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Alisa Weilerstein

Alisa Weilerstein releases Transfigured Night on Pentatone

Alisa Weilerstein and Norway’s Trondheim Soloists have released Transfigured Night on the Pentatone label. The new disc comprises three masterworks of the First and Second Viennese Schools – Haydn’s First and Second Cello Concertos and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, from which the album takes its title; two Scandinavian performances of the album repertoire with the same ensemble follow soon after. It was under Weilerstein’s leadership that Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht was hailed as an “absolutely gorgeous half-hour: a mesmerizing traversal” (Seen and Heard International) at the 2015 Aspen Music Festival. Likewise, on an extensive U.S. tour with London’s Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 2013, her account of Haydn’s C Major concerto prompted the San Diego Story’s critic to conclude that “I will never again hear this work played so well.” Now the composers are brought together on Transfigured Night, the first release in Weilerstein’s new exclusive multi-album contract with the Pentatone label, which specializes in high-end, five-channel surround sound. The album also marks her first collaboration as Artistic Partner (a new, multi-year role) with Norway’s celebrated string orchestra, the Trondheim Soloists, led by Artistic Director and concertmaster Geir Inge Lotsberg. Besides their Sweden and Denmark concerts in September, Weilerstein and the ensemble are planning tours of Europe and the U.S. in seasons to come.

Critical Acclaim for Transfigured Night:

“Faced with the Trondheim Soloists’ gutsy fervour as they beaver through the late romantic paroxysms in the string orchestra version of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, a casual listener might wonder: “What do they put in the water in Trondheim? How come the musicians have such zing?” Well, the players are young, which always helps, but aside from the water, or the Norwegian air, another reason must be the galvanising presence of the always exciting American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, the ensemble’s new artistic partner. She gives us an immediate demonstration of her powers as the soloist in two Haydn cello concertos, music of an earlier Viennese age, although delivered with such volatile passion and flying fingers that no trace of dust remains. Even so, the interpretation that makes this album essential is the electrifying account of Schoenberg’s pivotal early piece (1899), based on Richard Dehmel’s enraptured poem about two lovers, a moonstruck forest and another man’s baby in the woman’s womb. Here, Weilerstein is largely embedded in the ensemble, but she springs up for achingly soulful solo spots as the musical voice of the male lover, who hastens the night’s transfigurations by saying (although much more poetically): “It’s OK by me.” Yet this truly is a group triumph. In the singing lines of this hypnotic work, the Trondheim ensemble manage the wonderful feat of being throbbingly intense and meticulously exact at the same time, and this performance knocked me flat. If it’s something they do put in the water, I’d like to get it bottled.”
The Times (UK)

The Best New Classical Releases of August 2018: Transfigured Night
“Schoenberg’s music is put into even starker relief on Transfigured Night, a collaboration between cellist Alisa Weilerstein and the Trondheim Soloists, a Norwegian chamber orchestra… Even by Haydn’s sunny standards, his two cello concertos effuse a particular joie de vivre, sharpened by Weilerstein’s bright tone and brisk tempos. From heights this high, it’s difficult to prepare for a drop as precipitous as Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht… Schoenberg’s setting is accordingly grim, but Weilerstein and the Trondheim Soloists work hard to pad the blow, rewarding with finely-calibrated dynamics and resonant ensemble playing.”

“The disc cements the ongoing partnership between Weilerstein and the Trondheim Soloists, an orchestra of around two dozen mostly twenty somethings. It’s a cliche to talk of such a young orchestra offering youthful exuberance, but let’s do it anyway – their playing has a buoyancy and energy that in the Haydn form the ideal springboard for Weilerstein’s playing as it leaps and dances in and out of the larger texture. The finales are so fast as to be at times a bit of a scramble, but Weilerstein’s tone rings easily when she wants a melody to sing out. The orchestra is an equal partner, setting up a mood of understated tenderness in the slow movements.”
The Guardian

“Alisa Weilerstein’s first album for Pentatone—brilliant performances of Haydn’s two cello concertos with an appropriately starry-eyed recording of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht—marks the first recorded fruit of her new multi-season role as artistic partner of Norway’s celebrated Trondheim Soloists. The Haydn concertos alone make this essential listening: Both in command of thrills and a genuine understanding of what Haydn in the 21st century can be if it is spontaneous and free, her performances of the two concertos are without equal in the catalogue.”
Strings Magazine

“Only a cellist who paired Elgar and Elliot Carter on her concerto debut album could have devised this left-field programme that confronts unsullied Enlightenment optimism with the fin de siècle Vienna of Freud and Klimt. Yet, in performances of such freshness, verve and chamber transparency, the concept works. It reminds us, too, that Schoenberg always protested that he was not subverting but merely perpetuating the great Austro-German tradition from Bach and Haydn onwards. You’d go far to find performances of the Haydn concertos that match Alisa Weilerstein’s mix of stylistic sensitivity, verve and spontaneous delight in discovery. Weilerstein is a risk-taker by nature; and the helter-skelter finale of the C major takes impetuosity to the edge. But such is her technical prowess, and the mingled eagerness and skill of the young Trondheim Soloists, that she carries it off, brilliantly. She brings a puckish glee to the lightning passagework in thumb position, yet never short-changes Haydn’s brief moments of lyrical eloquence.”

Preview the album here.