Music for the end of the year

Peter Jarusek, Veronika Jaruskova and Boris Giltburg. © Marco Borggreve

CD of the year for me has to be the double disc of Dvořák trios by these three!  — as I said here, just wonderful. And the great reviews keep coming.

Over the year, I have posted some links to particularly delightful performances available as videos. For example

Enjoy! And very best for 2024.

András Schiff at 70

András Schiff is seventy today. Here he is a decade ago, playing Bach’s Italian Concerto, with total mastery but also that evident enjoyment which conveys so much to his listeners. Twelve minutes of musical joy!

(Not just) Schubert on Sunday 7: Elisabeth Brauss and friends

Elisabeth Brauss has recently been in Australia with Noa Wildschut (above), with the two friends playing a dozen concerts to great acclaim in many reviews (such as here). Sadly, none of the performances seems to have been recorded for broadcast. One day, the recording studio must surely beckon.

However, another series of concerts by Elisabeth and friends was recorded in the Belfast a month or so back, and four short programmes were broadcast by the BBC this week, and are now available on BBC sounds:

1. Schumann Piano Quintet, and Mozart Quartet no. 1 (with Chaos Quartet)

2. Schubert D.664 and César Franck Cello Sonata (with Leonard Elschenbroich)

3. Schumann Carnaval, Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet in E flat Major (with Chaos Quartet)

4. Brahms, Cello Sonata and Ravel Le tombeau de couperin (with Leonard Elschenbroich)

Elisabeth’s Schubert little A major and the Ravel I heard her play in Cambridge are particularly good. As is this other outstanding performance of hers, also broadcast on the BBC this week:

5. Chopin Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor (starting about 2hr 8m into the programme)


The long road to Ludwig (no, not that one …)

No, not Ludwig Wittgenstein (that brooding and distracting presence for philosophers of my generation … still, I think I’m in recovery).

But Ludwig van Beethoven.

In the end, every really serious string quartet faces the challenge of recording at least some, if not all, of the Beethoven quartets. The legacy of past recordings is simply stunning, and must be so daunting. Latter day cycles by the Takacs, Belcea and Casals Quartets are more than worthy successors of the legendary greats. More recently still, the wondrous Chiaroscuro Quartet having already recorded the Op. 18 quartets, have just started on later quartets with another terrific CD featuring Opp. 74 and 130.

And now the Doric Quartet, after some particularly outstanding Haydn  discs, among other fine recordings, have launched what they plan to be a complete Beethoven cycle, with a CD including  some of the quartets they have been playing since students twenty years ago (they have been taking the long road). As they say in a new interview in Gramophone, ‘We’ve tried not to rush into recording a cycle. We really wanted to live with these pieces: to play them, then leave them for a few years, then come back to them and so on. But we often say to each other that a concert where you don’t play a late Beethoven quartet is almost a missed opportunity. They’re such extraordinary things, and such humbling, inspiring works. We’re obsessed with them.’

I have found this double CD absolutely compelling over the last week or so. The Dorics’ performances are far too good for me to want to try to make amateurish comparative judgements; I’m being just swept along in the moment while repeatedly listening, exactly as you should be. The playing in some of the slow movements, in particular, is surely as good as it gets: heart-stopping.

Really warmly recommended, then.

Schubert on Sunday 6: D. 898, Noa Wildschut, Alexander Warenberg and Elisabeth Brauss


A delightful unexpected surprise this week. I quite serendipitously discovered, just the preceding day, that Elisabeth Brauss was giving a short concert on Thursday for the Cambridge University German Society. And some last minute tickets were available to non-members. So off we went. (An unusual experience too, to find ourselves the only ancients at a recital!)

Elisabeth was just wonderful, playing with such verve and colour and subtlety and evident enjoyment. And we in our turn hugely enjoyed her first piece, Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. She is playing this soon at Wigmore Hall, together with a Schubert sonata and Schumann’s Carnaval. For Thursday, she chose the Schumann — which is obviously great fun to play, and pleased her enthusiastic audience. But it is far from my favourite piece, and I would so love to have heard her Schubert.

