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J Scott Morrison RSS Feed (Middlebury VT, USA)

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Kosenko: Piano Music, Vol. 2
Kosenko: Piano Music, Vol. 2
Price: $8.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Semi-New Discovery for Me. Trust Me, You'll Like It., January 10, 2014
I first heard some of Viktor Kosenko's music with the release of the first CD in this series, his Études in the Form of Old Dances. I reviewed it and append it at the end of this note because it gives some biographical information about the all-but-unknown Kosenko.

This disc contains three sonatas, two of them in one movement. The disc only lasts about 50 minutes, short for a CD; this is concentrated late Romantic music, the only piano sonatas Kosenko wrote, that will in fact make you wish for more . One takes what one can get here. Natalya Shkoda is a fine pianist whose abilities were evident in the earlier release, and she does not disappoint. For those who like Rachmaninoff, Medtner and that ilk, this music will be down your alley.

Here's my earlier review of the Études disc; much of what I say about my reaction to it holds for the present disc:

Occasionally one hears unfamiliar music and immediately falls in love with it. That has been my experience with these eleven piano pieces by a Ukrainian composer I'd never even heard of before, Viktor Stepanovych Kosenko (1896-1938). If it weren't for the adventuresome spirit of Toccata Classics' guiding light, Martin Anderson, I certainly never would have come across this music which has been in my player almost constantly since I got this CD a week or so ago. This has so often been the case for me with Toccata Classics releases that I've recently joined their 'Toccata Discovery Club'. One can explore and hear mp3 excerpts of all the tracks on the label's CDs at [...] The label specializes in worthy music not otherwise available on disc.

Kosenko was himself a virtuoso pianist who began composing early in life. His 'Eleven Etudes in the Form of Old Dances, Op. 19', written in the late 1920s, is a collection of pieces using the dance forms familiar to us from the baroque -- gavotte, allemande, minuet, courante, sarabande, bourrée etc. They flow so nicely that one could think that they are predictable, but indeed none of them is; there are surprises, lovely ones, in every one of the études. Although they sound technically only moderately advanced, on closer listening one hears that they are not; they truly are studies that would pay the ambitious pianist's attention. They are unfailingly melodious, often with what we are told are Ukrainian folk-like melodies, sometimes making use of modal scales. The harmonic language is, for the most part, familiar from such composers as Tchaikovsky or early Scriabin, but occasionally one runs into jazz-inflected or impressionist harmonies, or Bach/Busoni baroqueries. Somehow this all fits together and sounds inevitable and 'right'.

There is not space here to describe all eleven études. Some highlights: No. 1, a gavotte, is perky, sassy, and has a particularly gorgeous set of melodies. No. 6, a bourrée in A major, is virtually a two-part invention with parallel or contrary motion in both hands, and with a folk-tinged middle section in the corresponding minor key. No. 10, a passacaglia, is the longest étude, lasting over eighteen minutes. It consists of an eight-bar ground bass followed by thirty-eight variations and a coda. This étude sounds both Bachian and Tchaikovskian. It features a dizzying array of technical challenges including trills, octaves, dynamic contrasts, challenging pedaling and variations in touch and rhythm. An impressive work. The set concludes with hyperlegato presto gigue in sonata form, a virtual perpetuum mobile.

Natalya Shkoda, the marvelous pianist on this disc, is herself a Ukrainian currently living in Texas. She makes a convincing advocate for this wonderful music. We are told this is 'Volume 1' of Kosenko's piano music and I for one am eager to hear more.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2014 6:37 PM PDT

Petite Messe Solennelle
Petite Messe Solennelle
Price: $20.31
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This simply won't do!, December 20, 2013
This review is from: Petite Messe Solennelle (Audio CD)
Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle was a late work -- he called it 'the last mortal sin of my old age' -- and is a quirky thing. Scored originally for two pianos and harmonium -- this recording seems to use one piano and harmonium, however -- it was premièred in a private home and has had a strange trajectory ever since. Unlike the roughly contemporaneous 'Stabat Mater', which is scored for full orchestra, full chorus and operatic soloists and is sometimes called 'Rossini's last opera', this is a delicate piece that requires a chorus of only twelve singers of whom four double as soloists.

This performance recorded in Tallinn, Estonia, simply won't do. The soloists are, in a word, weak, and although the massed twelve voices can make a pretty sound, they don't really measure up to earlier recordings. Frankly they sound like amateurs much of the time. The tenor soloist in the 'Quoniam' is painful to hear. And so on.

