November 12, 2020

  • Orli Shaham Launches Mozart Sonata Cycle


    Mozart: Piano Sonatas, Volume 1
    Orli Shaham, piano
    Canary Classics 19
    Total Time: 77:05
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****


    In 2019, pianist Orli Shaham began setting down her interpretation of Mozart Sonatas in a complete set that is being slowly released by Canary Classics.  The recordings were made in the historic Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA.  Notably, she also released earlier a recording of two Mozart concertos with the St. Louis Symphony.  Shaham is noted for her impeccable grace and ability to address subtle aspects of the music.  Those are perfect qualities for the likes of Mozart and this first album reveals this in the three Bb Major (Nos. 3, 13, and 17) sonatas chosen to launch the project.  The programming reveals a chance to perhaps better understand the precociousness of Mozart and the rich, varied approaches within a single harmonic area that he explored in these works.

    The third sonata in Bb Major (K.281) is a work of the teenage Mozart.  Written in 1775, the music stays close to the sort of sonatas of Haydn and J.C. Bach.  The first movement seems a bit daring at first with its immediate shift away from the tonic key and interesting motivic focus.  It certainly has that bit of wit and trickery that follows into the development section.  And yet, the recapitulation is very basic and almost underwhelming.  Almost as if the young composer wants to reassure the listener that he is going to stay close to the norm.  The central movement is a lovely sonata-form with some beautiful lyrical writing (perhaps thinking of the young Aloysia Weber he had his eye on).  The final movement is a witty rondo flirting with sonata form.  One unifying element in the piece is a trill figure which appears throughout the work.  There are plenty of moments to smile at the humorous ways that Mozart plays with expectations and musically sticks his tongue out (perhaps that is the trill’s purpose after all?).  This is handled quite beautifully by Shaham who brings out these nuances as the work plays out.

    At almost 28-minutes in length, the thirteenth sonata (K. 333) is one of the more intense and longer Mozart works in this genre.  Unlike the earlier work which may have been more directed as a “teaching” work, this more virtuosic piece suggests it was written for the composer to perform in public himself.  Though dated to 1783, it is possible the piece was written earlier and used for a concert in Linz which also resulted in a symphony which bears its additional designation (K. 425).  There is more a concerto feel to the piece and the movements, especially the length, certainly suggest a grander intent.  The opening has moments that feel almost as if we are hearing a piano reduction of the orchestra with soloists passagework.  These move between elegance and bravura.  The central movement is another of those really gorgeous melodic works that could be a reduction of some operatic love duet.  The finale is a rondo marked “Allegretto grazioso” which again hints at a more elegant sensibility.  There is a cadenza-like section which again points to the grander feel of the piece.  This is a really superb performance of the piece and there is great attention to dynamic shifts as well as the way the music shifts between these extremes of an almost orchestral to a more soloistic quality.

    The final sonata on the album is K. 570.  This is the seventeenth of these works with a more standard 3-movement and comes near the end of his life.  Written in 1789, it came at a time when Mozart’s financial difficulties were perhaps at the beginning of their lowest point and after an abysmal tour that yielded few prospects.  There has always been speculation that this may have been intended as a violin sonata and a rather limpid violin part appeared with its publication in 1796.  Though Mozart himself entered the work as for solo piano.  The opening “Allegro” seems a bit restrained but has some rather interesting contrapuntal work and plays with structure as well.  The central slow movement is a rondo with a charming affect within a rather intriguing formal choice.  The finale returns to humor and wit with delightful surprises that some find parallel the world of opera buffa.

    Shaham’s performances here are quite beguiling.  She manages to lean into the humor of these works where that is needed but also manages to connect with that sort of inner sadness that provides a poignant undercurrent in Mozart’s music.  That is especially apparent in the slow movements with their sense of yearning and grace.  The music’s formal aspects are also well delineated in her performance and there is a fine sense of understanding of where these works are in Mozart’s development.  By placing these three Bb works together, Shaham also manages to help listeners see this growing development in Mozart’s music that touches the heart without becoming too romantic, though one can see that shift on the horizon as Mozart departs from the banal simplicity of others around him.  From what is heard on this release, Mozarteans will certainly want to keep their eye out for the remainder of this traversal of Mozart’s work if this exquisite release is any indication of what is yet to come.


