New Releases: Czech Violin Legends, Nielsen Chamber Music and LSO's Brahms

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This week's featured albums highlight three corners of the late Romantic repertory. The violinist Pavel Šporcl features rare gems by Czech violinists, Denmark's Ensemble Midtvest serves up the charmingly quirky wind ensemble music of Nielsen, and the London Symphony Orchestra, led by Valery Gergiev, takes on Brahms masterworks.

My Violin Legends
Pavel Šporcl, violin
Petr Jirikovsky, piano
Available at

The Czech violinist Pavel Šporcl cuts a charismatic, offbeat profile, with his penchant for bandanas, designer clothes and a blue-tinted violin. The violinist, who once studied at Juilliard under Dorothy Delay, is also a persuasive advocate for the music of his native country. This recital album, released last year, features a variety of short pieces by the Czech violinist/composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of who deserve to be better known. It includes Ferdinand Laub’s Polonaise in G major (similar in style to Wieniawski’s two classic contributions to the genre), Frantisek Ondrícek’s nostalgic Barcarole, František Drdla's salonesque Souvenir, Jan Kubelik’s charming Burlesque and Šporcl’s own Bohemian Nostalgia. The pianist here is Petr Jiříkovský, a long-time accompanist of Shlomo Mintz.


Carl Nielsen: Complete Chamber Music for Winds
Ensemble MidtVest
Available at

Ensemble Midtvest is an 11-member chamber group based at the Herning Museum of Art in the small town of Herning, Denmark. Despite its fairly modest roots, the group has big ambitions, and last month gave a trio of concerts in New York (at Merkin Hall, Symphony Space and Weill Recital Hall). The ensemble's latest album features the complete wind ensemble works of fellow countryman Carl Nielsen. It includes the charmingly quirky Wind Quintet from 1922, Two Fantasy Pieces for oboe and piano, the Canto Serioso for horn and piano (an audition piece for the Royal Danish Orchestra), and incidental music to The Mother. While these pieces lack the sweeping drama of Nielsen's symphonies, they have gentle charms that should please any fan of great wind chamber music.


Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2, Tragic Overture, Variations on a Theme By Haydn
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev, conductor
LSO Live
Available at

This Brahms double album features performances that the London Symphony gave with Valery Gergiev in late 2012, a seemingly simpler time for this accomplished if embattled Russian conductor. Gergiev has been in the public spotlight this season, from helping to organize the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics to voicing his support for the policies of his friend, Vladimir Putin. His political stances have made him a lightning rod, and protesters have turned out at his concerts in New York, London and elsewhere. Putting those issues aside, the performances here are pure Gergiev: there's an heavy but urgent account of Brahms’s Tragic Overture; spacious readings of the Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2, full of broad tempos and dark colorings; and a take on the Haydn Variations that is more incisive than we are accustomed to hearing. The LSO is in fine form throughout, with the surging finale of the Second Symphony among the highlights.