The WSCL Blog

News and information about WSCL's Classical Music Programming

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Just Opened, January 23, 2015

Today we focus on a new set of Beethoven Quartets from his "middle" period, and have a trio of excellent "recital" CDs that introduce us to breathtaking talents.

Cypress String Quartet
AVIE 2318 (3 CD set)
ISBN#8 22252 23182 3
My Delight of the Week!  This CD is part of a series of recordings by the Cypress String Quartet of Beethoven's quartets.  For some, the early quartets are too sweet, and the late quartets too challenging or dramatic, so these should be musically "just right" for Goldilocks!   If you look up the reviews of this CD, you will notice that there are many contenders in the landscape, some of them established favorite big names.   As usual, the critics weigh in with a wide variety of reviews, and perhaps that wide variety of opinion is a testimony in itself.  The Cypress String Quartet has been steadily advancing its international reputation for musical excellence, and this series of recordings are getting them noticed for their musical elegance.  

Katrina Szederkenyi, harp
MSR 1527
ISBN# 6 80585 15272 0
This CD is the unmistakable calling card of a seasoned musician with technical prowess.  Fugues are not for the faint of heart, neither for the performer nor the listener, so I suppose you could place this CD in the "serious music listener" section.  (I generally don't hold much truck with the phrase "serious music" - since it means completely different things to different people, but the selections here hit almost all the meanings.)  I am, unfortunately reminded of a music director I worked with whose mantra was "why labor for that which doth not please?"   The title, of course, does forewarn us:  Fantasias are often ponderous and Fugues can be melodically challenging and/or inaccessible. While these selections require incredible precision, technical dexterity, and demonstrate the kind of musical proficiency of a Franz Liszt (indeed, one of the works is by "the Franz Liszt of the Harp" Elias Parish-Alvars), few of them are particularly melodic or listenable.  (Even the Parish-Alvars is less melody driven and more Wagnerian, and he is generally known for having the showmanship and melodicism of Liszt as well as the skill.)  So -- it's not for everyone, but Szederkenyi is a recognized professional for whom this is a demonstration of her mature, experienced, deft musicianship and dedication.  Not only does this include a meritorious new composition for solo harp, the complete program is one of unusually high scholarship.  While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, it could well become one of those recordings that is studied and referred to in Conservatory & Music School setting for years to come.  This definitely marks Szederkenyi as an accomplished musician on the rise to keep your eye on.

Tien Hsieh, piano
MSR 1531
ISBN#6 81585 15312 3
It is worth starting with the fact that one reviewer has called Hsieh's recording of Beethoven's C minor Sonata "the best recording ever made" - in a crowded field!  Another reviewer called her "a formidable virtuoso and magnetic performer" whose "color, texture, and attention to detail make you sit up and take notice." Much like the harp CD above, her Fugue is mentioned as an indication of her musical precision and "voicing."  And much like the Cypress Quartet above, when a young performer takes on musical territory that has been recorded by - not just the best in the world today, but the best in the history of recordings, the quibbles and comparisons of reviewers can be mind numbing, but certainly Ms. Hsieh must take comfort in being compared on some works as second place to historic recordings of Van Cliburn.   The interesting program choice of a focus on transcriptions makes much of this program more accessible than the harp CD above, and also gives reviewers a lot to chew up ("I prefer Busoni's transcription to Liszt"   "why did she choose THIS transcription"), but the comments on both the high quality of the recording, and of her musical accomplishment and bravura is where they all agree in unison.  Wow!  Congratulations to an artist we are sure to hear more of.

Contemporary Works for Trumpet with....
Amy Schendel, trumpet
MSR 1536
ISBN# 6 81585 15362 8
MSR Classics is a label with a special interest and affinity for CD collections of new works by new composers, often for brass or other instruments which may not always be given the solo spotlight.   This leads to a few CDs that can be particularly trying, and others, like this one that are surprisingly accessible, given that the compositions are all "new."  One feature that makes many of these works "work" is that many are based on classical (or Baroque) structures that give even new works a form we can internally recognize, that helps us understand the work in subliminal ways that make them easier for us to understand on both a conceptual level and in consequence, on a musical level as well.   The focus on brass also makes it accessible to many who think they "don't like classical music."  If you like to extend yourself to new music, this one is a very easy reach.

Join us next week for more new releases, Just Opened.
Kara Dahl Russell

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