Graham Williams Reviews

A Spectacular Glagolitic Mass

JANÁČEK: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 3: GLAGOLITIC MASS / ADAGIO FOR ORCHESTRA / ZDRÁVAS MARIA [AVE MARIA] / OTČE NÁŠ [OUR FATHER], Soloists,Choirs, Bergen Philharmonic / Edward Gardner/ CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5165 The first two volumes of Janáček’s orchestral works for Chandos from Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra were spectacularly successful both in terms of performance and sonics. Gardner brilliantly demonstrated his command of Janáček’s unique sound world and his ability to elicit idiomatic performances from his Bergen players. To this end he was aided by the efforts of the Chandos recording team who achieved matchless sound quality in the Grieghallen, Bergen. It is pleasing to report that in all respects Volume 3 matches or possibly even exceeds the exemplary standard of the previous two issues. Though the main work on this latest volume is the much recorded ‘Glagolitic Mass’ the disc also includes three valuable and rarely heard fill-ups that devotees of the composer will definitely wish to acquire, especially when performed as splendidly as here. Continue reading

New PENTATONE, Mariinsky, Naxos & Channel

DEBUSSY: SONATA FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO; SONATA FOR CELLO AND PIANO; SONATA FOR FLUTE, VIOLA AND HARP; SYRINX FOR FLUTE SOLO, Joseph Silverstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, Jules Eskin, Doriot Anthony Dwyer, Burton Fine, Ann Hobson, Boston Symphony Chamber Players/ PENTATONE PTC 5186 226 SACD PENTATONE’s revelatory series of Remastered Classics from the 1970s have breathed a new life into many superb recordings from that era, often with spectacular results, thanks to the care with which the original 4.0 channel tapes have been transferred to multi-channel SACD. This disc of Debussy late chamber works from the Deutsche Grammophon catalogue is such an example, and whether assessed on artistic or sonic criteria is outstanding. Debussy composed these three instrumental sonatas between 1915 and 1917. They were planned to be part of a group of six diverse compositions. The other three sonatas were intended for the unusual combinations oboe, horn, and harpsichord (no.4), trumpet, bassoon, and clarinet (no.5) while the sixth was to bring all the instruments together. Sadly Debussy’s depression and torment over the war in France and his battle with the cancer that was to end his life resulted in the completion of just the three works enshrined on this treasurable SACD. They represent what the composer described as a return to “pure music” and are characterised by lyricism and subtle understatement, inspired by the grace, clarity and wit of the French baroque composers Couperin and Rameau whom Debussy admired. The five members of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players heard on this recording come from an orchestra with a very strong French tradition instilled in the players by such conductors as Pierre Monteux and Charles Munch. Continue reading

Harmonia Mundi, PentaTone, Reference: New SACDs reviewed by Graham Williams

PROK

PROKOFIEV: PIANO CONCERTOS 2 & 5, Vadym Kholodenko (piano), Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya/Harmonia Mundi SACD HMU 807631  The first release in Vadym Kholodenko’s projected cycle of Prokofiev’s 5 Piano Concertos for Harmonia Mundi couples two of the composer’s least performed concertos (2 & 5) in thrilling accounts that make one eager for the completion of this enterprise – (Concertos 1,3 and 4) scheduled for 2016/17. Ukranian born Kholodenko was the winner of the gold medal in the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2013 and unsurprisingly has been garnering glowing reviews for the virtuosity of his playing – something that these days is almost taken for granted with concert pianists – but also for the thoughtful musicianship of his performances. The challenges of Prokofiev’s formidable 2nd Piano Concerto display both these qualities to the full. Kholodenko’s account of the opening movement is richly expressive from the start and the monumental cadenza that occupies more than a third of this movement is delivered with fearsome power and weight. The Scherzo is deftly played, with Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra providing alert and characterful support both here and in the Intermezzo that follows. The Finale is notable for the lightness of touch Kholodenko brings to the more lyrical passages and the incisive vehemence of his articulation. The 5th Concerto also receives a performance that makes its comparative neglect perplexing. The dominant angularity of Prokofiev’s writing and the wistful lyricism found in the fourth movement spark a performance of muscular strength and mercurial wit from Kholodenko, while Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra bring rhythmic acuity and pungency to the composer’s distinctive orchestral pallet. Both works were recorded live at the Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, Texas in October 2014 (Concerto 2) and March 2015 (Concerto 5) and conspicuously benefit from being recorded, edited and mastered in DSD by engineer Brad Michel. The perspective is close, presumably to avoid any trace of audience noise, and though the balance certainly favours the piano, comparatively few orchestral details are lost. Overall the sound is remarkably rich and vivid. A most impressive release.

