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Odd one in: the Bozzini Quartet with guest trombonist Jeremy Berkman affect the listener’s soul; the very different make-up of their personalities makes their musical journeys each completely individual. Each is in varying degrees relatively impervious to using charm alone to get their ways. Their Schubert works very well in this cool hip way; the absence of portamento becomes a strength when you also fall under the Jasper’s spell. The theme-and-variations second movement is bittersweet and passionately phrased; you can feel the heat on the Jaspers’ necks at the end of the Presto. Laurence Vittes
Neefe . Beethoven Beethoven Variations on a March by Dressler, WoO63 Neefe Twelve Keyboard Sonatas Susan Kagan pf Grand Piano F b GP615/16 (125’ • DDD)
Piano works by Beethoven and his irst important teacher Pianist and musicologist Susan Kagan is a longtime champion of composers who lived and worked in the time of Beethoven, including his pupils Archduke Rudolph and Ferdinand Ries. Her newest release is devoted to Christian Gottlob Neefe (1748-98), Beethoven’s first important teacher, who primarily composed for the theatre and wrote relatively few instrumental works. Published in 1773, Neefe’s 12 keyboard sonatas toe the line between Baroque and Classical styles.
All but two follow the typical fast-slow-fast three-movement Classical sonata pattern, while each movement is cast in a binary form typical of Scarlatti’s sonatas or Bach’s dance suite movements. Neefe’s sparse keyboard-writing delegates most of the work to the melodycarrying right hand and leaves relatively little for the left hand to do beyond perfunctory single lines.
Overall, the works are pleasant, well-crafted and slightly reserved, and these words precisely apply to Kagan’s pianism. She particularly shines in slow movements: notice, for example, how she colourfully differentiates detached and sustained articulation in No 1’s Poco adagio and No 7’s Arioso. However, one could imagine more lightness, animation and characterful wit in faster movements, such as No 10’s Con gusto, or a more assertive touch in No 4’s jaunty yet intense Presto.
Kagan fills out disc 2 with the 12-year-old Beethoven’s first published composition, the Nine Variations on a March by Dressler, where her scaled-down dynamics and general avoidance of the sustain pedal reflect the music’s cembalo origins. While Brautigam, Pletnev and Kempff bring far more assurance and bravura to the work, they do not honour every repeat as Kagan does here. Kagan’s warm sonority receives beautiful reproduction in one of the best-engineered piano releases I’ve heard originating from Joseph Patrych’s Sound Studio. Jed Distler
Underhill String Quartets – No 3, ‘The Alynne’; No 4, ‘The Night’. Still Image a . Trombone Quintet b a François Houle cl b Jeremy Berkman tbn Bozzini Quartet Centrediscs F CMCCD17412 (70’ • DDD)
Quartets with guests from the pen of Canadian Underhill If one were to lay odds which two nonstring instruments would figure in a chamber music collection otherwise devoted to the string quartet, odds would not favour the clarinet and trombone. And yet composer Owen Underhill reveals such a spot-on sense of tuning and timbre that the shotgun marriage of musical families makes perfect, even inevitable sense.
Much of that success is surely due to the soloists. In Still Image (2007/11), clarinettist François Houle often rests comfortably in the cracks between standard tonality, deftly rendering a ‘duotone’ cadenza (composed entirely of two-part multiphonics) as if it were a student exercise. Trombonist Jeremy Berkman, clearly the inspiration and impetus for the Trombone Quintet (1999), offers a lyrical performance so inextricable from the piece’s musical conception that it’s hard to think of the music without his subtle yet distinctive mannerisms. Rarely has a mute been put to such subdued effects. As the chronological gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE SEPTEMBER 2012 XI