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Classical - Released June 4, 2021 | ECM New Series

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Arnold Schoenberg called him "Brahms the Progressive". Whilst Johannes Brahms’s musical language and formal cosmos were deeply rooted in the past, by burrowing into the music of Bach and Beethoven he brought forth compositional fabrics of a tight-knit perfection that pointed far into the future. Yet, over years of continuously evolving interpretations, Brahms’s oeuvre has acquired an inappropriate heaviness more likely to conceal the fabric of his music than to unveil the subtle intricacies of its "developing variations", to quote Schoenberg’s term for his compositional method. András Schiff emphasizes precisely this point in his new recording of the two piano concertos with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. These developments, need it be said, are also related to changing performance conditions and transformations in society. But it is not always easy to say where the causal chain began. What is certain is that the growth of a global audience for music – with a corresponding increase in volume levels, larger concert halls and ever more massive ensembles and sturdier instruments – has led to a distorted image of Brahms that cries out for correction. After all, as Schiff puts it, Brahms’s music is "transparent, sensitive, differentiated and nuanced in its dynamics". In order to bring this to light, however, we must recall the performance conditions of Brahms’s day and reconstruct them as best we can. The Meiningen Court Orchestra, one of Europe’s most progressive and highly acclaimed orchestras of the era, and Brahms’s personal favourite (he conducted it in the première of his Fourth Symphony in 1885), consisted at times of no more than 49 musicians with nine first violins. Moreover, the pianos he preferred, mainly built by the firms of Streicher, Bösendorfer and Blüthner, were more limpid in their sound, richer in overtones, and responded to a lighter touch. András Schiff already turned to period instruments on some of his earlier recordings for ECM’s New Series, including his two double albums with Schubert’s late piano works, for which he used a fortepiano built by Franz Brodmann in 1820. He had used the same instrument for his double album with Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, contrasting this version with a reading of the same work on a Bechstein grand of 1921. Now Sir András has chosen the conductor-less Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with its period instruments, for his recording of the two Brahms Concertos. And he plays an historic grand piano built by the Leipzig firm of Julius Blüthner in 1859. The result is nothing less than an attempt "to recreate and restore the works, to cleanse the music and to liberate it from the burden of the –often questionable- trademarks of performing tradition". At times the recordings take on the quality of chamber music, as is especially telling in the last two movements of the B-flat Major Concerto, Op. 83. The result is a performance that approaches the original character of the sound, revealing those layers of the works that emphasise the dialogue between soloist and orchestra – and dispelling the preconception that the Second Concerto is a "symphony with piano obbligato". © ECM New Series
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Classical - Released June 4, 2021 | ECM New Series

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Pianist András Schiff is a relative newcomer to historically-oriented performance, which he had formerly disparaged, but he makes a splash early on with this Brahms concerto pair. Schiff plays an 1859 Blüthner instrument with a distinctively piercing, just slightly twangy tone. He conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment from the keyboard, as early conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow is known to have done, and the orchestra numbers 50 players, the size Brahms himself stated he liked best. All of these things leave their traces on the performance, and ECM emphasizes the intimate dimensions with a close-up recording that may thrill some and be a bit too much for others. The biggest innovation, though, is simply Schiff's playing itself. He has gone back to the original manuscripts of these works and found details large (Brahms indicated a majestic, much-slower-than-usual tempo for the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15) and small. These are wonderfully detailed performances of these works from one of the great pianists of our time, at the top of his powers, and continuing to challenge himself. © TiVo
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Classical - Released April 30, 2021 | ECM New Series