RUSSIAN DANCES: TCHAIKOVSKY: SUITE FROM SWAN LAKE, GLAZUNOV: 2 CONCERT WALTZES, SHOSTAKOVICH: THE GOLDEN AGE, STRAVINSKY: CIRCUS POLKA, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Kazuki Yamada/PENTATONE Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid PTC 518 6557  Russian Dances’ is the third and final release in a PENTATONE series devoted to compositions closely or loosely related to the dance and performed by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande directed by their principal guest conductor the charismatic Kazuki Yamada. Here the program takes us on a chronological journey from 19th century Russia, courtesy of Tchaikovsky and Glazunov, to the 20th-century represented by Shostakovich and Stravinsky. Kazuki Yamada’s account of the ever popular suite from ‘Swan Lake’ is beautifully paced at danceable tempi and the OSR respond to his direction throughout with playing of polish and refinement – the exquisitely phrased oboe solo at the opening being just one example of many. There are noteworthy contributions in the Act II ‘Scène-Andante’ (track 4) from Notburga Puskas, harp, François Guye, cello and the orchestra’s concert master Bogdan Zvoristeanu . One minor blemish is that the latter’s rather effortful breathing has been captured by the microphones. It is worth mentioning that, unlike some conductors, Yamada uses the eight-movement version of the suite, so both the delicious Danse éspagnole and Danse napolitaine are included, the latter featuring a splendidly agile cornett solo from Olivier Bombrun. The Tchaikovsky ballet suite is followed by genial performances of the two concert waltzes of Alexander Glazunov written in the 1890s as precursors to the composition of his celebrated ballets ‘The Seasons’ and ‘Raymonda’, and though often appearing either singly or together on disc remain rarities in the concert hall. Yamada’s performances have an appealing air of insouciance and a lightness of touch reflected in the immaculate orchestral playing. The four-movement suite from Shostakovich’s ballet of Soviet realism ‘Zolotoy vek’ (The Golden Age) is performed with all the wit and zest essential for the ‘Polka’ and ‘Dance’, but Yamada also finds surprising emotional depth in the second movement ‘Adagio’. Finally we have Stravinsky’s galumphing Circus Polka to end this entertaining programme in rumbustious style. PENTATONE’s superb 5.0-channel DSD recording, expertly engineered by Polyhymnia’s Erdo Groot, has a wonderfully coherent sound stage full of detail and with a glowing ambience that brings the fine acoustic of the Victoria Hall Geneva to vibrant life. While much of the repertoire on offer here is available in countless alternative recordings, Yamada’s persuasive accounts of these evergreen pieces delivered in gloriously opulent sound are irresistible.

DAWN TO DUST: Augusta Read Thomas: EOS (Goddess of the Dawn), a Ballet for Orchestra, Nico Muhly: Control (5 Landscapes for Orchestra), Andrew Norman: Switch*, Colin Currie* (percussion), Utah Symphony, Thierry Fischer/Reference Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid  FR-719  Dawn to Dust’ is the apt title of this new release on the Reference Recordings Fresh! label of works commissioned from three leading American contemporary composers by the Utah Symphony as part of the orchestra’s 75th anniversary celebrations during the 2015/2016 season. All three works here receive their world premier recordings in scrupulously prepared performances conducted by Thierry Fischer, the orchestra’s Music Director. The programme opens with ‘Eos (Goddess of the Dawn)’ by Augusta Read Thomas (b.1964) whose command of a wide ranging orchestral palette is breathtaking. She subtitles the piece ‘A ballet for orchestra’ and confesses in the liner notes that many of her orchestral and chamber compositions were conceived with dance in mind. Lasting around 18 minutes and played without a break, ‘Eos’ has seven movements each of which has a descriptive title. These, and a ballet narrative, are also reproduced in the liner notes and I found them most helpful in following the progress of the work. The music is full of ravishing orchestral sonorities, the subtle use of glittering percussion and writing for winds being immediately striking, whilst the almost Mahlerian string passages in the fourth section ‘Dreams and Memories’ are equally memorable. Textures have a crystalline clarity throughout and the ever changing variety of rhythmic patterns holds the listener’s attention in a composition of great eloquence and lucidity. Nico Muhly (born 1981) has composed works in many genres that include opera, ballet, sacred and pop music and has already amassed a considerable discography. His ‘Control’ (Five Landscapes for Orchestra) deals with Utah’s spectacular natural environment and the manner in which humans interact with it. Muhly acknowledges the influence of the music of Olivier Messiaen and in particular the latter’s ‘Des Canyons aux Étoiles’ a composition also inspired by the Utah landscape. The tiles of the work’s five parts are ‘Landform’– a depiction of large geological structures, ‘Mountain’ – an impressionistic mountain landscape in summer, ‘Beehive’ – industriousness that leads to technological innovation, ‘Petroglyph & Tobacco’ – suggestive of the resilience of Native Americans and finally ‘Red Dust’ – a striking feature of the St. George area of southern Utah. Though the music is harmonically complex, sometimes densely textured and often quite austere, its uncompromising originality and lack of pretension encourages repeated listening. The programme is completed by ‘Switch, a wildly energetic, one might almost say hyperactive, percussion concerto, written by Los Angeles based Andrew Norman (born 1979) and performed here with the utmost virtuosity by Colin Currie. Of the work Norman has written: “Cast as a single movement, Switch takes off where my orchestral cycle Play left off in exploring non-linear narrative structures and video game logic. The percussionist’s many instruments act as triggers, turning other players on and off, making them play forward and backward, and causing them to jump to entirely different musical worlds.” With an uninterrupted span of 28’34” it is the longest piece on the disc and it seems so. The music’s unrelenting drive, interspersed with occasional calm passages, is at first invigorating, but quickly becomes quite exhausting even for the receptive listener. One is left wishing that Colin Currie and the Utah Symphony’s dazzling and definitive account of this theatrical piece had been given a video dimension to clarify the darting interactions between soloist and orchestra and allow the eyes to reduce some of the strain on the ears. I accept, however, that others might not share this view. As is to be expected from this audiophile label, the sound quality on this 5.1 channel SACD (recorded and post produced in 64fs DSD)is awesome. The wide dynamic range of the recording allows both the subtlest string pianissimos and the loudest percussive climaxes to be reproduced with equal fidelity – every instrument clearly identified within a soundstage that possesses convincing width and depth. Though recorded live (February, November and December 2015) at concerts in the Maurice Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City, the reliable team of Dirk Sobotka. John Newton and Mark Donahue from Soundmirror, Boston, have ensured no audience noise is audible and applause has also been excised. Exemplary notes on these compositions written by their respective composers complete this stimulating release.

