The end of the year is fast approaching, and we can’t let that happen without Only the Music having celebrated 2018’s major centenary figure, Leonard Bernstein. However, how to do justice to one of the twentieth century’s greatest musical figures via one single recording? It’s been an impossible conundrum, when we’re talking about a conductor, pianist and all-round educator who composed both musicals and serious music. So I’ve actually just gone with my heart, and picked Some Other Time, my favourite song from his 1944 Broadway musical, On the Town. You’re hearing it here in the original cast recording conducted by Bernstein himself, and whilst this choice has been entirely non-strategic, it does still showcase many of the things which made Bernstein so great, most especially the feeling that he’s truly living each bar of music and inspiring everyone else to do likewise.
As for the new releases, it’s an especially strong trio this month. First, Bach’s Violin Concertos BWVs 1041, 1042, 1043 and 1056 from some of the world’s finest Baroque performers, Concerto Köln concertmaster Shunske Sato and Il Pomo d’Oro. Next, the tremendous first installment of a Rachmaninov piano concerto project from Daniil Trifonov with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Then finally the Calidore String Quartet, who have begun a new relationship with Signum Records with a multi-faceted programme designed to speak into the world’s current atmosphere of conflict.
Bach Violin Concertos BWV 1041, 1042, 1043, 1056
Shunske Sato（佐藤俊介）, Zefira Valova, Il “Pomo d’Oro” orchestra (Warner Classics & Erato)
The recordings back catalogue may be bursting with interpretations of these violin concertos, but this one has just whooshed to the top of my personal favourites, and I can’t see it being budged off any time soon. Think speeds which are unhurried yet dancing and full of flow, subtle but personality-rich rubato used both to tease and to make love, beautiful and perfectly judged ornamentations, exceptional balancing and blending between parts, and a wonderful overall glow to the sound. The concerto on this playlist is the famous D minor concerto for two violins, for which Sato is joined by Il Pomo d’Oro’s concertmaster Zefira Valova, and all the above accolades ring true for it. Also worth saying, though, is that its central Largo is a stunner: clean, poised, measured, but also highly romantic.
Destination Rachmaninov: Departure
Daniil Trifonov, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nezet-Seguin
I have a feeling that this one may go down as one of 2018’s most important releases. Trifonov has been described as the kind of talent that only crops up two or three times in a generation, if that. Furthermore, Rachmaninov is in his blood, as he’s already shown in the recording studio with his 2015 album which paired the Rachmaninov Variations with a romantic, Rachmaninov-inspired suite of his own, titled Rachmaniana. As for Departure, this is the first of a two-part “Journey with Rachmaninov” that presents the composer’s four piano concertos through the prism of his fleeing Russia, traveling around Europe as a concert pianist, and then settling in the United States. Departure features the second and fourth concertos, separated by Rachmaninov’s piano transcription of Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin No 3, and the musicians joining Trifonov couldn’t be a more appropriate bunch, because it’s Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting the Philadelphia, i.e. the orchestra most closely associated with Rachmaninov, and with whom Rachmaninov recorded the four concerti himself, over eighty years ago. The resultant performances are spectacularly good too, as you’ll hear across the Second Piano Concerto chosen for this playlist: spacious, smoothly rippling and Romantic; textures ranging from thick, brooding Russian darkness to more lucid, softly-rendered chamber ones; and poetry every second of the way. It’s properly emotive, immersive stuff.
Calidore String Quartet– Resilience – Signum Records
Recent graduates of the BBC New Generation Artist Scheme, the Calidore String Quartet are going places fast. Not only have they already got a growing presence in their home country of America and in the UK (where notably this past year they’ve premiered at Wigmore Hall and the BBC Proms a breathtakingly beautiful new quartet written for them by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw), but the continental European bookings are now coming in too. Besides their clean sound, their technical polish, the genuine bond of friendship between them, and their clear immersion in their music, they stand out for the immense degree of thought underpinning their every project; and Resilience fits that mould perfectly. Its programme is designed to speak into the atmosphere of conflict around the world right now, with three works written by three composers who themselves were dealing with conflict of some form as they wrote, whether inner or outer. So that’s Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No 6, Janacek’s Kreutzer Quartet, and the work plucked for this playlist, Osvaldo Golijov’s Tenebrae, of 2002. Golijov wrote this latter work under the dual influences of being in Israel at the start of the new wave of violence, and then taking his son to New York’s Planetarium the following week, where the world suddenly appeared as simply a tiny blue dot within an enormous galaxy. The result is an Eastern-flecked work in which celestial serenity is juxtaposed with violence and conflict. Powerful at the best of times, but all the more so with these musicians.
Listen to the full playlist on TIDAL