Volume 28 Issue 1 | September 20 - November 8, 2022

Our 28th season in print! “And Now, Back to Live Action”; a symphonic-sized listings section, compared to last season; clubs “On the move” ; FuturesStops Festival and Nuit Blanche; “Pianistic high-wire acts”; Season announcements include full-sized choral works like Mendelssohn’s Elijah; “Icons, innovators and renegades” pulling out all the stops.

Our 28th season in print! “And Now, Back to Live Action”; a symphonic-sized listings section, compared to last season; clubs “On the move” ; FuturesStops Festival and Nuit Blanche; “Pianistic high-wire acts”; Season announcements include full-sized choral works like Mendelssohn’s Elijah; “Icons, innovators and renegades” pulling out all the stops.


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ecord a new version of the nine Beethoven

Symphonies with none other than Yannick

Nézet-Séguin, one of the most expressive and

thoughtful conductors on the scene today,

someone capable of truly joyous musicmaking.

Add to this the backing of Deutsche

Grammophon and you have the makings of a

wonderful project: the first recording of the

New Complete Edition of the Symphonies,

painstakingly prepared for the Beethoven

celebrations in 2020.

What is new in this edition? As a contrabassoonist

myself, I’m delighted to say that

the program notes make quite a lot of the fact

that the most noticeable change is a muchexpanded

role for the contrabassoon in the

Ninth Symphony. Designated contrabassoon

parts in Beethoven’s hand exist for the

finales of the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies

but the liner notes point out that Beethoven

created tailor-made versions of the Ninth

for various specific performances and that

the new contra part is an amalgam of six

different contra parts from Beethoven’s day.

I was curious to find out if these changes are

audible: bad contrabassoon playing quickly

makes itself obvious but a well-rendered

contra part can make a performance seem

rich or deep without the listener knowing

exactly why. Such is the case in this set. I

deliberately listened to the Ninth without any

clue as to where the contra has been added,

just to see if I could hear anything new and

I’m happy to say that I did. Behind the baritone‘s

first solo after the recitative, there is

definitely more of a “spine” in the bassline,

and at the Turkish March, one can hear that

the contra has been moved up an octave as it

used to appear in older editions.

Are there other audible changes in this

edition? In the second movement of the

Ninth, the repeats have been sorted out (559

bars total vs. 954) and there is a diminuendo

in the tympani part which I don’t recognize.

As far as the rest of the set goes, there

is an unusual ornament in the third movement

of the Seventh Symphony but otherwise

most listeners won’t notice anything

strikingly unusual. There are many lovely

turns of articulation but it’s hard to say

whether this is because of changes to the

edition or just good musicianship. Tempos

are not always what Beethoven called for but

they are always appropriate with the exception

of a rather slow third movement in

the Fifth. Interestingly, this tempo gives a

great sense of relief when it returns in the

last movement so perhaps that was YN-S’s

intent. Another surprise comes at the start

of the second movement of the Eroica where

the grace notes in the basses seem to arrive

after the downbeat: an interpretation that is,

well, puzzling.

The playing of the orchestra is wonderful:

tight ensemble in the strings, characterful

woodwind solos, discreet brass and incisive

tympani playing. My main concern is with

the way the orchestra has been recorded.

Producer Andrew Mellor seems to prefer a

mix that locates the listener very close to the

first violin section often making the firsts

too present and the rest of the orchestra too

vague. This is particularly true of the lower

woodwinds and the horns, making many of

the chorale passages sound unblended and

rendering more than one duet as more of a

solo with only a hint of the second line. And

before you dismiss me as being partisan, I

can assure you that many other recordings

sound, to my ears, much more homogenous

and portray the winds and strings as more

equal teams. Ultimately, the buck stops with

YN-S, but I’m more inclined to question the


If you can listen past the balance issues, or

if it sounds just fine to you on your system,

you will be rewarded with much grace and

humour and some thrilling moments: the

whole First Symphony is a delight and the

first movement of the Seventh is pure joy. The

funeral march of the Eroica seems to have a

special depth to it, as you might expect, and

the singing in the Ninth is first-rate, possibly

because of details added in this edition. I

particularly love the qualities of Florian

Boesch’s baritone voice which give an almost

tenor-ish spring to his solo and I have never

heard a more nuanced and articulate version

of the Ninth’s celli/bassi recitative.

Fraser Jackson

The Year That Never Was

Matei Varga

Sono Luminus DSL-93358


! An eclectic,

highly personal

recording from

Romanian pianist

Matei Varga is

intended “to bring

joy when we

really need it… to

take [the] mind

away from current realities.” As such, Varga

offers an attractively curated disc of miniature

delights, from Gershwin to Chopin

to Scarlatti. The contemporary content on

this disc is sourced from the salon-styled

pen of Cuban master, Ernesto Lecuona and

Romanian composer, Andrei Tudor, whose

Ronda alla Crazy is featured as a quirky

micro-highlight. This three-minute swinging

track encapsulates a veritable brand of

crazy, born of pandemic freneticism. (It was

even delivered to Matei by the composer via

Facebook Messenger!)

Ernesto Lecuona’s music was a new

(pandemic) discovery for Varga, and one that

centres the vision for the record. Varga is at

home in this off-beat repertoire, imputing

characteristic charm and improvisatorial ease

to Lecuona’s 19th Century Cuban Dances.

Here, interwoven with Chopin’s “salon”

music, the pairing of both composers brings

credibility to Lecuona. It is a clever juxtaposition,

framing Chopin less seriously and

Lecuona more so. Varga reminds us that

much of Chopin’s art originated from smaller

stages and gentil spaces, sporadically populated

by aristocrats who desired to be amused,

not feverously stirred.

Varga’s signature pianism is apt in arguing

for seemingly disparate musical threads.

More of a recital program than a thematically

directed album, The Year That Never Was

nonetheless achieves satisfaction, executed

with much joy and a tasteful, rollicking fondness

for this personalized set list.

Adam Sherkin

Musical Remembrances

Neave Trio

Chandos CHAN 20167 (chandos.net/


! Recorded in

2021 at Potton

Hall, England

and released on

Chandos Records,

their fourth for

the label, Musical

Remembrances by

the Neave

Trio (Anna Williams, violin; Mikhail Veselov,

cello; and Eri Nakamura, piano) captures

the trio in a reflective mood. The album is

inspired by remembrance, both in terms of

repertoire selection (Ravel’s Piano Trio in A

Minor, Op.67 captures the French composer

“remembering” his native Basque musical

tradition) and in terms of remembering

what a pre-pandemic world of touring and

concertizing was like for musicians of the

calibre and renown of the Neave Trio. And

while speculative as this recording may be,

it is anything but maudlin or melancholic –

the dynamic chosen repertoire pops from the

stereo speakers with the same clarity, purpose

and confidence of delivery that earned

their previous recording, Her Voice, a best

recording of the year designation by both The

New York Times and BBC Radio 3.

Although the entire recording is excellent,

it is the Brahms Piano Trio No.1 in B

Major, Op.8 where the chamber group, to my

ears, shines brightest, bringing out a range of

musical emotions and drawing listener ears

towards new musical ideas over four movements

that always centre around excellence,

but leave room for new discoveries. On the

faculty now at the Longy School of Music of

Bard College, let us hope that this terrific trio

continues to find the time to mine the depths

of the great chamber music repertoire of

Western Art Music and make recordings such

as this that both delight and surprise.

Andrew Scott

54 | September 20 - November 8, 2022 thewholenote.com

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