MASON BATES: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony/SFS SACD 0065  The name of composer Mason Bates, though possibly familiar to those living in the United States, is unlikely to be as well known to those in other parts of the world, but this is something that may well change with the release of this stunning SACD of his music from Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. Mason Bates is a 39 year old classically trained (at Juilliard and Berkeley) composer with a considerable body of work in many genres including concertos, large scale orchestral works and shorter ones that he calls ‘openers’. Bates is just completing his duties as one of two composers-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who have already released a CD recording of ‘Alternative Energy’, one of the three works on this disc, though unlike the one heard here it is not released in high resolution sound. He now begins a three-year residency at the Kennedy Center as their first composer-in-residence and is currently writing an opera about the late inventor and IT genius Steve Jobs. What, however, distinguishes him from many other contemporary composers is his parallel career as a DJ in dance clubs both in Europe and the United States. This has led him to extend the range and possibilities of the modern symphony orchestra through a fusion with electronic dance music. The predictably exciting results can be heard on this SACD. It is worth mentioning at this point that Bates’s music is tuneful, rhythmically inventive and totally accessible which is one reason why its reception with audiences has been overwhelmingly positive. It is up to others to speculate on what will be the shelf-life of these populist works and the composer’s future direction, but his talent is undeniable. Bates describes the three pieces on this disc as ‘symphonies’ but they are really only symphonic if the earliest definition of the word as “sounding together” is applied. Each is really a suite whose movements are linked thematically by a clear extra-musical narrative. All three works require large orchestral forces plus electronica of different types. ‘The B-Sides’ and ‘Liquid Interface’ were recorded in January 8-18, 2014 whilst ‘Alternative Energy’ was recorded later the same year (September 10-13).’The B-Sides’ was commissioned and premiered by the SF Symphony in 2009 and is dedicated to Michael Tilson Thomas. It is a response to the conductor’s suggestion that the composer should write a collection of five pieces focusing on texture and sonority in the manner of Schoenberg’s ‘Five Pieces for Orchestra’. The musical imagery here is wide ranging; travelling from the ravishingly impressionistic textures heard at the start of ‘Broom of the System’ through ‘Gemini in the Solar Wind’ (that incorporates clips of actual conversations between NASA and the astronaut Ed White) and ending with the pulsating low frequency energy of ‘Warehouse Medicine’ that re-imagines the Detroit dance scene parties of the 1990s. In ‘Liquid Interface’ (2007) the music seems more focussed. Its subject is the various manifestations and states of water. ‘Glaciers Calving’ includes the sounds of fracturing glaciers in Antarctica while the dazzling ‘Scherzo Liquido’ bears witness to the alertness and virtuosity of the SFS musicians throughout these performances. The work’s final section is a tranquil evocation of spring at Wannsee, the lake on the outskirts of Berlin where Mason Bates once lived. ‘Alternative Energy’ (2011) is the most recent work on this disc and the most ambitious. In addition to large orchestral forces it requires a laptop, 6 speakers placed around the orchestra, and some onstage monitors. Bates calls it an “energy symphony”, and it takes us on a journey from Henry Ford’s Farm in 1896, depicted by metallic mechanical sounds and a folksy violin solo, to ‘Chicago, 2012’ a movement that makes spectacular use of the SACD’s surround sound capability and includes actual recordings from the FermiLab particle accelerator. Another leap forward in time and we reach ‘Xinjiang Province 2112’ a futuristic depiction of an industrial complex – its Chinese location indicated by some pentatonic melodic phrases – before the music erupts into a driving techno beat of unrelenting energy.  The final movement ‘Reykjavik, 2222’ suggests a strange post-apocalyptic landscape punctuated by electronic bird cries. Towards the end the violin solo from the start of the work re-appears to possibly suggest a return to a simpler way of life. Needless to say the orchestra under the direction of MTT play with tremendous concentration and enthusiasm in all three works. As with all SFS Media releases the production values could not be higher. Producer Jack Vad and his engineering team have created a magnificently vivid recording (PCM 192kHz/24-bit) in the Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco that, especially when heard in multi-channel sound, does full justice to Bates’s kaleidoscopic orchestral palette. The dynamic range is huge and everything from the soft whispers of string chords to room-shaking electronic pulses is reproduced with astonishing clarity in a realistic concert hall acoustic. Though these are live recordings there is no trace of audience noise and, unlike some other SFS Media issues, applause has been excised.
In short we have here 71 minutes of exuberant music from the fertile imagination of a talented composer, performed with style and flair and recorded in state-of-the-art sound – what’s not to like?

