In Auxiliary Input, Andrew Anderson, a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library, reviews classical and opera recordings, including by local organizations. We hope to tie them to local performances by guest artists with various orchestras and chamber music organizations.
If you have a recent or upcoming recording to suggest, email editor Mark Lowry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas
Stewart Goodyear, piano
Marquis Music MAR513
Released Sept. 25, 2012; reissued Sept. 7, 2018
I didn't read all the reviews of Stewart Goodyear's Dallas Beethoven Sonatathon, the all-32-in-one-day performance back in 2015, so I can't say for certain that no critic said something like "he's performing all 32 of Beethoven's piano sonatas in one day, so you have to make allowances." That's a typical recommendation for such an occasion, and I'm sure if I looked hard enough, I'd find some review resorting to it. But for a recording of all 32, no one says that. With options for a performer to re-record, use part of a different take, or otherwise fix something in post-production, no one should. Anyone who records them all will have technique adequate to the task; they'll sound like they did a good job.
Not everyone who records these sonatas will show superior insight into how each one of should go, however; that doesn't come with technique. In Goodyear's recording (available here), superior insight and superior technique both show up in every movement—yes, I did listen to every movement, and I'm tempted to review them all; but who would review the Encyclopedia Britannica of the keyboard literature and start with Aardvarks, then go page-by-page?
So we start with a survey of the terrain. If you were at ATTPAC's Dallas City Performance Hall in March of 2015, or if you read any reviews of Mr. Goodyear's Sonatathon, you might expect everything he plays to be faster than you've ever heard it. Rarely on this recording, however, are any of his tempos ridiculously fast, and in no case did I find them utterly outrageous. Moreover, some slow movements are slower than I have ever heard them played—so slow that, with some other performer, I can imagine wishing I could reach into the music and pull the notes along.
In Goodyear's case, I never have that urge. I may be distracted by the almost absurd clarity of his playing, but it's more likely that the culprit is his absolutely flawless sense of how one moment should flow into another. Every movement on this recording is a marvel of continuity. Certainly that presupposes that they're all above reproach as to technique, but cohesion doesn't grow naturally out of technical expertise.
It has more to do with interpretive choices.
And here's a bit of paradox: I don't remember running into any groundbreaking interpretive choices over the course of this rendition of the 32. Right off the bat, rather, I started to think I was listening to exactly what Beethoven had in mind when he wrote it.
For me, right off the bat is always Beethoven's Op. 101, the Sonata No. 28 in A major. It has a strange little first movement, and its characteristic rhythm has a rushed feeling built in. In most performances, pianists seem to leave it to that rhythm to take care of the rushing, and consequently it always sounds just fine, perfectly stable; unhurried. In a couple of strategic places—measures 29 and 81, if you're following along—Goodyear rushes the already rushed rhythm a little, and in so doing, gives us exactly what I think Beethoven was after.
Because I wasn't in a position to switch discs after the end of No. 28, I followed it—as Beethoven did—with No. 29, the Big Sonata for the Hammerklavier, Op. 106. I won't rattle off every amazing detail of this impressive reading of this most imposing work (reviewing this sonata alone could put me over my word limit). Instead, I'll give it one sentence: this is the biggest, cleanest, most exciting, precise and cohesive rendition of this work I've ever heard, and even after six listenings, I still jump at Goodyear's performance of the third measure of the mysterious introduction to the fugue.
More important than how great No. 29 is, is the way Goodyear compelled my attention in those sonatas we all know and love and take for granted, like No. 8 (the Pathétique) and No. 26 (Les Adieux). Again and again, it's not through innovative interpretation that he makes these standards compelling, it's through exceptional continuity, even when Beethoven includes features that seem to guarantee all the continuity you'd need, as in the first movement of No. 14 (the Moonlight). To a pianist, the constant flow of that accompaniment—almost more interesting than the theme—looks like it would do all the work for you; continuity should take care of itself, right?
Wrong. It never does, but it's easy to be fooled by it. That may point to the most innovative thing about this set of Beethoven's 32: nothing is taken for granted, even though everything Beethoven wanted is right there on the page. I don't know where Goodyear's consistently superior insight comes from, but I suspect it comes from playing these things over and over, eating, drinking and sleeping them, turning them over and over and inside-out in his head when there's no piano around.
