Graham Williams Reviews


‘ROMANTIC METAMORPHOSES’: VIEUXTEMPS: VIOLA SONATA, ZEMTSOV: MELODIE IM ALTEN STIL, BLOCH: SUITE, Dana Zemtsov, viola, Cathelijne Noorland, piano/Channel Classics SACD CC SSA 37215  The young viola player Dana Zemtsov’s first disc for Channel Classics, entitled ‘Enigma’, immediately confirmed her as an artist of immense talent and musical intelligence. On that disc she confidently delivered an exacting group of compositions for unaccompanied viola that challenged both listener and performer. In complete contrast, her latest recording ‘Romantic Metamorphoses’ comprises a varied and well-chosen programme that explores the various manifestations of the word ‘romantic’ in musical terms. Continue reading

New Discs from BIS, Linn, Chandos

NIELSEN SYMPHONIES 2 & 6, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Sakari Oramo/BIS BIS-2128 SACD  This issue completes Sakai Oramo’s impressive cycle of the Nielsen Symphonies with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra for BIS that now joins the other two complete cycles on SACD from Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO Live) and Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on the Dacapo label. On this new release Oramo couples the composer’s 2nd and 6th Symphonies (“The Four Temperaments” and “Sinfonia Semplice”) two compositions with radically different complexions yet both unmistakeably the work of the Danish master. In a recent interview Sakari Oramo opined “Nielsen doesn’t allow conductors to display their personalities, because the music is best served by leaving it mostly alone, taking it on trust, producing the drama, giving the fullest energy possible and not stopping for detail.” The adoption of such an approach has already served Oramo very well in the previous two volumes (Symphonies 4 & 5 and Symphonies 1 & 3) and does so here with predictably impressive results. The opening ‘Allegro collerico’ of the 2nd Symphony explodes with almost pyrotechnic force and savagery yet Oramo brings great breadth and nobility to the third movement – marked ‘Andante malincolico’ – allowing abundant rich and expressive playing from the strings of splendid Stockholm orchestra. The Symphony’s second movement flows gracefully at what I consider to be an ideal tempo, while the buoyant finale has all the swagger and confidence that makes this conductor’s Nielsen so thrilling to experience. The same propulsive energy is evident in much of the enigmatic 6th Symphony, but again Oramo allows his players to bring poetry and a sense of mystery to the more reflective sections of the first movement whilst never underplaying the irony and bitterness that permeates much of the work. The final bars where Nielsen, to paraphrase from David Fanning’s excellent liner notes, ‘gives death the finger’ is delivered by Oramo with an appropriate disdainful finality. The sound quality of the 5.0, 24-bit / 96 kHz recording is, as usual from BIS, magnificent with the full dynamic range of the music vividly reproduced. Though the reverberation period of the Stockholm Concert Hall is generous, the BIS engineering team have achieved marvellous clarity throughout. Altogether this is a fitting conclusion to what is arguably the finest and most consistent cycle of Nielsen Symphonies on disc.

ATTERBERG: SYMPHONIES 1 & 5, Neeme Järvi/Chandos SACD CHSA 5154  This the third release in Neeme Järvi’s ongoing survey for Chandos of the orchestral and symphonic works by the Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974). Volume1 and Volume 2 included all the composer’s even numbered symphonies while this latest disc is occupied by the 1st and 5th Symphonies. Those who have acquired the two earlier issues will know exactly what to expect in terms of an interpretive stance from Järvi. As so often, he favours fast speeds that impart a sense of urgency and drive to the outer movements of both symphonies – an approach that in the context of these two dramatic compositions works particularly well. But the lovely second movement of the 1st Symphony is taken at a flowing andante rather than the marked ‘Adagio’, while the central ‘Lento’ of the 5th Symphony, that gives the work its title ‘Sinfonia funebre’, is powerfully lamenting as opposed to anything that suggests funereal solemnity. To be fair, listeners encountering these works for the first time are unlikely to feel that excessive haste is a problem. When, however, one compares Järvi’s slow movements with those on the fine CD versions by Ari Rasilainen and Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, the latter’s more measured tempi and expansive phrasing may be considered by some to bring an extra eloquence to the music that Järvi misses. Conversely the visceral excitement that Järvi engenders in both works, aided by electrifying playing from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, who have never sounded better, is not to be underestimated. The 5.0 multi-channel recordings (24-bit/96kHz) made in the Gothenburg Concert Hall by the experienced team of Lennart Dehn and Torbjörn Samuelsson in February 2014 (Symphony No. 5) and January 2015 (Symphony No.1) are open and spacious, with a wide stereo spread. Those primarily seeking the best possible sound quality will almost certainly go for this Chandos SACD, though the Rasilainen / CPO recordings made in the 1990s still sound pretty good. Recommended.