VIVALDI: BASOON CONCERTOS, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Gustavo Núñez/PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186539  With the exception of the violin, Vivaldi composed more concertos for the bassoon than any other instrument – a total of 39 if two incomplete works are included – yet little is known about for whom they were written. But it is generally believed that Vivaldi composed these concertos in the1720s and 30s and that the pupils of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, where he was the ‘maestro dei concerti’, were probably the recipients since their reputation as accomplished instrumentalists is well documented. On this impeccably recorded release from PENTATONE six of these concertos are performed by Gustavo Núñez who since 1995 has been principal bassoonist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and is widely regarded as one of the leading bassoonists of his generation. Núñez performs these works on a modern instrument whose attractive tone enhances the stunning virtuosity displayed by him throughout this disc. The technical demands of these concertos, that include wide ranging leaps, arpeggios and fast scales, are met with ease by this consummate performer, while the flawless cantabile that Núñez displays in the expressive slow movements is especially appealing. Such is the variety and inventiveness of these compositions that one can happily listen to all six of Núñez’s superlative performances of them in one session without any trace of boredom ever creeping in. Núñez is partnered by the twenty one strong Academy of St. Martin in the Fields directed by Tomo Keller. Their crisp and alert accompaniment is always attentive to the soloist, and though these works are performed on modern instruments they do include elements of period style such as minimum vibrato and tasteful contributions from the four continuo players (Stephen Orton – cello, Lynda Houghton – double bass, Lynda Sayce – Theorbo and John Constable – harpsichord). The exuberance of the ASMF playing in all six concertos is bracing – the opening ritornello of the Bassoon Concerto in A Minor RV 497 (tr.14) being a prime example of the unanimity and fire of their attack. The recordings were made in April 2015 in St. John’s Smith Square, London – a venue long renowned for its fine acoustics. The Polyhymnia team’s microphones have captured just the right amount of the church’s ambience in their beautifully balanced 5.0 DSD multichannel recording to allow clarity of the instrumental lines while at the same time retaining the vividness and warmth of the overall sound picture. In all respects Vivaldi’s genius is well served by these spirited performances presented in immaculately recorded sound. Highly recommended.

Tasmin Little’s Beethoven and other new discs

BeethovenBEETHOVEN: COMPLETE VIOLIN SONATAS, Tasmin Little (Violin) / Martin Roscoe (Piano) CHANDOS (3) There have been several distinguished integral sets of the Beethoven violin sonatas over the years, but Tasmin Little’s project is distinguished by an unforced authority which (combined with her innate musicality) have produced a very competitive issue. What’s more, the contribution by the pianist Martin Roscoe represents a genuine collaborative agenda on the part of the artists here; these are not violin sonatas with piano accompaniment but a perfectly balanced musical marriage in which the two partners operate on almost symbiotic level with immensely pleasing results, complementing her complete set of Schubert’s violin sonatas with Piers Lane [CHAN 10850(2)]. In all, Beethoven wrote ten sonatas for piano and violin, and seems not to have entertained ideas for other works in this genre. All but one may be regarded as early works: only Op. 96, in G major, which was composed almost a decade after the last of the other nine, does not fall into this category. As a group, then, the violin sonatas do not offer a conspectus of Beethoven’s stylistic development such as we find in the string quartets, piano sonatas, symphonies, and even cello sonatas. But each work is a masterpiece in its own right, original, full of vitality, idiomatic for both the pianist and violinist who are equal-ranking participants in the ensemble, and executed with consummate compositional skill.

SCHUBERT ARR. MAHLER: DEATH AND THE MAIDEN; SHOSTAKOVICH ARR. BARSHAI: CHAMBER SYMPHONY IN C MINOR, LSO String Ensemble Roman Simovi/LSO Live SACD LSO 0786 While long celebrated for its remarkable brass section, the London Symphony Orchestra is rightly proud of its world-class string players, so it should come as no surprise that this coupling of two transcriptions for string orchestra of string quartets should be so accomplished. But in terms of these pieces, times have changed: there is now such a wide choice of recordings of these transcriptions – once rarities in the recorded repertoire – that it’s possible to pick and choose. And it is in that panoply of choice that the reviewer is presented with something of a quandary. Mahler’s arrangement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden has rarely been given such a muscular and emotional reading as it receives here, with the rich LSO string sound captured with fidelity in a forceful surround sound recording. But while the accompanying Shostakovich transcription is certainly estimable, there are now more dynamic readings available, such as that of Hradils on Praga Digitals SACD, which — while slower than the LSO set — finds more drama and impact in the music. Nevertheless, the new LSO Live disc is a tempting proposition if you’re attracted to this particular coupling.