So here she is playing his Piano Trio No. 1 four years ago, with her now frequent duo partner Noa Wildschut, and the cellist Alexander Warenberg, all ridiculously young. Just astonishing. And also in these dark times, a moment of beauty and hope.

Dvořák trios … played by the dream team

Chamber music playing doesn’t get better than this. The Pavel Haas Quartet have made two stunning, award-winning, CDs of Quintets by Dvořák and by Brahms with Boris Giltburg as pianist. Now half the Quartet get together with Giltburg again to play all four Dvořák trios, the final Dumky Trio of course, and perhaps you already know the third trio — but the first two were quite new to me.

This is just a marvellous double CD. Here’s Katherine Cooper, writing for Presto Music:

As on the earlier recording of the [Dvořák] Piano Quintet, there are moments when the collective sound is so massive that it hardly seems credible that so few musicians are involved – notably in the final athletic stretches of this first trio (just before the music ebbs away like a mechanical toy running out of battery), in the near-symphonic first movement of the Piano Trio No. 3, and as the three hurtle towards the finishing-line in the first of the six ‘Dumky’ which opens No. 4. (Giltburg switches from his ’beloved’ rather soft-focus Fazioli to a bigger-boned instrument for these two later works, and both string-players match its brawn head-on).

The more introspective stretches are also beautifully done, not least the slow movements of the second and third trios (both composed in the aftermath of bereavement): the muted colours of that Fazioli really come into their own in the lovely elegy for Dvořák’s daughter in No. 2, and Jarůšek and Jarůšková respond in kind with a fragile lyricism that’s enormously touching.

A triumphant debut for this new super-trio, then, and one which whets the appetite for whatever they might choose to record next.

The reviewer at Europadisc is equally enthusiastic, concluding about the Dumky Trio:

Here, above all, these performers are in their element, and they deliver performances that are richly satisfying, exploring the full spectrum of tone colours, and combining penetrating introspection with infectious high spirits. The fast passages of the second Dumka are enough to lift anyone from despondency, while the strings’ ethereal response to the piano’s opening phrase in no.3 is a thing of wonder, as is the rounded tone of the piano’s single-line continuation. The fourth Dumka has a deliciously deliberate tread; the exultant opening of the fifth rings out, its glorious cello line punctuated by pizzicato violin chords; and the sixth and final Dumka is underpinned by wonderfully resonant cello fifths, giving way to spectacularly full-throttle tuttis. Make no mistake, this is Dvořák playing of the highest order and – even against some strong competition – these performances as a whole set a new benchmark in this marvellous quartet of works. Urgently recommended!

Yes indeed. This really is wonderfully good!

Schubert on Sunday 4: Brendel plays the D.899 Impromptus

For a long time, back before CDs, Schubert’s piano music for me meant Alfred Brendel. Early on, I had very extravagantly bought his box of Schubert LPs, which I played and played for years. Still the performances which I find myself comparing with all others, and returning to often. So this week let’s have Brendel in his prime, playing the first set of impromptus.

Dame Janet Baker

Dame Janet Baker’s 90th birthday. One of the greatest mezzo sopranos of any era. Here singing Dido’s lament some sixty years ago but still touching the heart like almost no other.

Schubert on Sunday 3: Esmé Qt play Death and the Maiden

The much-admired Esmé Quartet won first prize at the 2018 Wigmore Hall String Quartet Competition, and have since rightly had a stellar career. Here they are, a year ago, playing Schubert D810, the Death and the Maiden quartet.

There is an astounding, prize-winning, recording by the Pavel Haas Quartet of great depth, charged and driven from the first note to the last, but of great subtlety of colour and phrasing. The Esmé Quartet’s performance, I think, bears comparison. Outstanding.

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