MAHLER/SCHOENBERG: LIEDER EINES FAHRENDEN GESELLEN,ETC., Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble, Trevor Pinnock/LINN CKD 481 SACD  In a number of respects this is the most interesting (and certainly varied) release so far in this series for Linn of recordings from Trevor Pinnock and the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble. As with the first two volumes they explore chamber reductions of works written for larger ensembles in the spirit of Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘Society for Private Musical Performance’ that he founded in 1918 to both create and educate an audience for modern music in post-war Vienna. Mahler’s familiar ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’ is already so transparent in texture in the composer’s own orchestral version that Schoenberg’s ingenious arrangement does not seem radically different from the original. The four songs are performed by Gareth Brynmor John whose light baritone is well suited to the narrative of the cycle and Pinnock’s flowing accompaniment is delivered with much sensitivity by his talented young players. Only at the climax of the third song ‘Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer’ (2.14) did I miss the force of Mahler’s full orchestra – a piano being no substitute for a cymbal crash. Busoni’s haunting and deeply moving ‘Berceuse élégiaque’ – subtitled ‘The man’s cradle song at his mother’s coffin’– was premièred by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mahler in his final concert in New York in 1911. Here it is presented in the arrangement by the Schoenberg disciple and pupil Erwin Stein, its poignancy arguably gaining from the spare lines of Stein’s chamber version. Stein did make a nine instrument arrangement of just two of Zemlinsky’s ‘Sechs Gesänge’ Op 13, but here we have a new version of all six made by the conductor, teacher and orchestrator Christopher Austin. The ‘Sechs Gesänge’, based on poems by Maurice Maeterlinck, were composed originally as songs with piano accompaniment (1910-1913) and later orchestrated in 1924. Like many artists of the period Zemlinsky was attracted to Maeterlinck’s mysterious poetry and philosophical symbolism and in their glittering orchestral garb the composer’s settings represent a striking example of late-romantic voluptuousness. Mindful of this, Christopher Austin has included an accordion and a vibraphone to enrich the palette of his chamber scoring. The vocal soloist is the young mezzo-soprano Katie Bray who, barring some occasional unsteadiness, possesses both the necessary power and beauty of tone to do full justice to these challenging songs. The final item on the disc is Wagner’s popular ‘Siegfried Idyll’ in its original version for a small chamber orchestra of thirteen players. The work’s beauty, charm and intimacy is conveyed in a way that full orchestral accounts can never match, and one could hardly imagine a finer performance than it receives here from the excellent Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble. Like the previous releases in this series the recording was made in St. George’s, Bristol (February 2014). The sound is very clean and detailed, but not lacking in warmth, thanks to the fine acoustic of the venue and the capable engineering of Philip Hobbs. Linn’s fulsome liner notes include texts and translations, though strangely there is no mention of either singer until you reach page 38 of the booklet! Altogether a most enjoyable and fascinating issue.

MOZART: OPERA ARIAS & OVERTURES, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Elizabeth Watts, Christian Baldini/Linn CKD 460 SACD  Rather than issuing a disc made up solely of either Mozart arias or Mozart overtures, Linn have had the happy idea to combine the two for this beautifully performed and recorded programme that not only showcases the remarkable talent and musicianship of soprano Elizabeth Watts but also the stylish orchestral playing of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Each of the six overtures on this SACD, expertly recorded by Philip Hobbs in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, (3rd to 6th June 2013), is followed by a soprano aria from the respective Mozart opera (or in the case of Don Giovanni both of Zerlina’s arias), something that makes for a more varied and interesting recital than is often the case. The creamy soprano of Elizabeth Watts seems perfectly suited to Susanna’s aria ‘Deh vieni non tardar’ from Act IV of the ‘Marriage of Figaro’, but she is equally adept in the more stylised world of Opera Seria, as is demonstrated by her dramatic and fiery delivery of the recitative preceding Ilia’s aria ‘Padre, germani, addio! from ‘Idomeneo’. Throughout this recital Watts’ firm and beautifully controlled singing meets the challenges posed by the diverse characters portrayed in these six Mozart operas and, thanks to her feeling for the words and immaculate diction, she is most successful in differentiating between each of them; no easy task in programmes of this type. Christian Baldini elicits lively, but never hard driven, performances from the thirty six members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra whose period influenced style (natural horns, timpani played with hard sticks etc.) is a delight. Elizabeth Watts’ voice is set in perfect perspective with the orchestra ensuring that the characterful winds are always audible. Full texts and translations and are included, and Philip Borg-Wheeler’s liner notes provide useful background information on each of the operas as well as placing the respective arias in context. Wherever you dip into this disc you will find singing of great character, freshness and refinement that marks out all of Elizabeth Watts’ performances, making this a disc to return to often with much pleasure. Highly recommended.

From Weil’s Haydn to Gardner’s Janaček


HAYDN: LONDON SYMPHONIES, VOLUMES ONE, TWO AND THREE, Capella Coloniensis, Bruno Weill/ARS SACD 38061, 2, 3  The first three volumes in this impressive series establish a benchmark in the surround sound medium for this immensely civilised music which would be hard to match, let alone exceed. Played with full attention to current modes of authenticity (but with academic fustiness thoroughly banished), Weill and his forces provide the kind of treatment now requisite in Haydn’s symphonies (particularly the spirited No. 99), the scores sounding fresh as paint in these readings which scrub away the accretions of less energetic performances of the past. Sound quality is matchless, and makes the listener impatient for the final volume in the series. Live performances, but with barely a trace of ambient noise and, thankfully, no applause.

