June 27, 2024


Mozart: “Complete” Divertimenti & Serenades. Kurpfälziches Kammerorchester Mannheim conducted by Florian Hayerick and Jirí Malát; Neues Bachisches Collegium Musicum conducted by Burkhard Glaetzner; Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice conducted by Vahan Mardirossian; Amati Chamber Orchestra conducted by Gil Sharon. Brilliant Classics. $44.99 (9 CDs).

     The notion of completeness is elusive when it comes to Mozart’s music. Even attempts to gather absolutely everything he wrote into one place are less than perfect: a 160-CD “complete works” from Brilliant Classics, released some years ago, omitted a few things here and there. The company gets points for trying, though, and its latest “complete” assemblage presents nine CDs purporting to include all the divertimenti and serenades that Mozart wrote. The set is pulled together from recordings made between 1989 and 2023, involving four orchestras under five conductors. All the ensembles are fine and of an appropriate size for the music, and all the conductors handle the material with understanding and a pleasantly light touch.

     Lightness of touch is in fact the key to all this material. The divertimenti and serenades – and cassations and notturnos, all those titles being more-or-less interchangeable in the Classical era – were the equivalent of background music, intended to be pleasant-sounding, aurally unchallenging, uncompetitive with conversations at various social engagements, and to some extent forgettable; yet as always with Mozart, the music rises above the occasions for which it was composed and is distinguished by perfect poise, balance and an understanding of the capabilities and blending possibilities of the instruments. So although it is justifiable to think of this material as the equivalent of 18th-century “mood music,” these works are nevertheless high art, amounting to a pinnacle of sorts even if they are scarcely as complex and memorable as Mozart’s more-substantive productions.

     As for the notion of completeness, that remains “more honored in the breach than the observance.” This release does not give the music the usual numbering – e.g., for the most famous of these pieces, not Serenade No. 13 (“Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”) – but only identification by Köchel numbering (Serenade in G, K525). Various serenades do not appear at all – e.g., K361/K370a and K375 (Nos. 10 and 11 in the usual numbering). But pieces not generally thought of as being in this grouping do show up, notably Ein Musikalische Spaß (“A Musical Joke”), K522.

     Ultimately, the “complete” designation will matter far less to listeners than the nearly 10 hours of music on these nine discs. There are plenty of straightforward items here, often from early in Mozart’s oeuvre, but even among the early works, there are surprises and special pleasures. For example, K113 of 1771, written when Mozart was 15, is the first piece in which the composer used clarinets – although years later he revised it to include oboes, English horns and bassoons, so the clarinets could be left out. In K131, written the following year, Mozart includes no fewer than four horns and uses them as a solo quartet repeatedly. And in several works, Mozart splits instrumental sections (K131 divides the violas) or sets a smaller group of instruments against a larger one (as in K239, the “Serenata Notturna”). There are some genuinely impressive pieces in this collection: K250, the “Haffner” serenade, is an eight-movement work lasting almost an hour. And there are a few items that are simply strange, such as the very early Gallimathias Musicum, K32, a piece of “musical nonsense” (hence the title) that includes six 30-second movements and others that are not much longer, almost all based on popular and folk music of Mozart’s time.

     Complete or not, this intriguing and well-played set provides a rare opportunity to hear Mozart in mostly unserious mode and mood, producing overtly entertaining material for the soirées and aristocratic gatherings of his time, experimenting now and then with sonorities and instrumental combinations, but never losing sight of the importance of keeping everything simultaneously unobtrusive and entertaining. Certainly the entertainment value of these works remains very much in the forefront some two-and-a-half centuries after Mozart created them.


William Horne: Sonata for French Horn and Piano; Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano; Trio for Flute, Alto Saxophone, and Piano. Mollie Pate, French horn; Xiting Yang and Joonghun Cho, piano; Walter Puyear, alto saxophone; Brandon LePage, flute. Blue Griffin Recordings. $15.99.

Gabriel Vicéns: Mural; Sueños Ligados; El Matorral; Una Superficie Sin Rostro; Carnal; Ficción; La Esfera. Roberta Michel, flute; Raissa Fahlman, clarinet; Joenne Dumitrascu and Adrianne Munden-Dixon, violin; Rocío Díaz de Cossío, Wick Simmons, and Julia Henderson, cello; Corinne Penner, Mayumi Tsuchida, and Mikael Darmanie, piano; John Ling, vibraphone; David Bloom, conductor; Nu Quintet (Kim Lewis, flute; Michael Dwinell, oboe; Kathryn Vetter, clarinet; Tylor Thomas, bassoon; Blair Hamrick, horn). Stradivarius. $15.