There is a budget price twofer that couples the Messe with the Stabat Mater and features the likes of Ruggero Raimondi (who, however, was not in his best voice) in the Messe, and Pavarotti in the Stabat Mater's 'Cujus animam' that must be heard to be believed, it's so good.

Skip this one.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2015 12:42 PM PDT

J. S. Bach: Mass in B Minor
J. S. Bach: Mass in B Minor
Offered by Second-Time Books
Price: $24.95
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best Mass in B Minor, but you can get it cheaper in a different release of this performance, December 20, 2013
I've loved this performance for many years, owning it originally on LP. It is performed with large forces and modern instruments, not the current fashion for Bach performances, but it is magnificent. Richter was a great Bach conductor.

However, you can get it for less -- at least at the date of this notice -- in the version on Archiv, also available here at Amazon Bach: Mass in B minor .

Scott Morrison
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2014 4:18 PM PDT

Legacy: Sir John Barbirolli
Legacy: Sir John Barbirolli
Price: $17.17
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Barbirolli's classic Haydn 'Hen' Symphony and a fevered Symphonie Fantastique, December 20, 2013
John Barbirolli included Haydn symphonies in many of his concerts throughout his long career. The very first one he ever recorded -- in 1949 with the Hallé orchestra, which he led for more than twenty-five years -- was Haydn's Symphony No. 83, called 'The Hen' for the clucking sounds in the first movement's second subject. The present recording was made in 1969 in a live concert of the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden, one of the really good radio symphonies in the Germany of the time. Strangely he uses the first movement exposition repeat in the finale but not in the first movement; perhaps this was the practice at the time. I actually wanted to hear that first movement repeat because of Barbirolli's delicious shaping of the music. Although Barbirolli is known primarily as a 'romantic' conductor, there is little indication of that in his classically proportioned Haydn. True, he uses a larger orchestra than we hear these days in concert, but the playing of the SWR is delicate yet spirited.

The Hallé had given the very first English performance of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique in 1879 and when Barbirolli conducted it with them the first time, in 1933, older members of the orchestra remembered the approach of Sir Charles Hallé, the conductor of the first and subsequent performances. Hallé had been friends with Berlioz in Paris. Over the years Barbirolli conducted the Symphonie many times and often programmed it on celebratory occasions as when the Hallé moved into their new Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1951. He had recorded it twice before this live performance was recorded, also in 1968. To say that this is an emotionally intense performance is more than just. Even in the slow (and in other hands sometimes boring) third movement, Scène aux champs, we are wrung out. The Marche au supplice actually comes almost as a relief until we then realize that this is the March to the Guillotine with its attendant horror . The finale, 'Songe d'une nuit du Sabbat', builds to an almost unbearably febrile temperature. This is a great reading of this great symphony.

Recorded sound is quite good. I was not really aware of its age, now 40-odd years. Those bells in the fifth movement of the Symphonie are startling in their lifelike sound.

This is not just a recording for Barbirolli fans. It's for everyone who loves this music.


Scott Morrison

Arrangements for Wind Quintet
Arrangements for Wind Quintet
Price: $10.70
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, well-played wind quintet arrangements of three Ravel masterpieces, December 19, 2013
I had mixed feelings about this recording before I listened to it. On the one hand, I love the music -- and as a pianist have played two of the three pieces on the CD -- and on the other I was a little unsettled at the notion of these pieces being played by a wind quintet. I ordinarily like transcriptions and arrangements, often finding things in a piece when it is presented in different instrumental garb. But particularly with the String Quartet the differences in tone quality are striking, even alarming. And then there is slight confusion with the name of the ensemble; one of my favorite recordings of the Ravel String Quartet is by the Orlando String Quartet, but this one is by the Orlando Wind Quintet.

Indeed the String Quartet is the piece that is hardest to accept initially. But after a couple of hearings it grew on me. True, there is nothing like a string quartet playing softly diaphanous passages, but amazingly the Orlando Quintet manages to achieve something similar in appropriate spots. And one gasps at the virtuosity in spots, as in the helter-skelter final movement where these Dutch wind players astonish. The arrangements of the String Quartet and of the Mother Goose Suite that follows are by Mark Popkin, a noted bassoonist and arranger (and physicist!) who was based in North Carolina and who, alas, died not long after these arrangements were made.

