I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman

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Tchaikovsky: A Live Orchestral Anthology

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Symphonies #1-6
Piano Concerto #1 in B Flat minor, Op. 23
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33

Daniil Trifonov, piano
Sergei Dogadin, violin
Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello
Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg/Valery Gergiev
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Germany, October 28-30, 2011

Valery Gergiev is not afraid of challenges. The tireless Russian maestro is currently offering with his Mariinsky Orchestra a cycle of all six numbered symphonies from Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). After appearances in California and New York, last October the program was brought to the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, with the First Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto and the Variations on a Rococo Theme added for good measure. This solid Tchaikovsky orchestral anthology was completed in merely three days. To add to the overall attraction the concertos were performed by laureates of the most recent installment of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, since this year taken under the powerful wings of maestro Gergiev himself and clearly aimed to bring this once reputed but crumbling contest back up to speed.
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On unfamiliar ground

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Rattle
EMI 631621-2 DDD 2CDs Deluxe Edition

The Nutcracker

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker by Simon Ratlle

It’s rare that a conductor admits in the liner notes to his new disc that he hasn’t always been much of a fan of the composer he is playing. But then again anyone familiar with the career of Sir Simon Rattle may have noticed he has so far been avoiding the music of Tchaikovsky like some rare disease. The release of a complete Nutcracker with the Berlin Philharmonic, moreover to mark Rattle’s 30th anniversary as recording artist with EMI, therefore has our undivided attention.
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Wang and Abbado team up for Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff:
Concerto for Piano #2, Op. 18
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43

Yuja Wang, piano
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammophon 4779308 DDD 56:11

Yuja Wang

Yuja Wang plays Rachmaninoff

On paper this looked pretty much like the ideal match: a young and gifted pianist taken under the wings of a revered old maestro to perform two of the most popular Rachmaninoff pieces in the repertory. 23-year-old Beijing-born and Curtis Institute graduate Yuja Wang already recorded two solo albums for Deutsche Grammophon, both marking her admirable technique as well as hinting at a certain promise of musical insight. To team Wang for her first concert album with veteran Claudio Abbado undoubtedly makes a most alluring lineup. And in case some of us were at a loss about the origins of this music, the budding star poses sweetly in a phony Siberian outfit – surely, this has to be a smash?
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Harmonies du soir from Nelson Freire

Franz Liszt:
Waldesrauschen (Zwei Konzertetüden, S. 145 #1)
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (Années de pèlerinage, Deuxième année: Italie, S. 161 #5)
Valse oubliée in F Sharp Major, S. 215 #1
Ballade #2 in B minor, S. 171
Au lac de Wallenstadt (Années de pèlerinage, Première année: Suisse, S. 160 #2)
Hungarian Rhapsody #3 in B Flat Major, S. 244 #3
Six Consolations, S. 172
Harmonies du soir (Douze Études d’exécution transcendante, S. 139 #11)

Nelson Freire, piano
Decca 4782728 DDD

Nelson Freire

Harmonies du soir from Nelson Freire

With his new CD appropriately titled “Harmonies du soir” Nelson Freire brings a magnificent homage to Franz Liszt’s bicentenary. In a smart and beautifully recorded recital the Brazilian pianist browses Liszt’s career and highlights with impeccable style various sides of the composer’s multifaceted output. Founded on a spotless technique, Freire’s playing is characterized by elegance, clarity and warmth. He finds a stunning array of colors and moods, while his spontaneous approach ensures that we hear even the more familiar pieces of this handpicked program with fresh ears. There is no way to suspect his Liszt of bombast or showiness and even if some of the music can grow pretty stormy, Freire never forces the issue but always places sensibility before outward glitter. It is Liszt seen by a mature artist and it is compelling from start to end.
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Brazil Festival in Amsterdam

Manuel de Falla: Noches en los jardines de España
Darius Milhaud: Suite Op. 81a from La Création du Monde, Le boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58
Maurice Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte, Boléro

Nelson Freire, piano
Royal Concertgebouw Ochestra/Iván Fischer
Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, 16 October 2011

As part of the Brazil Festival in Amsterdam, which offers for two months a rich sample of art forms ranging from dance, visual arts, film and architecture to economics, gastronomy, theatre and music, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Iván Fischer programmed a remarkable concert of, well, not Brazilian music, but at least music partly inspired by it. More than anything, however, it was a marvelous opportunity to see and hear a great orchestra letting its hair down and sharing a great deal of fun.
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Volodos in Brussels

Franz Schubert: Piano Sonata #16 in A minor, D. 784
Johannes Brahms: 3 Intermezzi, Op. 117
Franz Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor, S. 178

Arcadi Volodos, piano
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 11 October 2011

With the previous week’s media attention and box-office success of Lang Lang fresh in mind, the concert hall in the Brussels’ Bozar/Centre for Fine Arts looked sadly empty with only two-thirds of the seats taken for the Arcadi Volodos recital. While 39-year old Volodos is at least as much the jaw-dropping technician, we know he doesn’t come to town with the extra-musical gigs that the Chinese superstar package contains. And even if his pianism doesn’t eschew the occasional bit of ostentation either, it hasn’t become oddball. Volodos’ stage manner is unassuming and ritualistically simple. After each piece he can be seen standing behind the piano, arms crossed in front, sharing a timid but content smile and a stiff bow. All through the concert stage and piano remain in pure Sviatoslav Richter-style sparsely lit while the hall is bathing in darkness. But it is Volodos who sheds the light for the evening with his playing, or rather the light in all its shades ranging from solar brightness to abysmal darkness.
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Lang Lang in Brussels

Franz Liszt: Piano Concerto #1 in E Flat Major
Frédéric Chopin: Andante spianato & Grande Polonaise brillante, Op. 22
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #3 in E Flat Major, Op. 55, ‘Eroica’

Lang Lang, piano
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniel Harding
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 4 October 2011

Any way you cut it, a concert headlining the Chinese star pianist Lang Lang is an event. He brings so many new people to classical music, as we are recalled. His flamboyant approach has been dividing opinions from the start, but recently hopeful signs of maturity were reported too. And didn’t the man himself declare in a pre-performance interview that it is not just a show? Has the showman grown into a musician then? He might have fooled you still, when he walked in a perfectly traditional outfit to his piano, greeted by a packed Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels. Yet as soon as he hammered home the opening chords of Liszt’s 1st piano concerto in such an attention-seeking manner, there no longer was any doubt. A sigh of grateful recognition swept through the hall and obviously many had come to witness this: Lang Lang was still his former self – at least for tonight.
Read the full review on Classical Net