different characters – of both sexes – from a single opera, or from different operatic treatments of the same story.

Label: Virgin Catalog: 41986

Pierné's Piano Concerto with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet
This recording features music by the Frenchman Gabriel Pierné, who died in the same year as Maurice Ravel and Albert Roussel. While the legacy of those composers is se