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
SCRIABIN SYMPHONIES 3 & 4, London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/LSO Live SACD LSO 0771 Judging by the number of recent and planned releases, record companies seem to have a new found interest in promulgating the orchestral music of Alexander Scriabin on disc. This release from LSO Live is the first in a cycle of Scriabin Symphonies from Valery Gergiev (a long time champion of this composer) and the London Symphony Orchestra. Both performances were recorded live in concerts at the Barbican in March 2014 (Symphony No.4, ‘The Poem of Ecstasy’) and April 2014 (Symphony No.3 ‘The Divine Poem’). Of the composer Gergiev says “Scriabin should be today understood as a man who was able to create a wonderfully magical musical world, and we just have to give in. We have to be imprisoned by these compositions and the magical powers of their creator”. True to his word Gergiev delivers riveting accounts of both works on this SACD, and thanks to the magnificent playing of the 100 – strong LSO, the compelling vision of his interpretations is realised to the full. The majority of the composition of Symphony No.3 ‘The Divine Poem’ took place in1903 at a time when Scriabin was becoming more preoccupied with the grandiose philosophical and mystical ideas that he attempted to express in his music. The Symphony is scored for massive orchestral forces and is the composer’s longest work. Continue reading →
RICHARD STRAUSS: DUETT-CONCERTINO FOR CLARINET, BASSOON, STRING ORCHESTRA & HARP; DER BÜRGER ALS EDELMANN OP. 60; SUITE FOR ORCHESTRA (1917) Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Markus Poschner/CPO 777990-2 There is a slightly more generous PENTATONE SACD of this particular coupling (but also including the Sextet from Strauss’ Capriccio) in which the performances are slightly more elegant and pointed. Nevertheless, for those not possessing the earlier disc, this is a winning performance, given just the right degree of Straussian élan (although it should also be noted that the SACD sound is inevitably more rounded chez PENTATONE than this disc, which is CD only) This is the first recording Markus Poschner has made with the orchestra. Along with the Suite Op. 60 with the incidental music to Der Bürger als Edelmann of 1917, Poschner conducts the Duet Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon, and Strings penned by Strauss much later, in 1947, for the Lugano Orchestra and also premiered by him there. The historical bonus tracks include selections (Four Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by Strauss) from this concert conducted by the composer on 11 June 1947 (his birthday) as well as the concert address delivered by Bernhard Paumgartner on the same occasion.
JAN VAN DER ROOST: SPARTACUS, POÈME MONTAGNARD, SINFONIETTA ‘SUITO SKETCHES’, Philharmonic Winds OSAKAN, Jan Van der Roost, NAXOS 8573486 Let’s be frank – you are unlikely to have heard of this composer, and many of the listeners who would take a punt on new music on the affordable Naxos label are known to peruse the information on the rear of the jewel case as a guide to the kind of composer they will be sampling. The sleeve notes here hopefully invoke Respighi, apparently a favourite composer of Jan Van der Roost, and there is certainly an attempt on his part to channel the vigour and excitement of the Italian composer’s music. Van der Roost, however, is not Respighi, and the very distinctive character of his mentor’s work is not greatly in evidence, even though the accoutrements are to be found. Nevertheless, there is much here that is vigorous, and which may attract those who have collected every note of the earlier composer but are still hungry for more. Jan Van der Roost is represented here by three compositions that are very different in style and inspiration. His tone poem Spartacus is a homage to Respighi, whose sense of colour and imagination have long fascinated Van der Roost. The expressive ‘mountain poem’ Poème Montagnard depicts the wonderful natural scenery of the Aosta Valley and the Sinfonietta ‘Suito Sketches’ consists of four contrasting movements exploring the qualities and virtuosic possibilities of the modern wind orchestra. Based in Osaka Prefecture, Philharmonic. Winds OSAKAN is Japan’s first professional wind ensemble.
GINASTERA: ORCHESTRAL WORKS: Estancia* / Ollantay / Pampeana No. 3, Lucas Somoza Osterc (Baritone)* / BBC Philharmonic / Juanjo Mena/CHANDOS CHAN 10884 It’s something of a mystery why this music is not better known, as Ginastera’s scores bristle with the kind of colour and inventiveness that makes them very accessible indeed. It is in fact the kind of repertoire which the Chandos label specialises in their excavations of attractive 20th-century music such as this (although one might wonder why such music is not rendered here in the SACD format that the company is noted for). In their Spanish music series, the BBC Philharmonic and its chief conductor, Juanjo Mena, now explores the works of the Argentinean composer in three orchestral volumes. Not only acknowledged as a leading South-American composer of his day, Ginastera is also seen as one of the heroes of Latin-American music in general, whose enduring source of inspiration was Argentina itself: its pre-Columbian legacy on the one hand and the vast landscapes of the pampas on the other. Indeed, if Ollantay is inspired by the former, and more especially by a dramatic poem of Inca origin, Ginastera turned to the latter for the setting of his second ballet, Estancia, based on the life of the gauchos who work in those wide open spaces. The essential genre of music in this piece is the malambo, an exclusively masculine, competitive traditional dance, far from the seductive tangos of Ginastera’s now more famous compatriot and pupil Astor Piazzolla. While the landscape is the same in Pampeana No. 3, the music is more abstract and contrasted, marking the transition from what the composer called a compositional period of ‘objective nationalism’ to a ‘subjective one’.
CHOPIN: CHRONOLOGICAL CHOPIN: BALLADES; PRELUDES; SCHERZI AND OTHER WORKS, Burkard Schliessmann/ Divine Art SACD DDC25752 Earlier performances by this pianist on disc have been somewhat controversial, but this intelligently (and unusually) laid out Chopin program displays much of the sensitivity of earlier Chopin specialists such as Ashkenazy, captured here in a surround sound recording that registers every nuance of the piano. German pianist Burkard Schliessmann’s triple SACD set with state of the art sound and luxury packaging chronicles the works of Chopin in order, showing the composer’s development and is thus informative for scholars as well as being an impressive recital.
