Martin Buzacott

Martin Buzacott

Martin Buzacott has been a long time Limelight contributor since. He is currently the Brisbane classical music reviewer for The Australian and an occasional broadcaster on ABC Classic FM. He is also the author of the book The Rite of Spring: 75 years of ABC Music-Making.


Articles by Martin Buzacott

January 11, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Belle Epoque (Galatea String Quartet)

If CDs can be judged by their covers then this intriguing release from the Zurich-based Galatea Quartet could be Record of the Year. And with typical creativity they don’t pair the venerable Debussy Quartet with its usual Ravel bedfellow, but instead throw in Milhaud’s First Quartet. And what a pleasant surprise it is, a work of real lyrical beauty and elegiac sensibility, until the vibrant finale whose darting rhythms and jack-in-the-box mood-swings so suits the playing style of this seriously engaging and altogether contemporary-sounding ensemble.  The Debussy too is excellently played, sounding crisp and fresh with the kind of youthful vigour, at which the Ebène are the current masters, and which typifies the current crop of outstanding new-generation string quartets. But perhaps most interest lies in the closing, three-movement Sonatine for String Quartet by Pierre Menu, a prodigiously gifted young French composer who at just 23 died from the effects of poison gas during the First World War. While the quasi-impressionist work itself isn’t especially individual, this world premiere recording does suggest that his premature loss to French music justified the grief expressed by his contemporaries.  It’s a close-miked recording, making some instrumental timbres and studio noises a touch too…

August 16, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven: Symphonies 1 & 7 (Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal)

Kent Nagano’s ongoing Beethoven recording project is one of the most underrated cycles in the current catalogue and this latest release of Symphonies Nos 1 and 7 again proves the point. As with the previous symphonies (Nos 3, 5, 6, 8 and 9), this ‘Departure – Utopia’ (each installment bears a literary title) has all the dynamic contrasts and tempo changes that one would expect from a project that aims to reveal Beethoven the Revolutionary. But unlike so many other Beethoven re-interpreters who accentuate dynamic contrasts and tempo changes, Nagano never lapses into affectation or sensationalism. Instead, he gets his Montreal Orchestra up on its toes, like a middleweight ducking and weaving while unleashing rat-a-tat volleys that rarely miss. Take the finale of No 1, for instance, which starts so hesitantly that you think it’s a mistake, before that blisteringly quick tempo of the main theme suddenly takes off with such precision of articulation that you have to marvel that somehow it’s completely virtuosic without ever drawing obvious attention to that fact. The reason is that there’s deep thought behind it all, the intellectual rigour never weighing it down but only serving to heighten the musical assurance – the sure-footedness…

July 21, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Leipzig Gewandhaus)

The opening chords to Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas Overture are some of the most ominous in all Romantic music, and Riccardo Chailly gives them the works in this spirited new recording with the composer’s own orchestra from the Leipzig Gewandhaus.  Great stuff, and the five selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream that follow continue the take-no-prisoners approach. Chailly’s well known for his late-Romantic extravaganzas but it’s in this smaller, earlier Romantic repertoire that his natural flair and ability to expand musical ideas from within is best demonstrated. This is big, in-your-face Mendelssohn, with the scherzo less elfin and more goblin-esque than usual, while any couple using this lively reading of the Wedding March on their big day better be wearing track shoes to keep up.  Mendelssohn’s Piano Concertos, featuring Saleem Ashkar are similarly meaty, the First starting off with such energy that it’s as if the music’s already built up a head of steam before the Record button was pressed. Ashkar gives it lots of razzle-dazzle, although some detail gets lost in the more intricate passages with the balance a little too much in favour of the super-charged orchestra. The Second Concerto isn’t so well known, but such is the full-blooded…

July 8, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: Piano Concerto No 2 (Pollini, Staatskapelle Dresden)

Maurizio Pollini’s two previous recordings of Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto, both conducted by Abbado, are the stuff of legend – the 1995 live recording in particular often being regarded as simply the greatest ever made of this strangely-structured but ultimately deeply revealing insight into the composer’s complex psychology.  So why record it yet again? Well, because Pollini’s towering musical genius (and yes, that description is offered by way of sober assessment) just grows and grows with time. Indeed, nearly 20 years is too long to wait for this, his latest State-of-the-Musical-Union address on what makes this four-movement work in B Flat such a compelling experience, even when it doesn’t quite have the bravura or colour-and-movement of its D Minor predecessor. And again, Pollini, now in his 70s, delivers with everything we’ve come to expect from him – the poetry most of all, especially as the piano enters after the famous cello melody at the start of the slow movement. Then there’s the humanity of it – you can tell just from the sound that there is a great, compassionate spirit animating it. And of course, for all the magnificence of Pollini’s playing, it still sounds simply like a direct line…