ATTERBERG: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 3.: Symphony No. 1 in B minor, Op. 3 / Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 20 ‘Sinfonia funebre’ Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra / Neeme Järvi/CHANDOS CHSA 5154  However glorious the orchestral tone poems of Richard Strauss are – or the symphonies of Sibelius and Vaughan Williams – there are (dare one say it?) times when the listener has heard them so often that something new is new is needed to freshen the palette. Or at least something which is less familiar than these much-loved classics. Such a palette-freshener is the music of the Nordic composer Atterberg, which has only recently begun to obtain the kind of listenership that is its clear due. Not least because of initiatives such as the BIS set of the symphonies and this new Chandos sequence, capturing the symphonies, this time in glorious surround sound. This is music teeming with invention and colour, with all of its nuances winkled out by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Järvi. Järvi’s Atterberg survey has now reached this third volume of symphonies. The composer sent the first three completed movements of his Symphony No. 1 to Stockholm’s Royal Academy, seeking a scholarship in order to travel to several cities in Germany to attend musical performances. When he came back he added a finale with an introductory Adagio in which he, as it were, ‘reminded’ himself of what he had already composed. Like everything else on this disc it is strong and memorable

MENDELSSOHN, TCHAIKOVSKY: VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Arabella Steinbacher, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Charles Dutoit/ PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 504 Surprising as it may seem, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto has not made many appearances in the SACD medium, and it is particularly welcome in a poetic reading such as this. The Tchaikovsky, however, is (unsurprisingly) more often to be heard in the medium, and once again Steinbacher delivers a highly competitive performance, although this reading does not displace any of its illustrious predecessors, being perhaps a touch cooler and steadier in approach than most. PENTATONE (the caps now de rigeuer when writing the name) is a prestigious classical music label specialising in high-end surround sound recordings, and adds to its solid catalogue with this disc featuring violinist Arabella Steinbacher and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under the baton of Maestro Charles Dutoit.

SHOSTAKOVICH: UNDER STALIN’S SHADOW, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons/DG CD 479 505N Many admirers of the music of Dimitri Shostakovich have wondered what it would have been like to have a private conversation with the composer and discover what he really felt about the tyrant who ruled his country. However, we have to read Shostakovich’s attitude to Stalin in the interstices of his music, and few issues have been as eloquent in that regard as this new disc , the first instalment of a major collaboration with one of the most exciting young conductors of our time: Andris Nelsons, Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The goal of this partnership is a complete Shostakovich cycle on Deutsche Grammophon with the Boston Symphony. The theme of the first album with Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony and Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth is a reflection on Shostakovich and Stalin. Symphony Nos. 5, 8, and 9, as well as incidental music to Hamlet will be released in a 2-CD set in May 2016;, and these works will be recorded during the BSO’s 2015-16 season.

NIELSEN: CONCERTOS, Nikolaj Znaider, Robert Langevin, Anthony McGill SACD 6.220556  In the ranks of recordings of Nielsen’s remarkable (and often spiky) concertos, competition is stiff, and it takes something special to rise above the rest. That particular magical ingredient is present here, and these are cherishable readings of these masterworks (if not quite in the first rank). Talking of his development as a composer, Carl Nielsen himself said: “I think in terms of the instruments themselves – I sort of creep into their souls”. Indeed, his 3 solo concertos for violin, flute and clarinet are expressive and highly individual works which stand all stand as key works in 20th century instrumental repertoire. For this concluding Nielsen Project issue, Alan Gilbert wished to use the New York Philharmonic’s own principal wind players, following Leonard Bernstein’s now legendary recordings from the 1960s. The Philharmonic’s renowned Canadian principal flute Robert Langevin sparkles in the flute concerto and Anthony McGill presents himself as the orchestra’s new principal clarinet. For the violin concerto, Gilbert invited the Danish star violinist Nikolaj Znaider who grew up immersed in the composer’s music. Like the symphonies, the 3 concertos are all recorded in surround sound in live performances at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

BRUCKNER: SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN CMINOR, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden/Challenge Classics SACD CC 72556  In a highly competitive field, the performances of Bruckner symphonies by these forces have (with only the occasional misstep) been self-recommending (while not quite possessing the gravitas of older classic accounts), and this recording of the Novak edition of the First Symphony presents a strongly characterised reading that shows particular attention to the energy of the music. Recording (as in other discs in the series) is exemplary.

DVORAK: SYMPHONY NO. 9, THE NEW WORLD/AMERICAN SUITE, Bamberger Symphony Orchestra, Robin Ticciati/Tudor SACD 7194  The conductor Robin Ticciati has been on something of a roll recently in terms of critical esteem, laying down some nigh-definitive performances of classic pieces which banish any suggestion of the routine. If this New World is not in the class of some of its recent predecessors from the conductor, it possesses the not inconsiderable virtue of making the very familiar music seem fresh and unhackneyed.

