Altarus

 

Although I possess only seven albums from Altarus, I rate it as one of the best recording labels for several reasons. The sound quality is crisp, clear, and fresh, regardless whether the music is bombastically loud or a sister to silence. Their selection, though by no means extensive, has pioneered the rediscovery of many twentieth century composers such as Busoni, Sorabji, and others only on the fringes of reacceptance. Of great importance to me, the sleeve notes are thorough, presenting not only commentary and narrative descriptions of the works included, but history on the composers, performers, and the impetus behind each work, as well as numerous pictures and diagrams to better illustrate the selections. My only complaint is that the track times are not listen.

Available Reviews:

 

Ferrucio Busoni

Music for two pianos and piano duet

Pianos: Joseph Banowetz and Ronald Stevenson

Track Listing:
  1. Fantasia Contrappuntistica
  2. Improvisation on the Bach Chorale "Wie wolf ist mir, o Freund der Seele, wenn ich in deiner Liebe ruh"
  3. MOZART: Fantasy for a mechanical organ, K. 608 (transcribed by Busoni)
  4. Fugre on the folsong "O du lieber Augustin"
  5. Finnlńndische Volksweisen No. 1
  6. Finnlńndische Volksweisen No. 2

Ferruccio Busoni was clearly one of the masters of Piano music of the twentieth century, and this album brings together many of his original works and transcriptions for piano duet. It is a delight to hear Stevenson partaking in the interpretation, as he has been one of the main forces behind returning Busoni's oeuvre to the standard concert repetoire. He and Banowetz bring power and clarity to the Fantasia Contrappuntistica, a prophetic recasting and completion of the final incomplete fuge from Bach's The Art of Fugue. This work alone makes the album a worthy purchase, but the other pieces that share this titan are equally delightful, and are brought to life with verve and wit. One will find themselves prancing along until the final bas of this album come to a delightful close.

AIR-CD-9044

Alistair Hinton

String Quintet

Soprano: Sarah Leonard
Violin: Jagdish Mistry and Marcus Barcham-Stevens
Viola: Levine Andrade
Violincello: Michael Stirling
Double Bass: Corrado Canonici

Track Listing:

CD 1
  1. I
  2. II. Allegro scherzando
  3. III. Theme and variations. Adagio
CD 2
  1. IV Scherzo. Allegro con brio
  2. V. [commencement]
CD 3
  1. V. [conclusion]

When approaching a work of the magnitude of Hinton's String Quintet, a listener may be apt to be daunted by the length of the piece. And in the case of some pieces only half the length of the Hinton they can become quite tedious. But this is not so with the present selection, which is even more remarkable given that no more than two of the performers had ever worked together before! Everything seems to be where it ought to be, and it proceeds with inexorable logic and subtle drama from one moment to the next. The first four movements are mostly prelude to the monumental fifth movement, but they do not lack a character of their own, from the brooding introspective opening, to the riotous scherzo, and then to the darkly serene third movement, and the brief but boisterous fourth. The first two movements especially appeal to me with their rich drama, something not often obtained in such a clear form in most string ensembles. And of course, the finale, with its soprano accompanient singing about music itself, the texts taken from various poets, authors, and composers, each celebrating music in some form, seems almost a testament to importance of music within our culture. Here Hinton reaches for something both grand and noble, to grasp the that part of each of our souls that thrives upon music, and in my estimation, he succeeds admirably. For a work that took Mr. Hinton eight years to compose, it bears the stamp of a lifetime's achievment.

AIR-CD-9066(3)

In Memoriam John Ogdon

Organ: Kevin Bowyer

Piano: John Ogdon

Track Listing:

CD 1
  1. Ronald Stevenson: Prelude and Fugue on a theme by Liszt
  2. Alistair Hinton: PansophiŠ for John Ogdon
CD 2
  1. Ferruccio Busoni: Fantasia Contrappuntistica
  2. Ferruccio Busoni: Fantasia nach J.S. Bach
  3. Ferruccio Busoni: All'Italia! [No 2 of 'Elegies']
  4. Ronald Stevenson: Piano Sonatina No. 1
  5. John Ogdon: Dance Suite

This two CD set celebrating the life and work of British pianist John Ogdon clearly demonstrates the great impact he has had on the musical life of the United Kingdom in this last half century. With several premier recordings, including the delicious Hinton PansophiŠ, melts from ones stereo, as if this was the only way these pieces should be played. The organ works resonate with sullen drama, though they are perhaps a bit too quiet at times, a drama that Bowyer finds easy to supply. The piano works bristle with Ogdon's ferocious energy, charm, and as Stevenson put it, "the fire of Prometheus and the stillness of dawn". The last selection is a work by Ogdon himself, and it clearly demonstrates why he will be remembered as one of the greatest pianists of our time.

AIR-CD-9063(2)

Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Piano Works Vol. 2

Piano: Adam Wodnicki

Track Listing:
  1. Album de Mai - ScŔnes romantiques pour Piano, Op. 10
    I Au Soir
  2. II Chant d'amour
  3. III Scherzino
  4. IV Baracolle
  5. V Caprice-Valse
    Two Intermezzi
  6. Intermezzo No. 1 "In the night of lightning" in G minor
  7. Intermezzo No. 2 in C minor
    Humoresques de Concert, Op. 14
  8. I Menuet
  9. II Sarabande
  10. III Caprice (genre Scarlatti)
  11. IV Burlesque
  12. V Intermezzo polacco
  13. VI Cracovienne fantastique
  14. Variations and Fugue in Eb Minor, Op. 23

This collection brings together some of the most famous of Paderewski's pianistic oevure (like the Menuet in G), with their companions pieces, as well as one of his most powerfully evocative statements that has been unjustly neglected. This latter of course being the final selection on this disc, the Variations and Fugue in Eb Minor. Standing nearly at thirty minutes in length, this titan brings to close a very delightful collection of music. From the versatile and whimsical minitures to the drama that pervades the Variations, Adam Wodnicki provide just the necessary force in his execution to bring across the meaning without being overbearing. He also displays all the charm that is required in the minitures to bring to life the nineteenth century atmosphere they preserve. Like Chopin, Paderewski conveys much of Poland in his music, though he speaks with a voice drawing the Romantic era to a close, whereas Chopin brought it into the light. A delicious CD for any lover of piano music, with high praise for the marvellous Variations.

