By Roy C. Dicks: What’s the Score?
Three recently released recordings reviewed:
Pavel Kolesnikov – Tchaikovsky:The Seasons
Hyperion CDA68028 (released June 10, 2014)
Tchaikovsky’s most popular works are his richly orchestrated, intensely emotional symphonies, concertos and ballets. Those who know only these large-scale compositions might not readily recognize Tchaikovsky’s hand in the solo piano pieces on this Hyperion Records release. But with some adjustment to the direct simplicity of one set and the quiet lyricism of the other, the listener can derive much pleasure from these intimate vignettes.
“The Seasons,” depicting all the months of the year, were published serially in a magazine throughout 1876. Tchaikovsky had been commissioned to write short, relatively easy pieces for amateur pianists to play at home. As such, they are not showy or dramatic, but rely on small observations, from the coziness of a fireplace in January to the rhythmic laboring of reapers in July.
Twenty-five year-old, Siberian-born Pavel Kolesnikov displays an innate understanding of these miniatures, never applying extra weight or attempting conspicuous gestures, but playing them with great warmth and finely-judged dynamics. For April, he charmingly conjures the reflections of snowdrops in the spring sun through crystalline runs and December’s gentle Christmas waltz is infused with an infectious lilt.
Kolesnikov has more opportunity to demonstrate his skills in the “Six Morceaux” from 1873. From the sweet, melancholic sighing in “Réverie Du Soir” and the Chopin-esque delicacy of “Nocturne” to the cheeky scampering in “Scherzo Humoristique” and the glittering gallop in “Capriccioso,” he spins each piece with engaging sensitivity and spirit.
Rebecca Troxler – Flute Music by Sons of Bach
Albany Records TROY 1490/91 (Released May 1, 2014)
Flutist Rebecca Troxler, a Duke University faculty member, is a specialist in the Rococo style that bridged the Baroque and Classical periods. For this Albany Records two-cd set, Troxler and seven colleagues play Rococo chamber works by two sons of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Five pieces by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach make up one cd. Troxler and company give vibrant, colorful interpretations of three late quartets for flute, viola, cello and keyboard. Whether it’s the gentle summer’s breeze of the D Major quartet’s first movement or the playful banter of the A Minor quartet’s third movement, Troxler and violist Gesa Kordes, cellist Barbara Blaker Krumdieck and pianoforte player Andrew Willis communicate palpable joy in performing these appealing works. Willis rounds out the cd with two perky fortepiano solos.
The other cd has three additional works by C.P.E. Bach: sonatas for flute and keyboard, for two flutes and keyboard, and for solo flute, this last making extreme demands that Troxler fulfills admirably. There are also two pieces by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach: a sonata for flute and keyboard and a trio for flute, keyboard and cello. The performances on this disc, while technically solid, seem less involved and alive than on the other. Some influencing factors may be the less engaging compositions themselves, an alternate recording venue and a different combination of colleagues performing with Troxler.
Still, this is a good reference set for the elegant and intimate Rococo style that evolved from the more formal Baroque.
This Cedille Records disc offers four compositions for two violins performed by noted master, Jaime Laredo, and his former student, Jennifer Koh, a virtuoso in her own right and the impetus for the recording’s imaginative programming.
The disc begins with J. S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, a work still fascinating listeners and challenging performers after three centuries. The soloists establish a sprightly pace in the first movement, ably accompanied by the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble, led by Vinay Parameswaran. The soloists have pleasingly contrasting tones – warmly burnished from Laredo, brightly gleaming from Koh – making it easy to follow Bach’s overlapping and entwining lines. The slow second movement has quiet emotional thrust and the third’s rapid-fire dueling boasts astutely varied dynamics.
The Bach is an appropriate springboard to three contemporary works, starting with Philip Glass’ 1995 piece, the lovely, floating “Echorus.” Lush massed strings support the solos, which move sometimes in soothing arpeggios, at others in long-held, ethereal tones, making for a mesmerizing experience.
The other two works, both Koh commissions premiered in 2012, have edgier intentions but are never off-putting. Anna Clyne’s “Prince of Clouds” begins with stark chilliness but soon opens into soaring exhilaration, evoking freewheeling flight above the earth. David Ludwig’s four-movement “Seasons Lost” attempts to address climate change by conjuring vivid seasonal differences. The carefree flirtation of “Spring” and the blustery buzzing of “Fall” are the most arresting, especially with Laredo and Koh’s intense playing, beautifully reproduced by Cedille’s engineers.
[A version of these reviews first appeared in the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer]