Graham Williams Reviews

Opulent Schmidt & Mahler from MDG & Channel

SCHMIDT: SYMPHONY NO. 2, R. STRAUSS: FESTLICHES PRÄLUDIUM, Orchester Bonn, Stefan Blunier/MDG SACD 937 2006-6  Those with a penchant for sumptuous and grandiloquent late-Romantic orchestral works should investigate without delay this latest MDG release from Stefan Blunier and his fine Beethoven Orchester Bonn that couples the 2nd Symphony of Franz Schmidt with Richard Strauss’s imposing Festliches Präludium Op 61. Both these works received their premieres in 1913 and with this recording make their debut on SACD in high resolution sound. Continue reading

Invigorating New World & St John Passion

 

DVORAK: Symphony No.9 in E minor ‘From the New World’, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Orozco-Estrada/ PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 574  This, the third and final release of Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s survey with the Houston Symphony of Dvorak’s four most popular symphonies for the PENTATONE label is completed by the composer’s most popular work, the celebrated Symphony No.9 in E minor ‘From the New World’. With a plethora of recordings of the New World Symphony available on both CD and High Resolution formats (SACD and Blu-ray) collectors face a daunting though pleasurable task in choosing one or more versions for their libraries. Continue reading

Lively launch for the Ferio Saxophone Quartet

  It may have been in the heart of stately St James, but the launch of the debut CD by the youthful Ferio Saxophone Quartet (Chandos) was a very lively affair, with the players demonstrating casual but enthusiastic virtuosity in their very specalist repertoire. Guests (including Chandos’ Ralph Couzens) even forgot Wimbledon as the woodwind magic held sway.

New SACDs from Challenge, PENTATONE, Chandos et al

SHOSTAKOVICH: VIOLIN CONCERTO No. 2, TCHAIKOVSKY: VIOLIN CONCERTO, Linus Roth, London Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Sanderling/Challenge Classics SACD CC7269  For many, the key selling point here will be Tchaikovsky’s alternative thoughts on his durable violin concerto, and it is given very persuasive advocacy here by Linus Roth (while not perhaps displacing the more familiar version of the work). But what makes this disc particularly competitive is the highly accomplished performance of Shostakovich’s second concerto, perhaps the most striking (with acutely argued detail) that the concerto has achieved in any medium — and a contender as the very best in the SACD medium.

SHOSTAKOVICH, GUBAIDULINA: VIOLIN CONCERTO, IN TEMPUS PRAESENS, Simone Lamsma, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, James Gaffigan/Challenge Classics SACD CC72681   The Challenge Classics label now boasts in its catalogue a remarkable performance by Linus Roth of the second Shostakovich violin concerto (see review above), and this equally striking reading of its predecessor at a stroke renders the label more than placeholder in terms of recorded SACD performances; we now have a market leader in the field. Once again, the Challenge engineers have done impeccable service to the music with a clarity and focus in the recorded sound that allows the often rebarbative lines of the violin writing to be set against Shostakovich’s marvellous orchestration. The filler, the Gubaidulina piece (to be frank) is of markedly less interest, but that hardly matters, given the accomplishment of the principal item here.

TCHAIKOVSKY: THE COMPLETE BALLETS, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Neeme Järvi/CHANDOS CHSA 5204(5)  With the advent of the surround sound disc, those converted to its capacity for enhancing the aural experience of music found themselves undergoing an entirely new collecting syndrome: replacing (or at least supplementing) favourite discs in the new medium which opened up innovative perspectives in terms of domestic listening. Of course, it’s de rigueur that musical values on SACDs be as prominent as aural ones – great sound cannot compensate for lacklustre performances — and that particular balancing act is now been achieved for the first time with all three of Tchaikovsky’s major ballets which have been set down here in vigorous but sensitive performances, now collected in a single boxed set.To celebrate the eightieth birthday of Neeme Järvi, Chandos have gathered his Tchaikovsky ballets (the complete versions) in a box set at special price. Brisk, undanceable tempi – but utterly persuasive.