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"Anajikon", the second ECM album after "Music for piano and string quartet", by Athens-born and Munich-based Konstantia Gourzi, incorporates her chamber and orchestral music of the past decade. The composer also conducts the Lucerne Academy Orchestra here: "I see composing and conducting as a whole, as an inseparable relationship", she says. Gourzi is particularly concerned with making connections between the arts, which also relates to the question of her own artistic identity and the influence of her origins. In Gourzi's sound language, elements of different musical traditions repeatedly merge, and East and West enter into a dialogue. This album presents three of her compositions: her third String Quartet, "Anajikon", her orchestral piece Ny-el (commissioned by the Lucerne Festival, in August 2016 with the orchestra of the Lucerne Festival Academy) as well as Hommage a Mozart, three Dialogues. Her works are performed on this new recording by Nils Mönkemeyer (viola); William Youn (piano), the Lucerne Academy Orchestra and the Minguet Quartett. "Anajikon" is preceded by the album "Music for piano and string quartet", which presented the composer's work for the first time. UK magazine Gramophone described the album as "An absorbing introduction to an eminently worthwhile composer". © ECM New Series
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Classical - Released April 30, 2021 | ECM New Series

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The music of Konstantia Gourzi is difficult to classify with regard to contemporary trends. Its tonality may be diatonic or chromatic. It may use simple materials (from the folk music of the composer's native Greece or otherwise), but it tends to submerge such materials into complex structures. The opening Hommage à Mozart for viola and piano, Op. 56, designed by the composer as "three dialogues," is not in the least a neoclassical piece, evoking Mozart not through melodies or phrase structures but rather through a gentle, lyrical mood. The other two pieces, for orchestra and for string quartet, respectively, have angels (in gardens) as their subject matter. Fans of the critic Paul Griffiths may wish to pick this album up for his perceptive booklet notes, which identify the tone of these pieces as "interrogative." Indeed, Gourzi's music throughout is unsettled without being nervous or confrontational; it seems to be standing on the threshold of larger universes. It benefits greatly from a stable of chamber players containing ECM regulars like the exquisitely oracular violist Nils Mönkemeyer in the Hommage à Mozart, and from superb ECM sound, even in the live sound of that work. An intriguing introduction to a composer few outside Greece or Germany will know. © TiVo
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Classical - Released March 12, 2021 | ECM New Series

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or
The third volume of the Danish String Quartet's ongoing "Prism" series, which shows how the radiance of Bach's Fugues is refracted through Beethoven's Quartets to illuminate the work of later composers. "Beethoven had taken a fundamentally linear development from Bach", the Danes note, "and exploded everything into myriads of different colours, directions and opportunities, much in the same way as a prism splits a beam of light". Here the quartet follow the beam from Johann Sebastian Bach's Fugue in C-sharp minor through Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14 to Bela Bartok's String Quartet No. 1. "A revelatory connected soundscape in which Beethoven's introspection feels more unsettling than usual" (BBC Music Magazine, on Prism II) © ECM New Series
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Classical - Released March 12, 2021 | ECM New Series

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Momo Kodama whose acclaimed New Series solo album "Point and Line" contrasted Toshio Hosakawa and Claude Debussy here presents the piano concerto which Hosakawa wrote for her, the shimmering Lotus under the moonlight. Composed in 2006, Lotus is also a homage to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with distant echoes of Mozart's Concerto No. 23 in A Major, the work with which it is paired here in a concert recording from Japan, with Maestro Seiji Ozawa and his Mito Chamber Orchestra. In a composer's note Hosakawa writes that "Momo Kodama's transparency, sensitivity and expressiveness have continued to inspire my piano music deeply. As she touches this magical instrument, she touches the mysterious energy of the universe and stirs my soul". © ECM New Series
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Classical - Released March 12, 2021 | ECM New Series

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The rather abstract-sounding title of this release by the Danish String Quartet comes from a series; the "Prism" recordings select a late Beethoven quartet and program it with an arrangement of a relevant Bach work as well as a later quartet from a composer who came under the influence of late Beethoven. The idea is that the original Bach work is refracted by Beethoven as if by a prism. It sounds like a slightly involved apparatus, and it is; the influence of the late Beethoven quartets is nowhere near as direct as the group suggests in its note, and one can even argue that Bartók was the first composer to really attempt to come to terms with them directly. This said, the importance of Bach in the music of late Beethoven is large and arguably under-explored, and there are several strong draws here, not least the performance of the Beethoven String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131. The Danish String Quartet sharply highlights the juxtaposition of contrapuntal and folkish material in this work, and their performance feels strongly connected to Bartók, who exploited the same contrast. Listen to the fifth-movement Presto of the Beethoven to hear an example of the unusually light and joyous quality the group brings to this work, despite its heavy opening. ECM's sound, always impressive, could hardly be improved upon; the acoustic environment of an old indoor riding stadium results in clarity without the harshness of church environments or the over-intimate quality of some studio recordings. An intriguing Beethoven release that is both expertly executed and worthy of discussion. © TiVo
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Classical - Released February 12, 2021 | ECM New Series