IVES: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 2: Three Places in New England / A Symphony: New England Holidays / Central Park in the Dark / The Unanswered Question / Melbourne Symphony Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis/CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5163 A personal declaration: at intervals (over several decades), I’ve listened to these pieces to try to unlock their strange secrets, and I’m still unsure as to whether or not I can respond to them. I was hoping that this new recital – recorded in the best possible SACD sound which is certainly streets ahead of any previous rivals in that respect — might firm up my commitment to these tone poems one way or the other. It hasn’t, but if you’re an Ives aficionado, there is no need to resist. In this second volume of a series, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and its chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis play some of the most characteristic pieces of Charles Ives, an insurance salesman by trade and one of the most precociously original of all American composers. Three Places in New England – composed between 1912 and 1916 and revised several times, as most of Ives’s pieces were – was one of Ives’s first major works to receive long overdue attention. It is performed here in its fully orchestrated version, as Ives conceived it at an early stage. The first movement, characteristically, features a superimposition of various thematic fragments of popular melodies accompanied by a simple march beat of timpani and lower strings. The album also features A Symphony: New England Holidays, its four constituent movements (marking national holidays) forming a chronological sequence of the seasons. They can perfectly well be performed in isolation however, which is why Ives chose not to include the work amongst his numbered symphonies. Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question are shorter, companion pieces, the essential light-heartedness of the former pointedly contrasting with the more serious metaphysics of the latter
SIBELIUS, KAIPAINEN, TIENSUU: Different Voices – Kamus String Quartet/Alba Records Oy ABCD383 SACD An unusual programme, in which – inevitably — the Sibelius string quartet (poetically played here) is the principal selling point, with its shaded and elusive appeal brought closer to the surface than usual. ‘Different Voices’ is the latest CD by the Kamus Quartet, rapidly establishing a strong reputation. The quartet’s second disc well demonstrates Finland’s fine tradition of string quartet repertoire with some world premiere recordings.
SHOSTAKOVICH: The Two Violin Sonatas & Rare Chamber Works, Jeremy Menuhin/First Hand Records FHR37, Sasha Rozhdestvensky (violin) Jeremy Menuhin (piano) Ilona Domnich (soprano) Alexandra Sherman (mezzo-soprano) Sonata for Violin and Piano, Unfinished Sonata for Violin and Piano, Andantino from String Quartet No. 4, (arr. violin & piano by Dmitri Tsyganov), Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms 1 (arr. piano duet by Dmitri Shostakovich, c.1930) Braga: La Serenata – A Walachian Legend, (Andante con moto) 2 (transcrib. soprano, mezzo-soprano, violin & piano by Dmitri Shostakovich, 1972) Discovery Records Austere but fascinating repertoire, delivered with maximum conviction in acceptable (if slightly clouded) sound. It’s a disc that will undoubtedly attract admirers of Shostakovich, but given the dark sound world of much of the music, it might be best listened to in segments rather than as a complete programme.
BADINGS: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 5, Bochumer Symphoniker, David Porcelijn/ CPO 777669-2 Anyone adventurous enough to listen to the music of the neglected composer Henk Badings will be well aware that he is worthy of further investigation. This recording of his fourth and fifth symphonies is quite as intriguing as earlier discs in the series, and the fifth in particular is something of a find. This new recording from CPO underlines the composer’s place as one of the great twentieth-century Dutch composers. In defiance of the war time landscape in which it was composed, his fourth symphony is imbued with a musical lightness and wit, and the fifth he wrote in 1949 as a commissioned work for the sixtieth anniversary of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Today this music will surprise the listener with its freshness and vitality.
BRAUNFELS: DON JUAN, SYMPHONIC VARIATIONS ON AN OLD FRENCH NURSERY SONG, OP. 15, Philharmonisches Orchester Altenburg-Gera, Markus L. Frank/ Capriccio C5250 Even his most devoted admirers would not complain that this is the most distinguished music by Walter Braunfels, but (with reservations), it is worthy of attention. The composer was once applauded as a pioneering representative of New Music, but this programme is in classic-romantic style. His 7-movement phantasmagoria Don Juan incorporates variations on themes and motifs from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. The work was premièred in 1924, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler.
SAINT-SAËNS: CELLO CONCERTOS AND OTHER WORKS: Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921): Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33* / Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 119* / The Carnival of the Animals†‡§ / Africa, Op. 89† / Caprice-Valse, Op. 76 ‘Wedding-cake’† / Truls Mørk | Cello* Louis Lortie (Piano)† / Hélène Mercier (Piano)‡ / Alasdair Malloy (Glass Harmonica)§ / Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Neeme Järvi CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5162 A mixture of the familiar and the rare is the hallmark of this new recording by The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Neeme Järvi. The cello concertos are not the composer’s best work, but will appeal to his admirers. Truls Mørk, this season’s Artist in Residence with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, is the soloist in the two contrasted cello concertos. His ‘seemingly flawless technical command’ is tested in the suave, expressive, famous No. 1 as well as in the many taxing solo passages, huge leaps, and double-stopping flourishes of No. 2.
SIERRA: SINFONÍA NO. 3 ‘LA SALSA’, BEYOND THE SILENCE OF SORROW*, BORIKÉN • EL BAILE, Martha Guth, Soprano*, Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, Maximiano Valdés NAXOS There is no shortage of orchestral colour and rhythmic verve to be found here; what is perhaps lacking is that final ounce of melodic distinction (evident in many South American composers). The rhythms enshrined in these four works provide further evidence of the art of internationally acclaimed Puerto Rican composer, Roberto Sierra. The award-winning Sinfonía No. 3 ‘La Salsa’ owes its inspiration to the music of the Spanish Caribbean and is a salsa of older and newer rhythms, intoxicatingly presented amidst revelry and dance. The instrumentally vivid Borikén is based on the baroque chaconne but with a Latin twist, while El Baile invokes traditional music in a wholly distinctive way. Beyond the Silence of Sorrow is a lyrical song cycle.
VICTOR YOUNG: THE UNINVITED, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS • BRIGHT LEAF, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, Moscow Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, William Stromberg/ NAXOS While such composers as Eric Wolfgang Korngold and Bernard Herrmann have achieved considerable posthumous recognition, their contemporary Victor Young, one of Hollywood’s busiest and most esteemed film composers, is known principally to the cognoscenti. This disc of attractive scores by Young may go some way to redressing the balance. His scores are very winning, and his piano concerto-style score for The Uninvited which produced the standard Stella by Starlight was pivotal to arguably the best Hollywood ghost story ever produced. The animated Gulliver’s Travels relied heavily for its charm and dramatic impact on Young’s wonderful orchestrations, while the tobacco dynasty drama Bright Leaf inspired one of his most restrained and thoughtful film scores.
UPHELD BY STILLNESS, Ora, Suzi Digby Harmonia Mundi The label Harmonia Mundi has made a specialty of unusual repertoire, and this collection focusing on the English composer William Byrd will appeal to lovers of the voice. The recording is particularly faithful in capturing every aspect of the individual strands of the music.
