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sounds of america


S T u


p h o t o g r a p h y

Boston Symphony Orchestra players with a musical glance at 20th-century France

‘Nightbreak’ Brahms Ballade, Op 10 No 1. Intermezzo, Op 116 No 4. Waltz, Op 39 No 9 Glass Dracula Suite Liszt Années de pèlerinage: année 1, ‘Suisse’, S160 – No 6, Vallée d’Obermann; No 9, Les cloches de Genève; année 3, S163 – No 4, Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este Rihm Brahmsliebewaltzer Bruce Levingston pf Sono Luminus F DSL92144 (64’ • DDD)

Works old and new from a serial musical commissioner Bruce Levingston seems to have patented a thematic, multi-composer programme concept for CDs where Philip Glass’s music appears on each release, thereby tapping into this composer’s ‘non-classical’ audience. According to the pianist, the present disc’s selections vividly display the light and darkness of the human soul, while the ‘Nightbreak’ title refers to that moment when day meets night and the spectrums of the sun and moon mesh together.

More importantly, the pieces sound well together. Interpretatively speaking, Levingston fares best in a suite culled and arranged from Glass’s string quartet music for the 1931 film Dracula, bringing arrestingly contrasting dynamics and colour shadings to the opening and closing themes, and evoking detached and sustained string bowing in the ‘In his cell’ section. While the Brahms and Liszt pieces also benefit from Levingston’s masterly textural control, his predominantly slow tempi and propensity for stretching phrases often cause the music to ramble, which explains why ‘Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este’ and ‘Les cloches de Genève’ clock in at nearly two minutes longer than most versions. Wolfgang Rihm’s Brahmsliebewaltzer might represent a waltz Brahms would have written had he studied with Schoenberg and checked his charm and imagination at the door. One cannot tell that the recordings stem from two distinct venues; indeed, the roomy ambience befits both Levingston’s repertoire and his rapt introspection. Jed Distler

‘Profanes et sacrées’ Debussy Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp Dutilleux Les citations Françaix Dixtuor Ravel Introduction and Allegro Tomasi Cinq danses profanes et sacrées Boston Symphony Chamber Players BSO Classics F Í 1102 (76’ • DDD/DSD)

Boston players in repertoire they almost came to own The works by Ravel and Debussy on the Boston Symphony Chamber Players’ new disc, ‘Profane et sacrées’, by no means overwhelm the remaining pieces of 20th-century French chamber music. If anything, the scores by Henri Tomasi, Henri Dutilleux and Jean Françaix are striking complements to their more well-known counterparts. What’s partially distinctive about the offerings is varied instrumentation that creates a panoply of rich sonic possibilities. For example, in Dutilleux’s Les citations the oboe, harpsichord and double bass share the inventive stage with assorted percussion.

Dutilleux’s score pays homage to several colleagues, including Peter Pears with a quote from Britten’s Peter Grimes. Elsewhere, the music explodes with animated and colourful gestures, including oboe multiphonics. Tomasi’s Cinq danses profanes et sacrées gives members of a wind quintet deliciously pungent and vivid material in solo and ensemble configurations. The wind quintet joins a string quintet in Françaix’s Dixtuor, which is whimsical, lyrical and full of smashing tunes.

The performances, recorded in concert, are exemplary, juxtaposing finesse with zest. Harpist Jessica Zhou makes exquisite contributions in the Ravel and Debussy, and John Ferrillo isn’t afraid to let his oboe honk rousingly in the Dutilleux. Decades ago, the Boston Symphony was renowned for its affinity with French music; this disc suggests that matters of Gallic style continue to course through the ensemble’s veins. Donald Rosenberg

‘Sprezzatura’ Britten Lachrymae, Op 48 Chihara Viola Sonata Hindemith Viola Sonata Siskind Etwas für Bratsche (Etwas rasch!) Shelly Tramposh va Cullan Bryant pf Ravello F RR7818 (60’ • DDD)

20th-century works from the Crane School’s viola professor The word ‘sprezzatura’ comes from Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (1528) and refers to ‘the rehearsed spontaneity, studied carelessness and wellpractised naturalness that underlie persuasive discourse’. These qualities characterise the two world premieres and two relatively familiar 20th-century viola staples featured on this disc, as well as the performers.

The programme opens with Paul Chihara’s melodic, graceful and beautifully balanced three-movement Viola Sonata, highlighted by a central Tempo di menuetto full of wistful harmonic twists and turns. By contrast, Paul Siskind’s six-minute Etwas features assertive ostinatos that trade back and forth between instruments, and towering, wide-leaping intervals. Viola player Shelly Tramposh’s arpeggiated chord-playing brings a welcome cutting-edge quality to the climaxes of Britten’s Lachrymae. Although her bright, silvery tone sometimes turns nasal and unlovely in high positions, the faultless intonation in exposed sustained passages – such as in the Hindemith Sonata’s finale – compensates. However, Cullan Bryant’s impeccably calibrated and ultra-responsive handling of the piano parts in every selection borders on mind-reading, and explains why he is considered one of the classiest collaborative pianists on the scene. Gorgeous engineering seals my recommendation of a disc that ought to hold appeal far beyond the viola community. Jed Distler


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