Music for Piano by Armenian Women Composers. Şahan Arzruni, piano. AGBU/Positively Armenian. $18.59.

     Contemporary explorations of small-ensemble combinations continue to turn up new ways to mix a limited number of instruments while exploring their expressive potential. The third volume in a Blue Griffin Recordings series of the chamber music of William Horne (born 1952) features up-to-the-minute music, written in 2021-2023, but nothing overtly avant-garde: Horne has an easy way with modern compositional techniques, but long since abandoned his earlier proclivity for twelvetone and atonal approaches in favor of material that reaches out emotively to audiences while never sounding old-fashioned, much less dated. Sonata for French Horn and Piano (2021) flows with a pleasing naturalness and a firm comprehension of the horn’s capabilities: there is no attempt here to force the instrument to make sounds for which it was not designed, and if the work’s “quick, energetic” finale is a touch on the acerbic side, that simply gives it a pleasingly piquant character that contrasts well with the mellower mood of the first two movements. The three movements of the Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano (2022) are less strongly contrasted than those of the horn sonata – indeed, all three are in more or less the same moderate tempo. A gentle rocking motion characterizes the first, a calm and expressive berceuse-like mood the second, while the finale – marked “Moderately” – continues the sense of crepuscular warmth and produces an overall feeling of relaxation. The Trio for Flute, Alto Saxophone, and Piano (2023) is sonically the most interesting of these three works, Horne’s contrast of the winds being particularly effective and his use of piano highlights and underlinings always well-considered. Part of the designation of the work’s first movement – “amiably” – stands as a good description of the piece as a whole: nothing here sounds complex or demanding; everything is pleasantly thoughtful, nicely balanced and hinting in the finale at just a bit of puckishness. Horne mingles the instruments attractively and shows in all three works on this well-played CD that modern chamber music can have a contemporary sound while still being effective in communicating some old-fashioned pleasures to listeners.

     The seven works by Gabriel Vicéns (born 1988) on a new Stradivarius CD are even more varied in their instrumental combinations, ranging from a sextet to a solo piano piece. The sextet, El Matorral, for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and vibraphone, establishes an ostinato at the start before moving into exclamatory material: most instruments do not enter until more than a minute after the opening, and when they do, their percussive sounds complement rather than contrast with the initial keyboard material. The work stops suddenly, then enters a period of anticipatory quiescence that leads eventually to a series of brief outbursts from individual instruments; the ending fades to nothingness. There is something a bit gestural about the exclamatory material – nothing here sweeps the listener along – but the sounds of the instruments are well-differentiated. Almost as many instruments are involved in Ficción (2021): this is a woodwind quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. Here the material is interlocutory from the start: a single-note, single-instrument  exclamation is answered by a somewhat longer response from several players. The work includes sections that seem to build toward proclamations, but it never actually takes the audience there: each buildup disintegrates or subsides into factional (or fractional) presentations by a portion of the group. The conclusion, although chordal, fades to nothingness. The CD also includes two three-instrument pieces: Mural (2021) for clarinet, violin and piano, and Sueños Ligados (2020) for violin, cello and piano. In the first of these, the piano rises very gradually from inaudibility to quietude, struggling to produce anything at all rhythmic before the violin finally appears after about three minutes and the clarinet 30 seconds later. Thereafter the piece meanders here and there and periodically stops altogether – Vicéns is fond of silence punctuated by single notes – and eventually dies out in the sort of ending that Vicéns clearly favors. Sueños Ligados asserts its atonality and sonic pointillism from the start, with the piano here providing an underpinning for the strings rather than taking the lead – although the keyboard does have the last word before the inevitable fadeout. In addition to these works, the CD includes two for two instruments: Carnal (2019) for violin and piano, and La Esfera (2021) for cello and piano. The violin opens the first of these in a standard kind of disconnected-sounding manner, eventually sounding brief phrases above a piano foundation until, later in the piece, the instruments make exclamations together rather than on an alternating basis. Many of the violin bursts come perilously close to self-parody of avant-garde music: they have no particular pattern or importance and are simply sound bursts. As for the cello-and-piano piece, its opening is given to the piano, which offers tiny note sequences interrupted by chords – until the cello more-or-less sneaks in with pizzicato notes and percussive sounds, its characteristic warmth and depth wholly absent. Indeed, Vicéns is at pains here and in all the music on this disc to avoid any impression or implication of flow, much less lyricism. The solo-piano work, Una Superficie Sin Rostro (2020), begins with the same sorts of individual notes used in several other pieces here and very gradually becomes a kind of aural cloud built by use of the sustaining pedal. The title, “A Faceless Surface,” seems apt for the portrayal of what is essentially nothingness – and could fit several of the other pieces on this disc as well. Despite the multiplicity of sonic environments available to Vicéns through use of varying instruments, these pieces all have a similarity of sound, as if the composer has a single view of what music means to him and utilizes varying forces to communicate what is essentially the same thing. Thus, listeners who find any of these works congenial will likely resonate to all of them, while those who do not find any one work attractive are unlikely to find any other of very much interest.

