Music Reviews

Surprises and Mind-Benders

Isn’t Bach amazing? So much music! So much precision! Truly Bach was a landmark composer. Knowing that, I was still not prepared for the ethereal beauty of Peter Dijkstra leading the Netherlands Chamber Choir in six Bach Motets. If you find Bach a bit on the mathematical, straight-laced side, you will be equally surprised by this album. I say that as one who played Bach on the piano as a child, sang Bach in choirs as a young man, and spent hours listening to Bach cantatas, orchestral pieces, and keyboard works since. This is lovely, gentle, thoughtful music, beautifully performed and recorded!

And speaking of ethereal beauty, take some time to listen to Dijkstra conducting the Swedish Radio Choir in “Nordic Sounds”, choral works by Sven-David Sandstrom. Sandstrom is a contemporary (oh no!) composer whose work is certainly not traditional, but it IS totally accessible with traditional harmonies. I am generally not fond of contemporary works for unaccompanied choir, but this is really lovely music. I regret that the mp3 track samples on the album page are so short and contain some very quiet passages, but give them a listen anyway to find out whether you would be interested in purchasing the album in DSD.

There’s also “Nordic Sounds 2” with the same forces doing works by a number of different composers of somewhat more traditional choral music. It also is exquisitely performed and recorded.

More surprises! Liza and Dmitry Ferschtman have an incredible album of Duos for Violin and Violoncello featuring works by Kodaly, Ravel, and Shulhoff. I was totally charmed by the music and the Ferschtmans’ musicianship. Plus the Ravel is a real mind-bender. The Sonata for Violin and Cello, completed in 1922, seems to me to be the least Ravelian music I’ve ever heard. In fact the second movement reminds me of the Mexican Composer, Revueltas, and his 1937 “Sensemaya”.   As strange as it must seem, this second movement is actually comical in spots– while surrounded by movement of incredible beauty. Overall, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a set of violin-cello duets I’ve enjoyed more than this album.

Speaking of Strings.. Here are two albums from the London Symphony Orchestra’s String Ensemble, Roman Simovic, leader, that give you the chance to hear some really beautiful music from some of the best musicians you can find.

The Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings (1880) and Bartok’s Divertimento make a delightful coupling. Tchaikovsky wrote the Serenade after his 4th symphony and just after his marriage broke up. Bartok competed the light-hearted Divertimento in 1940 as the conflagration in Europe was exploding. He shortly moved to the U.S.

The second album includes Sir Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings (1905), Ralph Vaughan Williams’ exquisite Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910), and Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937). While all are very “British” there are few similarities between them.

These works are lovingly played and beautifully recorded. None of these is difficult in any way, but they show the care and craftsmanship of the composers. Take a listen:

Finally, Here’s something completely different. Vocalist Eleonora Bianchini and double bass player Enzo Pietropaoli combine to bring us a delightful set that is somewhere between jazz and art songs. I really enjoy Bianchini’s style, and Pietropaoli provides amazing accompaniment with just a bass fiddle! The songs are mostly Italian, but there are some real surprises! The set begins with “Kashmir”, yes, Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”. To me it really works. Pietropaoli carries on like he’s accompanying Robert Plant! He really makes that Bass cover a lot of instruments. There’s also Radiohead’s “High and Dry”, and Lennon & McCarney’s “Mother Nature’s Son”.  I know it sounds odd, but you really need to hear this one. All cuts were recorded without any editing, overdubbing, or processing.

More bass fiddles and surprises next time!

Cover Photo by Bill Dodd.

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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