The notes included with the recording are by Mr. Goodyear, and they're helpful in keeping your bearings as you listen to this set. They're consistently insightful, though not intended as in-depth analysis—but who would want that, times 32? (I would, but not in this context).
In case it's not clear by now, I...think very highly of this recording. Sorry, that sounds like damnation by faint praise. This is the best recording of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas I've ever heard, but let's not stop there; I can't think of any performance or recording of any of these 32 sonatas that I prefer to Goodyear's interpretation. If you already own a recording of all 32 and don't have room for another, consider selling it and buying this one. If you have room for another, buy this one. If you don't have one already, buy this one. This may be the only recording I never get rid of—and I have Ashkenazy's recording of Sibelius' Fifth Symphony.
Now, Mr. Goodyear, can I interest you in a Scarlatti project?
Nielsen/Shifrin: Clarinet Concerto; Chamber Music with Clarinet
David Shifrin, clarinet
Release date: April 20, 2018
I believe the proper Latin phrase is concedo nulli: in my adoration of the music of Danish composer Carl Nielsen, I yield to none. I've been listening to him since I was in high school, and over the years I've bought enough Nielsen recordings to enable him to retire comfortably. So the Delos release of David Shifrin playing some of Nielsen's chamber music (available here) opened at a disadvantage: when I read the title, I already knew what it would have and wouldn't have. It would have the woodwind quintet, the composer's most popular chamber work, and it wouldn't have the Serenata in Vano, a brief chamber tone-poem written over just a couple of days as filler for a concert program. It turns out, however, that the disc doesn't have the Quintet, and it does have the Serenata. It also has lots of arrangements, none of them arranged by Nielsen, so at first it looks a little underhanded to bill this disc as Chamber Music with Clarinet by Nielsen.
The preponderance of arrangements may look like a disadvantage, but it's one this recording immediately overcomes. At first glance, the biggest gamble seems to be the inclusion of an arrangement by Rene Orth (and the arrangement was not one especially made for this recording) for chamber group of the Clarinet Concerto, Op. 57. The original version was one of the works that dyed me in the wool as a Nielsen nut, so mess with it at your peril. But hardly 50 measures of the arrangement had passed before I started thinking that I didn't miss the original, that the differences were insignificant, and that Nielsen would have loved it.
Most significant is the transformation of the relationship of soloist to ensemble. In the original, the clarinet exhibits a well-founded paranoia, a disorder very much softened in this arrangement for reduced forces. Playing against only one horn and one bassoon (instead of two each), a string quintet (instead of string orchestra), and one snare drummer, the soloist seems less at a disadvantage than in the original. And the chamber group provides a welcome clarification of relationships--between soloist and ensemble, and between sections of musical material. After spending time with this recording, I return to the original with new interest. And, at the same time, I'm confident that enough of the original resides in this arrangement so that you won't miss the full-scale version, even if it's the one you grew up with, which I did. If this were your only recording of the work, I'd say "no problem."
This recording features other arrangements, as well, of works not as well-known as the Concerto. There's the Fantasy for Oboe and Piano (played on clarinet); there's the Clarinet Fantasy (played on clarinet); and there's a group of early piano pieces arranged for clarinet and piano, and certainly not to their detriment. The fact that the middle of the album is filled with "little pieces" and early works is just fine, especially since the two early fantasies—even more difficult to distinguish than usual since both are performed on clarinet—would have little hope of reaching our ears were it not for the narrow requirements of this album.
Even if I hadn't cared for any of these arrangements and rookie compositions (and I do care for them a great deal), a recording of the Serenata in vano would have compelled me to push this disc. The Serenata is one of the few works in which Nielsen performs the kind of tonal operations on a small scale that he gives us on a massive scale in the first four symphonies. We get short-range closure--when the concluding little march finishes, it's clearly over--but what we're apt to miss is that the closure happens in the wrong key. I think that's the composer asserting, by subtly undermining the normal musical way of doing things, that humans, though imperfect, still have possibilities. But don't take my word for it. Listen to the Serenata in vano—it's charming, whatever your interpretation, and even a lousy recording would be welcome.
