Music Reviews

New Discoveries – Autumn 2023

Lately I’ve been spending more time listening, and It really paid off! I found these albums I want to showcase. Each has some unexpected rewards. Take some time yourself and listen! Remember, many of the samples are full length, and have quite good sound quality. So let’s dive in!

Stravinsky/Poulenc/Debussy: Works for Cello and Piano
Amalie Stalheim & Christian Ihle Hadlan

What a well-chosen program this is! The Earliest, the Debussy Sonata In D Minor, is “classical” in its form, but is surprisingly modern. I’d never heard it before and I was totally charmed.

Stravinsky’s Suite Itallienne (1932) is based on his 1920 ballet, “Pulcinella”– in which Stravinsky uses bits and pieces from various 18th Century works. The Suite stands on its own as piece for Cello and Piano.

Poulenc’s Cello Sonata was completed in 1948, although beginning sketches for it go back to 1940. If you like Poulenc’s Gloria, Organ Concerto, or his marvelous solo piano works, you will like this! While he did write quite a bit of chamber music, this is his only sonata for cello, and it’s totally delightful.

So here are three wonderful works which will transport you to a French salon in the first half of the 20th Century. Amalie Stalheim and Christian Ihle Hadlan are “superbe!”. 

New Paths
Mari Kodama

I’ve enjoyed all of Mari Kodama’s previous albums, and certainly this one is no exception. New Paths is a musical exploration of the relationship of a young Brahms with Robert Schumann and his wife, Clara. Presented are Brahms’ First Piano sonata, his Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, and Clara Schumann’s arrangement of Robert’s Song, Windmung. 

Fabulous, and heartfelt music making, beautifully recorded!

And that leads me to this strikingly beautiful album:

Robert & Clara Schumann: Solitude | Works for violin and piano
Niek Baar (violin) & Ben Kim (piano)

Two sonatas from Robert, with Clara’s 3 Romances in between— I think it’s good to consider how Brahms may have been influenced by the Schumanns as he spent time with them. Passionate music by the Robert and Clara, full of the love and respect they had for each other. Niek Baar and Ben Kim play beautifully. 

Also, see Adrian Quanjer’s review of this album HERE.

Without Words
Bruce Levingston

Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words, coupled with those of Cecil Price Walden (b 1991), make for a marvellous listening experience.

Don’t wait, grab this one! I’ll let Bruce Levingston tell the story:

In recent years, Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words lived on my piano. Amidst turbulent societal change, these moving works remain a source of solace and peace. At the height of the pandemic, Dr. Kirk Payne – and old high school friend treating Covid patients– reached out. He wished to fund a beautiful memorial to those last those fighting the disease. With his generous support, I commissioned Price Walden, a longtime admirer of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, to compose a new set that would reflect upon our own era. … Through their music, both composers– in conversations across centuries– explore the realms of memory, nature, joy, anguish, loss, gratitude, and love…

Bruce Levingston

Crescent: Music of John Coltrane
Atzko Kohashi & Tony Overwater

I really like this album. Pianist Atzko Kohashi and bassist Tony Overwater do these songs of John Coltrane. Very well, thank you! I sat down to listen to what I thought was going to be “light” jazz, and was swept away by the feelings these two musicians captured. Tranquil is the word, but not at all “light”.

The album was recorded after a snowfall, in the perfect acoustics of a church, in the middle of the pandemic. They say these things had a definite effect on their work, and I believe them.

By the way, I want to seriously recommend this excellent release also by Atzko Kohashi:

Verdi: Otello (Double Album)
Sir Colin Davis, Simon O’Neill, Gerald Finley, Anne Schwanewilms, London Symphony Orchestra, & London Symphony Chorus

The first thing that hits you is an incredible thunderstorm in music, perfectly executed by Sir Colin Davis and the LSO! And the recording is a knockout!

I’ve read some critic’s reaction that Simon O’Neill was too “light” for Otello. I disagree. His reading is very dramatic and opens new ways of looking at this torn person. Others will find what they will in this recording, but the soloists, Sir Colin, and the LSO have made me hear why so many love this opera! There are great sounding samples for your consideration.

Want some more Verdi? Marek Janowski conducts, and British-Italian tenor, Freddie de Tommaso have received very positive reviews for this new look at Un Ballo in Maschera. And I concur.

Free: Soulful Piano Reflections
Witmer Trio

Piano, bass, drums – and a guest violinist on a couple of cuts… Cajan Witmer’s trio plus one is marvellous with “Soulful Piano Reflections” of soul classics of the 70’s. Once again, an album that rewards listening. Thoughtful, and even respectful impressions of these songs make this one a winner. This one was a genuine “discovery” for me since it’s been in the Native catalog for a while.

And be sure to check this one out as well. It’s another winner!

Tempo do Brasil
Marc Regnier, Tacy Edwards, Natalia Khoma, Marco Sartor, Volodymyr Vynnytsky

Superb musicians playing wonderful music, perfectly captured by Reference Recordings at the famous Skywalker studio in the Marin County hills. What a treasure this album is! Marc Regnier is joined by four excellent musicians who are also his friends. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Laurindo Almeida’s famous album of the 1950’s, “Duets With the Spanish Guitar.” Like that one, I doubt that I will ever get tired of “Tempo do Brasil”.

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1-9 (DSD Bundle)
Bernard Haitink & London Symphony Orchestra

And for my final recommendation this time around, either individually or as a money-saving bundle, Bernard Haitink’s survey of Beethoven’s 9 Symphonies with the LSO. It’s good to remember how fine a conductor Haitink was, even toward the end. I think these recording are far better and richer than his earlier ones on Phillips. Native has many choices for Beethoven. I’m reluctant to say that there’s one cycle that is the absolute best, but it was good to spend some time with Haitink’s again. All are very highly recommended by me.

Written by

Bill Dodd

Bill is Senior Music Reviewer at NativeDSD. He lives in the Portland, Oregon area. He is an avid photographer too! Along with his early interest in broadcasting and high fidelity audio, he was exposed to classical music in small doses from age 5, was given piano lessons from age 9— Starting with Bach and including Gershwin. Successful morning personality in San Francisco at age 22. (true). Sang in choirs in high school and college. Although the broadcasting experience was all in popular music, his personal listening has been mostly classical his whole life—along with others including Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Joni Mitchell, The Who, and Led Zeppelin.


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