CD of the Week: Quint and Maisky offer new violin-piano opera transcriptions

Nov 18, 2013

In the world of opera, many classical music aficionados have their favorites. When it came time to select pieces for their new CD of piano-violin duets, Lily Maisky and Phillipe Quint did some soul searching to find works that were most personal for them. The result of that process is the new release Opera Breve, a CD featuring 13 tracks specifically tailored for Maisky and Quint’s violin-piano duets.

The violinist Phillipe Quint and pianist Lily Maisky collaborated on Opera Breve, a new release of opera transcriptions.
Credit Avanti Classic

Quint, a Russian emigre to America, said that the duo’s 2013 Avanti Classic release was an “autobiographical musical journey. A journey within a journey.” Quint's label had the vision for a release of duets based on opera transcriptions.

A label staffer thought the pairing of the Russian-born Quint with concert pianist Lily Maisky would make for a solid recording and possibly even a romance. The romance was not to be, but Quint and Maisky did discover a deep appreciation for the other’s sense of the opera repertoire. “It didn’t work out,” noted Quint “but now we have a musical baby.”

As for the origins of the selected transcriptions, Quint said:

This CD started with the shortest work by [19th century German opera composer] Engelbert Humperdinck, an aria called the Evening Prayer from the opera Hansel and Gretel. It is a very personal work for me commissioned by a friend who recently passed away [classical patron Hannah Nother] and who played a significant part in my life when I first came to the United States. She was my mentor for many years.

Quint’s reverence for former patron Hannah Nother inspired several recordings on this release. He was unable to play the Humperdinck piece for her as he had intended. At her funeral, however, a family friend told him “I hope you realize that what my grandmother commissioned was a mini-requiem rather than just a violin transcription.” The original text for the piece read “Many angels are carrying me on to heaven,” recalled Quint.

A product of a musical household from the start pianist Maisky was trained to support a violinist. Or any instrument for that matter.  “I grew up in a household playing duets and in a trio. My father wanted to have a family chamber ensemble.” Maisky’s father is classical cellist Mischa Maisky, long known in classical performance circles as an accomplished cellist with a distinct style.

Inevitably when you play in a duo it allows more freedoms than restrictions. At the moment I am focusing on collaborations for trio performances. I started playing with my father eight or nine years ago. Now the family trio includes my father and my brother Sasha on the violin. My parents always encouraged musical development… They wouldn’t have been so horrified if I wanted to do my own thing. They are very respectful of independence. It has long been my father’s dream to have a trio with his children. I am glad it is finally working out.

The classically bred Maisky and her Russian born collaborator Quint have produced a release of opera transcriptions specifically tailored to their violin-piano pairing. Tracks include the duo’s take on Gaetano Donizetti’s Una Furtiva Lagrima. On this arrangement, the pair evoke a gallant mood. One could imagine this on the set list for a royal wedding or to announce the entrance of someone with gravitas. Giaochino Rossini’s familiar romp Largo al Factorum from The Barber of Seville is heard here. The reworking for violin-piano duet is a welcome refresher for this often-performed overture.

Also heard here are four movements from George Gershwin’s plucky Porgy and Bess Suite. Richard Strauss’ Morgen is heard here. The piece is a mournful dirge sandwiched between decidedly less melancholic tracks. A bonus on the physical CD (remember CDs?) is German Romantic era composer Joseph Joachim Raff’s highly emotional and expansive Cavatina, No. 3. Taken as a whole, the release rewards listeners with recordings from a range of eras and representing a wide display of moods.

What’s next for the duo? The pianist Quint has a spring 2014 CD release planned featuring a pairing of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (performed with the Sofia Philharmonic) with Anton Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 35. Next May, Quint will record the Aram Khachaturian and Alexander Glazunov Violin Concertos for a future CD release. Both artists are on tour this fall. Maisky will leave the road soon for a much-needed month at home. This winter she’ll play dates in Germany then tour Asia. Quint is an artist who admittedly lives on the road. As such, he relishes the knowledge that he has performance dates scheduled through 2015.

Listen to KBIA weekdays for tracks from Opera Breve the new Avanti Classic release from Phillipe Quint and Lily Maisky.