The Mother Goose Suite (Ma mère l'oye) exists in two forms made by Ravel, the original for piano four-hands and the subsequent arrangement for orchestra. Since winds play a dominant part in the orchestral sound-world of the Suite, it is not such a far cry for the entire thing to be played by winds and indeed one can sometimes forget, when listening to it, that one is not hearing the original. As in the String Quartet, the Orlando Quintet play like the masters they are. In fact, I'm impressed enough that I want to name these five Dutch musicians, who are all orchestral players and teachers in various parts of the Netherlands: Marieke Schneemann (flute), Pauline Oostenrijk (oboe), Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer (clarinet), Bram van Sambeek (bassoon), and Ron Schaaper (horn).

The final piece is a joyous performance of the three-movement Sonatine, originally for solo piano. This arrangement was made in 1989 by another American arranger, now-86-year-old Wayne Peterson, a distinguished composer long at the San Francisco State University and recipient of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize in music for his orchestral work 'The Face of the Night, The Heart of the Dark'. Completely sympathetic to the qualities of the wind quintet sound, the arrangement is brilliant, and brilliantly played.

The booklet notes include charming paragraphs written by each of the musicians. Unfortunately, other than their names there is nothing about the arrangers, hence my comments in this review.

As I sometimes say, I like this CD enough that I have put it on my iPod, one of my highest accolades.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 24, 2014 9:38 AM PST

Schubert: Die schone Mullerin
Schubert: Die schone Mullerin
Price: $18.79
20 used & new from $1.98

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mannerisms Detract From Gilchrist's Interpretations, November 13, 2013
James Gilchrist, a British tenor of some reputation, offers Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin and although his voice qua voice is quite lovely -- he actually sounds like a young love-sick man, as the text requires -- his mannerism of swelling on each longish note becomes irritating after a few minutes. I found that I could not listen to more than a couple of the songs before needing to stop listening. A shame because he really does have the goods otherwise.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 1, 2013 10:08 AM PST

Fesca: String Quartets, Vol. 1
Fesca: String Quartets, Vol. 1
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $38.91
26 used & new from $29.50

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Quartet Composer to Reckon With, November 11, 2013
'Herr Feska ist ganz Herr und Meister über das, was er auszusprechen unternimmt.' ('Herr Fesca is entirely lord and master of what he undertakes to express') -- Carl Maria von Weber

Friedrich Ernst Fesca (1789-1826) was a German composer and violinist who was enormously popular in his day. His quartets come after those of Haydn and Mozart (and to which they owe a debt) and before the later quartets of Beethoven (and before those quartets overcame their early non-acceptance by the quartet-loving public). So for a period of perhaps thirty years Fesca's quartets were among the most-played in Germany and Austria. But after Beethoven's late quartets and those of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann became fixtures of the repertoire, those of Fesca lapsed into obscurity. And there they have remained. I had never heard any of them before, either in concert or on recording. This disc, the first of two planned by the Diogenes Quartet and the cpo label, is a revelation. These are marvelously constructed quartets that have immediately memorable themes and a generally serious import. This is not to say that there aren't humorous or witty moments, but overall these are works of convincing sincerity. Fesca wrote most of his quartets when he was quite young; he didn't live beyond age 37 when he died of what was probably tuberculosis. The first twelve of sixteen total were published in 1815 when he was 26, but there is speculation that he wrote the earliest of them while still in his teens.

On this disc we hear Quartets Nos. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 13 & 15, plus a single movement 'Potpourri' which elaborates on a rondo theme found in the First Quartet. The quality of the writing is consistently expert and memorable throughout. There is clever manipulation of themes and, something not found in his Haydn/Mozart models, frequent modulations which remind one of Schubert at times. Although there are not the daring and sudden contrasts of later Beethoven there are a few spots where one gasps at Fesca's harmonic surprises.

The Diogenes Quartet, whose Schubert quartet recording I reviewed earlier this year Schubert: Complete String Quartets, Vol. 1, are a Munich-based group whose reputation is growing at home and abroad. I have also reviewed their recording of string quintets by Cherubini and Onslow Cherubini/Onslow: String Quintets.


Scott Morrison

Grande Sonate
Grande Sonate
Price: $20.32
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three Piano Four-Hand Masterpieces, October 22, 2013
This review is from: Grande Sonate (Audio CD)
Even though I have played tons of four-hand music going all the way back to my earliest piano lessons, I had only ever played (or even heard) one of the three sonatas on this disc, Mozart's Grande Sonate in F Major, K. 497. It is an undeniable masterpiece and has been recorded any number of times before, most prominently by Ingrid Haebler and Ludwig Hoffmann Piano Duets / Mozart Edition 16 from 1971. This recording is easily the equal of that one and additionally is in impeccable modern sound. Although I had never heard of the Piano Duo Danhel-Kolb, they are a wonderful duo with absolute virtuosity and sensitive musicianship.

