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Notes of an Amateur: Second Quarter, 2021

07-21-2021 | By Bob Neill | Issue 116

Bach Sonatas and Partitas, Augustin Hadelich, violin. Warner Classics, 0190295048747. 2 CDs.

A musician alone with his violin. No audience in sight. Or in mind. Some will consider these performances self-indulgent, a young maverick who hasn't earned the right to take this music to himself. Not me. I have enjoyed Hadelich's Ligetti (live), Adès, Sibelius, and Haydn; and I enjoy his Bach, especially its sense of freedom. Not disorder or chaos, freedom. Technical and emotional fluidity. Hadelich lets us hear, beneath the form, what this music is. Music intended to be played, as Bach writes on the first page of the manuscript, "sei solo," which means you are alone. You are alone with this music and your violin: now play it. I would love to hear Hadelich play the cello suites, on viola. It's been done before, most notably by Helen Callus on Analekta. But… .

Really good program notes by the performer.

Byrd, 1588. Psalmes, Sonnets, and Songs of Sadness and Piety. Almire, Fretwork. Inventa INV 1006. 2 CDs.

Where has Fretwork been and who are they now? One of the absolute best of the early music ensembles in the early days of the movement, they have apparently persisted, though only one of their original musicians remains. Almire is a small (six) singing group who perform with Fretwork in this marvelous, sometimes heart-breaking, album of the music of William Byrd. The songs, which make up the heart and soul of the program, are settings of poems by Sidney, de Vere, Raleigh, Ariosto, and Edward Dyer. They know the lovely lasses they write about are not the ideal beings men foolishly project into them, but they know they also are. This is not a dilemma much felt in modern times, but restored eloquently to life here, it lives again, with great feeling. If you have an old soul, you will love this album.

Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphonies Nos. 1, 14, & 15. Chamber Symphony in C. Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons. DGG 4860546. 2 CDs.

If you are collecting Andris Nelsons' BSO cycle of Shostakovich's symphonies, you've got it right. There was a time not so long ago when I said here that about Petrenko's cycle on Naxos. And then I heard Nelsons'. Nelsons shows us that while Petrenko gets the lyric side of the composer, he clearly misses the essential backbone. Nelsons can be lyric but his Shostakovich feels more complete. Had enough broody Mahler lately? Nelsons' Shostakovich might be the cure. Sound. BSO? DGG? Who knows. Gorgeous.

Frédéric Chopin, Complete Nocturnes Alain Planès, piano.Harmonia Mundi HMM 905332.33.

French pianist Alain Planès is back! His two earlier CDs of Chopin, his complete Debussey, and, perhaps most remarkable, his complete Schubert comprise an eloquent and distinctive discography now enriched by an equally moving set of Chopin's Nocturnes. It is my job to say what makes Planès worth your time, I know. It is a difficult task but I will try.

Chopin is an easy composer to take for granted. He makes it easy for us do so. Most performances I know seem unable to lift this music onto a plane by itself or they change it into something other than what it clearly is. The goal is to lift its obvious emotional appeal above the conventional. We don't feel actual emotions in most Chopin performances, just conventional presentations of them. Oh yes, Chopin. How nice. Planès, as he does especially in his Schubert, gets past our expectations and received opinions. With him, we feel ourselves moved in spite of ourselves. There are no dramatics here nor hearts on sleeves sentiment. There is direct simplicity, true simplicity, no hint of the contrived kind. Planès dares us to hear how moving emotional simplicity can be, how clearly Chopin heard, felt, and was able to express it. Under kitsch there is something real which a reluctance to know it for what it truly is buries with various forms of apologetic affect. 

I did not know how complex Schubert is until I heard Planès play him. I did not know how great Debussy is until I heard Planès play him. And I did not know what Chopin's true accomplishment is until I heard Planès play him. 


Systems used for this audition. #1: Resolution Audio Cantata 3.0 CD player w/BlackJack power cord, Gilbert Yeung Design solid-state NSI "G" 75 watt integrated amplifier, Jean Marie Reynaud Voce Grande loudspeakers, and Crimson interconnects and speaker cable. #2: Almost all Audio Note. CD 5.1 CD player, Sogon interconnects, Tonmeister Meishu Silver Signature 9 watt integrated 300B tube amplifier, Crimson speaker cable, Audio Note E/SPe HE loudspeakers. Mapleshade Samson equipment rack. All CD's purchased from Presto, a superb international retailer in the UK. www.presto.com.

Bob Neill, a former equipment reviewer for Enjoy the Music and Positive Feedback, is proprietor of Amherst Audio in Western Massachusetts, which sells equipment from Audio Note (UK), Jean Marie Reynaud (France), Resolution Audio (US), and Gilbert Yeung Designs, formerly Blue Circle (Canada).