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November 1 , 2013

Reviews of the Week

Leading Swiss and English papers are thrilled by András Schiff’s recording of the Diabelli-Variationen

Grosse Pianisten lassen sich deshalb viel Zeit mit den Diabelli-Variationen, sie studieren und spielen sie jahrzehntelang, bevor sie damit ins Aufnahmestudio gehen. András Schiff war 59 Jahre alt, als er den Schritt wagte. Und er wagte gleich noch etwas anderes: Er verschmähte den modernen Steinway-Flügel und zog zwei historische Instrumente vor, nämlich einen Bechstein von 1921, den schon Wilhelm Backhaus geschätzt hat, und ein Franz-Brodmann-Fortepiano (Wien 1820), das er aus dem Besitz von Jörg Ewald Dähler erworben und dem Beethovenhaus Bonn als Leihgabe zur Verfügung gestellt hat. Das ist ein Glücksfall, denn mit diesen beiden Wiedergaben gewinnen wir ein Moment von Intimität zurück, das ein übergrosser Konzertsaal und das gleichmacherische Klangbild moderner Flügel niemals erreichen können. Der runde, weiche Klang des Diskants beim Bechstein-Flügel und das unglaublich sonore Bassregister beim Wiener Brodmann-Fortepiano, ja überhaupt das Festhalten an unterschiedlichen Registertönungen bescheren dem Hörer wahre Wunder an Klangfarben und Anschlagsdifferenzierung. Selbst der durch Pausen betonte Gegensatz zwischen Forte-Akkorden und Piano-Antworten in Variation XIII bietet einen prachtvoll runden Raumklang; Vergleichsaufnahmen auf dem Steinway wirken nun geradezu blechern und schrill. […]Wie Schiff in der «Fughetta» (Nr. XXIV) und in der hochkomplexen Schlussfuge (Nr. XXXII) die Stimmeneinsätze und die Engführungen leuchtend klar herausarbeitet, zeigt Erfahrung und Format des gestandenen Bach-Interpreten. Aber er zeigt noch etwas, was viele andere Interpreten nicht in dem Masse kenntlich machen: Beethovens Humor. Sei es die «Don Giovanni»-Parodie (Nr. XXII), sei es jene Dampfwalze schon in Variation I, die den harmlosen Walzer gnadenlos platt macht, sei es die grimmige Aufblätterung der Motiv-Elemente, eines wahren Diabelli-Teilelagers, sei es aber auch jenes melancholische, schon entrückte Lächeln des abschliessenden «Tempo di Minuetto»: Ohne erdenschweren Tiefsinn findet Schiff die angemessene lichte Heiterkeit, die auf Wissen beruht. Eine Beethoven-Hommage auf Augenhöhe.
Hartmut Lück, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

He plays Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli Variations’ twice, once on a 1921 Bechstein and again on a Franz Brodmann fortepiano circa 1820, an instrument in awesomely good condition. The differences are fascinating. The Bechstein offers fairly even brilliance across its range: Diabelli’s theme trots like a glittering circus pony. The Brodmann colours are more mysterious, with greater subtleties in light and shade, generously displayed across the ‘Variations’ as well as Beethoven’s Six Bagetelles.
Yet either piano’s textures and reverberations would mean little without Schiff’s artistry and intelligence. The ‘Diabelli Variations’ have never seemed so playfully filled with irony, comic pratfalls and the wild goose chase. Whatever instrument he uses, Schiff rewards the closest listening.
Geoff Brown, The Times

Momo Kodama’s debut recording for ECM La vallée des cloches is welcomed in France

Des ‘Miroirs’ de Ravel (dont la cinquième pièce, ‘La Vallée des cloches’, prête son titre à ce récital) à ‘La Fauvette des jardins’, dernière grand fresque d’Olivier Messiaen pour clavier solo, se dessine une voie royale du répertoire pianistique du xxe siècle. Trop peu de solistes se risquent á l’explorer; trop peu d’éditeurs se hasardent à lui ouvrir leur catalogue. On se réjouit que la pianiste japonaise Momo Kodama, entrée adolescente au CNSM de Paris, relève le gant, et que Manfred Eicher, le producteur du label ECM, qui n’en est pas à son premier défi, publie ce trophée, à l’intitulé sonore. [...] En disciple d’Yvonne Loriod, à qui son mari, Olivier Messiaen, avait dédié sa partition, Momo Kodama exalte la volubilité acérée de ces mélopées diurnes ou nocturnes, leurs couleurs stridentes.
Gilles, Macassar, Télérama