     The solo piano is heard in very different guise on a nicely varied CD featuring pianist Şahan Arzruni performing music by eight Armenian women composers – none of whom is likely to be known at all to the vast majority of listeners. Of the 17 tracks on the disc, only two have ever been recorded before; as for the composers, their music spans a time period from the 19th century to the 21st. The disc opens with Sonatina by Geghuni Chitchyan (born 1929). This is a nicely proportioned work, mildly dissonant, of no great consequence, but lying well on the piano. And it is followed interestingly by a slow-paced movement labeled Prelude that eventually simply evaporates. Next are two Preludes by Koharik Gazarossian (1907-1967), the first funereal and expressive, the second light and rhythmically inventive. These are followed by I Haven’t the Words by Mary Kouyoumdjian (born 1983), in which insistent repeated chords contrast with a melodic line that strives for expressivity but repeatedly is derailed by its underpinnings. After this comes Dance-Song by Sirvart Karamanuk (1912-2008), which does have elements of both musical forms in its title – although the blending is a somewhat uneasy one, with chordal insistence at the end lending the work a bit too much portentousness. Next is The Bells of Ani by Sirvart Kazandjian (1944-2020), where the tolling emerges with greater clarity and more insistence than the rest of the material in the piece. Then Arzruni plays six Preludes by Gayane Chebotaryan (1918-1998), and these are impressive: all are in minor keys, all are expressive in their own ways, and all call on the pianist to balance elements of strength and dissonance with some folklike material, sections of rhythmic clarity, occasional straightforward emotional expressiveness, and some instances of delicacy and hints of Impressionism. Collectively, these works are the highlight of this AGBU/Positively Armenian CD. They are followed by Ode to Vahani by Alicia Terzian (born 1934), which opens with a crash that fades only slowly, after which the piece proceeds atonally and athematically, incorporating electronically altered vocal declamations and other elements that some composers still consider up-to-date but that have become rather tired through over-insistent overuse. The disc ends with The Nightingale of Armenia by Lucy Hazarabedian (1863-1882), a tiny gem of salon music written by a short-lived composer when she was 16 – and the oldest work on the CD. The simple pleasures of this piece provide a substantial contrast with the far greater complexity of many of the other works heard here and show that nothing over-the-top is required to give listeners interested in unfamiliar material by unknown composers the chance to experience music that suffices on its own admittedly modest terms.

June 20, 2024


Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by Sir Colin Davis. BR Klassik. $12.99.

Mahler: Symphony No. 3. Nathalie Stutzmann, alto; Tölzer Knabenchor, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by Mariss Jansons. BR Klassik. $23.99 (2 CDs).

Elgar: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2. The Hallé conducted by Sir Mark Elder. Hallé. $32.99 (2 CDs).