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On "Hallgató", recorded live in the Grand Hall of Budapest’s Liszt Academy, Ferenc Snétberger and the Keller Quartett, respectively Hungary’s outstanding acoustic guitarist and its foremost string quartet, are heard together and separately in a moving and organically unfolding programme, with compositions by Snétberger, Shostakovich, John Dowland and Samuel Barber. Snétberger’s In Memory of My People, dedicated to his Sinti and Roma forebears, is a powerful and spirited piece, both threnody and celebration. Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet, also dedicated to the victims of war, is played with great sensitivity and feeling by the Keller musicians. Subtle arrangements of John Dowland find Snétberger with the Keller Quartett for I saw my lady weep and in duo with cellist László Fenyö for Flow, my tears. The Keller Quartett address the yearning quality of Barber’s Molto adagio from his String Quartet, Op. 11, and Snétberger offers a glimmer of hope with the tender solo guitar piece Your Smile. The concluding Rhapsody 1,with Snetberger and string quintet, is a new arrangement of a radiant theme originally written by Ferenc for a film project about the Roma. In total: a very involving and gripping album. © ECM New Series
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Classical - Released February 12, 2021 | ECM New Series

Booklet
The Hungarian word "Hallgató," the title of the first movement of the guitar concerto by jazz guitarist Ferenc Snétberger, means "student," but also "listener"; the audience for this live concert of music by Snétberger and others is invited to listen and learn. The program of music by Snétberger and the Keller Quartet is ingenious and powerful. It opens and closes with music by Snétberger, and the other works, quite various, share the haunting mixture of public-facing and inward heard in Snétberger's concerto and rhapsody. Samuel Barber, who has often been used to good effect by the otherwise resolutely contemporary-oriented Keller Quartet, is present with the original string quartet version of the Adagio for Strings, and there are arrangements of two Dowland lute songs that would seem to be completely out of place but most assuredly are not. The largest piece in the center of the program is the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110, and there is no one whose music seems to conceal personal reflection and memory under the surface more than Shostakovich. Snétberger's music, especially the Rhapsody at the end, has jazz-like elements, and he is actually better known as a jazz player than as a classical composer; this adds another layer of tension to a program that has a lot of it and compels the listener's attention from beginning to end. The only complaint is the live sound; ECM does its formidable best, but the coughs of a Budapest winter at the Liszt Academy Grand Hall intrude. © James Manheim /TiVo
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Classical - Released November 13, 2020 | ECM New Series

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"Lost Prayers" is the first of Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür's New Series recordings to be devoted entirely to his chamber music. Scaled-back instrumental forces, however, are no indicator of reduced expressive power, and the volatility of Tüür's concept emerges forcefully from the first seconds of Fata Morgana which is, with Lichttürme, one of two pieces for violin, violoncello and piano. These pieces are performed by the Estonian trio of Harry Traksmann, Leho Karin and Marrit Gerretz-Traksmann, all of whom have played Tüür's music extensively and made appearances on earlier ECM discs, including "Crystallisatio" and "Oxymoron". The German-based Signum Quartett plays Tüür's Second String Quartet, "Lost Prayers", and Signum violinist Florian Donderer also performs Synergie together with cellist Tanya Tetzlaff. Collectively the musicians underline Erkki-Sven Tüür's view that "one can build up a really rich and wide palette of sounds with only three or four instruments. You don't necessarily need a full orchestra to operate with a powerful soundscape." Erkki-Sven Tüür says of this recording: "Manfred Eicher had wanted to record an album focused on my chamber music works for many years, but it was only after I composed Lichttürme that I felt: now we have a set of pieces we could really release together. This chamber music collection is very important to me". © ECM New Series
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Classical - Released November 13, 2020 | ECM New Series

