The late chamber music of fin de siècle English composer Edward Elgar is as melodic and personal as any he ever wrote, but because it is also more emotionally elusive than his earlier symphonies and concertos, his chamber music is much less frequently performed and recorded. This disc by members of London's Nash Ensemble coupling the three-movement, 25-minute-long Violin Sonata in E minor with the three-movement, nearly 40-minute-long Piano Quintet in A minor is a wonderful introduction to both works.
Maxim Vengerov now confronts - and conquers - one of the supreme challenges all great violinists must face: The Brahms violin concerto. This beautiful, virtuosic work has defined careers from Heifetz to Perlman. Vengerov's turn has come, and his rich, burnished tone and impassioned phrasing make this one of the standout concerto CDs of the year. The soulful partnership of Vengerov and Barenboim (one of his most important mentors) is also a strong selling point.
The works on this CD stem from the early and from the late period of Debussys creative life, and are for these reasons not typical Debussy, in the sense that they eschew the impressionistic features so often associated with the composer. The piano trio is a sumptuously romantic work, with echoes of Schumann and Franck, whereas the cello sonata and violin sonata are part of the 6 sonata project which Debussy started in 1915, but didnt complete because of his untimely death in 1918 (only 3 sonatas were composed). The music is transparent, with neoclassical hints, and sometimes with Stravinskian bite and humour. The musicians on this CD, Federico Guglielmo, Luigi Puxeddu and Jolanda Violante have won their spurs mainly in Early Music; therefore their view on these works is fresh and open, with infectious esprit and zest. As bonus a series of short and much loved pieces in arrangements: Reverie, Arabesque, Minstrels, La fille aux cheveux de lin, and two early original miniatures for cello and piano.
A pupil of Fauré, Louis Aubert moved in the same circles as Ravel, Debussy, Koechlin and others and was considered in his day to be one of the most original French composers. With its evocatively impressionistic images of seascapes, the night and Spain, Sillages is amongst the most significant French piano works of the early 20th century. The intensely expressive and impassioned Violin Sonata is Aubert’s only large-scale work in abstract Classical form and the distinctive Feuille d’images is a varied collection of educational pieces. The fiery Habanera, Aubert’s most frequently performed orchestral work, is heard in the composer’s own transcription for piano four hands.
Armando José Fernandes was a celebrated composer, musician and radio broadcaster in 20th-century Portugal. He was an integral member of the ‘Grupo dos Quatro’ – alongside Jorge Croner de Vasconcelos, Fernando Lopes-Graça and Pedro do Prado – which exerted substantial influential over Portuguese music in the mid-1900s.
Recordings such as this superb one serve to remind us that though we may think we know the output of the major composers, there are still treasures to be discovered. Works for individual instruments find their way into recital programs but often lie in shadow of the 'big works' for the concert.