JANÁČEK: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 2.: Jealousy / The Fiddler’s Child* / Taras Bulba/ The Ballad of Blaník / The Danube† / Violin Concerto ‘The Wandering of a Little Soul‡ Susanna Andersson (soprano)† James Ehnes (violin)‡ / Melina Mandozzi (violin)* Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Edward Gardner/CHANDOS SACD  It’s something of a mystery as to why the colourful, energetic and wide-ranging orchestral music of Janaček has only intermittently found its way into the SACD medium, and that omission is being supplied in welcome fashion by this extremely approachable new program from Edward Gardner. This latest issue in the series is particularly interesting is its mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar, all delivered in nonpareil performances. The first piece featured here is Jealousy – his first declared piece of programme music, originally written to preface the opera Jenůfa but never included in any production of it during his lifetime. Both The Ballad of Blaník and The Fiddler’s Child (also known as a ‘ballad for orchestra’) are characterised by the use of musicals symbols, reflecting the Czech poems on which the pieces are based and also some of the composer’s personal reflections and responses.

NIELSEN: MASKARADE, Soloists, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Michael Schønwandt/Dacapo (2 SACD box set) 6.220641-42  Nielsen’s signature opera Maskarade has been relatively lucky on disc, and this latest performance is one of the most exuberant and life-affirming that the piece has ever received. Dacapo Records present this millennium’s first complete studio recording of Carl Nielsen’s 3 act opera with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra led by Nielsen expert Michael Schønwandt. The cast has been selected from The Royal Danish Opera’s finest soloists, including Johan Reuter, Stephen Milling and Dénise Beck.

SAINT-SAËNS: SYMPHONIES, VOL. 2 SYMPHONY NO. 3, SYMPHONY IN A MAJOR, LE ROUET D’OMPHALE Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Marc Soustrot/Naxos 8573139  Pour yourself a glass of your favourite tipple, check that your neighbours are out, and turn the volume on your hi-fi up as far as it will go without distortion and treat yourself to this sonic splendour. Needless to say, Saint-Saëns’ Symphony is an absolute natural for the surround sound medium and this Blu-ray audio is a treat. Inspired by Liszt, to whose memory the work is dedicated, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 is ground-breaking in its inclusion of organ and piano. For the composer this represented ‘the progress made in modern instrumentation’ and the result is a work both spectacular and grandiose. By contrast the Symphony in A, his first completed symphony, is a youthful piece, fully revealing his admiration for Mozart, whilst Le rouet d’Omphale, dating from the 1870s, is an impressively atmospheric tone poem.

GOLDENTHAL: SYMPHONY IN G SHARP MINOR, Pacific Symphony, Carl St Clair/Zarathustra Music ZM008 4.30 0852726005087  Some may criticise the extremely modest running time of this disc – a mere 25 minutes (why no fill-up?) – but the music itself is worth investigating, Goldenthal is a composer who has supplied dramatic film scores for (among others) the Batman movies. Like his fellow film composer John Williams, Goldenthal works in a different idiom with his classical pieces — the case here. Zarathustra Music presents the world premiere recording of Goldenthal’s Symphony in G# Minor performed by Pacific Symphony under conductor Carl St. Clair. Composer, conductor, and orchestra previously collaborated 20 years before when Pacific Symphony commissioned and recorded Goldenthal’s highly acclaimed “Fire, Water, Paper – A Vietnam Oratorio.” For the occasion of the orchestra’s American Composers Festival 2014, Goldenthal composed his 25 minute symphony, in the obscure yet autobiographical key of G# Minor, especially for the occasion. The work premiered immediately after the composer’s 60th birthday in May 2014 and represents Goldenthal’s first large-scale concert work since Fire, Water, Paper. World premiere recording.

FINZI: CHAMBER MUSIC, Cologne Chamber Soloists/MDG SACD 903 1894-6  It is dizzying to think of the amount of music by respected composers which lies neglected – and sometimes, it must be said, with good reason. Not so with the little-known chamber music of Gerald Finzi, which (as this winning disc proves) may not be in the class of some of his better-known contemporaries, but is still full of charm and invention, particularly when played as sympathetically as here. There are no undiscovered masterpieces, but those who love English music should investigate.

A JOHN WILLIAMS CELEBRATION, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel/C Major Blu-ray 730404  With the composer himself in attendance (and clearly delighted by this exuberant tribute), the main appeal of this superbly recorded Blu-ray disc is its unorthodox program, which includes some of the composer’s more serious pieces along with crowd-pleasers such as the Imperial March from Star Wars. Largely speaking, the much-hyped Gustavo Dudamel has the measure of the music, but when Williams himself takes up the baton, it’s perfectly clear that he is the finest interpreter of his own work.

BACH: GOLDBERG VARIATIONS, Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Gould/Harmonia Mundi SACD 807633  In one of Ingmar Bergman’s later films, he has one of his characters describe Bach’s Goldberg variations among the loveliest and most haunting music ever written. In that case, he was talking about a piano version, as it is surely in that form that most of us know the piece (harpsichord versions are relatively rare these days). But of all the various transcriptions this imperishable piece has received, this latest by the Britten Sinfonia (in an arrangement by Dmitry Sitkovetsky) is among the most sympathetic and understanding, uncovering elements of the music which many of us will not have ecountered before. It is a truly exemplary performance, captured in the finest SACD sound.

