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Music We Love Now: New Albums Of Bach, Beethoven And Brahms

By Tom Huizenga | NPR
Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New albums of music by the "Three Bs," Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, prove that going back to basics has its advantages. Hear a sweet-toned violin concerto, an audacious piano sonata and a solo cello suite caressed by a lute.

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New albums of music by the "Three Bs" prove that going back to the basics has its advantages. Hear a sweet-toned violin concerto, an audacious piano sonata and a solo cello suite caressed by a lute.

View this story on npr.org

Bach: Prelude (from Suite for Solo Cello No. 6)

Hopkinson Smith plays Bach.Naive

Because composers today aren't falling over one another to write music for the lute, lutenists occasionally engage in creative borrowing — adapting music meant for other instruments. Here, one of today's great lute players, Hopkinson Smith, borrows from Bach's suites for solo cello. The original suites boast singing lines and dancing rhythms, but when played on a lute, an instrument capable of playing broader chords, the harmonic possibilities open like fragrant flowers. The Sixth Suite sounds surprisingly natural in Smith's hands, from the propulsive opening Prelude to the wistful and gorgeously phrased Sarabande, and the final Gigue laced with hearty strumming and flickering coloration. Although this album is a reissue of a 1992 recording, it is too beautiful to slip by unnoticed.

Beethoven: Allegro molto e con brio (from Sonata No. 4)


Jonathan Biss has laced up his hiking boots for a journey through recording all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas. He'll finish "climbing this Everest," as he puts it, by the end of the decade. Volume 2 plays with contrasts, mixing the expansive, early Sonata No. 4 and the compact No. 24 with Beethoven's middle period hit, the "Moonlight" (No. 14). The first two movements of the extravagant Fourth Sonata from 1797 point to the future. Biss deftly balances Beethoven's locomotive pulse with dramatic gestures and impatient lyricism in the opening movement. The following Largo is its antipode. Filled with mysterious silences, Biss unreels the music like a prayer to the universe.

Brahms: Allegro giocoso (from Violin Concerto in D)


There's no shortage of recordings of Brahms' Violin Concerto, but how many are played on the actual fiddle that helped birth the composition? Tbilisi-born Lisa Batiashvili plays a 1715 Stradivarius once owned by Joseph Joachim, the violinist Brahms turned to for advice when writing this concerto in the summer of 1878. Backed by the Dresden Staatskapelle led by Christian Thielemann, Batiashvili's playing is sweet-toned with plenty of power. She finds both warm sunshine and fiery drama in the opening movement (employing the atypical Ferruccio Busoni cadenza). The Adagio, sometimes played too reverentially, here unfolds like a tender love song. And the romping finale, which hints at a Hungarian dance, shows off Batiashvili's taste for color and sheer joy.

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