BACH: VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Dunedin Consort, Cecilia Bernardini, John Butt/LINN SACD CKD519 No-one could claim that Bach’s imperishable violin concertos (in their various permutations) have enjoyed generous representation on disc, but this is a notably competitive issue, with the kind of bracing approach to authenticity that is now (uncontroversially) the norm. What would a violinist of David Oistrakh’s generation make of this? They would no doubt relish the impeccable playing, laced with appropriate gusto and finessed by John Butt’s customary fastidious attention to detail. A winner.

DVORAK: OVERTURES, Prague Philharmonia, Jakub Hrůša/PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 532 Those collecting the Dvorak overtures in the SACD medium have been obliged to adopt a piecemeal approach in recent years, sometimes buying not particularly distinguished versions of one of the Dvorak symphonies in order to obtain a surround sound recording of one of the overtures (it has to be admitted that the SACD medium has this acquisitive effect on its consumers); but now (courtesy of PENTATONE), we’re presented with a particular coupling which is unique to the medium, and even if there are perhaps more vibrant performances of some of the pieces here, this makes the disc rather cherishable – particularly with the glowing sound according to the orchestra by the engineers. For a large part, thanks to the effort of Johannes Brahms, who introduced him to his publisher Simrock, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák developed into a composer with an international reputation. Don’t we all know his Slavonic Dances, his Symphonies or his chamber music, such as the Dumky Trio or the American string quartet? This album reveals some of the more hidden treasures of Dvořák’s repertoire, namely his overtures, of which he wrote no less than thirteen. In the booklet to the album they are described as follows: All five overtures on this recording are richly and vividly scored, employing palettes of instruments broader on average than those found in Dvořák’s mature symphonies and sometimes calling for special effects. For their orchestral colour but also their rich expression of poetic content, as well as their purely musical invention and structural mastery, these overtures constitute gems of special brilliance in the treasury of Dvořák’s compositional bequest. The PKF – Prague Philharmonia recorded this album in January 2015 at the Forum Karlin in Prague under the baton of their 2009-2015 Music Director and Chief Conductor Jakub Hrůša.

WEINBERG: ORCHESTRAL MUSIC, VOLUME TWO: SIX BALLET SCENES, OP. 113; SYMPHONY NO. 22, OP. 154, Siberian Symphony Orchestra, Dmitry Vasilyev/TOCCATA TOCC0313 At the accelerating rate at which the music of Weinberg is being issued on disc, it’s only a matter of time before his formidable corpus of symphonies is fully available. This recording pairs a mature orchestral work, the Six Ballet Scenes, Op. 113 (1973), to which Weinberg gave the subtitle ‘Choreographic Symphony’, with the last symphony he composed, No. 22, leaving it in a piano score which has been orchestrated by Kirill Umansky. Performances are serviceable.

MARTINŮ: SUITES NOS 1 AND 2 FROM ŠPALÍČEK, RHAPSODY-CONCERTO FOR VIOLA AND ORCHESTRA*, Mikhail Zemtsov (Viola)* / Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi/CHANDOS CHAN 10885 A personal note here. As someone who has been collecting Martinu’s uneven but fascinating body of work over the years, there has been one holy grail, Špalíček, previously only available in a Supraphon performance with scrawny mono sound. But now we can finally hear the piece with all the nuances of orchestration that were previously only hinted at. This album with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and its artistic director, Neeme Järvi, features two mature works by Martinů, recorded in the splendid acoustic of the Estonia Concert Hall in Tallinn. One of the most wide-ranging composers of music for the stage, Martinů was also enthusiastic about the theatrical possibilities of including new media in his operas. Špalíček in many ways belongs to this experimental tendency. Although it was published and billed at its first performance as a ballet, it might best be described as an opera-ballet, as alongside the many dances there are extensive roles for chorus as well as tenor, soprano, and bass soloists. Martinů described the work on his manuscript as deriving from folk games, customs, and fairytales. The lyrical Rhapsody-Concerto was written in 1952, at a time when Martinů was fighting homesickness and depression, worsened by the political situation in his native Czechoslovakia. The work is a marked move toward a more romantic sound world. The soloist here is Mikhail Zemtsov, principal violist of the Reside ntie Orchestra The Hague since 2001 and a prize winner at the first International Viola Competition (Vienna) and the Elisa Meyer String Competition (Hamburg). The exploration by Järvi and the ENSO of hidden gems from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has proved highly successful, their recent recording of works by Suchoň (CHAN 10849) awarded the Choc de Classica

