Archive for BIS

2010’s Best

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

As we wind down 2010, here are some recordings that I think are true standouts. Yes, there’s a lot of contemporary music here, but it’s my list and I could put whatever I want on it. What were some of your 2010 favorites?

Bach on a Steinway
Jeffrey Biegel, piano
(Steinway & Sons)
Biegel adds his own tasteful and very well-conceived ornamentation to these familiar works. His touch is lithe and phrases sing beautifully throughout.

Choral Music by Jonathan Dove
Wells Cathedral Choir; Wells Cathedral Chapel Choir; Jonathan Vaughan, organ
Matthew Owens, conductor
(Hyperion)
Jonathan Dove’s choral music continues to impress and this is a superb sampling of his work. There are a few Christmas pieces and a Missa brevis setting that deserves its place in the repertoire of good church choirs. The Wells Cathedral Choir is building quite an excellent discography on the always superb Hyperion label and this is another winner.

Henri Dutilleux: D’ombre Et De Silence
Robert Levin, piano
(ECM)
This one took me by surprise. I always thought of Levin as the fortepianist who recorded Mozart and Beethoven concertos with the Academy of Ancient Music. Of course, he’s more than that. Dutilleux’s piano music is wonderfully eclectic with its occasional whispers of Debussy, birdsong (not quite à la Messiaen) though) and pungent quality that is marvelous. Levin plays the hell out of all of it and ECM nails the piano sound perfectly.

St. John’s Magnificat – Choral Works by Herbert Howells
Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge
Andrew Nethsingha, director
(Chandos)
Howells and St. John’s, how can you go wrong? A Sequence for St. Michael is a dramatic motet with striking choral writing and an extended solo for tenor is a scene-stealer, but there’s plenty more here to love.

Jeremy Denk Plays Ives
Jeremy Denk, piano; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute
(Think Denk Media)
It’s really nice to have both sonatas on one disc. Denk is brilliant and pulls together all the elements of this music that is at times brash, tender, dissonant and sweet. It’s all so American and I love it.

Magnus Lindberg: Graffiti; Seht Die Sonne
Helsinki Chamber Choir; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo, conductor
(Ondine)
Ancient Roman graffiti set to music? If anybody can pull it off, Lindberg can. Lindberg weaves some lean but extremely colorful orchestral writing around a rather eclectic vocal style that has some echoes of Britten and, more obviously, Orff. It is brilliant at every turn, as are the performances.

James MacMillan: Visitatio Sepulchri; Sun-Dogs
Netherlands Radio Choir; Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic
James MacMillan, conductor
(BIS)
Another deeply moving MacMillan work rooted in his deep Christian faith. Sensitive choral and orchestral writing with flashes of drama make this a very compelling recording. How come his music doesn’t get more performances in the U.S.?

Arvo Pärt: Symphony No. 4; Kanon Pokajanen: Fragments
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Esa-Pekka Salonen; Tönu Kaljuste, conductor
(ECM)
Pärt’s gorgeous meditation is slow-moving, lyrical and powerfully affecting. Truly music to soothe the soul.

Schoenberg/Glass
The Glass Chamber Players
(Orange Mountain Music)
Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and Glass’s Sextet for Strings sit beside each other very nicely on this recording by the newly formed Glass Chamber Players. The performance has immediacy and fire and makes me want to hear much more from the ensemble.

Valentin Silvestrov: Sacred Works
Kiev Chamber Choir
Mykola Hobdych, conductor
(ECM)
I love works that are at core traditional but take little turns that surprise. These a cappella works are rooted in Eastern liturgy but Silvestrov’s gift for introducing fascinating harmonic twists make them anything but conventional. Blend the reverberant acoustic of Kiev’s Cathedral of the Dormition into the mix and you have something otherworldly and piercingly beautiful. Serve this one up with the Pärt disc mentioned above and you will enter some ECM-induced beatified state. I like it there.

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Suomi

Posted in Classical music, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

The young Sibelius

There’s no way around it, music always sounds better when native singers are singing the music of their homeland. A Russian choir glows in the Rachmaninov Vespers, Italians make Monteverdi madrigals erotic and French choirs…well, never mind nobody is allowed to sing in French except the French so I won’t go on.

“Kullervo, Kalervon poika, sinisukka äïjön lapsi, hivus keltainen korea…”
An American choir can’t sing that idiomatically. No way. Thankfully when Osmo Vänskä led the Minnesota Orchestra in a performance of Sibelius’ Kullervo at Carnegie Hall in early March he had the YL Male Voice Choir on hand.