MAHLER: ORCHESTRAL SONG CYCLES, Alice Coote, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra Marc Albrecht/PENTATONE TC 871803  Over the years, the imperishable song cycles of Gustav Mahler have enjoyed many exemplary readings on disc. For many, the performances of this music by Janet Baker and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau have enjoyed pride of place, and they are unlikely to be unseated by any new readings in terms of subtlety and nuance of interpretation. But that’s not to say that newer singers should not add these utterly affecting songs to their repertoire, particularly when recorded sound quality now demonstrates a greater and more truthful reflection of the ambience of the concert hall. Marc Albrecht conducts the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra with the acclaimed mezzo-soprano Alice Coote in a persuasive new recording of Mahler’s incomparable orchestral song cycles Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Kindertotenlieder and the Rückert-Lieder. While the earlier readings of Janet Baker in this music are not seriously challenged, these are still performances of great subtlety and feeling.

LAJTHA: SYMPHONY NO. 7, SUITE NO. 3, HORTOBÁGY, Pécs Symphony Orchestra, Nicolás Pasquet/Naxos 8.573647  Those who have been collecting the Naxos reissues (from Marco Polo) of the music of László Lajtha will need little persuasion to acquire this latest sprucing up one of the earlier issues of the series, this time including one of the composer’s most impressive symphonies. Lajtha was one of the most significant Hungarian composers of the 20th century, though wider recognition of his music was prevented by the Communist regime. The Seventh Symphony is a tragic, dramatic and revolutionary work directly associated with the brutal suppression of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

HAUSEGGER: DIONYSISCHE PHANTASIE; AUFKLÄNGE; WIELAND DER SCHMIED, Bamberger Symphoniker, Antony Hermus/CPO 777810-2  Are you an admirer of Mahler? Or Richard Strauss? If you enjoy the refulgent music of these two late romantic giants (and know every bar of it) you will perhaps be grateful to find a new composer who inhabits the same sound worlds –and has now been recorded to considerable effect. Of course, this may not be your first acquaintance with the under-regarded music of Graz native Siegmund von Hausegger. In 2008 CPO released the premiere work by the composer — his powerful Natursymphonie. This new production features more impressive works by Hausegger, and displays the same high quality as the first release. The featured works span practically the entire career of this great symphonic musician, and is full-blooded and affecting.

RICHARD STRAUSS; METAMORPHOSEN, SYMPHONY FOR WIND INSTRUMENTS, Aldeburgh Strings and Aldeburgh Winds, Markus Daunert & Nicholas Daniel/Linn CKD538  The real triumph here is Strauss’s beguiling Symphony for Wind Instruments, granted a performance that explores every facet of this underrated piece. In fact, this is a performance to make listeners reassess the place of the work in the context of Strauss’s oeuvre. If Metamorphosen has (frankly) enjoyed more searching and plangent performances in the past, this is nevertheless a capable reading. But the real selling point here is Symphony for Winds.

MOZART QUINTETS KV 614 & KV 593; MOZART QUINTETS KV 516 & KV 174 Auryn Quartet, Nobuko Imal, viola/Tacitus Real Surround sound SACD 2254 & 2244  These two highly diverting discs are essential purchases for lovers of Mozart’s chamber music, particularly given that both are granted the Tacitus real surround sound recording process which places instruments in the individual speakers surrounding the listeners, literally putting us at the very centre of the music. While some are not taken with this notion, there is no denying the effect is almost invariably exhilarating and gives us the chance to hear every individual strand of the music with great clarity. The Auryn quartet managed to instil a level of joyous playfulness into the music while never losing sight of its rigorous contrapuntal lines.

