The honourable mention of the week goes to “Consolations S. 172”, a set of six solo piano works by Franz Liszt, out of which I particularly like the first four ones. They are so serene that you are immediately transposed into the realm of dreams and because their rhythm is extremely slow, you need to be in the right mood, in search of peace and tranquillity, in order to fully enjoy them.

“Consolations S. 172” by Franz Liszt, piano Zilberstein

Continuing with another piano work, at number 3 we have the greatest composer of the Romantic era: Robert Schumann, with his “Piano Quartet in E flat major op. 47”, composed in 1842, his so-called “chamber music” year, as Schumann used to centre his creative efforts towards a single genre at a time. This piece is in four movements, and my personal favourite is the first one, “1. Sostenuto assai – Allegro ma non troppo”, the piano being this playful element mingling among the graceful and soft melodic lines of the strings, the latter submitting here and there to the light-heartedness of the former. The second movement accelerates things into a rush, the piano and the strings chasing one another in a whirlwind of notes until they slow down for the third movement, with the cello as a centre piece for a romantic melody, beautifully complimented by the soft piano background. The forth movement is spoiling things a bit, as the strings are too shrill for my taste. But I do enjoy the piano bits, as they sound like little droplets of joy.

“Piano Quartet in E flat major op. 47” by Robert Schumann, Vovka Ashkenazy (piano), Simone Roggen (violin), Ada Meinich (viola), and Birgit Böhme (violoncello)

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the son of his more famous father, comes at number 2, with “Concerto for Flute in A minor Wq166 (H431)”. He was known as the “Berlin Bach”, to distinguish him from his brother that was employed at the London court. C.P.E. served for almost 30 years as chamber musician at the court of Frederick the Great, the king of Prussia, who was a patron of music and among other things, played the flute. This lead to the composition of over thirty pieces for this instrument by C.P.E., be they concertos, sonatas or quartets. I find this particular concert very refreshing, as the combination of flute and harpsichord is setting a light mood, reminding me of a joyful stroll in the woods, without a care in the world. Below we have this work performed by Jean Pierre Rampal, a renowned French flautist with a genuine love for this instrument:

“For me, the flute is really the sound of humanity, the sound of man flowing, 
completely free from his body almost without an intermediary[...]
Playing the flute is not as direct as singing, but it's nearly the same.”
“Concerto for Flute in A minor Wq166 (H431)” by C.P.E. Bach, flute Jean Pierre Rampal, Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra

Keeping it within the family, this week’s number 1 place is taken by Johann Sebastian Bach, with his “Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043”, often known simply as the “Bach Double”, being written during the late Baroque period, between 1720-1730. It is a highly contrapuntal work, being scored for two violins, strings and continuo and it follows a three movement structure (vivace – largo – allegro), in the Vivaldi style, Bach taking his concertos as an inspiration for this one.

The first and third movements are two fugues with several melodic layers, the orchestra being louder and overall more involved, the dialogue between the two violins is more animated and the whole atmosphere is more energetic and lively.

At the opposite end of the spectrum there’s the second movement, with a slower tempo, quieter dynamic and longer sounds, making it a much more expressive part, full of lyricism. It has a simpler texture, with only a subtle harpsichord being heard in the background, while the two violins are the centre piece, entangled in warm conversation.

Whereas the second movement stands out in terms of exquisite harmonies, the entire work is a musical treasure to be listened to over and over again, especially when it’s performed by such a strong duo as Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrackh, two of the greatest violinists of the 20th century.

“Concerto for Two Violins in D minor” by J. S. Bach, violin Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh

Disclaimer: This is not an exhaustive list of all the works curated by Clemency Burton-Hill in the book “Year of Wonder: Classical music for every day”. To enjoy the full catalogue of pieces proposed by the author along with her comments on the composers and the music itself, feel free to pick up her awesome book here (not affiliated, nor sponsored).

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