A pianist’s golden Chopin; a tenor’s brilliant Gluck

By David Weininger, Matthew Guerrieri, and David Perkins
Globe Correspondents / June 6, 2010

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THOMAS ADÈS: TEVOT, VIOLIN CONCERTO, AND OTHER WORKS Anthony Marwood, violin Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain Simon Rattle, Thomas Adès, Paul Daniel, conductors EMI Thomas Adès was only 26 when he wrote his 1997 orchestral work “Asyla.’’ That piece, which would go on to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award, served notice that Adès was one of the most gifted young composers of his era. The two largest works in this new collection — the orchestral piece “Tevot’’ and the violin concerto “Concentric Paths’’ — indicate that he has gone from wunderkind to modern master.

Where “Asyla’’ moved in fits and starts, each more dazzling than the last, “Tevot’’ — commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic in 2007 — proceeds in broad, well-defined arcs. Adès’s orchestral writing pits various choirs of the orchestra against each other, making a tightly organized plan sound as if it’s on the verge of chaos. But “Tevot’’ — a Hebrew word meaning both vessel and a bar of music — balances darker elements with a series of open, heartfelt melodies. The clash is only resolved at the work’s improbably optimistic ending.

“Concentric Paths,’’ written in 2005, begins with jittery, stratospheric writing for the violin and winds. The second movement is one of Adès’s great achievements to date — a dark, gripping fantasia in the form of a chaconne, a set of variations on a recurring bass line. A bright, energetic finale sweeps the preceding darkness away.

Two other works are included: three “studies’’ on Francois Couperin and a suite from the opera “Powder Her Face.’’ All the performances are superb, and Anthony Marwood performs astounding feats with the difficult solo writing in the concerto.

Adès will conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his own works, including “Concentric Paths,’’ along with music of Tchaikovsky and Sibelius, in March. DAVID WEININGER

VICTORIA: LAMENTATIONS OF JEREMIAH The Tallis Scholars Peter Phillips, director Gimell Stalwarts of the early-music world, the Tallis Scholars mark the 30th anniversary of Gimell Records, their recording label, with this release, which is also the label’s 50th new recording. Rather than opt for celebratory fare, the Scholars and director Peter Phillips present music for the darkest part of the liturgical calendar: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The settings are by the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), whose music has a dark expressiveness all its own. (Also included is a version by the Mexican composer Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla.)

Among other things, the recording shows how little the group’s sonic profile has changed over the years. One hears the same miraculously even blend of voices that the Tallis Scholars have honed over the years. But they also honor the intensity of Victoria’s music, as in the dramatic Second Lamentation for Maundy Thursday (“The daughter of Sion has lost all her beauty’’). Each section ends with the invocation “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord, your God.’’ The last of those nine settings, scored for eight voices, has a monumentality that should bring chills to even the most hardened listener.

The Tallis Scholars, presented by the Boston Early Music Festival, will perform at St. Paul’s Church in March.


EGON WELLESZ: PIANO CONCERTO, VIOLIN CONCERTO Margarete Babinsky, piano; David Frühwirth, violin Rundfunk Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin; Roger Epple, conductor Capriccio Classical music canonization follows a certain protocol, a stew of innovation, personality cult, and marketability. More interesting is the unpredictable transition from obscurity to cult favorite; such a promotion seems to be gracing the Austrian-born composer Egon Wellesz, who died in 1974. A specialist in Byzantine music and an early student of Arnold Schoenberg, Wellesz followed an idiosyncratic path through the century’s stylistic free-for-all. His nine symphonies recently filled a box set from the German company cpo; now comes this recording of Wellesz’s Piano and Violin Concerti from the Austrian Capriccio label.

Wellesz’s Piano Concerto (Op. 49), written in 1933, adroitly traffics in neoclassicism, but with an in-your-face quality absent from cooler exemplars of the style: Think Stravinsky, but with less distance and more risky immediacy. The Violin Concerto (Op. 84) dates from 1961, after Wellesz’s Nazi-era emigration to Britain, and after Wellesz had more fully embraced the atonality of his teacher, but without ever really abandoning tonal gravity, artfully slipping between the heightened moment-to-moment drama of serialism and the historical eloquence of Romanticism.

Pianist Margarete Babinsky and violinist David Frühwirth handle their respective solo parts with stylistic aplomb; Roger Epple draws clear, sturdy accompaniment from the Rundfunk Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin. Wellesz might never make the classical mainstream, but his gracefully fraught individuality deserves its emergence from the cultural fray.


GLUCK: ORPHÉE ET EURYDICE Juan Diego Flórez, tenor Ainhoa Garmendia and Alessandra Marianelli, sopranos Coro y Orquesta Titular del Teatro Real; Jesus López-Cobos, conductor Decca (2 CDs) France’s reputation for going against the cultural grain was already earned in the 18th century, when Paris audiences disdained the castrato voice then prevalent across the rest of Europe. Thus the 1774 version of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera “Orphée et Eurydice,’’ rewritten to suit French audiences: more ballet, more sumptuous (if less quirky) orchestration — and Orpheus sung by a haute-contre, the brilliant tenor voice Paris preferred for its heroes.

The role’s punishingly high range has, nowadays, largely ceded the field to other versions featuring countertenor or mezzo-soprano Orpheo. But tenor Juan Diego Flórez does an estimable job rising to the Parisian challenge on this Decca release, taken from live recordings in Madrid in 2008.

Flórez is indefatigable, secure, bright, barely a sign of strain. The nonstop ring starts to verge on one-dimensionality, but, then again, that was the haute-contre style, according to contemporary accounts. Flórez saves most of his delicacy for near-expressionistic contrasts in the famous “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice.’’ Conductor Jesus López-Cobos draws some fine, understated detail, particularly in the ballet music, though the orchestra sometimes sticks between styles, their crisp, classical sound not quite filling in López-Cobos’s more Romantic phrases. And the accompaniment to “J’ai perdu’’ is surprisingly prosaic.

Sopranos Ainhoa Garmendia and Alessandra Marianelli are solid as Eurydice and L’Amour, respectively, but this is Flórez’s show: a chance to hear how a great opera sounded to its era’s most particular audience.


CHOPIN, THE NOCTURNES Nelson Freire, piano Decca Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire has been enjoying a late-career blooming in the recording studio — a rare bit of good news from that location. At 65, he is at the height of his powers, and this complete set of Chopin’s 20 Nocturnes adds to a growing legacy of discs devoted to the monuments of 19th-century middle European music. Among other things, he has recorded the Brahms piano concertos, Chopin’s Etudes, and Schumann’s Carnaval and Papillons (with side trips to Beethoven and Debussy).

The Nocturnes, though not always technically very difficult, call for a special dreaminess, a range of colors, and a special feeling for where and how to suspend a phrase. Freire is straightforward. His tone is beautiful, and he gives each of these pieces a clear, solid outline. Decca’s recording engineers wrap his piano in a golden ambience. This is a thoroughly enjoyable disc — and it’s hard to think of a living pianist who could do better. However, listening again to Ivan Moravec’s 1965 recordings (available on Nonesuch) shows how much poetry Freire leaves out. (Compare their readings of Op. 27, No. 2.) And Vladimir Horowitz’s versions of Op. 55, No. 1, and Op. 62, No. 1, on his last recording (Sony), are another contrast. Freire plays the notes beautifully, but Horowitz makes each piece a gripping narrative, in part with strong, personal decisions about tempo. DAVID PERKINS