This recording is not only not lousy, it's perfect in every respect. It's mostly, if not completely, a live recording (and I'm learning to love these). You hear performers breathing, you hear key clicks and valve action—in short, you get all the performance artifacts that make good recordings so enjoyable, and live recordings so lively.
The best thing about it is David Shifrin. He's the best part of the "perfect in every respect." He musters the full spectrum of colors possible for a clarinet, from sine-wave purity to hairy, rough-edged humanity. We're lucky he's coming to town this weekend; he'll perform two Leonard Bernstein works with the Fort Worth Symphony, the Prelude, Fugue and Riffs (originally written for Woody Herman but first performed by Benny Goodman), and the Sonata for Clarinet and Orchestra. If Shifrin is half as much fun in person as he is on this Delos release, he deserves a packed Bass Hall.
» Andrew Anderson is a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. He holds a bachelor's degree in music composition from Baylor University, a Master's degree in music composition, and a Ph. D in music theory from the University of North Texas, and an MLS from Texas Woman's University.
» Auxiliary Input appears on the third Wednesday of the month in TheaterJones.
PREVIOUSLY IN AUXILIARY INPUT
- February: A recording by composer Adam Schoenberg; and a Fort Worth Symphony recording from 2016 of works by Lutoslawski and Brahms, the latter arranged by the other Schoenberg
- March: Two volumes of a set of Wagner music transcribed for solo piano by Peruvian pianist Juan Guillermo Vizcarra; and two albums of songs by Fauré and Flegíer, both featuring bass Jared Schwartz
- April: Releases from pianist/composer Marc-André Hamelin
- May: Jaap van Zweden with the Hong Kong Philharmonic; and the DVD release of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach
- June: Houston Symphony's March release of works by Dvořák; the Fort Worth Symphony's 2016 recording with pianist Vadym Kholodenko on Prokofiev's Concerto Nos. 2 and 5; and two 2015 recordings of pianist Alessandro Deljavan on works by Chopin
- July: A 2015 recording from Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal featuring a piece by composer Sam Moussa, which the Dallas Symphony will perform in September; the second volume of Alexandre Tansman piano music played by Danny Zelibor; and the much-talked about The Lost Songs of St. Kilda.
- August: Cliburn Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo; pianist Marc-André Hamelin performing Feldman's For Bunita Marcus; and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra on Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.
- September: A release by local outfit Ensemble75; a 2015 release of early music called Love & Lust; and a new recording by the North Texas Wind Ensemble of the University of North Texas in Denton.
- October: A recording of Liszt songs featuring Jared Schwartz, bass, and Mary Dibbern, piano; harp music by Emily Levin of the Dallas Symphony; and a Finnish recording of works by Sibelius, featuring conductor Hannu Lintu
- November: A DVD recording of Mark Adamo's Becoming Santa Claus at the Dallas Opera in 2015; Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life at Houston Grand Opera in 2016; and the 2016 performance of Du Yun's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel's Bone.
- December: A Lithuanian recording of Verdi's Rigoletto featuring the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Nadine Sierra; a stellar recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring; and pianist Peter Froundjian's Christmas Piano Music.
- January: A themed album from pianist Emanuele Arciuli; recordings of Haydn works for the baryton, and the early orchestral works of Bohuslav Martinů
- February: Anderson listens to the live recording from the Dallas Opera's world premiere of Great Scott, a recording of early orchestral works by Martinů, and Morton Feldman's For John Cage (1982).
- March: Menahem Pressler plays works by Debussy, Fauré and Ravel; The Dallas Chamber Choir has a new album out; and Dallas Symphony Principal Bassoon Ted Soluri has recorded transcriptions of opera arias, with help from pianist Valerie M. Trujillo.
- April: No column
- May: The Hong Kong Philharmonic's Siegfried, conducted by Jaap van Zweden; Jacob Nydegger plays Hendrik Andriessen; and Kyle Gann's microtonal compositions.
- June: Two UNT music professors perform Anton Eberl; the JACK Quartet playing John Luther Adams
- July: A new recording of music by North Texas composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez, and a look at composers Frank Martin and William Grant Still.