     There is something exhilarating about live performances that makes them often more involving (and often more impressive) than studio recordings – even though occasional missteps in the concert hall do occur. However, when absolutely top-notch orchestras are being led by their music directors rather than guest conductors, even the biggest and most-complex works can really shine when performed for a live audience. And recordings that capture those readings can accordingly become some of the best ones available for the repertoire. The Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks is one of the world’s best ensembles, and its live performances with two of its music directors showcase not only the music itself but also the intensity-cum-smoothness of collaboration between the players and the podium. Sir Colin Davis was the orchestra’s chief conductor from 1983 to 1992, and while he recorded Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique with other orchestras, the 1987 Berlin performance now available on BR Klassik is exceptional – even with a caveat or two. There is warmth and beauty throughout the first movement, the strings exceptional in massed sound and the trumpet touches very well-handled: they are just pointed enough for an appropriate level of emphasis. The pacing is excellent, too – in contrast with the second movement, where things go a bit awry. Here Davis starts the dance at quite a slow pace, robbing it of any sense of celebratory verve and bringing in a touch of gloom to the overall proceedings a bit too soon. Later in the movement, he speeds things up significantly to provide contrast, but there is perhaps too much of that. However, in the third movement, matters are on a more even keel. Here Davis extracts just the right pastoral touches, with especially fine woodwinds. The pacing is good, so this longest of the symphony’s five movements does not become disjointed, as it does in some performances. The rolling thunder of timpani toward the end is perfectly paced, the volume expertly modulated, with the result that the natural and sylvan are transformed into something just slightly sinister – a state of affairs on which the fourth movement quickly expands. The first part of this Marche au supplice is paced as a cortège, but with exclamatory brass intrusions that look ahead to the finale. The bassoon touches are particularly well-done, and when the recollection of the idée fixe of the beloved appears, the sound looks ahead to what happens when Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel meets his fate. And as the finale of Symphonie Fantastique proceeds, the dissonances are very pronounced, and Davis manages to make the off-kilter dance tune sound genuinely spooky. The reverberation of the bells is stronger than in most performances, and this proves highly effective, especially when the brass enters. All the movement’s special effects are well done: the glissandi, the pizzicati, the snarls from the brass, the sudden drops to near-silence, the pounding of the timpani. The result is a rousing and deeply affecting conclusion to a symphony that still looms large in the repertoire, retaining its considerable power nearly two centuries after Berlioz composed it – especially when orchestra and conductor are so closely attuned to each other as they are here.

     The same superb orchestra successfully tackles a considerably larger symphonic opus with equal or even greater success on a new BR Klassik release of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 led by Mariss Jansons, who was chief conductor from 2003 to 2019. It is almost impossible to overstate the grandeur of this symphony, which is operatic in length (this performance runs 97 minutes) and covers every possible emotional state that Mahler could imagine and incorporate – this is the work that most thoroughly fulfills his stated objective of having a symphony contain the whole world. In fact, the uplift of the work’s finale lifts Mahler’s Third beyond the world, into heavenly realms – and it is the last movement toward which all the others strive, as is clear both in retrospect and while experiencing the massive symphony in the concert hall. Jansons took the audience on an amazingly moving philosophical and emotional journey in this 2010 performance. The horns are very impressive at the start of the first movement – no surprise with this orchestra – and there is remarkable precision within each section. The march emerges gradually and to very striking effect, but it is the chamber-music-like elements that are truly outstanding in sound, balance and blending. The gradual addition of instruments as the music swells to full-orchestra passages is beautifully handled. By the time the horns return with the opening statement, about two-thirds of the way through this huge movement, there is already a feeling of building to a climax – but then the music retraces its steps while adding new elements, before building to the actual climactic material. Jansons assembles the material with confidence throughout, controlling the monumental movement's many elements sure-handedly.