D’INDY: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 6: Wallenstein, Op. 12 / Lied for Cello and Orchestra,Op.19*/Sérénade et Valse, Op. 28 / Suite dans le style ancien, Op. 24 / Prelude to Act III of Fervaal, Op. 40 Bryndís Halla Gylfadóttir (cello)* / Iceland Symphony Orchestra / Rumon Gamba/ CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5157  A pleasing conclusion for Chandos’ series of recordings of works by Vincent d’Indy (for some reason, the first in the SACD format — why not the earlier issues?). The project has aimed to bring these neglected, eclectic, and richly orchestrated works to a wider audience, confirming Chandos’ reputation as a top label in the groundbreaking search for much-overlooked musical gems. Previous volumes have garnered many awards. D’Indy’s Wagnerian influences are clearly highlighted both in the three interlinked symphonic ouvertures of Wallenstein, which employ leitmotiv techniques and cyclic themes, and in the Prelude to Act III of Fervaal, d’Indy’s first opera, a work of Wagnerian scale and proportions, displaying the influence of Parsifal.

SAINTON: MOBY DICK, Moscow Symphony Orchestra, William Stromberg/Naxos 8573367  While Moby Dick may be somewhat neglected as a film score, the reputation (among some music aficionados) for Philip Sainton’s music for John Huston’s adaptation of the Melville classic has many admirers, and Stromberg does it justice here.

The First Surround Sound Symphonia Domestica reviewed by Graham Williams


  1. STRAUSS: SYMPHONIA DOMESTICA, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Marek Janowski/PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 507 All Straussians will be delighted with the appearance of this handsome SACD release of Richard Strauss’s ‘Symphonia Domestica’ from Marek Janowski and his splendid Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.  Janowski’s pre-eminence in Wagner may have overshadowed his reputation as a Strauss interpreter of distinction, but those with long memories will remember that he was the conductor of the first ever uncut recording of Strauss’s opera ‘Die Schweigsame Frau’ for EMI and more recently he made a compelling account of the ‘Alpine Symphony’ for PENTATONE. The ‘Symphonia Domestica’ was written in 1903 and is the penultimate of Strauss’s many tone poems. The work is a musical portrait of one day in the life of the Strauss household and is dedicated appropriately to “To my dear wife and son”.  Shortly after the work’s premiere, which took place in New York during his American tour in 1904, the composer faced considerable criticism, not for the music per se, but for his ‘bad taste’ in depicting aspects of his private life that included his sexual relations with his wife, their frequent quarrelling and the musical onomatopoeic yelling of their baby son at bedtime. Such criticism seems rather quaint, if not ridiculous, from today’s standpoint in a world dominated by social media where the most intimate details of celebrities’ lives are frequently open to pernicious scrutiny with ease via the Internet. Though the work has four sections that roughly correspond to the movements of a symphony, including a ‘Scherzo’, ‘Adagio’ and a ‘Finale’, it is probably best viewed as a large-scale symphonic poem in one continuous movement integrated by the constantly recurring themes of its three characters (husband, wife and child) that are presented in the opening section. The instrumentation of the ‘Symphonia Domestica’ is even more extravagant than that of Strauss’s previous tone poem ‘Ein Heldenleben’ – triple woodwind, that unusually includes an oboe d’amore, eight horns, four saxophones a large percussion section, two harps and strings. Strauss uses these gargantuan forces for the most part with surprising delicacy and only in the complex polyphony of the fugal ‘Finale’ does he unleash them with an exhilarating élan that while thrilling can verge on the bombastic. There have been many fine recordings of the piece, including some from conductors who knew the composer personally – Krauss, Szell, Karajan and Reiner – and other more recent recommendable versions to which this new one can certainly be added.  Somewhat to my surprise Marek Janowski directs a fairly spacious and relaxed performance of the work, but one that does allow beautifully shaped and affectionate phrasing from the players of his responsive Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in the many solos that Strauss gives them throughout the work.  Thanks to meticulously judged balances Janowski manages to achieve the utmost clarity and precision throughout; seemingly undaunted by the challenges presented by the huge orchestra’s complex textures, especially in the Finale. His meticulous control of dynamics is also most impressive, whilst the brilliance of the playing ensures that all the big climaxes are thrillingly delivered. Janowski’s buoyant and supple account of the ‘Symphonia Domestica’, sumptuously recorded by the Polyhymnia team in vivid 5.0 multi-channel DSD, is surely one that all who admire this piece will wish to add to their libraries. What, however, makes this release quite unmissable is the second work on the disc – ‘Die Tageszeiten’ (Times of the Day) for male voice chorus and orchestra – a real Strauss rarity. In 1924 Victor Keldorfer conductor of the Vienna Schubert Society took the opportunity to ask Strauss to write something for the choir, and suggested that texts by Josef Eichendorf might be suitable. Though initially dubious, Strauss eventually agreed and by 1927 the work was completed. The four Eichendorf poems that Strauss sets are ‘Der Morgen’ (morning), ‘Mittagsruh’ (afternoon rest), ‘Der Abend’ (evening) and ‘Die Nacht’ (night). Strauss’s artistry in matching words and music is incomparable, and each of the four settings possess a glowing mellifluousness and melodic richness that bring to mind the late operas ‘Daphne’ and ‘Capriccio’ and especially the ‘Four Last Songs’, where Strauss again turned to Eichendorf for the final song ‘Im Abendrot’. The firm, disciplined yet sensitive singing of the gentlemen of the excellent Berlin Radio Choir could hardly be bettered, and Janowski elicits the most gorgeous and luminous sonorities from his orchestra. The neglect of ‘Die Tageszeiten’ in the concert hall is perplexing and one can only hope that this beautiful recording will help to bring it into greater prominence. PENTATONE’s liner notes do include full texts and translations of the Eichendorf poems. A most enthusiastic recommendation is warranted for this release.