SHOSTAKOVICH, ARR. BARSHAI: CHAMBER SYMPHONIES OP. 73A & 83A AND EAST EUROPEAN FOLK TUNES, The re:orchestra, Roberto Beltrán-Zavala BIS 2227 There was a time when recordings of the Barshai transcriptions for string orchestra of the Shostakovich quartets were few and far between, but lately, they are finding their way onto disc in bountiful profusion, as this latest disc demonstrates (and see above). If the present set is not quite the most persuasive available of these pieces, it remains highly competitive with string playing of considerable distinction. The two ‘Chamber Symphonies’ recorded here are in fact Shostakovich’s Third and Fourth String Quartets, Opp. 73 and 83, and were composed in 1946 and 1949 respectively, during the aftermath of World War II and the onset of Stalin’s terror. The disc is part of a project called ‘Essential Music’ initiated by the re:orchestra, a young and vibrant ensemble based in Rotterdam. Together with artistic director, the Mexican-Dutch conductor Roberto Beltrán-Zavala, the ensemble regularly undertakes multidisciplinary projects. Less successfully on the present disc Vasile Nedea has arranged a Russian klezmer dance, a group of folk melodies from Transylvania and Muntenia, and two Romanian dances: Turceasca and Hora de la Goicea. (Also note also a commendable rival set: SHOSTAKOVICH: CHAMBER SYMPHONIES IN C MAJOR, OP. 49A ‘EINE KLEINE SYMPHONIE’ IN C MINOR, OP. 110A IN D MAJOR, OP. 83A ARRANGED BY RUDOLF BARSHAI, Kiev Soloists, Dmitry Yablonsky, Naxos 8.573466)

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: FAIR CHILD OF BEAUTY, THE BRIDAL DAY; EPITHALAMION, John Hopkins, Philip Smith, Joyful Company of Singers, Britten Sinfonia, Alan Tongue, ALBION ALBCD025/026 As a listener who is content to have almost every note that Vaughan Williams wrote on my shelves (some juvenilia of the composer’s apart), I was certainly tempted by this latest issue from Albion Records, specialists in more arcane RVW. The lesser-known pieces by the composer, it has to be said, are hardly essential fare for any but hard-core Vaughan Williams enthusiasts, but the more adventurous should certainly give them a listen – provided, that is, they can accommodate the rather pedestrian spoken part included here, which very quickly outstays its welcome. The programme of works by Ralph Vaughan Williams comprises the Fair Child of Beauty, The Bridal Day, and Epithalamion. These performances are given by John Hopkins (speaker), baritone Philip Smith, the Joyful Company of Singers, the Britten Sinfonia, under the direction of Alan Tongue.

RESPIGHI: ANTICHE DANZE ED ARIE, SUITES 1-3; SUITE ‘GLI UCCELLI’, Muenchner Rundfunkorchester, Henry Raudales CPO 777233-2  Approaches to these pieces have varied over the years, but this new set, which combines the full orchestration Respighi accorded the pieces with a more crisply articulated period approach than the pieces customarily receive. This makes for a very tempting disc Ottorino Respighi’s Antiche danze ed arie, free arrangements of arias and dances from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, enables listeners to rediscover forgotten rhythms and tones. These works are complemented by his Gli Uccelli (‘The Birds’) suite.

NIELSEN; CHORAL WORKS, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish National Concert Choir, Danish National Girls’ Choir, Danish National Junior Choir, Danish National Children’s Choir, Michael Schønwandt, Phillip Faber, Susanne Wendt DA CAPO 8226112 The slightly monochromatic sound world provided by these pieces renders it more suitable for the Nielsen enthusiast than the general listener, but it’s hard to imagine that pieces given more persuasive advocacy. Carl Nielsen’s prolific output of around 300 songs come in many forms. In this collection we hear 25 choral versions of the most popular Nielsen songs, such as Den danske sang er en ung, blond pige as well as more rarely heard or unknown choral works.

FRANCIS CHAGRIN: SYMPHONIES NOS. 1 AND 2, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins,/Naxos 8.571371 Naxos continues its enterprising excavation of neglected composers with this intriguing new disc. If Chagrin does not turn out to be a hidden treasure, there are still rewards here. Francis Chagrin described himself as ‘Romanian by birth, British by nationality and cosmopolitan by inclination’. A student of Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger, Chagrin wrote prolifically for films but composed for most genres. The two symphonies are among his most important orchestral works. Both are dramatic, even passionate—not least in the beautiful slow movements—and full of contrasts, both within and between movements. Undeservedly neglected, they reveal Chagrin’s mastery of form and colour.

LEO WEINER: CSONGOR AND TÜNDE, OP. 10 (1959 VERSION)*, BALLAD FOR CLARINET AND ORCHESTRA, OP. 28**(VERSION FOR VIOLA AND ORCHESTRA), Máté Szűcs, Viola**, Jubilate Girls Choir* • Ferenc Sapszon Jr., Chorus-master*, Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV, Valéria Csányi NAXOS If you have a taste for colourful orchestral there in a vaguely Bartok/Kodaly idiom, look no further. Leo Weiner is not the equal of his more famous countryman, but has much to offer. For over half a century at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, Leo Weiner taught successive generations of Hungary’s leading musicians, and won his country’s highest awards. As a composer his career was comet-like in its early brilliance and his music marked by an imaginative use of colour, masterful instrumentation and lyrical emotion. He regarded Csongor and Tünde as his magnum opus and its incidental music was later to take independent form as a ballet, heard here in its final 1959 version. The impressionistic Ballad, Op. 28 for viola and orchestra derives from an earlier work for clarinet and piano.