COPLAND: BILLY THE KID RODEO, ETC./BIS SACD 2164 With another Aaron Copland SACD disc imminent from Chandos covering very similar repertoire, it’s hard to say yet which company will best serve the American composer. Aficionados of Copland should be grateful for one fact: two separate recording companies are undertaking recordings of this exhilarating, idiomatic music in modern surround sound techniques. Until the Chandos appears, it’s safe to say that this performance — while lacking the final ounce of verve that Copland’s friend and advocate Leonard Bernstein brought to this music – is still immensely engaging; these scores have never sounded better. See also a more detailed review in Graham Williams Reviews, opposite.
PROKOFIEV; SYMPHONIES 4,6,7; PIANO CONCERTOS 4,5, Soloists, Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/Mariinsky SACD MARO577 While impressive recordings of some of this music has already appeared on SACD, this generously filled two-disc set plugs several key gaps in the medium — and in extremely idiomatic readings (as one would expect from Valery Gergiev). See also a more detailed review in Graham Williams Reviews, opposite.
PROKOFIEV CINDERELLA, Mariinsky Ballet Orchestra, Diana Vishneva, Valery Gergiev/Blu-Ray MAR0555 Stereo only? In every other aspect (notably its beautifully detailed and lambent widescreen picture), this new version of Prokofiev’s classic ballet is state of the art – so why not surround sound, for God’s sake? Nevertheless, this is as exemplary a production as we’re likely to have in the Blu-Ray medium. The dancing is nonpareil, particularly Diana Vishneva in the title role who (as is the custom for dancers in the 21st-century) acts quite as persuasively as she dances. Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography – often angular and idiosyncratic — perfectly complements the scenario. But most of all it’s Gergiev’s perfectly judged contribution that winkles out every nuance in the score which makes this such a tempting acquisition. To go back to my first point – had this set been in surround sound, rather than stereo, it would have been one of the most competitive modern versions of the score, stage noises and applause notwithstanding. Nevertheless, a highly attractive set (Blu-Ray and DVD). SCHUBERT LIEDER, ORCHESTRATED BY REGER & WEBERN, Christian Elsner, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Marek Janowski/ PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186394 While the spirit of great Schubert interpreters such as Dietrich Fischer Dieskau need not be troubled by more recent interpreters, this is a particularly pleasurable disc – and the singing of Christian Eslner apart, what makes this a particularly valuable disc for collectors are the arrangements. Schubert lieder orchestrations were attempted by various composers, such as Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Benjamin Britten, Hector Berlioz. Max Reger and Anton Webern also made arrangements of Schubert’s songs. These arrangements – beautifully orchestrated — are real rarities, and this set features 17 Schubert Lieder, of which 13 were orchestrated by late Romantic German composer Reger, and four by Second Viennese School member, Anton Webern. The songs are beautifully performed by tenor Christian Elsner together with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and conducted by Marek Janowski. The 1 bit DSD, 2,8 mhz recording is available on SACD and in FLAC and DSD format.
CASELLA: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 4.: SYMPHONIC FRAGMENTS FROM ‘LE COUVENT SUR L’EAU’, OP. 19 / ELEGIA EROICA, OP. 29 / SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN B MINOR, OP. 5, BBC Philharmonic / Gianandrea Noseda/CHANDOS CHAN 10880 Ask admirers of orchestral music from Italy (rather than opera) to name key composers, and there may be a struggle to come up with someone other than Respighi . But now we’ve had the chance to listen to some of his distinguished contemporaries, and few have been as rewarding as Casella. Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic here present a fourth captivating volume of orchestral works by Alfredo Casella, part of their ongoing Musica Italiana series. In 1912, with his music for the ‘choreographic comedy’ Le Couvent sur l’eau, Casella demonstrated that stylistic versatility was no disadvantage for a ballet composer, and although Diaghilev turned down the work for the Ballets Russes, Casella selected the highly colourful and once popular ‘symphonic fragments’, heard here, for concert use. Similarly, the Elegia eroica is stylistically eclectic, constructed, according to Casella, as a ‘vast triptych’, opening with a dissonant funeral march and ending with a comforting, tuneful lullaby. Casella wrote this piece, which he dedicated ‘to the memory of a soldier killed in the war’, after Italy had entered the First World War and suffered enormous losses. The three-movement Symphony in B minor is an early work (1906) of creative energy and burning conviction, in which Casella’s enthusiasm for Russian music is revealed already in the sombre Mussorgskyan opening theme. This hypnotic first movement is almost pleasantly oppressive in comparison to the gentler, melodious second, and the bold final movement represents the adventurous exploits of an ambitious young composer.
KORNGOLD: COMPLETE SONGS, Konrad Jarnot, Adrianne Pieczonka, Reinild Mees/Capriccio C5252 One trusts that Korngold’s reputation has now been thoroughly rehabilitated. The young prodigy who had been praised by Richard Strauss’s father was for years routinely written off for his adult sojourn in Hollywood, despite the fact that the music he produced in his American years was as rich with melody and invention as in his earlier Viennese period. But what of the songs? If, like this reviewer, you are familiar with only a handful of them, it might be considered that a complete two-disc set would be prove to be valuable. And so it is – but with reservations. My own perception of the songs was that they were in the largely in the idiom of the composer whose father had acclaimed young Korngold, but although the rich vein of melody is often apparent in this well-sung collection, this corpus of work never rivals the lieder of Strauss. Notwithstanding, there is much that is valuable here — even though I was finally unpersuaded. From his first attempts at composition, Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote songs; Der Knabe und das Veilchen dates from early 1905 when Korngold was just seven years old and is recorded here for the first time, together with a number of individual songs, only recently published. As one of the last exponents of the Austro-Germanic lied which lasted almost two centuries, Korngold occupies a special place in that tradition.
HAYDN: SYMPHONIES 102, 103, 104, Cappella Coloniesis, Bruno Weil/ARS SACD 38 064 Since the inauguration of the SACD medium, a variety conductors have presented impressive versions of Haydn symphonies, and while Bruno Weil has only recorded the ‘London’ Symphonies (leaving aside earlier recordings by the conductor), this is proving to be one of the most accomplished and worthwhile additions to the catalogue, with a flawless balance between authentic performance modes (just relish that crisp, ear-pinging timpani) and modern orchestral thinking. In fact this series (live, but free of audience noise) has proved to be so accomplished, one can only wish that Weil would tackle all the other hundred-plus Haydn symphonies. This culmination of the complete recording of Haydn’s ‘London’ Symphonies” with Capella Coloniens is a series which has also featured an unusual concept: along with each work, Weil presents an explanatory introduction, which is hardly likely to be revisited as often as the music.