Orchestral Splendour from PENTATONE, BIS & CHANDOS


SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONY NO. 7, ‘LENINGRAD’, Russian National Orchestra, Parvo Järvi/PENTATONE SACD PTC5186511  How do you solve a problem like Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony? The reputation of the piece has, of course, varied wildly across the years, from its initial massive acclaim in the West to the routine dismissal of what was seen as its banal first movement (parodied by Bartok in his Concerto for Orchestra). Now the dust has settled, we can see it as one of the composer’s most substantial works, if not in the class of his fifth or tenth symphonies. The work needs careful advocacy – along with an important decision regarding conceptual approach. How to treat that relentless first movement with its unvarying side drum? Unsurprisingly Järvi takes exactly what many listeners now consider to be the right approach in current perceptions of the work: that is to say, lean, sinewy and free of bombast — but never at the expense of the sheer overwhelming force of the music, which is always given full measure in this remarkable reading. Swifter than most (it is accommodated on a single disc), this performance is accorded one of PentaTone’s most wide-ranging recordings, and the sheer impact of the climaxes is nigh overwhelming.

RICHARD STRAUSS: AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW, Erich Schulz, director, C Major Blu-ray  Those used to more conventional examinations of musical genius may find this curious patchwork documentary something of a challenge, but Eric Schulz’s approach (which utilises a variety of voices, from conductors to pianists to musicologists) paints a provocative and intriguing portrait of the composer of Also Sprach Zarathustra and Der Rosenkavalier that captures the astonishing fecundity of Strauss’s compositional identity as well as his pawky Bavarian humour. The film is even-handed when dealing with Strauss’s dealing with the Nazis (whose philistinism he cordially loathed). But there are curious omissions: no mention, for instance, of his most important collaborator, the librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and a great deal of the glorious orchestral music is heard – perversely – in piano transcriptions. But this film is still essential viewing for Straussians, not least for its detailed analysis of the composer’s understated talent as a conductor, which is given an almost forensic attention. The Blu-ray has the splendid pictorial values that are the sine qua non of the medium.

ARNOLD: THE COMPLETE SYMPHONIES. CD 1: Symphonies Nos. 1* and 2* / CD 2: Symphonies Nos. 3* and 4* / CD 3: Symphonies Nos. 5*, 6*, 8† / CD 4: Symphonies Nos. 7† and 9†. London Symphony Orchestra* / Richard Hickox*. BBC Philharmonic† / Rumon Gamba† CHAN 10853(4) He may have been cast aside during the Sir William Glock serial music-oriented era of the BBC when accessible modern music such as his was distinctly out of favour, but it’s good to see the fortunes of the late Malcolm Arnold being reversed – and thankfully, he lived long enough to see a revival of interest in his remarkable oeuvre. This four-CD box set presents the complete cycle of the award winning recordings of Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Symphonies under two of the finest conductors of their times, both exclusive to Chandos: the late Richard Hickox and Rumon Gamba, respectively conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic. The set is a must-have for all fans of Arnold as well as for those who want to know more about his symphonic compositions. Among the English symphonists of the twentieth century, Malcolm Arnold is one of the very few prolific high-profile masters of the genre – comparable to Vaughan Williams and his nine symphonies. The emotional and colouristic range of his style, together with his structural originality, sets his achievements apart from those of his compatriots who, likewise, engaged with the symphony to any significant extent.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS/MACMILLAN: OBOE CONCERTOS, etc. Nicholas Daniel, oboe, Britten Sinfonia, Macmillan/SACD Harmonia Mundi HMU 807573. With a lambent and sensitive recording, this first appearance of Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto on SACD is a winner – for those, that is, who are open to its subtle charms, which do not reveal themselves instantly to the listener. The same might be said of the contemporary music on this disc, but Macmillan’s Oboe Concerto, which — while it may not be to every taste — is performed with was great subtlety and musicality

MESSIAEN L’AMOUR ET LA FOI TROIS PETITES LITURGIES DE LA PRÉSENCE DIVINE (1943) FOR FEMALE VOICES, PIANO, ONDES MARTENOT, CELESTE, VIBRAPHONE, PERCUSSION AND STRING ORCHESTRA; O SACRUM CONVIVIUM! (1937) A CAPELLA; CINQ RECHANTS (1948) FOR 12 SOLO VOICES Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish national Concert Choir, Danish National Chamber Orchestra, Marcus Creed (Cond.)./6.220612 Those who are seduced by the immense impact of Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony often search in vain for other music from the composer with the same overwhelming impact. The pieces here are definitely not in that category, but share the same sound world. Three of Messiaen’s most passionate vocal masterworks are presented on this programme, from the visionary “Trois petites liturgies de la Présence divine” (Three Small Liturgies of the Divine Presence) for sixteen solo strings and eighteen sopranos (Messiaen’s original version), the popular O sacrum convivium! and the extraordinarily difficult Cinq Rechants (Five Refrains) of 1948. Choral conductor Marcus Creed’s contribution is non-pareil.