June 12, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (Tonhalle Orchestra/Zinman)

The initial reviews of this final installment in David Zinman’s Mahler cycle with the Tonhalle Orchestra haven’t exactly been effusive, but they are wrong. From that hypnotic opening oboe melody through to the heartbreaking final bars, this is a reading of Mahler’s last-will-and-testament in vocal music whose understatement should never be misinterpreted as lack of engagement.  True, it doesn’t have the overt gnashing of teeth and beating of breast that Bernstein brings to it in his Desert Island classic, but it has something almost as good – a stillness and a poise suggestive of a composer on his way to the other side, delaying and delaying the inevitable, almost as if trying to change the subject.  And when the big tuttis are required, as they are for the first time in the second song (Der Einsame im Herbst), there’s plenty in reserve, both vocally with Susan Graham whose restraint up to that point is exemplary, and with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra who are surely now approaching the top echelons in European music-making. If there are quibbles to be had, they probably lie in the third song (Von der Jugend) where tenor Christian Elsner interprets the text’s pin-point specific imagery of…

May 18, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven, Schumann: Piano Concerto; Fantasy (Yundi, Berliner Philharmoniker/Harding)

In his native China, Yundi is as close to a pop star as a classical musician can get, with millions of Twitter followers, screaming fans, and sold-out tours. On hearing this fresh and sometimes even inspired performance of the venerable old Emperor Concerto, it’s easy to understand the fuss. Of course having Daniel Harding conduct the Berlin Philharmonic is a huge bonus, his tempi generally quick but never sounding rushed, and with the whole thing having a sense of excitement.  But from the moment Yundi himself enters with that famous theme, it’s clear that this is a young soloist who really has the goods, oddly enough, without affectation or mannerism – just lovely clear, musical insight and a singing, legato line. And then there’s the slow movement, which really is so rapt in mood and played with such poetic lyricism that you not only start falling in love with it all over again but even consider comparing Yundi’s spell-binding performance with that of the greats.  The coupling, though, is rather unusual, Schumann’s solo-piano Fantasie in C Major, presumably there for a good reason but it’s one that’s not immediately apparent. Good enough in itself, Schumann’s three-movement classic, which originated in…

May 16, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Elgar: Symphony No. 2 (Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim)

Daniel Barenboim first recorded the Elgar symphonies back in the 1970s and of course also made ‘the other’ Cello Concerto recording with his wife Jacqueline du Pré. Now he’s returning to them all, the latter with Alisa Weilerstein last year. He’s redoing the symphonies with the Staatskapelle Berlin, the Second this year with the First to follow in 2015. And this Symphony No 2 sounds like urgent business for Barenboim. Forget Sir John Barbirolli weeping in the slow movement, or Sir Adrian Boult with his stiff upper lip and two-metre baton revealing Elgarian profundity. Barenboim’s all bustle-and-busyness at the start, not so much nobilmente as ‘no time to stop, got errands to do’. This is a turbulent Elgar, changing his mind every ten seconds, and with his rhythms and phrases all sounding rather four-square at the outset (and perhaps a little too Elgar-as-Brahms). Then when Elgar says “presto”, Barenboim really puts the foot down, making the third movement a veritable showpiece of technical virtuosity on the orchestra’s part, perhaps at the expense of the unusual but altogether distinctive Elgarian characteristic of nostalgia infusing the quick bits. But eventually it all begins to make sense. He may be an old Elgarian…

May 15, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Beethoven: Piano Concertos (Andsnes, Mahler Chamber Orchestra)

There’s something so inviting about this second installment in Leif Ove Andsnes’ Beethoven Piano Concertos cycle, as if the pianist/director and ever-so-sympatico Mahler Chamber Orchestra are offering a sparklingly restored heritage hotel, blazing fireplace and all, to the cold and weary musical traveller.  The engaging moods of Beethoven’s Concertos can claim some credit in themselves, but just as in the critically acclaimed previous recording of One and Three by the same players, it’s the lack of hang-ups and a maximum of good-vibes that makes you want to be best friends with these performances, right from the opening ritornello of No. Two that takes off with a smile on its face.  Andsnes himself then brings all the enthusiasm and attention to detail of the perfect dinner-host. And it’s a well-balanced meal being served up, always lyrical, with the slow movements in particular achieving an extraordinary balance between lightness of touch, profundity of meaning, depth of emotion and sheer take-your-breath-away beauty.  In the outer movements, the melodies extend the view toward the musical horizons, and yet every moment in its own right seems so filled with musical detail, the diversity of instrumental colours and the shifting points of focus constantly prompting the…

April 20, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: L’Amour (Flórez, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Communale di Bologna/Abbado)