POULENC: PIANO CONCERTO‡ / CONCERTO FOR TWO PIANOS*†‡ / Aubade*‡ / Sonata for Piano Four Hands*† / Élégie*† / L’Embarquement pour Cythère*†. Louis Lortie*, Hélène Mercier† (Piano) / BBC Philharmonic‡ /Edward Gardner‡ CHANDOS CHAN 10875 Versions of this coupling have appeared before, and it must be admitted that these new takes – however admirable — do not supplant their admirable predecessors. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for this particular combination of Poulenc works for piano and orchestra in spanking modern sound, there is absolutely no necessity to hesitate, as Lortie and Gardner point up all the colour and energy in these delightful scores. After a cycle of Chopin works for solo piano, Louis Lortie plays here works by Poulenc with his duet partner Hélène Mercier. In Aubade and the two concertos they are joined by Edward Gardner and the BBC Philharmonic. The French-Canadian pianists draw a persuasive portrait of the melancholic Parisian that Poulenc was: playful and depressed, like his tutor, Erik Satie. There is always a sense of palpable anxiety in these pieces, be it the sarcastic joie de vivre of the ‘choreographic concerto’ Aubade or the ironic melancholy of the explosive Concerto for Two Pianos – Mozartean and Stravinskyan at the same time.
ATTERBERG: CELLO CONCERTO IN C MINOR, OP. 21; HORN CONCERTO IN A MAJOR, OP. 28, Nikolaj Schneider, Johannes-Theodor Wiemes, NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, Ari Rasilainen/CPO999874-2 If you’re one of those listeners lucky enough to have encountered the neglected music of Atterberg, you’ll realise that his time in the wilderness has been notably unjust – and it has been particularly welcome to have the composer’s symphonies available in excellent modern recordings This disc, a codicil to the symphonies, concludes CPO’s series of the concertos of Kurt Atterberg. The Swedish composer penned both works in the 1920s, and took an approach that was more intuitive than analytical – in the Horn Concerto he employs the unusual combination of strings, piano, and percussion to create a tonal phenomenon completely different from the Cello Concerto.
BERG: VIOLIN CONCERTO, etc., Rachel Cunz, Musikkloegium Winterthur, Pierre-Alain Monot/MDG 9011913 SACD To my knowledge, this is the first recording in the SACD medium of Berg’s plangent Violin Concerto. It is something of a cliché to say that this piece is the music by Berg for those who do not like Berg, and there is no question that the romantic overtones of the piece make its serial accoutrements much easier to swallow than much music of the Second Viennese school. It is played here with great sympathy and understanding, and (along with the more serial-oriented pieces by Berg on the disc) makes for an intriguing issue.
DVORAK: SYMPHONY NO. 5, ETC., Staatsphilharmonie Nürnberg, Marcus Bosch/Coviello COV 91512 SACD It seems strange that this is the debut in the SACD medium for Dvorak’s glorious fifth – surely there have been other surround sound this is before this? However, the wait has proved well worthwhile, and this is a truly splendid performance. Marcus Bosch finds all the colour and invention in the composer’s vivid orchestration.
1615: GABRIELLI IN VENICE The Choir of King’s College, Stephen Cleobury/KGS0012 SACD The selling point here is the fact that this is in the new Dolby Atmos system which delivers truly multidimensional sound – including speakers overhead. The system is clearly enjoying the commitment of several companies – many new Blu-rays are being issued in this format, but of those of us enjoying the benefits of surround sound, few will yet have overhead speakers. Nevertheless, even in five channels, the effect is impressive here, although one surprise that the rear channels are hardly used, even for ambience – surely this would be a natural for this recording.
SCHUMANN: DAS PARADIES UND DIE PERI, London Symphony Orchestra, Soloists, Sir Simon Rattle/LSO Live LSO 0782 With both an SACD and an Audio Blu-ray in the package, this is an issue which will be of interest to admirers of Schumann, although the non-converted may not be swayed. Nevertheless, it is given the best possible reading here.
HINDEMITH: MATHIS DER MAHLER, SYMPHONY IN E FLAT, NDR Symphony Orchestra, Christoph Eschenbach/Ondine ODE 12572 It something of a mystery why these symphonies by Hindemith are not more popular (although Mathis enjoys some currency), as the energy and vitality of the music make them not at all difficult to approach. Perhaps these persuasive performance will lift them out of the shadow under which they reside (the disc is not SACD, despite earlier notifications to that effect).
J.S. BACH: MAGNIFICAT & CHRISTMAS CANTATA, Dunedin Consort; John Butt/Linn Classical CKD 469 Quite possibly the most persuasive version of Bach’s Magnificat you are likely to hear in modern times. This is the premiere recording of J.S. Bach’s Magnificat heard for the first time within its original liturgical context, alongside the beautiful Christmas Cantata. The first 1000 customers will also receive a free bonus disc of highlights from the Consort’s Gramophone Award-winning seasonal favourite ‘Handel: Messiah’. Dunedin Consort recreates Bach’s first Christmas at Leipzig (Vespers in the Nikolaikirche, 25 December 1723); the recording opens with a Gabrieli motet and includes organ preludes and a seasonal congregational chorale. Director John Butt has given listeners an interpretation that will provide a refreshing outlook on this masterpiece and will show the Magnificat in a completely new light. This recording marks the return of Dunedin Consort’s star-studded cast including, Nicholas Mulroy, Matthew Brook, Joanne Lunn and Clare Wilkinson plus newcomer Julia Doyle.