SCRIABIN SYMPHONY NUMBER 1, POEM OF ECSTASY, Russian National Orchestra, Mikhail Pletnev/PENTATONE SACD PTC5186511  Given that the SACD medium is perfect for accommodating music of the widest possible dynamic range, it is surprising that Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy has had such a limited amount of interest in the surround sound medium. That neglect is remedied with this overwhelming performance, as orgiastic as the composer might have wished. A good case is also made for the composer’s lesser-known First Symphony, which may win new friends in this strong and intelligent performance.

KORNGOLD VIOLIN CONCERTO, VIOLIN SONATA,  Kristóf Baráti violin, Philharmonie Zuidnederland, Otto Tausk conductor Gábor Farkas piano/Brilliant Classics 95006BR  This latest performance of Korngold’s glorious concerto — while not unseating other classic recordings — is more than serviceable. Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a child prodigy (his musical talent was compared to that of the young Mozart) and his early works are written in the tradition of Mahler and Richard Strauss. He later emigrated to America and became one of Hollywood’s most successful film music composers. Korngold’s Violin Concerto is a fascinating and eclectic showpiece, exquisite Mahlerian harmonies alternate with Hollywood sentiment, the violin indulging in soaring melodies and exuberant virtuosic display. The Violin Sonata was written 30 years before the concerto.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: BURSTS OF ACCLAMATION/ALBION’S VISION, Various artists/ALBCD 021, ALBCD SAMP  These discs – the first, a two-disc collection Vaughan Williams’ organ music and transcriptions, the second a sampler of his lesser-known music are proof (if proof were needed) that the enterprising Albion label continues to do great service for British music and – in particular — that of RVW. Aficionados of the composer will leap on these discs, even if not everything on the organ set, however superbly played by David Briggs, fully convinces. The transcription for organ of The Wasps overture somewhat saps its energy and the dancing quality of the piece, but there are many delights here, not least the astonishing Passacaglia. Albion’s Vision, too, has much to enchant, pieces drawn from previous issues by the company.

SUCHOŇ: BALADICKÁ SUITA, OP. 9 / METAMORFÓZY / SYMFONIETTA RUSTICA. Estonian National Symphony Orchestra// Neeme Järvi. CHANDOS CHAN 10849  How does Chandos do it? How are they still able to come up with neglected orchestral music of great colour and verve? Perhaps one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but just accept with gratitude discs as winning as this. Although his music is rarely performed nowadays, Eugen Suchoň (1908 – 1993) was the most influential and respected Slovak composer of the twentieth century. Three of his greatest symphonic works are performed here by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and its artistic director, Neeme Järvi. The works were composed during the years which Suchoň spent in Bratislava, where he turned his interest to the origins of Slovak folk music and to extended tonality. In the four-movement Baladická suita (Balladic Suite), of 1935, Suchoň incorporates some Slovak folk elements and demonstrates his mastery of orchestration in an almost impressionist piece of great power and vitality. Written in 1953, the Metamorfózy (Metamorphoses) reflects the composer’s own impressions during the war years, from a relatively tranquil pre-1939 to more disturbed wartime emotions in the Allegro moderato, the last two movements respectively peaceful and triumphal.

LISZT: SCHUBERT SONG TRANSCRIPTIONS: WINTERREISE (WINTER JOURNEY) SCHWANENGESANG (SWANSONG), Avan Yu, Piano/Naxos  More cherishable rarities from Naxos – with a disc calculated to appeal to lovers of both Liszt and Schubert. Liszt had a particular affection for the music of Schubert whom he considered to be “the most poetic musician who ever lived”. Ordered according to key relationships rather than the narrative content of the verse, his transcriptions of Schubert’s two great song cycles, Winterreise and Schwanengesang are outstanding examples of the genre and formed a popular part of his concert programmes during his years as a travelling virtuoso. Avan Yu, one of Canada’s most exciting pianists, won the Gold Medal at the Canadian Chopin Competition at the age of seventeen

NIELSEN: SYMPHONIES 2 & 6 Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Sakari Oramo BIS SACD BIS 2128 This is a very welcome release. Indeed, it’s fair to suggest that Oramo’s performances of the complete Nielsen symphonies are among the most recommendable in the current catalogue (particularly for those of us lucky enough to have heard them live) – and possibly the best single set as a complete entity. The final instalment of the Nielsen Symphony cycle with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Sakari Oramo is released on BIS this month. Symphony No 2 The Four Temperaments, dates from 1901–02 and some 23 years later the composer completed his sixth and final symphony, the Sinfonia semplice (‘Simple Symphony’). In the meantime, the Fourth and Fifth symphonies had brought Nielsen the greatest measure of professional recognition he ever enjoyed in his lifetime.