The big surprise here, though, is what is on the remainder of the disc: four hand sonatas by Johann Baptist Cramer and by George Onslow.

Cramer (1771-1858) was fifteen years younger than Mozart and outlived him by almost seventy years. His style is rather like Mozart's or early Beethoven. The Sonata in G Major dates from 1815 and has never been recorded before, which is a real shame; it is a true masterpiece. The first movement is a sprightly romp with sparkling fireworks that involve brilliant runs by the right hands of both players. The second movement is a theme and variations that juxtaposes variations in wildly differing styles and then concludes, oddly but effectively, with a chorale followed by two further variations and an extended coda. The finale, a rondo, is every bit as fun-filled as the first movement and Danhel-Kolb infuse it with their own joy at getting to play it. I cannot imagine why this work has never been recorded before but I'm certainly grateful for this performance. I think I've now listened to it about half a dozen times and it has gone on my iPod, too.

George Onslow (1784-1853) was a Frenchman in spite of his name; his father was an Englishman living in France. His Second Sonata for Piano Duo was published in 1823 and sounds a good deal like middle-period Beethoven with a goodly amount of Sturm und Drang. (One could actually say the same about the Mozart sonata; it is one of the more dramatic of Mozart's piano works.) It is clearly advanced for its era in that there is a cyclic use of thematic material, similar to that in Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy written a year earlier. There is darkness and angst aplenty leavened with periods of lightheartedness and tender lyricism. The sonata is in four movements; the third movement Largo is actually a slow introduction the the Allegro finale. And in that movement there is Haydnesque humor along with heightened drama and dark foreboding that nevertheless ends with an exhilarating stretto.

I could not ask any more of these performances. They are simply masterful. This is a recording that I'll be playing repeatedly through the years.

Strongly recommended.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 5, 2015 12:30 PM PST

Alkan: Le festin d'Esope; Trois morceaux; Ouverture; Sonatine
Alkan: Le festin d'Esope; Trois morceaux; Ouverture; Sonatine
Price: $14.03
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Talented Pianist Outdone by Others, October 20, 2013
I agree with the previous review that Vincenzo Maltempo is a pianist with all the goods necessary for this marvelous, quirky, insanely difficult music. But since the onset of the Alkan renaissance forty-five years ago with recordings by Raymond Lewenthal and Ronald Smith, there have followed incendiary CDs by Marc-André Hamelin and Jack Gibbons which set the bar so high that it is almost humanly impossible to equal or top them. And although Maltempo is a fine pianist, he misses the mark -- pace Ethan James McCollum -- precisely where ardor and understanding are most needed: in the mysteriously appealing Trois Morceaux. His playing in these odd pieces is dull. That said, his performance of Festin d'Ésope and the Sonatine is excellent, if still a little short of Hamelin's. As for the Ouverture (the eleventh of the minor key études), he again makes it dull when compared with Hamelin or Gibbons.

Scott Morrison
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 17, 2015 7:41 AM PDT

Chopin: Etudes
Chopin: Etudes
Price: $20.94
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chopin Études Played by Lukas Geniusas, October 16, 2013
This review is from: Chopin: Etudes (Audio CD)
Lukas Geniusas is a 23-year-old Muscovite of Lithuanian background who has medaled in a number of international piano competitions including the Gina Bachauer in Salt Lake City (2nd place, 2003, at the age of 13). His father is pianist Petras Geniusas and his uncle is conductor Julius Geniusas. Apparently his musical genes (and a great deal of hard work) stand him in good stead because this recording of the Opp. 10 and 25 études by Chopin are really quite good. Clearly he has the fingers to negotiate the often very daunting intricacies of these works, but he also makes satisfying music of them as well, something that is not always done by young pianist firebrands. For instance, he plays the languidly lovely Op. 10, No. 3 in E Major stunningly. His playing is somewhere between the extremely polished approach of Murray Perahia Chopin: Etudes, Op. 10 & Op. 25 and the glittering first recording of of the Études by Augustin Anievas Augustin Anievas, Piano, Chopin: The 24 Etudes, Opp. 10 & 25. (Anievas has also recently re-recorded them at age 75 but I have not heard that version; it has garnered very good reviews.) The recording Maurizio Pollini made in his twenties is transcendent and impeccable but the sound is now dated Etudes.

Given the recommendations I can say that Geniusas doesn't quite match the performances of his older colleagues but I'm glad I have it. It has given me several hours of intense pleasure.

Scott Morrison

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