YL Male Voice Choir

YL sang this music as if it was wired into their DNA. Not surprising, founded in 1883, they are the oldest Finnish-language choir. I won’t go into the details of the performance which proved once again that this work by the 27 year old composer is a masterpiece and deserves to stand beside his more famous music. As we’ve learned from his BIS recordings with the Lahti Symphony, Vänskä is the man when it comes to Sibelius. From what I heard at the concert I’m also sure that YL are the men for Sibelius. They sang with a full-bodied muscular sound that was perfectly blended and shaped. For once the exotic, mythic quality of the choral passages really kicked in. Their outstanding (and soon to be retiring) conductor Matti Hyökki is to be praised.

As an encore the orchestra and choir gave us Finlandia – it’s so rare that we get to hear this chestnut with full choir and it was a marvelous performance.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Finland, The Kalevala (their national epic), the Finnish Olympic ice hockey team (the concert took place right after the Olympics) and this superb choir. Some of my inspiration has been fueled by a book I’m reading: Sibelius, A Composer’s Life and the Awakening of Finland by the former editor of the Sibelius Critical Edition, Glenda Dawn Goss.

Essential reading

The upshot of all this is The Kalevala is terrific reading, the hockey team was crushed by the U.S. team because the Finnish goaltender melted down, and the Goss book is one of the most fascinating composer biographies (it’s so much more than just a composer bio), I’ve ever read. Do the work on your own: read the Kalevala and the Goss book. I can’t say anything for the hockey team except they played their tails off to come from behind to beat the Slovakians and win the Bronze medal.

The great Teemu Selanne and his mates sporting their Bronze medals

Back to the choir… I met some of the singers at the concert after-party and learned a bit more about the choir. They have a pretty extensive discography and it’s not just comprised of Sibelius. I didn’t make the connection until after the fact but I have some of their recordings and have been enjoying them for the past year or two—this is the curse of having a CD collection that is too large to manage.

Their recording of Kullervo with the Helsinki Philharmonic conducted by Leif Segerstam (no slouch in Sibelius either) on the Ondine label is excellent. Perhaps not as perfectly conceived and executed as the Vänskä Minnesota Carnegie performance, but plenty full-blooded, colorful and superbly conducted by Segerstam.

The Kullervo you need to have

Another outstanding recording is their Ondine CD of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s complete music for male choir. This is fascinating music, at times quite challenging and at times piercingly beautiful. Their performances are remarkable for their precision, power and beauty.

Ravishing choral music from the most famous living Finnish composer

They are joined by the Talla Vocal Ensemble on Talescapes (their newest), a recording of contemporary works on the Ondine label. Talescapes features music by five Finnish composers: Perttu Haapanen, Tapio Tuomela, Erik Bergman, Mikko Heiniö and Riikka Talvitie. In addition to the Finnish composers there is also music by the English composer Tarik O’Regan.

I must admit that O’Regan was the only composer with whom I was familiar but I’m certainly interested in hearing more from the Finnish composers. This is such daring music, so out on the edge that it will make you re-consider any notions you might have about choral music. It’s an essential recording if you care about the choral art.

Cutting-edge choral music

You can sample some of the Talescapes music at Ondine.

The mature Sibelius

It’s not the YL Male Voice Choir singing, but this is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written by Sibelius.

Be sure to visit the YL Male Voice Choir at their

Playlist

Posted in Playlists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2009 by Craig Zeichner

Aho_1_BISCD396

Aho: Symphony No.1; Hiljaisuus; Violin Concerto
Manfred Grasbeck, violin
Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä
(BIS)

 

 

 

 

  
Wozzeck

Berg: Wozzeck
Fischer-Dieskau, Lear, Stolze
Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper, Berlin
Karl Böhm
(DGG)

 

 

 

 
Remembrance

Remembrance, Music of Schoenberg, Bernstein, Bloch and Zeisl
Sharon Bezaly, flute
Vadim Gluzman, violin
São Paolo Symphony Choir and Orchestra
John Neschling
(BIS)

 

 

 
signumsigcd173

Schoenberg: Gurrelieder
Andersen, Isokoski, Groop
Philharmonia Voices
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen
(Signum Classics)

 

 

 

sea

 
Great Big Sea: Play
(WEA Canada)

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite tributes to the Second Viennese school:

Closing with one of my favorite Alexander von Zemlinsky works: