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Featured Releases May 2013

HORNEMAN: Gurre Suite; Overture héroique; Kalanus Suite; The Struggle with the Muses Suite.
Danish National SO, Johannes Gustavsson, cond.
Da Capo 6220564

Musically, [Horneman] fits in with the Nordic community of composers who were schooled in the ways of German music, wether wholly or in part in Leipzig—Gade, Grieg, and Svendsen being among them. Passion and drama run high, as emotions run the gamut from an almost religious ecstasy and fervor—as in the Struggle with the Muses Suite—to the orgiastic Bacchanal in the same score. Romantic orchestral music in the post-Mendelssohn period doesn't get any better than this. This is very strongly recommended to all who enjoy being carried away by sweeping orchestral scores superbly played and magnificently recorded. — Jerry Dubbins, Fanfare


BARTÓK: Violin Concerto No. 2 • EÖTVÖS: Seven • LIGETI: Violin Concerto
Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin; Frankfurt RSO, Ensemble Modern, Peter Eötvös, cond.
Naïve 5285

Peter Eötvös evidently wants us to hear his music as the continuation of a grand Hungarian tradition, in which he is only two steps removed from the country’s greatest ever composer. This album makes the case, and without over-emphasizing the connections. The individuality of each composer is just as evident as their similarities, and the connections themselves are subtle. The portamento-based sliding textures, for example, in the Eötvös concerto, when heard in any other context may seem like a legacy from electronic music, but when placed directly after Bartók’s Second, there is a clear link with the earlier composer’s trombone glissandos. There’s Bartók in the Ligeti too, or rather, there’s Ligeti in the Bartók; the strident woodwind chords in Bartók’s second movement sound surprisingly similar to Ligeti’s ocarinas and distuned horns.

But this narrative is merely a subplot to the album as a whole, and despite the fact that one of the featured composers stands at the podium, it is the soloist who dominates proceedings. Patricia Kopatchinskaja has a distinctive voice as a violinist, with both her style and her technique marrying Eastern European gypsy music with Central European classical traditions. She is drawn to classical works that include folk elements, and by emphasizing their earthy textures and infectious rhythms, she is able to rescue them from both the formality and the arbitrary sophistication of the concert hall.

The distinctive flavor of Kopatchinskaja’s playing is most clearly evident in the Bartók. Her tone is focused and vibrant. It has a kind of neon aura that could almost suggest electronic manipulation of the sound. The cult (or myth?) of naturalness that pervades the classical recording industry means that this sort of sound is all but unheard in the concerto repertoire. As a result, her timbre alone makes Kopatchinskaja sound like an import from the folk world. The pay-off is in the loud and propulsive music, and here Kopatchinskaja comes into her own, dropping all pretentions to classical respectability and going back to her roots as a folk fiddler, roots Bartók himself would surely have recognized.

Ligeti’s Violin Concerto is possibly the ideal vehicle for Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s unique approach. Elsewhere she seems to be continually fighting against classicized and normative models of Eastern European folk music within the established canon—even in the Bartók. But Ligeti speaks her language. And there is no violinist better suited to this paradigm than Kopatchinskaja. The qualities she brings to the work are similar to those we find in the Bartók. Her focused ever-present tone prevents the opening appearing out of nothing. And the solo line always dominates, even on the rare occasions when it shouldn’t. But the polyrhythmic complexity of the solo writing is clearer and more engaging here than on any previous recording. And, most importantly, there is never any feeling that Kopatchinskaja is trying to civilize this music. She knows exactly where Ligeti is coming from, and like him, she has no intention of rounding off the edges in pursuit of spurious classical elegance. – Gavin Dixon,


Sound the Trumpet
Allison Balsom, trumpet; English Concert, Trevor Pinnock, cond.
EMI 440329-2

It is not fanfares and tattoos that dominate [this album], nor even concertos, but a smartly selected sequence of trumpet cameos from the theatre scores and elegant social music of Purcell and Handel. Some are real, including symphonies from Purcell's semi-operas or Handel's Eternal source of light divine; in some, such as Purcell's "Plaint" and Handel's Oboe Concerto No. 1, she borrows other instruments' lines; and others see her literally slip into the singer's place, most strikingly in Purcell's "Fairest Isle" and "Sound the trumpet."

And it works. This is rattling good music, and so easily does the trumpet fit into it that often it is hard to recall what the original scorings were anyway. Balsom, too, sounds utterly at home, whether intertwining coolly spun traceries with oboe and violin in the wondrous Symphony from King Arthur or merrily disporting in Handel's Water Piece. She's wonderfully backed by the English Concert and the bright natural musicianship of Trevor Pinnock. Never mind the whys and wherefores—just sit back and enjoy! — Lindsay Kemp, Gramophone


ORFF: Carmina Burana
Kiera Duffy, soprano; Macro Panuccio, tenor; Daniel Schmutzhard, bass; MDR Symphony Orchestra, Kristjian Järvi, cond.
Sony Classical 88725 44621-2

Subtlety was not at the forefront of Orff's mind when he wrote Carmina Burana, or so you might suppose from the blatant way in which it is so often presented, but this performance gives it a more interesting dimension in the sense that it finds some enchanting, soft-colored sonorities that are sometimes neglected in favor of generalized robustness and lustiness. "Primo vere," the welcoming of early spring, is the chief beneficiary here, with Kristjian Järvi coaxing the MDR orchestra and choir into an approach that is quietly beguiling and warmly languid. Right from the word go, in the "O Fortuna" of the opening, you realize that Järvi is taking Carmina Burana seriously from the point of view of orchestral color, variety of impact and dramatic scope. For those who would generally go a long way to avoid a performance of Carmina Burana, this one could well be a factor in deciding that there is more to it than often meets the ear. — Geoffrey Norris, Gramophone


BRAHMS: Violin Concerto • C. SCHUMANN: Three Romances, Op. 22
Lisa Batiashvili, violin; Alice Sara Ott, piano; Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann, cond.
Deutsche Grammophon 479 0086

Here we have Lisa Batiashvili, a wide-ranging violinist whose style really doesn’t go out of its way to break norms, and Christian Thielemann, a conductor who has a certain tendency to do just that, and the Dresden Staatskapelle, which I’d say manages to break norms just by being itself. So what results?

I don’t think I have ever heard a performance of this concerto in which the orchestra figured like this. You listen to the opening bars and you notice the bassoons and the horns. From that point onward you’re attending to the orchestra, and noticing details that were always there, but that you’d never paid attention to, because…well, a concerto is all about the solo part, right? Not so.

It’s not that Batiashvili is shy; she’s a positive tiger in places. But she’s willing to cede the spotlight, or at least share it. As a result, I found myself hearing things I hadn’t noticed before: dialogues between soloist and woodwinds, or between soloist and strings, interactions that were scarcely there in performances where the soloist was it and the orchestra was at best a decorous backdrop. — Michelle Dulak Thomson, San Francisco Classical Voice