It’s four years since Juan Diego Flórez released an album, but he’s back full of singing in this collection of less-than-household- name arias from French composers. Maybe even too full of singing. The voice itself has everything one would expect from a lyric tenor whose initial success at La Scala resulted in the first encored aria in 70 years. There’s clarity of tone, a ringing quality up top, and a good turn of musical phrase. It also has an insistence and ardour that can work to thrilling effect when projected into big theatres. On recordings, though, an abundance of high notes unleashed with the fury of a thousand hell-cats, can be as much feared as revered, when lyric becomes heroic and the listener is pinned against the living room wall. That’s why it’s the gentler arias like A la voix d’un amant Fidele from Bizet’s La Jolie Fille du Perth and the reflective O Blonde Ceres from Berlioz’s Trojans that work best on an album that also features works by Boildieu, Donizetti, Adam, Gounod, Delibes and Thomas. Among the better-known things from this catalogue of operas that don’t often get done are the two arias from Massenet’s Werther, the ruminative O Nature, pleine de grace and…

April 3, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Mozart: Concert Arias for Tenor (Villazon, LSO/Pappano)

  After just two instalments in his projected seven-opera Mozart cycle, Rolando Villazón has taken a premature diversion a collection of obscure Mozart concert arias that he found in a Munich music shop. As he’s demonstrated already in Cosi fan tutte and Don Giovanni, Villazón is a persuasive Mozart advocate, but he needs all that skill and enthusiasm to make this grab-bag of juvenilia, rejects and odd-jobs hold together. The opening of the aria Aura che intorno spiri must be one of the greatest opening phrases in all Mozart, but the sublimity is intermittent. Many arias hint at genius and then faff about in a stop-start demonstration of genius almost at work. The most intriguing are Con ossequio, con rispetto and La spoco deluso, where one could speculate that Rossini built his career out of Mozart’s reject bin. The earliest aria, Va, dal furor portata, is gob-smacking when judged by the standards of 9-year-old composers, but compared with the Mozart of 20 years later, it’s scarcely must-have. Just how far Mozart progressed during the intervening period is demonstrated in the only German language inclusion, Musst ich auch durch taussend Drachen, sounding so much more mature and dramatic in intent, and…

April 3, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Mozart: Violin works (Ray Chen, Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival/Eschenbach)

Ray Chen’s rise to fame since winning the Menuhin competition in 2008 has been meteoric and with a musical endorsement from Maxim Vengerov and a sartorial deal with Giorgio Armani, he’s sounding and looking like the full classical celebrity package. This sparkling Mozart collaboration will only enhance the Taiwanese-born, Brisbane-raised violinist’s formidable reputation. In Mozart’s two concertos, he checks-in his fashion-blogs and Italian Vogue clothes-horse poses at the studio door, and delivers everything that one could want, two performances that sing and play and dance with effortless style and real joy. True, everything in the mix is weighted toward the soloist, and the solo wind players of Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra might feel gipped that they sound like they’re playing out-the-corridor-and-down-the-steps, but when Chen simply caresses the openings to those heavenly slow movements, no one’s going to care about the support act. Here’s true star-power – one of those recordings that grips you and makes you happy, even when Chen’s own cadenzas sound more ‘fresh’ than convincing. Eschenbach then turns accompanist in a less ‘present’ recording but equally fine performance of the Violin Sonata in A, K305, a foretaste of what can be expected when Chen tours Australia with Timothy…

March 26, 2014
CD and Other Review

Review: Rachmaninov, Prokofiev: Piano Concertos (Wang, Simon Bolivar Orchestra/Dudamel)

Individually, conductor Gustavo Dudamel, his Simon Bolivar (formerly Youth) Orchestra and pianist Yuja Wang are deservedly some of the hottest young properties in classical music, and that alone will make their live recording of Rach 3 and Prokofiev 2 into a critical success among those hearing this music for the first time. But for all the undeniable talent of those involved, this is a very odd recording of Rachmaninov’s showstopper, strangely introverted and then showing off by turns, communicating as if by text message, with clarity and standard phrasing one moment, and then mod-speak hieroglyphics the next.  Forget the rip-your-heart-out-and-wear-it-on-your-sleeve Rachmaninov that has fuelled a thousand legends. By Dudamel’s own admission, this is chamber-style Rachmaninov and one can imagine smart young things calling it ‘ironic’, a handy catchphrase for art that is smart, savvy, and untroubled by the lessons learned through the trials and follies of human experience.  The Prokofiev works much better as it actually IS ironic, complicated and modernist and able to be performed successfully with emotional detachment. It’s terrific as a showpiece, but the outrageous outbursts of sound and fury (the end of the first movement for instance) still reveal only occasional glimpses of the depths below….