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Rare solo violin works from a young talent

Beyond Bach and Vivaldi – Rare Unaccompanied Works for the Baroque Violin

Augusta McKay Lodge (violin)

We have previously chosen to highlight a recording from Naxos’ Laureate Series featuring the talented guitarist Xianji Liu. This time we feature an equally praiseworthy performance from the violinist Augusta McKay Lodge. Augusta McKay Lodge is an international prize-winning violinist specialising in Baroque and modern music. McKay Lodge is a native of Oberlin, Ohio who currently resides in New York and Paris.

There can be no denying that when it comes to works for solo violin JS Bach was the master of the Baroque period. However as this enterprising release shows there were plenty of other talented composers writing similar works at the time. Some readers will be familiar with composers such as Biber, Corelli and Locatelli and maybe Pisendel and Bononcini. But others will be unfamiliar with the likes of Nicola Matteis, Thomas Baltzar, William Corbett and others who appear on this relatively unexplored repertoire.

Augusta McKay Lodge plays a Jason Viseltear Baroque violin from 2014. Listening to her performances of the relatively popular works by Biber, Locatelli and Pisendel assists in assessing the overall quality of the performances on offer. Unsurprisingly she is not quite a match for Rachel Barton Pine in the works by Pisendel and Biber on Cedille but she puts in some fine performances of these and the other works that show that she plays with imagination as well as faultless technique. Most of the less well-know pieces are well worth hearing and the disc provides a highly enjoyable hour or so of listening. The four pieces by Baltzar whilst being challenging exercises are not the most rewarding from a listening perspective but that is quickly forgotten after the final piece:  Biber’s Passacaglia in G Minor from the Mystery Sonatas. A hugely enjoyable conclusion to a very good recital that is recorded in excellent sound. This is a first class debut disc and worth adding to your collection if you have any interest in solo Baroque violin works or talented young violinists!

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Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, D795

This week on BBC Radio 3, Schubert’s famous song cycle Die schöne Müllerin, based on poems by Wilhelm Müller, was the focus of ‘Building a Library’¹. Laura Tunbridge delivered a fascinating and insightful  analysis of the best of the many versions available. Currently you can catch up with her review here. Her top choice was by Mauro Peter (tenor), & Helmut Deutsch (piano) on the Wigmore Hall Live label.

Our personal favourite, a version by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, at the peak of his powers, with one of the all-time great accompanists Gerald Moore was also recommended. It is currently available on Warner Classics.

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¹ Note that there is a list of all of BBC Radio3’s ‘Building a Library’ recommendations from 1999-2015 available here.


Wagner has joined our collection of masterworks

Yesterday we added Wagner’s music drama Tristan und Isolde to our growing collection of masterworks.

Click here or go to the main menu and select Building a Collection to read more about this work and to see which version we recommend.

Beethoven’s Music for Winds from SCO Wind Soloists

Beethoven: Music for Winds

Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists

The main works on this latest offering from the SCO Winds are the Sextet in E flat Major, Op. 71 and the Octet in E flat major, Op. 103 both of which are early examples of Beethoven’s craft despite the high opus numbers! We also get a duo and a rondino together with the Marsch und Trio für Militärmusik WoO29.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra Winds

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has always enjoyed a strong wind section but the line-up, including bassoonist Peter Whelan¹ and horn player Alec Frank-Gemmill, on this recording is strong even by their standards.

One might be tempted to begin one’s listening with the relative well-known octet but that would be to miss a treat. When listening to the opening sextet in this performance, I get a sense of opera come over me – I see colourful characters on the stage who at times are dancing, at others laughing, arguing and sometimes sighing. This gets the CD off to a great start with the six instrumentalists playing with a mix of togetherness and individuality that is truly inspiring, especially in the middle movements.

The early and underrated Octet is nonetheless a technically challenging piece. It is clearly written in the style of Mozart, but it is full of flair with a sense of unpredictability that Mozart could not have conceived. Already there are signs of Beethoven’s great creativity.² This work is again played to a high standard on this release even if it does not quite match up to the performances by the Wind Soloists of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe or the Melos Ensemble.

It is possible that the Duo No. 1 in C major WoO 27/1 is not by Beethoven at all but who cares – the enjoyment of Peter Whelan and clarinettist Maximiliano Martin playing this piece is all too clear even if it is not the greatest music ever written.

