Three classical albums to savour in sun or shade
The concert season is in hiatus and the summer festivals are winding down. But there’s lots of fine recorded classical listening for the remaining days of summer. Record labels typically save their biggest releases for the fall, so the summer crop is where we can find the promising young talents or historical oddities.
This summer’s releases includes these three gems, each focused on the more intimate side of music-making. They’ll sound equally good in sun or shade, they can be broken down into different playlists — and will reward repeat listening with many layers of artistry:
Debussy & Ravel: String Quartets
The veteran Jerusalem Quartet goes to France in their latest album, celebrating the centennial of Claude Debussy’s death by recording his String Quartet. The Jerusalems bring a full-bodied sound to the four-movement piece. They are bold yet manage to sound elegant at the same time, masterfully winding up tension before suddenly letting it go.
The Debussy piece is well-paired with the String Quartet by Maurice Ravel, which gets a suave, often ethereal interpretation. Deckside or dockside, this album would go very nicely with a glass of Pouilly-Fumé. It is released on the Harmonia Mundi label, and available on iTunes for $10.99.
Johann Sebastian Bach Goldberg Variations
Quality hammock time may be the best setting to contemplate a remarkable new release of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
There are many fine recordings out there made on the modern piano, each with its own appeal. Purists will find at least a half-dozen great versions performed on harpsichord. But German Bach-meister Wolfgang Rubsam, now in his early 70s, has created something remarkable on the Lautenwerck, or lute-harpsichord. He casts the Goldberg Variations in a new light.
For one thing, Rubsam’s instrument uses gut instead of metal strings, making it sound more like a lute than a typically rattly-clangy harpsichord.
The other thing that makes this album special is Rubsam’s way of playing the music in the way that Bach hand-wrote it, where the notes for each hand are not always perfectly aligned vertically. Playing these passages staggered accentuates the counterpoint, giving the music even more texture.
Rubsam also takes a leisurely pace in his playing. The result is a spare yet luxurious stroll through the aria and 30 variations. The initial impression is odd and foreign, but quickly becomes utterly beguiling.
This album of the Goldberg Variations is being released by Naxos on August 10 — and it’s $7.99 on iTunes.
Dances from the Bauyn Manuscript
It has been six years since young, Siberian-born pianist Pavel Kolesnikov took home the big prize from Calgary’s Honens Competition, launching an international career. He consistently takes his own unique approach, usually in good taste.
Kolesnikov’s new album of music by French Baroque composer Louis Couperin marries the élan and polish of the modern piano sound with the free shifts of tempo used by people who perform this music on harpsichord.
The result is a suave, sophisticated sound that is much more sensual than regimented, seducing the listener with its drawing-room-like intimacy. Kolesnikov makes the allemandes, courantes and other courtly dances sway gently.
His finest work here is in the preludes, which are written without bar lines, forcing the interpreter to figure out how to make the music flow. This album is sold under the Hyperion label, and is available for $10.99.
Classical music writer John Terauds is a freelance contributor for the Star, based in Toronto. He is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JohnTerauds