Reviews: New Interpretations of Classical Music

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The Neave Trio’s first three albums for Chandos Records were of uncommon interest, often salvaging music from the dusty recesses of classical repertoire for piano, violin and cello. Such was the case with his previous effort for the label, “Her Voice: Piano Trios by Farrenc, Beach and Clarke” – 19th and 20th century composers whose works deserve a wider audience.

In Neave’s latest album for Chandos, “Musical Memory” available online Friday and on CD from May 6, the set focuses on standard concert fare from Rachmaninoff, Brahms and Ravel with a twist: pianist Eri Nakamura, violinist Anna Williams and cellist Mikhail Veselov have chosen works that represent these well-known composers’ first efforts in the piano-trio genre.

Rachmaninoff’s “Elegiac Trio No. 1 in G Minor” (1892), a youthful but haunting piece that pays homage to Tchaikovsky, feels just the right tempo in Neave’s hands, slightly faster than the venerable Beaux’s recording. Arts Trio for Philips but pleasantly slower than the Deutsche Grammophon recording by Gidon Kremer, Danil Trifonov and Giedré Dirvanauskaité. The Neave captures the romantic yearning in the score without overdoing it, making its mark not with virtuoso brilliance but with soulful musicianship.

Ravel’s distinctive Trio in A minor (1914) uses modal scales and alternating meters, some inspired by the Basque dance rhythms of his childhood. Ms. Nakamura has the delicacy of touch befitting the piano writing of this French composer, even if the sound of the violin does not have as much coloristic variety as one might hope. That said, the Neave offers a fine, intelligently paced rendition with many charming touches: the tinge of regret Mrs. Williams brings to the violin line about three-quarters of the way through the opening movement; the expressive alchemy between the players, especially in the Passacaille which looks like a dirge; and Mr. Veselov’s moving cello, an asset throughout the recording. Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major (1889 revision), a gently lyrical work with a rambunctious conclusion, completes a satisfyingly meaty album.

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Martin Frost


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“Night passages”, a new recording for Sony Classical by clarinet virtuoso Martin Fröst, is the polar opposite in repertoire size, featuring 19 short pieces mostly written for other instruments. Such “candy” collections may prove superficial or disappointing compared to the originals. Yet Mr. Fröst, who is able to skim long clarinet tracks in one leap, has assembled an appealing mix of familiar and unfamiliar works from the classical, jazz and popular genres. The arrangements are cleverly designed by Mr. Fröst and his two impressive collaborators, bassist Sébastien Dubé and pianist Roland Pöntinen. Presumably geared towards playlist generation, the album eschews conventional program notes in favor of the clarinetist’s quirky personal connection to the music.

As usual, Mr. Fröst plays with a honeyed tone and aptly reveals the character of each piece, whether it is the playful exuberance of Rameau’s “Air Pour les Sauvages” or the plaintive melody of the Minuet. in G minor by Handel from a larger suite for harpsichord. Other winning tracks include 17th-century composer Antonio Cesti’s melancholic ‘Intorno All ‘Idol Mio’ from his opera ‘L’Orontea’ and a captivating version of Chick Corea’s inimitable jazz standard, ‘Armando’s Rhumba “. A traditional Scandinavian folk dance called the polksa, revisited by the clarinetist and his eloquent bassist, Mr. Dubé, shifts from easy grace to klezmer evocations and energetic riffs. Hopefully the onset of Ménière’s disease, an inner ear disorder that caused him bouts of vertigo, won’t prevent Mr. Fröst from recording more substantial works in the future.

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Domenico Scarlatti is best known for around 555 harpsichord sonatas. Contemporary of Bach and son of the composer Alessandro Scarlatti, he also created vocal works with instrumental accompaniment. “Domenico Scarlatti: Stabat Mater and other works”, Also released this month is a Harmonia Mundi album by conductor Bertrand Cuiller and his ensemble of period instruments Le Caravansérail, which includes opera arias and secular cantatas, with soprano Emmanuelle de Negri and countertenor Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian as admirable soloists. But the album’s highlight is a haunting rendition of Scarlatti’s justly admired ‘Stabat Mater’ for 10 voices in C minor. Probably written between 1715 and 1719, it is one of the few surviving examples of his sacred music.

Despite its undeniable beauty, this work about the suffering of the mother of Jesus at the crucifixion is rarely seen in concert halls today. The choir parts – here deftly accompanied by organ, cello, bass and archlute – are richly coloured, with sighing overlapping vocal lines. Recordings by British choirmasters such as Stephen Cleobury and the Choir of King’s College Cambridge have a more solemn and somewhat more refined approach. In contrast, Mr. Cuiller’s vocal forces bring vibrant sound and dramatic fervor to their performances. In any case, Scarlatti’s “Stabat Mater” in C minor should become an Easter staple, along with the usual releases of “St. Matthew Passion.”

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