PROKOFIEV: BACK IN THE USSR: Cantata on the 20th Anniversary of October Revolution, op.74/Cantata on the 30th Anniversary of October Revolution, op.114/A Toast! In Honour of Stalin’s 60th Birthday, op.85, Aleksander Titov/CuGate Classics CGC 006/4038912419210 The Melodiya label apart, classical recording companies have demonstrated a deep embarrassment regarding the agitprop pieces that Prokofiev and Shostakovich were obliged to write in honour of the dictator who ruled their country, though they both loathed Stalin. But surely in the 21st-century, listeners can see these pieces in context and even access the tub-thumping aspects (much criticised over the years) as simply another element in their composers’ armouries – and enjoy them as such? The three works on this album belong to music which dispels the myth that Prokofiev – ‘shaker of foundations’ and ‘daring innovator’ – became, after his return to the USSR, an ‘acquiescent traditionalist’. As a result of the Soviet government’s permit to tour abroad, he lived for more than 18 years outside the country. On his return to his homeland, he entered actively into the building of socialist musical culture. However, he also recognized soon the reverse of the medal: the socialist realism with its official preference for simple ‘folk’ melodies, composed in a mood of profound optimism and easily understood by the masses led to conflicts with progressive composers. They all were exposed to persecution in the press, deprived of work and doomed to poverty. Thus Prokofiev was forced to play by the rules of the game. Nevertheless, in his work there remained too much that conflicted with the ideals of the ‘construction of communism’
ENESCU: SYMPHONY NO. 4 IN E MINOR; NUAGES D’AUTOMNE SUR LES FORETS; CHAMBER SYMPHONY OP. 33
DR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, Peter Ruzicka/CPO 777966-2 Let’s be frank; Classical CD Choice always tries to be. This is not Enescu in his typically ear-tingling, colourful vein ; the Fourth Symphony is a far less ingratiating piece than some of its predecessors – and certainly not the place to start with this composer, unless you are more inclined towards challenging modern music. Nevertheless, all the composer’s considerable virtues are present, and those who have been collecting the earlier symphonies should give this disc a listen. The present recording, like the Symphony No. 5 in D major, is a world-premiere release conducted by Peter Ruzicka, and emphatically underscores Enescu’s rank as a serious symphonist of the 20th century.
MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G major, Dorothea Röschmann, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Mariss Jansons RCO15004 Some pieces of music have been particularly lucky in terms of recording, and few more so over the years than Mahler’s fourth Symphony, which has enjoyed a variety of classic recordings (many, for instance, remember the famous George Szell version with great affection). If this new performances is not in the same league as some of its distinguished predecessors, it still does justice to this most modest and charming of Mahler Symphonies, though there is certain lack of poetry in the interpretation. With Gustav Mahler, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has a very special relationship. The composer conducted the orchestra no less than 12 times and found in Amsterdam an understanding audience. Mahler’s Fourth Symphony was premiered in Amsterdam by the composer, who conducted it twice, once before and once after the interval, so that the audience could get to know the work better..
GRIEG: COMPLETE SYMPHONIC WORKS,• VOL. V:EXCERPTS FROM IBSENS’ PEER GYNT, OP. 23,SIX ORCHESTRAL SONGS: SOLVEIG’S SONG, SOLVEIG’S CRADLE SONG, FROM MONTE PINCIO, A SWAN, LAST SPRING, HENRIK WERGELAND TWO LYRIC PIECES, OP. 68 (NO. 4 & 5), THE MOUNTAIN RAPT, OP. 32, NORWEGIAN DANCES, OP. 35 Camilla Tilling, Audite SACD92671 What a delight this survey of Grieg’s orchestral music has proved to be – a tantalising delight, it has to be said, as there have been considerable gaps between the various additions to the series over the years. While individual recordings of some of the music might be more striking elsewhere, as an entity, this largely complete recording of the orchestral music has proved to be no definitive and – what’s more – recorded in the best possible surround sound This recording gathers several important examples of the less familiar Edvard Grieg as composer of songs with orchestra. Soprano Camilla Tilling plays a leading part in this fifth and final volume of Audite’s complete recording of Grieg’s orchestral works: although Grieg drew on his own songs with orchestra or piano for the ‘Six Orchestral Songs’, this set forms an independent, elegiacally-hued cycle reflecting the core of Grieg’s personality. It includes not only two songs from the incidental music to ‘Peer Gynt’ (Solveig’s Song and Solveig’s Lullaby) but also transcriptions of solemn piano songs such as the Roman ballad ‘From Monte Pincio’, or the memory of the short-lived Norwegian patriot Henrik Wergeland, to whom the final song (sung by Tom Erik Lie) is dedicated.
WEINBERG: IN SEARCH OF FREEDOM: PIANO QUINTET OP. 18, QUARTET NO. 10, OP. 85, QUARTET NO. 13, OP. 118 Zemlinsky Quartet/Praga Digital DSD 250 296 If you’ve been collecting the recent tsunami of recordings of the symphonies of Weinberg, you may feel the need to investigate some of his equally neglected chamber music The music of Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919 – 1996) is among some of the 20th century’s greatest hidden treasures. Born in Poland, Weinberg emigrated to Russia in perilous circumstances, where he was to live out the rest of his days in the shadow of his close friend Dimitri Shostakovich, by whom he was regarded as one of the most outstanding composers of the day, Weinberg is slowly being rediscovered as a 20th century genius, a figure of immense significance in the landscape of post-modern classical music. Weinberg’s musical idiom stylistically mixes traditional and contemporary forms, combining a freely tonal, individual language inspired by Shostakovich with ethnic (Jewish, Polish, Moldovian) influences and a unique sense of form, harmony and colour. His prolific output includes no less than 17 string quartets, over 20 large-scale symphonies, numerous sonatas for solo stringed instruments and piano as well as operas and film-scores. With the constant stream of recordings, score publications and concerts over the last decade, many of these gems have been unearthed to finally receive the critical praise and attention they deserve.
TASMIN LITTLE PLAYS BRITISH VIOLIN CONCERTOS: HAYDN WOOD (1882-1959): VIOLIN CONCERTO / SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912): VIOLIN CONCERTO / FREDERICK DELIUS (1862-1934): SUITE FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA , Tasmin Little (violin) / BBC Philharmonic / Sir Andrew Davis/ CHANDOS CHAN 10879 The first thing that needs to be said about this disc is how exquisitely played it is, but that will come as no surprise to aficionados of the remarkable violinist Tasman Little. If the music on the disc offers no neglected masterpieces, it is still immensely appealing, and is given the greatest possible advocacy here. Following on from the acclaimed Elgar and Moeran concertos, Tasmin Little and Sir Andrew Davis continue their special affinity for British music with this exciting new recording featuring the music of Coleridge-Taylor, Wood, and Delius. Born in England of an English mother and a Sierra Leonean father, Coleridge-Taylor was much revered as a composer, dubbed ‘the black Mahler’ in the US in his later years. He was commissioned to write a violin concerto in 1910 for the Norfolk Festival in Connecticut and responded with a work based on several spirituals. After submitting it, he decided to completely rewrite it, concluding that the new one was ‘ten thousand times better than the other’. The premiere in 1912 – delayed because scores had gone astray – met with critical acclaim. The composer died a few months later. Like his predecessor Coleridge-Taylor, Haydn Wood studied violin at the Royal College of Music and composition with Sir Charles Stanford. This concerto is his only surviving one for violin. The high-romantic expression of the first movement is followed by a virtually continuous stream of lyrical melody in the second, and a full-blooded finale that at the same time is light and lively. This album also features a Suite of four short character pieces by Delius, in the spirit of the Lyric Pieces for piano by his friend and mentor Edvard Grieg.
