September 05, 2013


Brahms: Sonatas Nos. 1-3 for Violin and Piano. Sergey Khachatryan, violin; Lusine Khachatryan, piano. Naïve. $16.99.

Nielsen: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra; Griffes: Poem for Flute and Orchestra; Reinecke: Concerto for Flute and Orchestra; Chaminade: Concertino for Flute and Orchestra; Tchaikovsky: Largo and Allegro for Flute and Strings; Poulenc: Flute Sonata; Rimsky-Korsakov: The Flight of the Bumblebee. Sharon Bezaly, flute; Residentie Orkest Den Haag conducted by Neeme Järvi. BIS. $21.99 (SACD).

Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by C.M. von Weber; Concerto for Violin and Orchestra; Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass Instruments. Midori, violin; NDR Sinfonieorchester conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. Ondine. $16.99.

     A performance in which two high-quality virtuosi tackle the Brahms Violin Sonatas can be fraught with peril if the players use the opportunity to showcase themselves and compete for attention. Or it can be fraught with pure pleasure if the performers cooperate fully and subsume their individual personalities into a totality that is even greater than the sum of its parts – as brother and sister Sergey and Lusine Khachatryan do in their new recording for Naïve. These are readings of great warmth, great skill and considerable understanding, the virtuosity of the players being a given and therefore not the central element of the very high-quality music-making. From the opening of the first sonata, marked Vivace ma non troppo and played here with more focus on the non troppo than the vivace, the blend of sound and easy, conversational back-and-forth of thematic material produce readings that are tightly integrated and emotionally compelling from start to finish. The Khachatryans see the first sonata as expansive, even leisurely, spinning out its beauties to fine effect throughout. The second sonata, least frequently played of the three, here gets its full due, especially in the amabile sense of the first-movement Allegro amabile – this is a warm and loving performance that lets the music ebb and flow unrushed and with close attention to detail. Most impressive of all is the third sonata, the one with the widest scope and largest variety of moods. Here the Khachatryans carefully explore the depths of the Adagio, remain quite cognizant of the con sentimento marking of the third movement (Un poco presto e con sentimento), and conclude with a Presto agitato that, although it certainly is agitated, brings with it a feeling of accomplishment and the end of a remarkable emotional journey. The excellence with which both performers handle their parts – which includes the ease with which each backs off when the other needs to move into the forefront – produces a wholly effective, frequently compelling reading of all three sonatas.

     The new BIS disc featuring flautist Sharon Bezaly is effective, too, although it is more scattered than focused – the inevitable result of mixing Nielsen, Tchaikovsky and Poulenc with Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Carl Reinecke and Cécile Chaminade. The SACD’s avowed purpose is to showcase Bezaly’s talents, and that it does very well indeed, although not all the music is at an equally high level. For example, Reinecke’s work, the longest here, is nicely constructed but not particularly consequential, while Nielsen’s has some attractively elusive qualities that Bezaly brings out with considerable skll, and Poulenc’s is atmospheric and works quite well in an orchestration by Lennox Berkeley. The brief Tchaikovsky offering, in an adaptation by Ernest Sauter, is pleasant, and Flight of the Bumblebee is a very short and inevitably amusing encore in an arrangement by Kalevi Aho. The infrequently heard pieces by Griffes and Chaminade are pleasant surprises: both use the flute well and idiomatically, nicely exploring the instrument’s capabilities and nuances without stretching the performer too much. From start to finish, Bezaly receives supple and well-balanced support from the Residentie Orkest Den Haag under Neeme Järvi. There is no particular rhyme or reason for the inclusion of these specific works here, much less in the specific order in which they appear on the disc. But they do create collectively an attractive portrait of Bezaly as performer as well as a pleasant mini-survey of writing for the flute in the Romantic era and beyond, with Poulenc’s late sonata (1956-57) bringing the instrumentation into modern times.

     Yet nothing on the Bezaly disc sounds as craggily modern as the works of Hindemith on a new Ondine release, even though the latest Hindemith piece (Symphonic Metamorphosis) dates to 1943, while the Violin Concerto was written in 1939 and the Concert Music in 1930. Hindemith has a density and forward-looking sound in his music even though he never fully adopted the approach of the Second Viennese School. The soloist on this CD, violinist Midori, handles the concerto with sureness and sensitivity, exploring its solo part – which can sometimes sound awkward – with clarity and concentration. The concerto comes across as more fully formed in this performance than it does in some others, the differences in its three movements being as clear as the similarities among them. Christoph Eschenbach is an erratic conductor, but he takes to Hindemith’s music and to the NDR Sinfonieorchester very well, accompanying Midori with care and a fine sense of style – and also producing very effective readings of the other two works heard here. Eschenbach sometimes rises to the occasion in live performance, as these live recordings indicate: his interpretations are pointed, well-crafted and thoughtful, with particularly good orchestral balance and some real flair in the orchestra’s fine brass section in the Concert Music. Hindemith, like Max Reger at a slightly earlier time, is a composer whose works can seem turgid and difficult to approach. But Eschenbach here makes them understandable and clear – complex and at times academic, to be sure, but well-thought-out and particularly strong in their use of and contrast among the various orchestral sections. Hindemith can be a difficult composer to like, but Eschenbach certainly shows him as one to admire.

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