Antonio Oyarzabal’s piano recital La Muse Oubliée is distinguished by featuring 34 memorable miniatures, and if I say that they’re all written by women that’s less important than the musical standard, which is consistently high. Please don’t get me wrong. All I want to do is take one additional small step for mankind along the path to creative equality. That Clara Schumann-Wieck’s First Romance was written around the same time as Brahms’s Ballades and matches them for harmonic ingenuity seems to me a given. Jacquet de la Guerre was a contemporary of Jean Philippe Rameau and it’s pretty amazing to think that a woman could achieve such a high level of artistic attainment given the restrictions on social advancement for women in those days … but achieve it she did. Lili Boulanger died very young but her output although modest is distinguished (the Cortège programmed here was once recorded by Heifetz) while the hugely talented Vitezslava Kaprálová was admired by both the conductor Rafael Kubelík and the pianist Rudolf Firkusny. There are many more besides, each with one or two novel gestures up their sleeves, each the work of a true original, artistically valid, superbly played and recorded on (Ibs Classical IBS52021, c£13.25)
Years ago, I chanced upon a recording of Ravel’s ‘Oiseaux Tristes’ by Lise de la Salle and was entranced – the control of line, tone and tempo, the phrasing and delicate touch, all were remarkable. Latest to appear from this gifted pianist is ‘When do we Dance?’, where William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag seems to carry more sadness than it can bear. I don’t think I’ve heard a crisper, more eye-twinkling account of Stravinsky’s Tango, nor versions of Gershwin and Art Tatum that draw nearer to the upbeat virtuosity of the originals. De la Salle’s musical round trip is both imaginative and finely tooled. We should be hearing much more from her (naïve V 5468, c£14.00).
When it comes to Londa Armonica’s Vivaldi, this talented band give it some … and more, much more – try the powerfully percussive first track from their fifth volume of bassoon concertos on naïve …. what a thrilling, unholy racket, before bassoonist Sergio Azzolini enters with his nut-brown tone and brings the minions to some sort of order. It’s a big, period instrument band – sounds more like a full orchestra (especially in the finale) – that projects a vast spectrum of sound. There are seven concertos in all, each with a gorgeous slow movement at its core. Anyone who in the past has accused Vivaldi of sameness please think again and without fail search out naïve OP 30573 (c£14.00)
Now here’s a brilliant idea – a Bach harpsichord recital that passes on the option of a specific series (Partitas, The ‘48’, etc) and settles instead on giving us three key-related selections, respectively in A minor, D minor and C minor, the upshot of which – uncannily – is that when listening you imagine that the whole 79-minute sequence is how Bach originally intended it, that it couldn’t justifiably be any other way. Such is the genius of Rinaldo Alessandrini who mixes inventions, sinfonias and preludes (some of them otherwise little known) with pieces from The Well-tempered Clavier (both books), which means that in the case of A minor you’ll hear the fiercely slanting drama of the Prelude from Book One and the fearsome stamp of the Fugue from Book Two (each with their companion pieces of course). Among the other works programmed the D minor Sonata transcribed from the A minor solo violin sonata and to close, the elevated ricercar in three voices from The Musical Offering. As to Alessandrini’s playing, it’s always flexible, never caged by bar lines. In a word, superb, on naïve OP 30581 (c£14.00).
If you’re charmed by Mozart’s Magic Flute you might like to try Lulu for contrast, a version of the same story set by the Danish pianist and composer Friedrich Kuhlau, who in reality was an exact contemporary of Weber (both composers died young) whose decidedly Weber-like Romantic singspiel in three acts has just appeared in a memorable performance from May 1956 led by one Denmark’s much-prized maestros from the past Launy Grøndahl. Quite aside from Grøndahl’s vivacious conducting, there’s the singing, most memorably Uno Ebrelius in the title role …. and if you know and love the princely voice of the great Aksel Schiøtz, there’s a definite similarity …. and Kirsten Hermansen, a ‘Queen of the Night’ sound-alike, brilliant and birdlike and at her best in duet with Lulu “Around Your Eden Drifts Peace” on track 19 of the first disc. There are bonuses too, various solos and duets Danish or otherwise, that serve as makeweights on the second cd. The transfers from mono analogue originals are first-rate. So if you’re up for a life-affirming operatic discovery of real worth, it’s on Danacord (2 cds) DACOCD 886 (c£14.00).
Lastly, the sophisticated but always accessible music of Richard Blackford visits those darker areas of shared knowledge that others tend to avoid but does it in such a way that it sidesteps intimidating confrontation. Take the horrific fact of Nazi death camp inmates playing great quartet music while those nearby are being mercilessly slaughtered. The centrepiece of Blackford’s Kalon for string quartet and string orchestra (conducted by Jiri Rozen) is a harrowing but inspired piece called ‘Beklemmt’ which visits the best-loved movement from Beethoven’s ‘late’ Quartets, the ‘cavatina’ from Op. 130, the central section, music that seems choked with grief and which the Albion Quartet (led by Tamsin Waley-Cohen) play so poignantly. This memorable, well-recorded all-Blackford CD opens to a powerful 23-minute work Niobe for violin and orchestra, music about strong women in fatal combat, ostensibly from ancient Greece but with a knowing nod towards the violence that so many women suffer in our own time. Blackford runs the gamut of emotions and the superb Waley-Cohen follows suit (this recording is also out on its own on the Signum label) while the Czech Philharmonic under Ben Gernon offer support that is both sensitive and dramatic. A third item features cellist Raphael Wallfisch, a love song Blewbury Air, with pianist Adrian Farmer, also memorable. Nimbus NI6420 (c£14.00)