FLUX: ORIGINAL WORKS FOR SAXOPHONE QUARTET, Ferio Saxophone Quartet/CHANDOS CHAN 10987  While the string quartet has a wide palette in terms of its available sounds, it is a truism to point out that it cannot aspire to the richness and opulence of the sound of an orchestra. Nevertheless, the greatest writers for the medium (Beethoven, Shostakovich, Bartok) are able to give the illusion of a greater range of instrumental colour than one might believe possible from just four string instruments. And it goes without saying that a saxophone quartet – such as the very able group whose work is presented on this very beguiling debut album – has the same potential problem. Which is what makes the accomplishment of both musicians and the various composers represented here so striking. Basically, the Ferio Saxophone Quartet skilfully avoids the possible monotony that the winds-only instrumentation represented here may be prone to. Composers of these original works for saxophone quartet range from Gabriel Pierné and Jean-Baptiste Singelée to Eugène Bozza and Guillermo Lago. Lively and winning.

BARTÓK: CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA AND MUSIC FOR STRINGS, PERCUSSION AND CELESTA ((Remastered Classics – Original Quadraphonic DG Recording), Boston Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik & Seiji Ozawa, PENTATONE PTC5186247  Over the years, Béla Bartók’s masterpieces, the Concerto for Orchestra and his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta have received many performances that do full justice to this astonishing music (Georg Solti, for instance, laid down two very impressive recordings of the Concerto for Orchestra ). But now we have a chance to hear in remastered sound a quadraphonic release that was heard by very few at the original date of its recording. And while the sound quality here lacks the final dynamic range of modern digital sound (notably in a rather opaque Music for Strings), it is still extremely impressive In this new ‘Remastered Classics’ recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelik and Seiji Ozawa. Bartók’s at times kinetic and energetic Concerto for Orchestra was an instant hit on its premiere, given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1944, and has remained popular ever since. Bartók’s earlier Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is a powerful and eerily atmospheric work.

RANDALL THOMPSON: SYMPHONY NO. 2, SAMUEL ADAMS:DRIFT AND PROVIDENCE*, SAMUEL BARBER: SYMPHONY NO. 1 Samuel Adams, Electronics* • National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic James Ross/Naxos 8.559822  If you have a taste for American orchestral music but you know every bar of the music of such composers as Copland, here is an opportunity to experience a very accessible (if neglected) compatriot of the more famous composer. Randall Thompson’s symphonies are extremely cherishable, full of the kind of dynamism and energy that distinguishes American music of the 20th century. The second Naxos recording by the elite conservatory students of the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic explores further examples of the breadth of American music. Randall Thompson, famed for his vocal works, is represented by his Symphony No. 2 which, with its syncopation and echoes of jazz, helped to establish a bright, vibrant American style. After an inauspicious debut, Samuel Barber’s tautly cyclical Symphony No. 1 became the first American symphonic piece to be performed at the Salzburg Festival.

RESPIGHI: COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS Andrea Macinanti, Academia Symphonica di Udine, Pierangelo Pelucchi/TACITUS 871803  I have to confess that I am one of those who would be happy to own every bar of music that Respighi ever put on paper, and I was intrigued by this recording of his organ music. In the event, I have to be honest and say that I remain unconvinced and the quality that distinguishes the work of the Italian composer is perhaps more fitfully evident in the music recorded here for the instrument. Nevertheless, for the completist it is an attractive disc with Andrea Macinanti playing the extraordinary Serassi-Vegezzi Bossi (1855-1910) organ of the Saluzzo Cathedral, and the equally formidable Mascioni-Zanin (1951- 2011) organ. The Academia Symphonica di Udine, formed by young musicians led by Pier Angelo Pelucchi, crowns the CD by performing the beautiful Suite for strings and organ.

RACHMANINOV: COMPLETE WORKS & TRANSCRIPTIONS FOR VIOLIN & PIANO, Annelle K. Gregory, Alexander Sinchuk BRIDGE 9481  It seems hard to believe that there is still music by Rachmaninov which has not yet been recorded, but this new disc proves that is still the case – and admirers of the composer should investigate this impeccably played selection The disc presents all of Rachmaninov’s compositions for violin and piano, as well as transcriptions by violin legends including Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz. Annelle K. Gregory is a laureate of the Stradivarius International Violin Competition and first prize winner of the 2016 American Protégé International Concerto Competition, and Gold Medallist of the NAACP ACT-SO competition. She recently claimed first prize at the 2017 Sphinx Competition.