BAX & BATE CELLO CONCERTOS, LIONEL HANDY, ROYAL SCOTTISH NATIONAL ORCHESTRA, MARTIN YATES/Lyrita SRCD 351 The rehabilitation of Bax has been underway for some considerable time, and he is now comprehensively regarded as one of the great British composers (if one can say that of a musician so committed to Irish republicanism ). Stanley Bate, however, remains unknown to the general listening public ; perhaps discs such as this one will redress that balance. The first of his pieces for solo instrument and orchestra which Bax officially designated a ‘concerto’ was the Cello Concerto of 1932. In the Cello Concerto, the instrument is centre stage virtually from beginning to end and the composer takes great pains to ensure that it is clearly audible at all times. To accomplish this, he uses modest forces: three flutes, two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, harp, celesta and strings. By the composer’s usual standards, this orchestration is notably restrained, with an absence of trombones and tuba and only two trumpets, the second of which does not feature at all in the first movement. When supporting the soloist, textures often take on the transparency of chamber music and are varied with such invention and flair (including much creative use of divided strings) that we rarely encounter the same combination of instruments accompanying the cellist for two phrases in succession. Before he wrote his Cello Concerto in 1953, Bate had produced a couple of instrumental works for cello and piano, consisting of a Recitative, op.52a (1945), and a Fantasy, op.56 (1947). The fluency of his writing in the concerto suggests that the composer had a natural empathy with the solo instrument’s lyrical and declamatory nature. It was premiered in late 1954 by the Eastman Rochester Orchestra at the Eastman School of Music, New York. Compact and sparingly scored, Bate’s concerto maintains the spotlight firmly on the soloist throughout. A sizeable orchestra is rarely exerted at full stretch and then only fleetingly. It is made up of two flutes, two oboes, clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals and strings.
MIKLOS RÓZSA: SODOM AND GOMORRAH City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, Nic Raine/Prometheus XPCD 178 Those familiar with earlier recordings of classic film scores produced by James Fitzpatrick will be well aware of this ambitious attempts to record virtually complete orchestral scores from the golden age of Hollywood. Listening to this glorious and exhilarating music, it’s hard to remember when film music (even when composed by musicians with such solid classical credentials as Miklos Rózsa) was regarded rather sniffily, as if there was something utterly infra dig about composing music for the cinema – the fact that such illustrious composers as Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich and William Walton had deigned to tackle the field seemed to cut no ice. But Rózsa’s magnificent score for Sodom and Gomorrah is perfect ammunition to use against the naysayers. The Robert Aldrich epic for which the score was written is virtually impossible see in the form which the director intended, with censorship cuts rendering the carnal activities of the famous twin sin cities rather innocuous (Anouk Aimée’s lesbian Queen has to have her Sapphic predilections taken on trust). But there are no reservations about the music, which is in the composer’s most grandiloquent style with particularly impressive use of brass (ringing fanfares were always a speciality of Rózsa in historical epics). Admittedly, the score uses key material more frequently that would be found in a symphonic composition, but it’s none the worse for that – particularly in a performance with the panache provided here by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus under the estimable Nic Raine, which makes the best possible case for the music. And if you find yourself succumbing to the aural splendour on offer here, you should investigate immediately the previous James Fitzpatrick production with these forces – Franz Waxman’s equally splendid score for another compromised epic, Taras Bulba.
FILM FEST GENT AND BRUSSELS PHILHARMONIC PRESENT ALAN SILVESTRI /Silva Screen B015YCWL5U Supported by the Gent’s World Soundtrack Awards, this is the second release from the series and first on Silva Screen Records. Each year a major film music composer is invited to present their work during the annual World Soundtrack Awards Ceremony & Concert closing event. As part of the celebrations Film Fest Gent and partner Brussels Philharmonic record a CD of their music and this year’s guest of honour is Alan Silvestri.
HAYDN: SYMPHONIES NOS. 31, 70 & 101, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati Linn Records CKD 500 In every respect Robin Ticciati’s first recording of Haydn Symphonies is a triumphant success. On this new SACD for Linn, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra perform three symphonies that span different decades of Haydn’s long career. Though each one is the same key – D major, they are wonderfully contrasted in both style and instrumentation. Symphony No. 31 known as the ‘ Hornsignal’ opens with some of the most thrilling natural horn sounds imaginable from the four superb players led by virtuoso Alec Frank-Gemmill. Ticciati’s performance is exhilarating yet never rushed, and in each of the four movements the tempi he has chosen seem ideal to allow the music to breathe with unforced naturalness This is especially true in the Symphony’s unusual Finale where, following the statement of a simple theme, Haydn writes seven variations for combinations of various solo instrumentalists and strings. The soloists of the SCO rise fully to the opportunities offered to them with playing of the utmost grace and refinement before the Symphony ends as it began with rousing horn calls. Trumpets and drums give a festive air to Symphony No.70 as befits a work written to mark the rebuilding of the opera house at Esterháza following a disastrous fire in 1779. The opening ‘Vivace’ displays Haydn’s abundant wit and, with its frequent changes of tempo and dynamics, his ability to surprise listeners whilst at the same time providing challenges to the players. The composer’s contrapuntal mastery is demonstrated in the stately ‘Andante’ that follows whilst high spirits return in the minuet and fugal finale. Again Ticciati and his orchestra’s affectionate performance is impeccable, and hopefully will bring new admirers to one of Haydn’s less familiar symphonies. Symphony 101 ‘The Clock’ need no special pleading, being one of the most popular (and most recorded) of the composer’s ‘London Symphonies’. First performed in1794 it represents the composer at the height of his powers and Ticciati’s beautifully paced account effortlessly conveys all of the work’s splendour and undeniable charm thanks to the responsiveness of the excellent SCO. I understand that the next recording in this series will include three further ‘London Symphonies’ – an enticing prospect. These multi-channel recordings were made in the Usher Hall Edinburgh (January and February 2015) by Philip Hobbs and could hardly be bettered in terms of their clarity, spaciousness and warmth. Linn must also be congratulated on providing detailed booklet notes that not only discuss the three Symphonies on this disc but also include two informative essays ‘Haydn and the Enlightenment’ and ‘Haydn and the Horn’ that considerably enhance one’s appreciation of this wonderful composer’s oeuvre. An altogether outstanding release.