     Conductors can be so overwhelmed by the sheer scale and scope of Mahler’s Third that they neglect the extent to which the symphony requires moderate pacing after the first movement. Under Jansons, however, the gentle quiet of the second movement and its initial leisurely pace (nicht eilen: do not rush) create a very strong contrast with the first movement; sweetness dominates here. The solo violin provides clear points of emphasis, and there is great delicacy in the scoring – a greater sense of meandering than in the first movement, which is three times the length of the second. Mahler marks the third movement comodo, “comfortable,” and again the pacing must be as careful as Jansons makes it – the composer also says to play the music ohne hast. But there is a perkiness to the themes here and a brightness to the orchestration (through the use of winds and brass) of which Jansons takes full advantage. There is a kind of glossiness in the scoring – and the legato solo trumpet halfway through is especially impressive. The whole movement seems to drift until the very end, when it suddenly achieves full-orchestra coherence and emphasis. The fourth movement continues the carefully controlled speed with which this expansive work unfolds: Mahler marks it sehr langsam, “very slowly,” and durchaus (“absolutely”) ppp. The extreme quiet of the opening is highly effective, with Nathalie Stutzmann’s vocal entry gentle but still surprising and emotionally strong. And again here the solo violin is aptly highlighted for its importance, notably at the words tief ist ihr weh (“deep is her woe”). The fifth, very short movement offers the only immediate launch of brightness in the symphony. But here the words counteract the tone, as in the lament that translates, "I have broken the 10 commandments." And the music, here with strings emphasized, constantly strives toward a happiness that proves elusive. It is left to the non-vocal finale – a real surprise after two movements using voices – to consummate the symphony. Jansons fully understands what Mahler asks for here: Langsam. Ruhevoll. That is, “Slow. Calm.” The sense of warmth and soul-pervading peace comes through clearly in this reading. The music does not so much progress as unfold, building on the final word of the fifth movement: Seligkeit (“salvation” and also “bliss”). This finale seems to meander but actually builds gradually, the music flowing in waves and the waves getting larger as the movement progresses. Recollections of the first movement emerge two-thirds of the way through in a totally different context and with a totally different meaning, but the connection is both clear and germane. The last few minutes reinterpret the first movement in a wholly new manner, turning it as it were inside-out to show that Nature and Love are in fact two aspects of the same thing. The swelling to full-orchestral splendor of the last few minutes is all the more overwhelming because the instrumental totality has been heard so rarely in the previous hour and a half. D major has never been so resplendent, and Jansons allows the movement its full scope and completely involving expressiveness. The result is a deeply meaningful performance on every level.

     Sir Mark Elder’s quarter-century tenure with The Hallé, 1999-2024, is about the length of Davis’ and Jansons’ in Berlin combined. And Elgar was a major symphonic figure for Elder’s orchestra throughout – and, indeed, for many years prior. Elgar’s two symphonies were both written while Mahler was alive (completed in 1908 and early 1911; Mahler died in May) and are both large-scale but scarcely as expansive as Mahler’s, each running about an hour. Elgar’s tonal language also differs significantly from Mahler’s, although late-Romantic elements are apparent in both composers’ symphonies. A new recording on The Hallé’s own label showcases the expansiveness of both Elgar symphonies and the skill with which Elder was able to present them to concert-hall audiences. Elder grasps the similarities and differences between the two woks clearly, understanding the importance to Elgar of the designation nobilmente, which appears in the first movement of each symphony. Those first movements are the longest in each case, but the slow movements (placed third in Symphony No. 1 and second in Symphony No. 2) are also quite weighty. Elgar said his Symphony No. 1 in A-flat reflected “a wide experience of human life,” and if the totality is not quite as wide as in Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, it is nevertheless impressive in scope. Elgar, who was and is known for his marches, includes marchlike elements and episodes several times in this symphony, but his focus is more on the march’s rhythm than on its martial elements, as becomes clear at the work’s very end, when the march rhythm is used to enhance a recurring motto that has appeared in various guises throughout. Symphony No. 2 also shares some underlying elements with Mahler’s Third, with Elgar saying that his work deals with “the passionate pilgrimage of a soul” – although, again, without the extraordinary length and intensity of the fourth through sixth movements of Mahler’s symphony. Elgar’s Second is distinguished by a Larghetto slow movement that movingly recounts the composer’s grief at the death of a friend and, at least by reflection (and by audience assumption), sadness at the passing in 1910 of King Edward VII. A march is prominent in this movement, unsurprisingly, but what is surprising is a finale marked Moderato e maestoso and attempting, to some extent like Mahler’s conclusion of his Symphony No. 3, to raise the musical experience to a higher level. This is done in Elgar’s own way, however, including the recurrence of the word nobilmente as the marking of the secondary main theme of the movement – and with a subdued and thoughtful ending that is as different as possible from the brilliant D major with which Mahler’s concluding movement eventually resounds. Elgar’s Second is in E-flat, the key of Beethoven’s “Eroica,” but here the heroic recedes before the pensive and thought-provoking – characteristics that Elder brings forth with great clarity and to very fine effect in a performance that, like that of Elgar’s First, showcases this conductor’s and this orchestra’s expertise with this composer’s music, presenting it to concert-hall audiences with great subtlety and complete understanding.


Poulenc: Figure Humaine; Songs of the American Civil War. Skylark Vocal Ensemble. Sono Luminus. $15.99.

Liszt: Piano Music. Sandrine Erdely-Sayo, piano. Navona. $14.99.