MARTINU, SHOSTAKOVICH: CELLO CONCERTOS, Christian Poltera, Deutsches Symphonie–orchester Berlin Gilbert Vaga BIS SACD 2257  There is already a highly accomplished SACD recording of Shostakovich’s compelling second cello concerto by Enrico Dindo on Chandos, but this is the first recording in the surround sound medium for Martinu’s second concerto for the instrument which makes the disc a very attractive proposition. And its attractions are even further enhanced by the fact that Poltera’s take on the Shostakovich concerto is among the very best that it has received on disc: pointed, passionate and enhanced by an orchestral accompaniment of great subtlety and precision. A very competitive disc.

LEVINA: PIANO CONCERTOS, Maria Lettberg, Rundfunk –Sinfonieorcehster Berlin, Arian Matlakh/ Capriccio C5.269 . If you’re weary of the constantly repeated repertoire that the classical music industry provides us with (of the several hundred issues in July 2017, for instance, many of them were new takes on familiar warhorses), then you may be tempted to investigate less orthodox repertoire. Such as these two spiky but accessible concertos. The idiom is perhaps that of the Prokofiev and Ravel, but none the worse for that. Hardly undiscovered masterpieces but bracing pieces that are well worth the attention of the more enterprising listener.

ANTHEIL: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 1 BBC Philharmonic / John Storgårds/CHANDOS CHAN 10941  The American music on offer here has been recorded before but has hardly entered the repertoire. It is surprising that it is not more popular, as there are qualities that are very attractive and persuasive in this composer, once dubbed the ‘bad boy of American music’. His neglect, however, may be ready for a change, particularly if this new Chandos series reaches the audience that it should. This new series with the BBC Philharmonic and its chief guest conductor, John Storgårds, focuses on the works of Antheil. He began by composing shockingly avant-garde works, but then moved towards a fundamentally tonal and melody-based idiom, becoming one of the great US symphonists. This series documents the evolution of his musical style, the war-inspired Fourth Symphony and ‘joyous’ Fifth featured here clearly representing the compositional shift.

RÖNTGEN: SYMPHONY NO. 9 ‘THE BITONAL’; SERENADE IN E MAJOR; SYMPHONY NO. 21 IN A MINOR, Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt, David Porcelijn/CPO 777120-2  This is music of authority and stature, but I have to admit that I remain unconvinced by its argument. It is surely music to admire rather than like – but that is a personal view, and those who have been persuaded by earlier issues are unlikely to be disappointed. This new disc demonstrates that Röntgen was the most imaginative composer living in Holland during the second half of the nineteenth century. During the last year of his life Röntgen experimented with tonality and composed his ‘bitonal’ Symphony No. 9, which remained unpublished during his lifetime, but heard here, it will be for many a rewarding listening experience.

TANSMAN: BALLET MUSIC: SEXTUOR (BALLET-BOUFFE 1923); BRIC À BRAC (BALLET EN 3 TABLEAUX, 1935), Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Lukasz Borowicz, Wojciech Michniewski/CPO 777987-2   Now here’s a real find. The dusting-off of Alexander Tansman’s music has proved to be one of the most welcome initiatives of recent years, and its drama and heft have made a great impression on those who have encountered it. This is rather different and lighter fare from earlier excavations, but nevertheless shows the composer’s gift for orchestral colour at its most winning. Sextuor is a dramatic love story of the passion shared by a violin and a violoncello for a flute, and Tansman believed that here he had found ideal material for a ballet. And so it was: the work composed in 1923 was performed with great success and made the young composer famous.