RESPIGHI: METAMORPHOSEN, BALLATA DELLE GNOMIDI, BELKIS, São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, John Neschling/B IS BIS-2130 SACD Those seeking a coupling of these three lesser known orchestral works of Respighi need look no further than this superb release from BIS. The Brazilian-born conductor John Neschling has already demonstrated his complete empathy with Respighi’s music in his two previous releases for this label. – the so-called ‘Roman Trilogy’ with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and arguably an even finer follow-up of the complete ballet score for ‘La Boutique Fantasque’ and ‘Impressioni brasiliane’ with the orchestra heard on this latest release. ‘Metamorphoseon’ with which Neschling’s program begins comprises a theme and 12 variations (or modes), and is now generally accepted as one of Respighi’s finest works in spite of the composer’s doubts about its quality. Geoffrey Simon’s spectacular 1985 recording on CD for Chandos raised the work’s profile considerably and more recently we have had a sumptuous SACD version from George Hanson and the Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra on MDG. Neschling’s measured account of this imposing work is on the whole most impressive, though perhaps his understandable tendency to dwell on the lyrical beauty of the music does at times rob it of forward momentum, but the responsiveness of the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège is beyond reproach. Overall timings do, for once, give an accurate reflection of the different approaches of the three conductors; Neschling takes 29’16”, Hanson 26’50” and Simon 25’36”. When sound quality is brought into the equation Neschling and Hanson are equally matched with the BIS recording having marginally greater clarity and MDG greater ambient warmth. Respighi’s lurid symphonic poem Ballata delle gnomidi’ with its nightmare scenario of sexual depravity and brutal murder receives a magnificent performance in which Neschling and the players of his fine Belgian orchestra convey to the listener the sensuousness and violence of this remarkable piece while the composer’s glittering orchestration has been captured by the BIS engineers with startling vividness. The expressive qualities of Neschling’s performances on this disc are displayed to greatest advantage in his ravishing account of the four-movement suite from Respighi’s ballet ‘Belkis, Regina di Saba’ performed here in the order of the published score – two atmospheric slow movements followed by two percussive fast ones. Some conductors (notably Geoffrey Simon and Sascha Goetzel on a recent CD) alternate slow and fast movements to bring greater variety to the suite, but Neschling’s performance lacks nothing in commitment and the BIS sonics are spectacular. It is to be fervently hoped that more Respighi might be forthcoming from this outstanding team, the ‘Sinfonia Drammatica’ being an obvious choice.
RACHMANINOV: SYMPHONY NO. 3, BALAKIREV: RUSSIA,LSO, Valery Gergiev/ LSO Live LSO0779 This SACD is the follow-up to Valery Gergiev’s generally well received recording of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony and marks the continuation of this conductor’s Rachmaninov cycle with the London Symphony Orchestra that is due for completion in the Spring of 2016. As in so much of the Russian repertoire, and especially in this performance of Rachmaninov’s 3rd Symphony, Gergiev clearly demonstrates his empathy with the brooding melancholy and impassioned lyricism evident in one of the composer’s final symphonic outpourings. His account of the first movement (17’45”) is very measured, right from the introductory opening bars for muted cello, horn and clarinets, but it is magnificently delivered by the LSO. For some, Gergiev’s sombre, unhurried approach will seem short in excitement and though this may be true in comparison with say Vladimir Ashkenazy on Decca (CD only), it certainly never lacks power and drama. The second movement (11’53”) that combines an Adagio enclosing a central Scherzo opens with exquisitely played horn and violin solos from Katy Woolley and Roman Simovic respectively and the LSO strings phrase the soulful melody that follows with great eloquence. Gergiev unleashes the agitated central section with considerable energy and elicits notably trenchant playing, especially from the LSO brass and percussion, while the gradual return to the meditative mood of the movement’s opening is impressively handled. The finale (13’48”) follows the same pattern as the opening movement with steady rather than impetuous pacing of the main Allegro. Thanks to the precision of the LSO’s playing (and Gergiev’s antiphonal seating of the violins) the fugal passage from 3’50” emerges with great clarity while Rachmaninov’s glorious cantabile melodies are neither sentimentalised nor short changed; though perhaps the huge ritardando the conductor makes in the closing bars will not be to all tastes. Gergiev’s deeply serious and individual reading of this symphony has much to commend it, even if, amongst the many versions on disc, it is not an obvious first choice. The fill-up is an excellent account of Balakirev’s symphonic poem ‘Russia’ also known as ‘Second Overture on Russian Themes’ making its first appearance in high resolution audio. This is a most attractive work, based on three folk-songs that Balakirev had collected on trips up the River Volga. Gergiev’s performance is vividly characterised and the LSO deliver a sprightly and idiomatic performance of this engaging and colourful piece. Both works were recorded live in concert at the Barbican (11th and 13th November 2014) and though it must be admitted that the unforgiving Barbican acoustic does no favours to the lushness of Rachmaninov’s sound world, Balakirev’s ‘Russia’ emerges unscathed. The DSD recording (5.1 multi-channel and 2.0 stereo) definitely needs to be played at a high volume setting to give of its best.
DVOŘÁK & LALO: CELLO CONCERTOS, Johannes Moser, PKF Prague Philharmonia, Jakub Hrůša/PENTATONE CLASSICS PTC 5186488 For his début release on the PENTATONE label the young German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser has chosen two contrasting concertos that, though very different in style, share both bountiful melodic invention and firm symphonic structure. On this superbly recorded SACD Moser is accompanied by the PKF Prague Philharmonia (formerly called the Prague Philharmonia) an orchestra founded as recently as 1994 by the distinguished Czech conductor Jiří Bělohlávek. Here the conductor is the charismatic Jakub Hrůša who elicits outstanding playing from his orchestra in both concertos. The long orchestral exposition that opens the Dvorak Concerto immediately confirms one’s admiration for the quality of the PKF Prague Philharmonia musicians. There is a winning sweetness to the characterful woodwind sound, strings are supple and the lovely horn solo elegantly phrased. Moser’s first entry is firm and commanding and as the movement progresses one appreciates the absolute rapport evident between him and Hrůša. The eloquence of Moser’s playing is never in doubt. In the Concerto’s more reflective passages, such as the gentle central ‘Adagio ma non troppo’, it is subtly nuanced while there is plenty of rhythmic buoyancy to be found elsewhere. His technique displays absolute assurance, while the sounds he elicits from his warm-toned 1694 Andrea Guarneri instrument are always beautiful, thanks to the care with which he phrases the melodic lines. Lalo composed his Cello Concerto in D minor (1876/77) in collaboration with the Belgian cellist Adolphe Fischer and, like the Dvorak work, it is very well represented on disc though unaccountably it seems not to appear very often in the Concert Hall. Moser gives an ardent and expressive account of the piece that should win many admirers, and again the alert contribution of the PKF Prague Philharmonia matches the exuberance of Moser’s playing in the lively Spanish atmosphere evoked in the Concerto’s second and third movements. The 5.0 multi-channel DSD recordings were made in January 2015 at the capacious Forum Karlin, Prague where the Polyhymnia team have achieved a rich, detailed yet spacious sound typical of so many excellent PENTATONE releases. In every respect this is an auspicious PENTATONE début for Johannes Moser and the promised future releases from this exciting and gifted artist are eagerly awaited.
