April 2023 Classical Record Reviews

Dvořák: Violin Concerto, Trio Op.65
Isabelle Faust, violin; Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello; Alexander Melnikov, piano; Prague Philharmonia/Jiří Bělohlávek.
Harmonia Mundi HMM931833 (CD). 2023. Martin Sauer, prod.; Philipp Knop, eng.
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Isabelle Faust makes a fine impression in the Dvořák concerto. She answers the orchestra's opening phrases with firm-bowed flourishes, impeccably tuned, both in the "little notes" and when sailing in alt. Without sacrificing polish, she makes the second theme feel shaggy and untamed. The curlicued cadenzas on the lead back are dazzling. The opening of the Adagio sings fervently, and Faust launches the finale with delicacy and incisive rhythm, capturing the boisterous Furiant mood without losing elegance.

Supporting her, Bělohlávek and his players know how to tease and shape a melody into authentic Bohemian inflection, with strong, cushioned accents. Woodwind and horn lines stand in sharp relief, even in full scoring; the Adagio's focused horns carry ominous portents. Only at the start of that movement, where Faust is so committed, does the playing get a bit clunky, the ensuing passage a bit thick.

It's unusual for a soloist to present herself in chamber music. The Opus 65 Trio is an excellent choice, "built large," as cosmopolitan as it is Bohemian, encompassing calm and conflict. Where the violin leads, Faust shines—a soaring cantabile in the Poco adagio is breathtaking—and she has the musical smarts to subordinate herself elsewhere. She and her partners rise to the turbulent developments and inflect the lyric lines sensitively: Note cellist Queyras intoning the start of the Poco adagio. There are a few bits of mushed-up scansion, at the opening of the Allegro grazioso in particular, and pianist Melnikov's accented single tones in the first movement are unsubtle. Otherwise, most impressive.

The soundstage provides width and depth in the concerto, but the unobtrusive ambience renders quiet woodwinds recessive. The Trio is vivid.—Stephen Francis Vasta

David Del Tredici: Pop-Pourri, Adventures Underground
Albany Symphony, David Alan Miller, cond.; Hila Plitmann, soprano; American Music Festival Chorus
Albany Records Troy1915 (24/96 WAV). 2022. Silas Brown/Legacy Sound, eng.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

David Del Tredici's quarter-century foray into Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland has been the stuff of audiophile legend ever since soprano Barbara Hendricks and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Georg Solti recorded Final Alice (1974–1975) for Decca. It and In Memory of a Summer Day (1980)—part of the larger Child Alice (1977–1981) and winner of the 1980 Pulitzer Prize in Music—only provide two pieces of an extremely complex, frequently phantasmagoric opus gigantus that can induce a drugless altered state of unfettered wonder.

Now, conductor David Alan Miller enhances our understanding and enjoyment of the 85-year-old American composer's supreme achievement with premiere recordings of two essential Alice works: Pop-Pourri for amplified soprano, rock group, chorus, and orchestra—the very first Alice work—and Adventures Underground for amplified soprano, folk group, and orchestra. To describe these two pieces as mind-blowing boundary-breakers only hints at what's behind the looking glass. Intentionally exaggerated dialogue introduces sections in which every instrument under the sun, from tam-tam and shrieking piccolos and whistles to banjo, electric guitar, and electrified bass, blasts away in an indefinable mix of quasi-romantic, dissonant, and occasionally atonal madness.

Irreverence abounds, most certainly in Pop-Pourri's mash-up of Bach's "Es ist genug" with Del Tredici's treatment of Carroll's text. The score for "The Mouse's Tale," the second part of Adventures Underground, resembles a mouse's tail (as does Carroll's text). The 13 minutes of instrumental and vocal madness that follow marvelous soprano Hila Plitmann's recitation—relish the squeaks—may send you scurrying around the room. Nothing can contain either mouse or music. FABULOUS!—Jason Victor Serinus

Schumann: Piano Works
Vladimir Feltsman, piano
Nimbus NI 6433 (2 CDs). Adrian Farmer, prod. and eng.
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

This neat collection of Schumann's early piano music peaks at the end with the four Opus 23 Nachtstücke. In their clean-lined strength—they begin with a march—they're as unlike Chopin's Nocturnes as you could imagine, and Feltsman projects even the scampering second and rippling third with full-bodied tone. The mood changes abruptly for the calm, ruminative fourth piece; its chorale passage is quietly confident.

Feltsman's Carnaval pivots adroitly among moods and tempos, capturing the unstable undercurrent of lyric passages especially well. The soloist colors the episodes vividly, from the coyness of Coquette to the crisp, dazzling Papillons. The Valse Allemande's grace upbeats have a nice lift.

The Davidsbündlertänze, too, are characterful, with precisely balanced, layered sonorities and, in the faster movements, a nice dash. The higher, lighter textures of the Frisch carry a pleasing serenity. Only a few strained rubatos mar the effect.

Those rubatos, however, become a real problem elsewhere. Feltsman burdens the less technically demanding works with seemingly arbitrary tenutos and such, as if he's bored by them. The Abegg Variations, despite good voicings and zesty filigree, are a write-off, with tenutos obscuring the shape of the phrases. In the Opus 19 Blumenstück, the chromatic passage completely loses the scansion. In the Arabesque, after an impulsive start, fussy agogics—the opposite of "impulsive"—trip up the B section.

The Papillons, still too fussy, are better, especially the virile, assertive waltzes. The chording in No.6 (track 13) is impeccable; the shimmering pianos of the Prestissimo—not rushed—are flickering phantoms.

The sound is fine. Full chords are resonant and resounding; a touch of hardness there—along with the denatured quality of some of the pianos—probably inheres in the playing.—Stephen Francis Vasta

windansea's picture

Is this a new recording, or a remastered reissue? I know the Harmonia Mundi Faust recording of Dvorak, but it came out in 2004. Same album cover.

Axiom05's picture

Yes, this is a reissue of the 2004 recording. Not that it changes the review but it would have been nice that this was mentioned.