RACHMANINOV: RARE PIANO TRANSCRIPTIONS, Julia Severus, Piano/Naxos 8.573468  If you have purchased earlier discs of piano transcriptions of Rachmaninov songs (such as the famous ones by Earl Wilde), you may feel as if you already have everything recorded on this disc. Rest assured, however, that this is not the case – with a few exceptions, most of these transcriptions are new to disc — and very welcome they are. Sergei Rachmaninov’s songs rival his piano works in terms of popularity, and are the culmination of a uniquely Russian lyrical tradition. Piano transcription became a fashionable art form in its own right after Liszt’s work in the genre, and Rachmaninov’s elaborate piano parts make his romances ideal for solo performance in works that express effortless sensuality as well as darkness and loss. Unearthed in 2002, Rachmaninov’s own transcription of his remarkable Suite in D minor explores both tragic depths and light-hearted bravura

BUSONI: ORCHESTRAL WORKS: John Bradbury, Nelson Goerner, BBC Philharmonic, Neeme Järvi/CHANDOS CHAN 241-57  The Chandos label has a very welcome habit of reissuing some of its most striking recordings from the past in competitively priced box sets, which collect earlier issues in cardboard sleeves. And apart from saving useful space on record collectors’ shelves, this is a good way to experience the discs played consecutively. This special re-issue gathers the two albums in Neeme Järvi’s exploration, with the BBC Philharmonic, of the unjustly neglected works of the iconic twentieth-century Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni. Those two volumes, sold here for the price of one, were released to critical acclaim in 2002 and 2005, respectively.

PROKOFIEV: SYMPHONIES ONE AND FIVE, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic orchestra James Gaffigan/Challenge Classics SACD CC72732  Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony is, of course, one of the bonbons of the recorded repertoire and has enjoyed many recordings over the years. The much more ambitious and monumental fifth is a less frequent visitor to disc but nevertheless has acquired several striking readings. As it once again does here; this is a reading to be reckoned, finding all the nuances in the composer’s more restrained passengers along with the requisite heft in the more striking and dramatic sequences. If the Classical Symphony does not quite match it in accomplishment (being rather less pointed than most readings), it is still extremely attractive and makes the disc very competitive

BRAZILIAN LANDSCAPES: Petri, Mazur, Murray (recorder, percussion, guitar)/OUR recordings SACD 6 220618 Not for every taste, but this is an enterprising and exotic programme (with the only familiar composer name being that while Villa Lobos), and those with a taste for colourful Latin music will be tempted – although it has to be said that the aural sound picture of the three instruments featured here is inevitably of limited palette. That being said, the musicians approach the music with great enthusiasm and a profound sense of atmosphere which will win the disc friends.

HENZE: NEUE VOLKSLIERER, KAMMERMUSICK, Andrew Staples, tenor, Jurgen Ruck, guitar, Scharoun Ensemble Berlin TUDOR 7198  Several composers have courted popular appeal by delivering variations on the music which made them popular while others travelled less accessible routes. A composer of the greatest rigour and strong mindedness is Hans Werner Henze, who has always composed precisely the kind of music which he wished to write, uninterested in the vagaries of musical fashion. This well recorded disc contains two of his most committed pieces of music. Their appeal is as much intellectual as emotional, but it would be a mistake to feel that Henze is only interested in the cerebral, as the requisite attention is paid to the heart of the music as much as to its intellectual qualities.

RAVEL: LE TOMBEAU DE COUPERIN, DUTTILEUX: l’ARBE DES SONGES, METABOLES, DELAGE: QUATRE POEMES HINDOUS LSO, Simon Rattle Blu-ray and DVD/LSO Live LSO 3038   Record companies appear to be in a state of flux at present regarding Blu-ray audio. Despite its effortlessly superior sonics, the steady stream of issues we have enjoyed in recent years has slowed to a trickle, and one hopes that the medium is not in serious trouble – particularly as the only sound-carrying system to match it in terms of fidelity to the original sound is super audio CD. Perhaps this welcome two-disc box is the answer. We are given here a DVD and Blu-ray containing Simon Rattle’s exemplary performances of this remarkable music. In fact, the musical values on offer are sui generis; Rattle may show a curious resistance to certain composers (such as Vaughan Williams), but his Ravel is nonpareil, as this performance exemplifies. What is most striking it is just how astonishingly faithful the sound is on the Blu-ray disc, which makes one hope for the medium to maintain at least some degree of popularity.

