Augustin Hadelich Plays Brahms

This performance, recorded last June, is one of the gems you’ll find at violinist Augustin Hadelich’s Youtube channel. It’s the Brahms Violin Concerto as experienced from a front row seat in Oslo’s intimate NRK Radio Concert Hall. (The Norwegian Radio Orchestra is conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya). At the end of the first movement, we often hear the cadenza by Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), the German violinist for whom Brahms wrote the Concerto. This performance …

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Mendelssohn Meets Bach: The Second Cello Sonata

Visit the eastern German city of Leipzig and you’ll find yourself walking in the footsteps of countless great composers. Two prominent examples are J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. Bach was Kapellmeister at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church from 1723 until his death in 1750. A hundred years later, Mendelssohn led the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835 to 1847. Mendelssohn was instrumental in bringing about a renewed interest in the music of J.S. Bach. Amid the elegant simplicity of the …

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Brahms’ First Piano Concerto: Rising to Symphonic Scale

A ferocious, stormy intensity is unleashed in the opening of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. With an ominous inevitability, the expansive opening theme growls, snarls, and lashes its teeth, rising up like some kind of awesome supernatural power. Immediately, we’re drawn into music which is bold and monumental- a kind of symphony with solo piano. For nearly four years, beginning in 1854, the young Brahms wrestled with the form of …

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Five Excerpts from Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”

The premiere of the first version of Giuseppe Verdi’s three act opera, Simon Boccanegra, took place in Venice on this date (March 12) in 1857. At this first performance, the dark, historical drama, once described by the composer as “too sad and desolate,” was a flop. Verdi returned to the work over twenty years later with an 1881 revision that was more successful. This is the version that is most often heard today. It contains some …

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Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”: A Showpiece in Multiple Versions

This week, I’m once again playing the great orchestral showpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition. It’s music which was originally composed by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874 as a suite of ten virtuoso pieces for solo piano, and later transformed into shimmering orchestral technicolor by Maurice Ravel. Listening to this popular orchestral adaptation, we have the sense of two works colliding, spectacularly. The rebellious, inventive harmony and folk-inspired Russian nationalism of Mussorgsky meets the refined, impressionistic color …

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Remembering Jesús López-Cobos

The eminent Spanish conductor, Jesús López Cobos, passed away in Berlin last Friday. He was 78. López Cobos served as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1986 to 2001. As a teenager, I listened to a handful of his numerous recordings with the ensemble on the Telarc label. His Bruckner albums (Symphonies 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9) were especially notable. During his tenure in Cincinnati, the orchestra (the fifth oldest in …

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Five Great Lazar Berman Recordings

The legendary Russian pianist Lazar Berman was born in Saint Petersburg on this date in 1930. At first confined to the Soviet Union and its satellite countries (the 12-year travel ban may have been the result of his marriage to a French woman), Berman burst onto the international music scene in the mid-1970s, following American and European tours. His playing often exuded a stunning dramatic power. In a 2005 New York Times …

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