STRAVINSKY: LE ROI DES ÉTOILES & LE SACRE DU PRINTEMPS , Michael Tilson Thomas/PENTATONE CLASSICS PTC 5186 225 With this release PENTATONE demonstrate once again how their remarkable re-masterings of these 1970s Deutsche Grammophon quadraphonic tapes to multi-channel SACD can breathe new life into 40 year-old recordings with spectacular results. Michael Tilson Thomas has long been a champion of Stravinsky’s works as his many recordings of them testify and though there are countless fine versions of Stravinsky’s iconic ballet ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ (The Rite of Spring) in the catalogue, this one shows that when an exceptionally talented and confident 28 year old conductor is put before a superbly drilled world-class orchestra the results can be electrifying. The bassoon solo of the Part I introduction, beautifully played by Sherman Walt, is quite slow, with the long opening note unusually sustained, but it immediately establishes what Stravinsky described as ‘the mystery of the physical world in Spring.’ As the work progresses MTT quickly builds up forward momentum and the ‘Danses des Adolescentes’ and ‘Jeu du Rapt’ are, thanks to the incisive playing of the Boston Symphony, as barbaric as one could wish for. Following a marvellously atmospheric start to Part II the pounding eleven chords that open the ‘Glorification de L’ Élue’ are delivered with tremendous ferocity and MTT skilfully racks up the tension as the ballet proceeds to its eventual frenetic close. The 4.0 channel recording captures the huge tam-tam crashes and earth-shattering drum beats that appear throughout the work with a vividness and power rarely experienced on many more recent recordings, while no praise can be too high for the orchestra’s magnificent brass playing. Though the almost cavernous acoustic of Symphony Hall, Boston certainly presents challenges to both the conductor and the recording team, they are for the most part overcome brilliantly, and thanks to the skills of Thomas Mowrey (producer) and Günter Hermanns (balance engineer) many details emerge with unexpected clarity while the overall impact of the sound is thrilling. The fill-up is the short but remarkable cantata ‘Le Roi des Étoiles” that was composed around the same time as Stravinsky was working on ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ (1911-12). It is a setting of ‘Zvezdoliki’ (literally ‘Starface’), a text by the Russian symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont and is dedicated to Debussy who greatly admired it. Scored for male chorus and large orchestra, that includes a celesta and two harps, the influence of both Debussy and especially Scriabin in its harmonic language is clear. Surprisingly it had to wait until 1939 to receive its first performance. It is enthusiastically performed by the Men’s Chorus of the New England Conservatory Choir who seem undaunted by its rhythmic and harmonic complexities while the reverberant Boston acoustic adds to the sonic magic of this fascinating piece. It is a pity that PENTATONE could not have re-printed the text of the cantata in the liner notes that accompany this SACD, especially as they were included with the original LP release. Stravinsky, however, was more concerned with the sounds of the words rather than their meaning so perhaps this is no great loss. It should be pointed out that this disc contains only what was on the original LP release in 1972 so a total playing time of 39’41” does seem rather short measure these days for a full-price issue. But quantity does not replace quality, and to have these two performances in such fine high resolution sound is, in my opinion, worth the cost in spite of the disc’s brevity.
GUARDIAN ANGEL: Rachel Podger/ Channel Classics CCS SA 35513 Without doubt this is yet another award worthy production from the incomparable Rachel Podger and the Channel Classics team. Heinrich Biber’s fifteen ‘Rosary Sonatas’, also called the ‘Mystery Sonatas’ as each is connected with one of the Mysteries of the Catholic Church, were composed in or around 1676. They fall into three groups of five – the Joyful Mysteries, The Sorrowful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries each group inspired by the events of the life of Jesus and his mother. Biber was a both a gifted composer and a violin virtuoso and these sonatas exemplify his most extensive use of scordatura, a technique in which the strings of the instrument are re-tuned from their usual G-D- A-E tuning in order to produce unusual sonorities and textures. Only in the first of these Sonatas and the concluding Passacaglia is the standard tuning used. It is hardly surprising that Rachel Podger, a superlative exponent of the Baroque violin repertoire, has now turned her attention to these remarkable sonatas, and she and her colleagues do not disappoint anywhere on this supremely rewarding two-disc set. Podger uses her own violin (Pesarinius, Genoa,1739) rather than a set of pre-tuned instruments for all the Sonatas and in the notes she suggests that the “suffering” to the instrument as the re-tuning progressed was, in musical terms, worth the danger to its fabric! The continuo used here is provided by three of today’s most distinguished period performers, David Miller (theorbo and archlute), Marcin Światkiewicz (harpsichord and organ) and Jonathan Manson (cello and viola da gamba) who throughout, in their various combinations, provide ravishing tonal colours appropriate to Podger’s playing. The hauntingly beautiful unaccompanied G minor Passacaglia (‘Guardian Angel’) with which Biber ends the work is taken from Rachel Podger’s earlier release of the same name recorded in the Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem in 2013 . One minor point is that on the new issue the timing of this track is given incorrectly as 10.00 (it is in fact 8.52) which might confuse some listeners into thinking that it is a different performance. Channel’s 5.0 DSD recording made in the Church of St. Jude-on-the-Hill is beyond criticism. The venue provides an ambient warmth and rich glow that enhances the sound of the various instrumental aggregations and the events that they portray, while each and every instrumental line is delineated with absolute clarity and positional accuracy. Splendidly informative notes from Rachel Podger and Mark Seow put the seal on a most desirable release.