Paul Pinto: String Quartet No. 4; Marina Kifferstein: String Quartet No. 2; Lewis Nielson: Pastorale para los pobres de la tierra. The Rhythm Method (Leah Asher and Marina Kifferstein, violins; Meaghan Burke, viola; Carrie Frey, cello); Alice Teyssier, flute & voice. New Focus Recordings. $16.99.

     The decision of what music to include on any recording is only part of what is involved in choosing to make a CD. How to present the music is also crucial to whatever the performers are trying to communicate. Matthew Guard, artistic director and conductor of the Skylark Vocal Ensemble, clearly wrestled with this issue when making decisions about a new Sono Luminus disc. The main work here is Poulenc’s 1943 Figure Humaine, which explores war from the perspective of the year of its composition and ends with an impassioned plea for liberté. It is a major a cappella work of its time, but it is a work of its time, for all its considerations of the generalized horrors and depredations of war. And it is in French, setting words by poet Paul Éluard. So to try to make the Poulenc piece more accessible to a 21st-century audience, Guard elected to have the ensemble intersperse its eight movements with eight songs, in English, relating to the American Civil War. The intent is clearly to search for the universality of antiwar messaging, to bridge the language barrier between French and English for those not fluent in both, and to demonstrate the power of massed voices to communicate individualized and strongly felt emotions. The intention is good; the execution, not entirely successful. This is not a problem with the Skylark Vocal Ensemble itself: the group sings with feeling, enunciates the words clearly (although the Éluard texts seem to give the singers a bit of trouble here and there), and sounds thoroughly dedicated to this project and its foundational message. What somewhat undermines the effectiveness of the presentation, however, is that the Poulenc work – which has considerable power as it builds to its final call for liberty – is here broken up into eight sections and then intermingled with the American folk songs, which communicate in a very different way and are in fact part of a different musical idiom. The power of Poulenc is vitiated by the constant dipping into different sensibilities and a different language, and the adjacency of the Poulenc movements in no way elevates the comparatively prosaic expressions of the American songs. Placing Johnny has gone for a soldier between two movements of Figure Humaine may make a kind of sense, but having Abide with me show up within Poulenc is somewhat bizarre, and making the disc’s penultimate track The Battle Hymn of the Republic (followed by the conclusion of Poulenc’s cantata) is just plain odd. Again, none of this takes away from the quality of the performances (although, in truth, the conclusion of The Battle Hymn of the Republic is somewhat overdone here). But the alternation of Poulenc’s complex and highly sensitive music with the much more matter-of-fact English-language material ends up making this well-sung disc a good deal less effective than it would have been if the Poulenc had been presented from start to finish – followed by all the Civil War songs in a sequence calculated to reflect their varied concerns.

     The decisions made by pianists performing the music of Franz Liszt are of another kind: there is so much Liszt piano music, with so many approaches to so many topics on so many levels, that no pianist attempts a Liszt recital without having some overarching form of communication in mind. It is not, however, always clear to listeners just what the “framing tale” of a given recital is intended to be – yet it often does not matter if the individual works are performed with skill and commitment. That is certainly the case with the 12 pieces included on a new Navona disc featuring pianist Sandrine Erdely-Sayo. The works heard here are all over the aural map in terms of their length, intent and effect. The centerpiece of the recording is a thoughtful, elegantly played version of the six Consolations. The delicacy of the first and second – similar in mood but very different in sound – is brought forth with considerable care. The slow third and fourth are thoughtful and on the autumnal side, expressive without pathos. The pleasantries of the fifth and berceuse-like rocking motion of the sixth come through to fine effect. Yet it is worth noting that the Consolations are literally the centerpiece of this CD, being preceded and followed by material of very different provenance within Liszt’s oeuvre. The disc open with Romance in E minor, S. 169, which suggests that a pervasive sense of quiet sadness is likely to dominate the recording. But then comes the longest work on the CD by far – as long as all the Consolations put together. It is Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, and it changes the prior crepuscular mood to one of thoughtfulness, uplift and spirituality. Erdely-Sayo gives it an expansive performance, allowing its silences and long-held notes to become an integral part of its communicative style. And she follows it with Saint François de Paule marchant sur les flots, another extended religion-focused piece (although only half the length of the Bénédiction) – and here the use of the left hand to represent the waves on which the saint walks is especially well-done and evocative. It is after all this material that Erdely-Sayo plays the Consolations, thus giving those six pieces a spiritual gloss that is certainly justifiable but not entirely necessary to experience and enjoy them – the context here is completely the pianist’s choice. And after the Consolations end, there are three more works to come, all thoughtful and nocturnal in their own ways but not really partaking of overt spirituality. Liebesträume No. 3 is an understandably famous work for its thematic beauty and the simplicity of its evocation of the dreamlike – although the pianism it calls for is scarcely on the simple side. The nocturne En Rêve – whose title in effect duplicates that of Liebesträume – is quieter and more peaceful, drifting always toward the keyboard’s upper reaches until it evaporates into beauty. And then, at the end of the disc, there is Liszt’s arrangement of the Ständchen (Serenade) from Schubert’s Schwanengesang, in which Erdely-Sayo dwells on the communicative straightforwardness of the themes and the sense of pathos that underlies all the loveliness of the music. In its totality, this very well-played recital conveys a level of sadness and emotional quietude stopping short of despair but seeming to seek comfort in a myriad of ways – without ever entirely settling into it. The disc will appeal to listeners willing to experience an extended period of wistfulness and near-weepiness: an hour-plus of inward exploration courtesy in part of Liszt but to an equal extent of a pianist making careful selections of the composer’s work in furtherance of her desire to emphasize specific elements of Liszt’s vast production of keyboard music.