AIR-CD-9046

Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji

Piano Works

Piano: Donna Amato

Track Listing:
  1. QuŠre reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora
  2. St. Bertrand de Comminges: "He was laughing in the tower"
  3. Toccatinetta sopra C.G.F.
  4. Sutra sul nome dell'amico Alexis
  5. Sutra "Per il caro amico quasi Nipote - Alexis"
  6. Passeggiata arlecchinesca - sopra un frammento di Busoni ("Rond˛ arlecchinesco")

The music on this CD demonstrates many of Sorabji's typical tendencies, except for one glaring ommission. None of the works on this disc invoke the Passacaglia form, of which Sorabji was quite fond. That said, this is a very solid selection of works, played with determination by Donna Amato, a champion of Sorabji's music. For those unfamiliar with Sorabji, this is not the best place to begin as the music is very dense and the structure is hard to isolate. The first two pieces are actually based upon ghost stories by M.R. James, and with repeated listenings, one can feel the narrative sweep them along in the ancient Victorian horror. A very good supplement to even a modest Sorabji collection.

AIR-CD-9025

Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji

Toccata No. 1

Piano: Jonathan Powell

Track Listing:
    Toccata No. 1
  1. I. Preludio corale - II. Passacaglia
  2. III. Cadenza-figurale
  3. IV. Fuga - V. Coda-stretta

Sorabji's seventy minute Toccata No. 1 represents two distinct things in his oeuvre. First, its structure of Prelude - Passacaglia - Fugue became the basis for many of his larger scale works that would follow in the years to come (including the famous Opus Clavicembalisticum). Secondly, it stands as the foremost example of Sorabji's brief flirtation with more simpler modes of expression. The opening Preludio corale maintains a quaver pulse throughout, and the melody, such as it is, is quite easy to follow through its course and subsequent development. And the opening melody returns almost unaltered at the beginning of each new section, giving the piece a very firm structural foundation. Sometimes, it can become easy to get lost if one is not paying close attention, but this is by far the most easily accessible piece of Sorabji's that I have to date had the pleasure of hearing.

AIR-CD-9068

Ronald Stevenson

Piano Works

Piano: Ronald Stevenson

Track Listing:

CD 1
  1. Prelude Fugue and Fantasy
  2. Recitative and Air
  3. Passacaglia on DSCH
    Sonata Allegro/Waltz/Epsiode/Suite
CD 2
  1. Passacaglia on DSCH
    Pibroch/Episode/Nocturne/Reverie-Fantasy/Fanfare -- Glimpse of a war-vision/Variations/March/Episode/Fandango/Pedal point/╔tudes/Variations/Adagio/Fugue/Adagissimo

It is a pity that we do not have the luxury of hearing the nineteenth century piano masters performing their own works. So it is a delight to see a twentieth century master performing some of their most pivotal works, as in the case with Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson, and most especially the monumental Passacaglia on DSCH. Dedicated to Dmitri Shostakovich, this eighty minute magnum opus uses the initials from the German spelling of Shostakovich as its entire basis. Variation after variation is spilled from this small cell, employing techniques of piano playing from every corner of the globe. At one point, Stevenson manages to give the impression their is a tympani section accompanying him by clever use of the pedals! Other pianists have recorded this work, but Stevenson brings to it a romantic spirit that truly captures his intent in every note. The other selections on this album are equally pleasing, demonstrating the firm grasp of pianism that Stevenson has attained in his many years as a composer and pianist. I can say without reservation that Stevenson is Scotland's greatest pianist, and this disc only proves that. These selections deserve wider recognition than they have received so far. The Passacaglia stands as a monument for future composers to aspire to.

AIR-CD-9091(2)

Stevenson/Sorabji/Hinton

Piano Works

Piano: Donna Amato

Track Listing:
  1. Ronald Stevenson: Den Bergtekne (Taken into the mountains)
  2. Ronald Stevenson: Norse Elegy for ella Nygaard
  3. Ronald Stevenson: Beltane Bonfire
  4. Kaikhosru Sorabji: Variazione maliziosa e perversa sopra "La Morte d'┼se" da Grieg
  5. Alistair Hinton: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Grieg

With the exception of the Beltane Bonfire, all the works on this CD are indebted to the works of Norwegian master Edvard Grieg. The seminal work on this CD is the Hinton Variations. Indeed, they take up the space of sixty minutes. Composed over the course of eight years, it represents a tower of pianism, capturing the melancholy spirit of the Grieg theme, as well as occasional references to other works by Grieg (such as the opening to the Piano Concerto). The works maintains its vitality throughout, never failing to both surprise and delight the listener. I have had the distinct privelege of trading emails with Mr. Hinton himself, and have offered him my congratulations on such a fine piece as this, and my sincerest hope that more music of his will be recorded soon. While I lack the finesse to encourage him as Sorabji did by writing his malicious and perverse variation on the Grieg theme (the title is very apt for this delightful miniature!), I hope my full-throated recommendation of this CD will suffice.

AIR-CD-9021

 

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