November 10, 2020

  • Chilean Viola Music


    Mobili: Music for Viola and Piano from Chile
    Georgina Isabel Rossi, viola.  Silvie Cheng, piano.
    New Focus FCR268
    Total Time:  69:02
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    Mobili takes its title from a significant work by Juan Orrego-Salas (1919-2019) that anchors this collection of music for viola by Chilean composers.  Violist Georgina Isabel Rossi’s program is a blend of works from the 1960s and the 21st Century exploring work by six composers.  Rossi is a Chilean-born performer who has performed throughout the Americas and is currently a member of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.  She is joined here by Silvie Cheng who is known for her championing of new music and has recorded with her brother on the audite label.

    The program is organized with the opening five works being shorter pieces and the larger multi-movement work serving as the conclusion with a brief encore-like piece to wrap things off.  Two pieces by Rafael Diaz (b.1962) open the album.  The first of these, Habra alguien que en sus manos sostenga este caer? (2009), is for amplified viola and uses a prayer-like folk melody from the Andes’ indigenous Pewenche people.  The arc of the piece is related to the “sonorities” of prayer and opens with a ascending cry that will shift to a more lyrical, contemplative section.  The outlines of the viola line suggest landscapes and there are musical gestures to also indicate bird calls.  The Chilean landscape also informs Diaz’s In the Depths of My Distance Your House Emerges (2013).  The composer’s ethnomusicological exploration of indigenous music is also present in this work.

    The earliest work on the album is Carlos Botto’s (1923-2004) Fantaisie, Op, 15 (1962).  His work is among those combining modernist tendencies and references to more traditional forms and genres, of which this work is a fine example.  The open piano harmonies provide a careful underpinning of the almost romantic-like emotion of the solo line that moves into more intense segments as the motives of the piece are unpacked and explored in the work which has an excellent dramatic engagement whose episodic nature allows for a variety of challenges to overcome.  Federico Heinlein (1912-1999) counts among his teachers Nadia Boulanger.  His output focuses on poetic settings with the instrumental works often referencing poetry.  That is the case for his Duo “Do Not Go Gentle” (1985) which takes inspiration from a Dylan Thomas poem.  There are some really beautiful, folk-like romantic lines that provide a warm, emotional core to this music.   Tololo (2011) wraps up this first part of the program.  Originally for viola and string orchestra, this David Cortes (b. 1985) work takes its inspiration from the home of an important observatory on Mount Tololo.  The music follows the imagination of seeing through a telescope with its ability to see far and zoom in for new detail.

    Mobili, Op. 63 is a four-movement work by Orrego-Salas (1967).  The first movement has a sparse piano accompaniment and focuses on a long, lyrical line that grows slowly upward.  The piano tends to provide signposts and will then revisit the material from the solo line, expanding the harmonic tension.  “Discontinuo” is a contrasting movement of jagged and angular writing.  Interaction between the soloist becomes heightened here adding to a sense of unease that keeps things on edge.  In “Ricorrente”, seems to blend a seeking out and have a veiled reference to ricercare, with its somewhat staggered commentary between the soloist and piano.  The motivic idea introduced is expanded and explored between the two which sometimes come together.  The longest movement of the four, it seems to also hold a stronger emotional core which is mined well here by Rossi.  Things are wrapped up with a brilliant “Perpetuo” movement to provide more technical and virtuosic challenges.

    As a bonus track, the program concludes with a transcription of the song El Sampredrino (1968) by the composer often called the Argentinean Schubert, Carlos Guastavino (1912-2000).  His music fits into the more folk-inspired styles (a la Ginastera) with nods to the post-romantics.  It makes for a touching conclusion.

    While the music here tends toward more modernist contemporary qualities, the expressiveness of these pieces is captured beautifully by Rossi who navigates these moments of lyricism with beautiful playing.  Her articulation for the rapid passage moments also works to aid the dramatic contrasts of the pieces on this program.  The careful placement of these works also gradually expands the tonal palette so that the ear adjusts to the open, modern harmonies.  When the music introduces a more romantic-tinged line, they stand out in stunning contrast to the quartal/quintal harmonic piano accompaniment which is handled equally well by Cheng.  Perhaps it is the warm tone of the viola which also makes this album further inviting and certainly worth a look for those interested in expanding their musical world.  Sound quality is excellent with a perfect balance of soloist and piano, both imaged well in the sonic picture.  The piano has a nice warm quality with just enough ambience to warm things up and keep them from being to dry.  This is due as much to the excellent performances that are captured in this fine release.