BEASER: GUITAR CONCERTOS, Elliot Fisk, guitar, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, José Serebrier/Linn CKD 528  The classical industry may be going through one of its periodic periods of crisis (although the number of issues – as noted above —  remains prodigious), but it is notable that there are still recordings available of unusual repertoire, such as this subtly winning (if quotidian) guitar concerto by Robert Beaser, played with understated sensitivity by Eliot Fisk, sensitively accompanied by Serebrier and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

BACH: TO THE GLORY OF GOD ALONE: RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR WORKS, Russian National Orchestra, Metropolitan Hilario Alfeyev/PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186593  The CD medium is currently redolent with many orchestrations of the music of Bach – it is a temptation that composers and arrangers seem unable to resist – but this disc is something out of the ordinary and will appeal even to those who feel their shelves groaning under the weight of such transcriptions. Russia’s foremost composer, the curiously named Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s compositional skills are brought to bear on the music of Bach including the haunting solo cantata Ich habe genug and the ever-popular Orchestral Suite No. 2. The programme also contains Alfeyev’s arrangements of Bach’s organ masterpieces Ich ruf’ zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ and the colossal Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor.

BERG: 3 PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas/SFSMedia/Avie for streaming and download in stereo, 5.1 surround  Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) have released SFS Media’s first ever digital-only album with one of the finest examples of the composer Berg’s brilliant artistry in a transfixing work of tragic premonition and drama. Recorded during live performances at Davies Symphony Hall in January 2015, the album is available now for streaming and download in stereo, 5.1 surround, Mastered for iTunes quality, and 24-bit/192kHz Studio Master. SFS Media is the San Francisco Symphony’s eight-time Grammy Award-winning in-house record label which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, marking a decade and a half of innovations in recorded media.

BIRCHALL: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS, ALICE IN WONDERLAND Simon Callow, Cellophony/Cellophony Records CR101   An unusual notion; a rendition of the Grahame and Carroll classics read with characteristic flair by Simon Callow, accompanied by scores for a combination of cellos by Richard Birchall. The music is a the perfect complement to Callow’s engaging reading of the texts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complete Duel in the Sun from Prometheus

Tiomkin: Duel in the Sun (complete score)  Speaking to the film composer Jerry Goldsmith at the National film Theatre some years ago, he pointed out to me that he had just seen the Hitchcock film I Confess with its Dimitri Tiomkin score. ‘Not the way I score films!’, he said. ‘Tiomkin did not allow a moment of the film to go by unscored — and silence gives contrast!’ One wonders what Goldsmith would have made of Tiomkin’s score for the King Vidor film Duel in the Sun, for which Prometheus CDs have now given us the world premiere recording of the complete score — at nearly two hours, over two discs. As the disapproving Goldsmith would note, there is hardly a moment that goes unscored in the film, and your reaction to this may depend on whether you agree with the new set’s producer James Fitzpatrick. That’s to say: Fitzpatrick as a young man or Fitzpatrick today, as he has changed his views. In refreshingly frank liner notes, he admits that he has long had a love/hate relationship with Tiomkin’s music but now has clearly come down on the ‘love’ side of that dichotomy. And for those who admire the rich orchestral scoring of the golden age of film music, this score is pretty hard to resist. It is full-throated, romantic fare with the orchestra used exuberantly throughout (Tiomkin was a master orchestrator, although he had help on this score). In fact, the composer’s approach is rather similar to that of Korngold – treating the entire film as an opera without words and underlining the dramatic points with maximum impact. The final effect is of a glorious wallow, particularly in the committed and full-blooded performance it is given by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and chorus, conducted by the ever dependable Nick Raine, non-pareil in music such as this.

Tiomkin: Duel in the Sun (complete score)/Prometheus XPCD180