WEINBERG: SYMPHONIES NOS 5, 10 The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Kirill Kondrashin; The Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai/Melodiya MEL CD100228   After a drought comes a flood. After the many years in which Weinberg’s remarkable symphonic output languished in obscurity, the positive cornucopia of new issues continues unabated. Weinberg’s vivid style combines elements of Jewish, Polish and Russian musical cultures. Featured here are his Symphonies Nos. 5 and 10 composed during the period of the composer’s most intensive creative activity in the 1960s. The Fifth Symphony was recorded by Kirill Kondrashin in 1975, and the Tenth by Rudolf Barshai in 1970; these two conductors, along with the orchestras they founded respectively, played a significant part in popularizing Weinberg’s works.

PROKOFIEV: SYMPHONY NO. 3, SCYTHIAN SUITE, AUTUMN – SYMPHONIC SKETCH, São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop/NAXOS BLU-RAY AUDIO 30099 00746 If you have neighbours, prepare to upset them when you play this immensely dramatic and colourful reading at the volume it cries out for. This fourth volume in Marin Alsop’s acclaimed Prokofiev symphonic cycle features two of his most viscerally exciting works. Using material salvaged from his opera The Fiery Angel, the Third Symphony was hailed by Serge Koussevitzky at its 1929 première as ‘the best symphony since Tchaikovsky’s Sixth’. Originally commissioned as a ballet by Sergey Diaghilev but rejected as un-danceable, the Scythian Suite has become a popular orchestral showpiece, while Prokofiev retained a lifelong fondness for his dark-hued early symphonic sketch Autumn. Judging by the response to the previous volumes of this fruitful partnership with Marin Alsop and the excellent São Paulo Symphony Orchestra this new release will have no problems in becoming a market leader.

BERNSTEIN: THIRTEEN ANNIVERSARIES, PIANO SONATA, SEVEN ANNIVERSARIES, MUSIC FOR THE DANCE NO. II:• NON TROPPO PRESTO, Alexandre Dossin, Piano/Naxos  Don’t expect the colour and the verve of Bernstein’s more approachable orchestral works; these are largely speaking performances for the cognoscenti, including several world première recordings. Known for his large-scale compositions, Leonard Bernstein also wrote for his own instrument, the piano. The sequence of four Anniversaries, published between 1944 and 1989, are brief, deftly evocative vignettes written to celebrate his many friends, colleagues and family members. The early Piano Sonata is imbued with youthful self-confidence, and explores certain compositional techniques to which he was to return in more mature works. The rhythmically incisive Music for the Dance No. II is another important early work.

WHITESIDE: DICHROIC LIGHT, Whiteside IMBT 001 Matthew Whiteside received a Quality Production award from Creative Scotland to compose a new work for viola d’amore, live electronics and motion sensor and to record an album of his music. ‘Dichroic Light’ features collaborations with clarinettist Joanna Nicholson, performances by Scotland’s contemporary music ensemble Red Note and the premiere of a new work for viola d’amore, live electronics and motion sensor. Whiteside’s work has been performed internationally at Salem Artworks in New York, Dublin’s National Concert Hall, Glasgow City Halls and the Belfast International Festival at Queen’s. Dichroic Light builds an enveloping soundscape of the calm drone-like quality of the cello and the players own voice; on Ulation the composer uses electronics to extend the sonic world of the viola.

SIBELIUS: PIANO WORKS #1 Joseph Tong/Quartz LC28888  Sibelius’ neglected and elusive piano music is often considered to be a closed book, even to the composer’s admirers, but Joseph Tong’s poetic approach may change listener’s minds.

HERRMANN: OBSESSION, City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Nic Raine/Tadlow Music Tadlow 019 CD & Blu-Ray Audio  For some considerable time, the producer James Fitzpatrick has been putting collectors of the finest orchestral film scores in his debt with a continuing program of new recordings from the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the estimable conductor Nic Raine. For a time, it seemed as if the dynamic recording of the complete score for Franz Waxman’s Taras Bulba was the high water mark of the company, but this issue, enshrining a complete performance of one of the last film scores by Bernard Herrmann, is something special. Why? The reasons are principally sonic: the first disc in this two-disc set is a CD version of the score, impressive enough in its own way, but paling in comparison to the amazing dynamic range of the accompanying disc which is in the Blu-ray audio media — and showcases the massive dynamic range of Herrmann’s score, notably its ground-shaking organ passages in the fullest possible sound picture. If this is anything to go by, one can hope that for all future Tadlow Music issues, the company utilises Blu-ray audio.

HERRMANN, GERSHWIN, WAXMAN, COPLAND Nash Ensemble Hyperion CDA 68094 More Bernard Herrmann, but this time of a more intimate nature: his charming and melancholic Souvenir de Voyage, the centrepiece of a subtle collection of small-scale works by composers (Gershwin apart), better known for their film scores. All the music here is dispatched with a combination of nuanced feeling and perfect attention to the colour of the restricted sound palette.