BRUCKNER: QUINTET & QUARTET, FITZWILLIAM STRING QUARTET, Linn CKD402  Bruckner enthusiasts will be pleased to investigate this recording of his chamber music, particularly given that a new approach is taken to the music. This is the first recording to use gut strings (a special set from Dan Larsen in Minnesota was obtained specially for this recording) and original instruments at the correct pitch for the time. Having first tackled the Bruckner Quintet nearly forty years ago , the Fitzwilliam’s starting point was achieving the famous ‘Bruckner Sound’ as well as considering tempo, bow strokes, use of vibrato and portamento in the performance. With many great moments (such as the Adagio) the Quintet is guaranteed an exalted place in the hierarchy of chamber masterworks.

GRANADOS: ORCHESTRAL WORKS #1, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Pablo González/Naxos 8.573263 Many classical listeners will be familiar with Granados’ piano and guitar music, but it transpires that there is a wealth of orchestral music to be rediscovered – of which this disc is the very tempting first instalment. Although he is best known as the composer of some of the greatest masterpieces of Spanish piano music, the composer also wrote a much less well-known sequence of orchestral music. The cinematic Marcha de los vencidos evokes the painful trudging of ‘the defeated’ in an unspecified battle, while the incidental music for the play Torrijos demonstrates Granados’s talent for lyrical writing and his love of the stage. These works are performed by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under Pablo González he internationally renowned Wihan Quartet continue with their exploration of Czech repertoire for string quartet, released through their arrangement with Nimbus Alliance Records.

ERLAND VON KOCH: SYMPHONY NO. 3, OP. 38; SINFONIA SERIA, OP. 51; IMPULSI; NORDISKT CAPRICCIO, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Per Hammarström/BIS2169 This is a particular find. Erland Von Koch was a composer with a very individual grasp of orchestral colour and an unusually fragmentary (yet dynamic) approach to symphonic form that looks forwards rather than backwards. One of von Koch’s orchestral works that has maintained a tenuous hold on the repertoire is Nordiskt capriccio, which was inspired by a folk tune from Dalecarlia, and which forms the festive finale on the present disc. The compositions which precede it are less well known. They include Impulsi (the first part of a triptych later completed with the works Echi and Ritmi) whilst the two symphonies 3 and 4 appear for the first time on disc. In Symphony No. 3, influences from Bartók and Hindemith can be detected; composed in 1948, it is a work which in its thematic material contrasts defiance with lyricism and, finally, a feeling of release. Sinfonia seria, von Koch’s fourth work in the genre, followed a few years later, undergoing a final revision in 1962. As indicated by the title, the underlying mood of the work is grave and bittersweet.

DVOŘÁK: STRING QUARTET NO. 13 IN G MAJOR, B. 192 (OP.106); SUK: MEDITATION ON THE OLD CZECH CHORALE “ST. WENCESLAS” OP. 35; JANÁČEK: STRING QUARTET NO. 1, “KREUTZER SONATA”, Wihan Quartet / Nimbus Alliance NI 6322NI6322 Dvořák’s chamber music is well served on disc, as is the first Janáček quartet, but this is nevertheless a persuasively played coupling with a lesser-known piece by Suk as icing on the cake. Dvořák composed his opus 106 quartet in 1895 on his return to Prague after a three-year tenure as director of the National Conservatory in New York – this was a work that he completed prior to the final revision of his Op.34/Op.105 quartet. All are given readings here of clarity and colour, though there are more incisive performances of Janáček’s Kreutzer Quartet.

ATTERBERG: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 4: SYMPHONY NO. 3, OP.10 VÄSTKUSTBILDER / THREE NOCTURNES, OP. 35BIS / VITTORIOSO, OP. 58 Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra / Neeme Järvi/ CHAN 10894 Those collecting the new Atterberg sequence from Chandos will be purchasing this (and so they should – it’s splendid), but one nagging reservation must be expressed: earlier issues in this sequence had gloriously glowing surround sound of the kind that Chandos specialises in, so why has the company opted in this instance for two-channel stereo sound? It seems a very curious decision. The warm and tuneful music of Atterberg – one of Sweden’s leading composers in the twentieth century – meets the idiomatic spirit and commitment of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi, for volume four in this series. The third of his nine symphonies, featured here, is a set of three ‘West Coast Pictures’. These contrasted movements (‘Summer Haze’, ‘Storm’, and ‘Summer Night’) were inspired by the atmosphere and landscape of the archipelago on the Swedish west coast and written between 1914 and 1916. It achieved great popularity abroad and was in Germany even considered as among the finest symphonic works written so far that century. The Three Nocturnes are orchestral movements which Atterberg extracted from Fanal (The Beacon), his highly praised third opera, which received thirty performances between its premiere in 1934 and 1957 and is nowadays his most appreciated stage work. Vittorioso was originally composed as the fourth movement of the Seventh Symphony (Sinfonia romantica) and, like the Three Nocturnes, shares its themes with the opera Fanal; the coupling gives a taste of Volume 5, due for release next year.