     The main choice to be made by the members of the string quartet called The Rhythm Method for a New Focus Recordings CD likely involved the disc’s sequence. The three works offered here were all written for the ensemble, and one was composed by a member of the quartet. So everything is contemporary in sound, everything is recently created, and everything is intended to be played by the performers for whom the music was written. Furthermore, everything uses such now-standard sound-and instrument-extension techniques as microtonality, vocalization, and performance approaches outside the long-established norms for strings. This means that the CD is self-limited by choice: it is for audiences already familiar and comfortable with the approach of these composers and these performers, and already well-attuned (so to speak) to the expectations and communicative methods of contemporary music. Such audiences will be ready to engage with Paul Pinto’s String Quartet No. 4, which bears the title “I pass’d a church.” Pinto’s idea is to use the strings to represent the sounds that could be made by a church – that is, by the building itself – as it attempts to recover from damage caused by hurricanes. The scale here is very broad, the pacing very slow, and the sounds frequently unlike anything one would expect strings to produce: sighs, groans, wavelike emissions, wind that sounds like words and actually blends into vocalizations, and more. Scarcely designed to be musical in any traditional sense, the quartet – like many avant-garde compositions – sounds like a performance piece, designed with theatricality that is intended to evoke visual rather than auditory scenes in listeners’ minds. The performers follow this with String Quartet No. 2 by the ensemble’s second violinist, Marina Kifferstein. This piece does open with string sounds, albeit long-drawn-out ones that form the athematic, non-rhythmic “sound clouds” of which so many contemporary composers and performers are fond. Once again in this work there are blendings of string sounds into vocalizations, and vocal sounds back to those of strings. The primary effect here is of an extended and repetitive fade-in and fade-out. The piece does not seem to be trying to communicate anything in particular – instead, it presents an aural experience from which listeners can select what meaning they like and respond to it in any way they wish. Placed third and last on the disc is its longest work by far: Pastorale para los pobres de la tierra by Lewis Nielson. Like the other pieces here, this involves vocalizing blending and contrasting with instrumental sounds – but this piece is actually a quintet, incorporating Alice Teyssier’s flute and adding her voice to those of the string players. Indeed, the vocal element here is in one sense paramount: there are actual words spoken, drawn from works by Antonio Machado, Pablo Neruda, and St. Francis of Assisi. The dissonant opening pizzicato emphasis and the percussive elements with which the piece begins soon expand into a sound world in which verbiage (by no means always easy to hear or decipher) blends into and contrasts repeatedly with otherworldly instrumental lines that are often very busy but rarely for any specific discernible purpose. Like many other avant-garde works, including the other two on this CD, Nielson’s appears to exist mainly to create a world of sound from which listeners can pick and choose what to hear and what meaning to assign to whatever they choose to experience. Again, this is a theatrical experience as much as an aural one, and quite deliberately goes beyond the bounds of what audiences will expect of music – unless those audiences are already conversant with and appreciative of this form of expressiveness. There is nothing on this disc that will reach out beyond a core group of enthusiasts, but for those who are advocates and supporters of this sort of engagement and entertainment, the recording will be effective in providing a particular kind of soundscape to which those with suitable musical convictions will gravitate.