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Classical - Released November 6, 2020 | ECM New Series

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Classical - Released November 6, 2020 | ECM New Series

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Classical - Released August 28, 2020 | ECM New Series

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Clarinetist Jörg Widmann and pianist András Schiff have performed together for some years, but this ECM release is their recording debut. The history of cooperation stands them in good stead, for these are the kinds of performances that require small adjustments on the part of both players as the music proceeds. Brahms' two late clarinet sonatas are taken in a relaxed way, with each musician giving the other room to bring out small details. This is ideal for these two sonatas, whose nostalgic quality is illusory. They are breathtakingly complex, with every turn of the melody, even every voicing of a chord, having deep structural implications, and for the listener, they have an uncanny quality of inviting one into rounds of analysis that will never end. One can be sure that the serialists pored over every note of these pieces, for Brahms is almost in their league. The bankable Schiff gets top billing in the graphics here, but it is Widmann who controls the flow of events, keeping the temperature moderate and avoiding any hint of a boil. Engineering is always ECM's forte, but the team outdoes itself this time in the Historical Riding Arena in Neumarkt, Bavaria, a venue beloved by European audiophile engineers. A wonderful album for late-night listening and deep contemplation. © TiVo
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Classical - Released August 28, 2020 | ECM New Series

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Clarinetist Jörg Widmann and pianist András Schiff have performed together for some years, but this ECM release is their recording debut. The history of cooperation stands them in good stead, for these are the kinds of performances that require small adjustments on the part of both players as the music proceeds. Brahms' two late clarinet sonatas are taken in a relaxed way, with each musician giving the other room to bring out small details. This is ideal for these two sonatas, whose nostalgic quality is illusory. They are breathtakingly complex, with every turn of the melody, even every voicing of a chord, having deep structural implications, and for the listener, they have an uncanny quality of inviting one into rounds of analysis that will never end. One can be sure that the serialists pored over every note of these pieces, for Brahms is almost in their league. The bankable Schiff gets top billing in the graphics here, but it is Widmann who controls the flow of events, keeping the temperature moderate and avoiding any hint of a boil. Engineering is always ECM's forte, but the team outdoes itself this time in the Historical Riding Arena in Neumarkt, Bavaria, a venue beloved by European audiophile engineers. A wonderful album for late-night listening and deep contemplation. © TiVo
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Classical - Released May 8, 2020 | ECM New Series

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Vox Clamantis, under the direction of Jaan-Eik Tulve, has established itself as Estonia’s foremost small vocal ensemble, at home in the worlds of both old and new music. Their ECM New Series discography, accordingly, has ranged from Gregorian chant and Perotin (as on "Filia Sion") to present-day composers including Arvo Pärt ("The Deer’s Cry"), Erkki-Sven Tüür ("Oxymoron") and Helena Tulve ("Arboles lloran por lluvia"). On "The Suspended Harp of Babel" Vox Clamantis turns its attention to Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962), whose work also took nourishment from ancient sources as well as from contemporaneous musical currents. One of the innovators of choral music in Estonia, Kreek drew extensively upon folk music and was a pioneer in the documentation of it, recording, transcribing and preserving for posterity hundreds of songs, both sacred and secular. His arrangements of these folk songs and folk hymns, as well as his settings of psalms, provided a bedrock for choirs in an idiom of his own, described by Paul Griffiths in the liner notes here as “restrained and yet glowing”. Cyrillus Kreek, born in the village of Saanika, was a contemporary of Arvo Pärt’s teacher Heino Eller, and both studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in the years before the First World War. Kreek’s music, emphasizing simplicity, clarity, and the natural quality of the human voice, influenced many composers in Estonia including Veljo Tormis (who also creatively deployed folk song in choral contexts) and Tõnu Kõrvits. The quietly radiant aura of his work is enhanced on the present recording by the contributions of Marco and Angela Ambrosini playing nyckelharpa and by Anna-Liisa Eller on kannel, the Estonian zither. Marco Ambrosini’s preludes and interludes imaginatively extend the spirit of Kreek’s pieces and in the case of Kui suur on meie vaesus ("Whilst great is our poverty"), call the music forth, the nyckelharpa drone summoning the kannel to pick out the melody of the folk hymn, preparing the way for the entrance of the singers. Throughout the album the purity of the voices is striking – the liner notes speak of “voices with the transparency of spring water”. Kreek’s music is celebrated in Estonia with a yearly festival, and there is a museum dedicated to the composer in Haapsalu. Documentation of his work outside his homeland has, however, been scant to date. "The Suspended Harp of Babel" – valuable both as entry point into Cyrillus Kreek’s sound-world and for its pre-echoes of Estonian music to come - is likely to trigger overdue recognition for a unique composer and researcher. This recording was made in April 2018 in Tallinn’s Transfiguration Church. © ECM New Series
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Classical - Released May 8, 2020 | ECM New Series