The recording was made in North Leith Parish Church, in 2016, and the Linn engineers have effectively captured the resonance of the building’s acoustic. This is most definitely a CD that will bring a smile to your face as you listen to the music making – go out and buy it!

iClassical rating: 

Purchase from Linn Records.

¹ Peter Whelan has since left the group no doubt due to his being in demand as a conductor as well as a soloist and leader of his Ensemble Marsyas.

² It has been said that Haydn sent the score of Beethoven’s octet to a patron with the remark that ’Beethoven will in time become one of the greatest musical artists in Europe’.

Beethoven Unbound by Llŷr Williams

Beethoven Unbound is a 12 CD box set that contains not only the complete piano sonatas of Beethoven, but also various other works for solo piano. These include the 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor, WoO 80, the Eroica Variations, Op. 35, the Bagatelles, Op. 126 and the Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, a total of almost 14 hours of music. All of these are performed by the Welsh pianist and critically acclaimed Beethoven interpreter, Llŷr Williams¹. The set has been released to mark the completion of Llŷr Williams’ well received Beethoven cycle at Wigmore Hall and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The works were recorded live at Wigmore Hall over three years and nine recitals giving us more than a day’s listening for less than £40 if you shop around! The works on the individual discs in this set are arranged not chronologically but like mini recital programmes, reflecting the way Williams presented the music in concert. The CDs are presented in a beautiful hinged box which contains extensive and informative notes by Mischa Donat in addition to some notes by the pianist himself.

Llŷr Williams may be better known to concert goers than to purchasers of compact discs. He is a regular performer in the Wigmore Hall’s main piano series and has given many remarkable performances at the Edinburgh International Festival. He has also appeared at the BBC Proms in London and at the Cheltenham Music Festival. He has performed cycles of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas previously, notably in Perth. In addition to his commitment to the piano works of Beethoven, Llŷr Williams also has a great love of lieder and he is one of the official accompanists at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Those readers who have encountered Williams in the concert hall will have noted that this highly intense Welsh pianist is the complete antithesis of many of today’s showy young pianists. What you get from Williams is deeply considered, serious music-making and that is highly evident in these fascinating, live performances. On these recordings Llŷr Williams manages to to shed new light on some of the most familiar music and, in some of the miniatures, to transform the simplest of melodies into something quite remarkable. As one proceeds through this series of discs one realises that Williams has a formidable technique, great musical intelligence and a sense of inquisitiveness which combined with his humour and humanity lead to some noteworthy performances. Examples of Williams’ exceptionally fine playing in the piano sonatas can be found in, for example:

  • Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2 No. 3 is an impressive, early work that Williams appears to relish and is in his element – his playing is delightfully springy, well modulated, dramatic and extrovert.
  • Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major, Op. 81a ‘Les Adieux’ is clearly heartfelt and full of emotion but never allowed to become sentimental.
  • Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’ which is full of emotional intensity but performed with great technique despite the challenging nature of the piece.

I had a more mixed reaction to some works. For example, in the Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 ‘Appassionata’ Williams’ playing initially appears rather staid but he ends the work with a truly thrilling and tempestuous finale, accelerating like a sports car into the coda and maintaining astonishing speed right up to the final emphatic chords.

For this listener, the standout of this set has to be Llŷr Williams’ account of the Diabelli Variations, Op. 120. Diabelli’s main theme is most charmingly performed and the variations see Williams at times being lyrical, questioning, flamboyant, driven, waggish and intimate (though not in that order). This is a performance that I would put on a par with that of Alfred Brendel and I shall come back to it on many occasions – of that I have no doubt.

This is a fine collection of performances of Beethoven’s solo piano works and it is well worth exploring. Inevitably in a complete set there will be works that are preferred in alternate versions but the playing here is always of the highest quality and the interpretations carefully considered by a performer who has clearly thought deeply about Beethoven’s intentions. The best of these performances are out of the top drawer and all are worthy of careful listening. At its bargain price this set is highly recommended to all lovers of Beethoven’s piano music.

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¹ Since giving his first Beethoven cycle in Perth in 2010, and winning a South Bank Sky Arts Award in 2012 for an epic two-week marathon in Edinburgh, Williams has gained a reputation as one of the finest performers of Beethoven’s piano works.