BBC Music Magazine gives Michelle Makarski and Keith Jarrett’s recording of Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano five out of five stars

While both performers have strong musical personalities, they achieve an apt democratic balance between the violin and piano parts, although occasionally the recording seems to favour Jarrett over Makarski’s full yet refined tone. Both musicians give impeccable technical performances and, while there is no shortage of recordings of these Sonatas, Jarrett and Makarski’s interpretations add something individual.
Barry Witherden, BBC Music Magazine

Irish and American reviewers praise Shadow Man, the new album by Tim Berne’s Snakeoil

‘Shadow Man’, the follow-up to last year’s widely praised debut, delves deeper into Berne’s difficult, beautiful sound world, mixing delicately intricate writing with muscular group improv, executed with utter conviction by clarinetist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith. Berne calls the sound he’s reaching for ‘transparent density’, and every crash, bang and wallop is audible on this pristine ECM recording. In the end, though, it is Berne’s occult skills as a composer and bandleader that make this compelling, super-dense music apparently see-through. Worth the trouble.
Cormac Larkin, Irish Times

This band’s eponymous ECM debut last year was one of the most acclaimed jazz recordings of 2012. ‘Shadow Man’ is stronger. It is wilder and deeper, an oceanic extravance of strange sonic shapes and colors. Yet it coheres according to proprietary logic. The individual voices in Snakeoil are compelling. Oscar Noriega (clarinet) is free fluidity and light. Ches Smith (drums and vibraphone) unleashes percussive forces in cluttering waves, none the same. Matt Mitchell (pianos) is an original in both concept and sound. The remarkable independence of his two hands creates unique jagged designs. His clanging notes command the air. In this company, Tim Berne’s alto sax is ferocious as ever, but more focused and concise. But the individual voices serve Berne’s bold manifestations of ensemble form.
Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times

More international acclaim for Ralph Alessi’s Baida

Alessi’s angular and atmospheric compositions are strong in melody, dart at angles and, like the leader’s warm, tightly focused trumpet, have a playful edge. [...] Bold interplay and great solos from Alessi and pianist Jason Moran, and flawless support from Drew Gress and Nasheet Waits on bass and drums. Highly recommended.
Mike Hobart, Financial Times

Trumpeter Alessi’s debut for ECM brings together four masters of the New York scene on a set of original compositions that offer plenty of room to showcase their creativity. [...] With Alessi’s imaginative writing for the ensemble and virtuoso trumpet playing that has made him one of the most in demand sidemen in US jazz, this is a dream team recording representing a highwater mark of the current American mainstream.
Cormac Larkin, Irish Times

Alessi’s tunes, such as ‘Shank,’ are usually on the move from the very first notes. His compositions are flexible rather than tightly organized, yet their initial statements, whether by Alessi alone or in duet with the bass, as in ‘Shank,’ are strong enough to dominate even the freest group improvisations that follow. I am intrigued by his titles, as well as by the unexpected intervals and insistent shapes of his compositions: ‘Throwing Like a Girl’ is a surprisingly sober tune introduced by bassist Gress. Waits’ martial drums, looming under the long tones and scalar passages of the muted trumpet, played here in unison with Moran, seem to defy the cocky nature of the boyhood insult. The disc is full of surprises, yet Baida is marked by Alessi’s consistently strong compositional ideas and arrangements. This band has an undeviating vision: Baida seems to me to be a triumph of rock solid character.
Michael Ullman, The Arts Fuse

British website Jazz Views on 39 Steps by the John Abercrombie Quartet

The four musicians, all being familiar with each other’s playing, bring an assurance and serenity to the set that quietly speaks volumes. The quality of the compositions, penned mostly by the guitarist and pianist, shine through and permits a graceful flow and interaction between the quartet with the material utterly contemporary yet steeped in the tradition. [...] The emphasis on the music is very much placed on harmony and melody, and Abercrombie relishes the space and delicacy of mood that prevails within this context, and his lines have a suppleness and lyricism that can be mesmerising. The relationship with Copland is quite remarkable in the mastery of harmonies between the two, and the fact that they never seem to get in each other’s way. A besetting sin that occurs all too often when two chordal instruments are in the same line up. Even on the freely improvised ’39 Steps’, and an abstract deconstruction of ‘Melancholy Baby’, the quartet retain the feeling of light and shade, and the sense of space that prevails throughout this absorbing set. [...] All in all this is a most satisfying release, and Abercrombie has been wholly successful in producing an album that is fresh and contemporary, yet allowes him to play more freely yet more traditionally.
Nick Lea, Jazz Views