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Classical - Released December 6, 2019 | ECM New Series

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Classical - Released November 15, 2019 | ECM New Series

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
Composed three centuries ago, Johann Sebastian Bach’s set of six works for solo violin stands as one of the holy grails of the instrument’s literature – perhaps the holiest. Now the great Austrian musician Thomas Zehetmair makes his own mark in the rich history of this music, revisiting the repertoire on period instruments. Zehetmair is an extraordinary violinist and a consistently inquisitive and self-questioning artist. He has not only played the big concertos but has given close attention to chamber music and new repertory, and has also found an extra calling as a conductor, channeling this varied experience into his return to the formidable cornerstone of Bach’s solo masterpieces. As a young man Zehetmair worked with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in his period ensemble, working with him to prepare for his first recording of the sonatas and partitas on a modern instrument. For this new recording, he draws out exquisite colours from two violins from Bach’s lifetime, both of them by masters in the German tradition, but there is nothing antiquarian in his approach – old instruments, for him, are tools with which to express a modern sensibility: alert, edgy, multivalent. His performance engages, too, with the superb acoustic of the priory church of St Gerold, in Austria where so many legendary ECM recordings have been made. Peter Gülke, in his accompanying essay, refers to the “floating spirituality” of this music, and to how Bach here offers one side of a conversation with the performer, whom he leaves free to determine matters of dynamic shading, phrasing and bowing. Zehetmair brings vividness and intelligence to the conversation on a recording that, deeply steeped in the music and true, is at the same time powerfully original. © ECM New Series
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Classical - Released November 15, 2019 | ECM New Series

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Violinists will sometimes delay recording Johann Sebastian Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin until they feel they have mastered the music and even let it become second nature to them. Not so Thomas Zehetmair, who, with guidance from his mentor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, first recorded the Sei Solo in 1982 for Teldec, then waited almost four decades before revisiting them for ECM New Series. This time span has permitted Zehetmair sufficient space to reevaluate Bach's masterpiece and to present the music with a mature appreciation of its contrapuntal intricacy and expressive depth. Zehetmair played a modern violin for his early set, but for this 2019 double-disc, he plays two Baroque violins with replica bows: a 1685 South Tyrolean instrument for the partitas, and a ca. 1750 Joannes Udalricus Eberle for the sonatas. The sonorities he produces on these violins are subtly different, the 1685 contributing a bright edge to the partitas and the 1750 a warm resonance to the sonatas, all smoothed somewhat by the resonant acoustics of the priory church of St. Gerold in Austria. Zehetmair uses the sound space to determine dynamics and to shape his phrases, and his lines seem to float with an airiness that is rare in studio recordings. Even though the use of Baroque instruments and techniques may make this rendition seem like a historically informed performance, it is rather more of a personal take with thoughtful borrowings from period scholarship, a combination to be expected of one of classical music's most eclectic and versatile performers. © TiVo

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