ENGLISH HARPSICHORD WORKS, MMC112  Henry Purcell: Suite 5 in Henry Purcell: Suite 5 in C; Ground in C minor; William Byrd: The Carman’s Whistle; Henry Purcell: Prelude in A minor; John Blow: Suite in A minor; William Byrd: Hughe Ashton’s Grownde; Henry Purcell: Suite 3 in G; Chaconne in G minor; William Byrd: The Mayden’s Songe; William Croft: Suite 10 in E minor; Henry Purcell: A New Ground; William Byrd: Will Yow Walke the Woodes Soe Wylde; Henry Purcell: Suite 6 in D; John Blow: Ground in D minor; William Byrd: All in a Garden Greene, David Pollock, harpsichord/Music & Media Although this is music for the cognoscenti rather than the general listener, those prepared to accommodate themselves to the more restrictive aural palate here will find many rewards. Since “Parthenia” (1612/13), ‘the first musicke that ever was printed for the virginalls’, as its own title-page declares, a devotee had ready access to high-quality English harpsichord music. A steady stream of publications followed as the century progressed. At first the trend was to issue books containing music by various composers. Later, volumes dedicated to single composers appeared of which the earliest were the Choice Collection[s] by Purcell (1696) and Blow (1698). Aside from miscellaneous pieces, often arrangements of ‘ayres’ and ‘theatre tunes’, the Suite was the principal form, with its standard sequence of alman, coranto and saraband, often introduced by a prelude. Pollock’s aim with this CD was to offer a personal anthology of English harpsichord music

RUSSIAN DANCES: TCHAIKOVSKY SUITE FROM SWAN LAKE/GLAZUNOV TWO CONCERT WALTZES/SHOSTAKOVICH THE GOLDEN AGE/STRAVINSKY CIRCUS POLKA, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Kazuki Yamada/PENTATONE SACD PTC5186557 This is an enjoyable collection of bonbons delivered in the kind of splendid multichannel sound that listeners know is a PENTATONE speciality. Recorded at Victoria Hall in Geneva, Switzerland in July 2015, this album is another result of the fruitful relationship developed between the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and PENTATONE over the last decade. At this occasion the OSR is conducted by Japanese conductor Kazuki Yamada, who was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra in 2012 after a very successful European debut with them in 2010. Kazuki Yamada equally holds the position of Principal Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Conductor and Artistic Director Designate of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo and he regularly appears as guest conductor with many other leading orchestras, gleaning critical acclaim.

 

 

Straussian Scores from Tadlow

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GOLDSMITH: THE BLUE MAX AND OTHER SCORES/EPIC HOLLYWOOD: THE MUSIC OF MIKLOS RÓZSA, City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Nic Raine/Tadlow 020 & Tadlow 021 Thankfully, distant are the days when recordings of large-scale orchestral film scores were at the mercy of record companies whose intermittent issues barely did service to music — and what was issued sometimes ran to little more than half an hour, such were the limitations of the long-playing record (not to mention the parsimoniousness of record companies). But now the music of Hollywood is something of a new golden age — at least when the company involved is the ambitious Tadlow Music, under the purview of producer James Fitzpatrick. This ambitious company has lovingly represented the scores of such composers as Bernard Herrmann, lovingly reproduced in vivid sound. These two latest issues continue the exemplary work of the company, and are also salutary reminders that with the exception of modern talents such as Michael Giacchino, there are very few current composers who can rival the two remarkable musicians recorded here, Jerry Goldsmith and Miklos Rózsa. Those who admire the work of Goldsmith tend to be of the view that the composer’s magnum opus was The Blue Max, here recording in its totality with a dynamic sound picture that does full justice to the composer’s tonal palette (although Goldsmith himself claimed to be an aficionado of Alban Berg, the templates for this WWII drama are the tone poems of Richard Strauss); other scores on this generous two-disc set include the composer’s superb music for such films as The Sand Pebbles and The Chairman. The Miklos Rózsa two-disc set is another winner. Despite splendid efforts from such contemporary rivals as Dimitri Tiomkin, Rózsa’s Hungarian-influenced scores were the definitive musical incarnations of the Hollywood epic, and the concert we are presented with here includes much of Rózsa’s best work in that vein, from the exhilarating overture to El Cid to his groundbreaking score for the massive Ben Hur. Apart from the generous playing times of these discs, the icing on the cake is the sheer panache of the orchestral playing by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the ever-reliable Nic Raine, the conductor who, more than any other contemporary musician, has the full measure of these scores. If you possess the original soundtrack recordings of much of this music, you may not find yourself parting with these, even though Raine and his musicians give the originals more than a run for their money. But those seeking modern recordings of these dramatic, colourful scores need not hesitate, even though the astonishing surround sound (on Blu-Ray audio) of Tadlow’s recent Bernard Hermann ‘Obsession’ disc has been abandoned for ordinary stereo sound.