Featured Reviews

Honeck’s Beethoven & Strauss

GRAHAM WILLIAMS WRITES:

BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO.3, R. STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck/Reference Recordings SACD FR-728  Manfred Honeck’s tenure at the helm of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that began in 2008 has arguably transformed this orchestra from an already first class one into a great one. It is no surprise therefore that the orchestra has extended his contract until 2020. Thanks to the Reference Recordings Fresh! series this transformation can readily be experienced by listeners world wide, as some of their choicest performances have been, and continue to be, captured in superlative multi-channel sound and issued both on SACD and as high resolution downloads. This latest release, the eighth in the series, pairs Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 Op 55 (“Eroica”) with the Horn Concerto No.1 of Richard Strauss. At a first glance this might appear an odd combination, but coupling a concerto written for the most heroic instrument of the orchestra with Beethoven’s “heroic” symphony – both works incidentally sharing the key of E flat major – certainly makes sense. Continue reading

I Saw Eternity the Other Night by Timothy Day; Chopin’s Piano by Paul Kildea

I Saw Eternity the Other Night: King’s College, Cambridge and an English Singing Style by Timothy Day Allen Lane, £25

When a German critic (not Brahms, as often erroneously attributed) described England as ‘Das Land ohne Music’ (‘the land without music’),’ it wasn’t true then, and it is even less true when the legacy of such composers as Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten began to be known throughout the world. And certainly one area in which the UK has excelled is in an indigenous choral singing style, best exemplified by the nonpareil work of King’s College, Cambridge. Timothy Day’s fascinating study could not be more timely, as this year is the hundredth anniversary of the College’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. In a style which is fastidiously intelligent but always accessible, Day (for many years curator of Western art music in the British Library’s Sound Archive) traces the King’s College style from its Victorian origin (noted initially for its rough and ready approach, with the singers only having the barest essentials of musical knowledge), to the high level of professional endeavour that is the norm today. Day is also an authority on recorded music, and notes how the advent of the longplaying record in the 1950s and 1960s that disseminated the sound of the choir. Under the direction of the much-respected David Willcocks, the choir perfected the celebrated King’s sound which — with its clarity and feeling — quickly established itself as the status quo for English choral singing. I Saw Eternity the Other Night also addresses such issues as the background of the societies and communities that typified the approach described in the book – mostly, of course, middle-class, but stretching in appeal beyond what might be perceived as the natural fiefdom of such music. The author’s earlier books include A Century of Recorded Music as well as a study of Hereford Choral Society, which makes him the natural chronicler of this subject. Such is the authority of the book that it’s hard to imagine another study doing the kind of justice to the King’s College sound that Day accords it here.

 

Chopin’s Piano: A Journey through Romanticism by Paul Kildea Allen Lane, £20

When in November 1838 Chopin and Georges Sand took a trip to Majorca to escape from the rigours of the Parisian winter, they stayed in an abandoned monastery in the Palma mountains where the composer finished the creation of one of the key works of the piano repertoire: his 24 Preludes. This fascinating document – quite unlike anything that Chopin aficionados will have encountered before – looks at the history of the composer’s masterpiece and the various instruments on which it has been played, along with its many gifted interpreters. Kildea’s unorthodox book makes for a fascinating study, and the subtitle, ‘A Journey through Romanticism’, shows that by concentrating on one particular topic, the author has — inter alia — opened a window on to a whole musical field.

Holst from Chandos, Shostakovich from LSO Live

SHOSTAKOVICH SYMPHONY NO. 8, London Symphony Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda/LSO Live LSO 0822 SACD  Few orchestras have the measure of one of Shostakovich’s most cogent symphonic utterances, the imposing Eighth Symphony, to the degree that the London Symphony orchestra demonstrably does – and under the exemplary direction of Gianandrea Noseda, they have produced (in surround sound of the greatest impact) a highly competitive reading of striking weight and power.

HOLST: ORCHESTRAL WORKS VOL. 4, BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davis/Chandos SACD CHSA 5192 Remarkably translucent SACD sound distinguishes this latest addition to a highly collectable Holst series. The progress of this very welcome project has been attenuated (to say the least), but patient admirers of the composer have been rewarded by a sympathetic set of readings of Holst’s music, both familiar and less familiar. This latest volume largely concentrates on the latter, and while even the most ardent Holst admirer would not make any great claims for the rather uncharacteristic Cotswolds Symphony, it’s still an acquisition that will please many – as will the orchestration for strings of the wind band piece A Moorside Suite. The real gem here, of course, is Indra, an exotic and colourful piece that has all the distinctive fingerprints of the composer. Sir Andrew Davis’s exploration of Holst’s orchestral works with the BBC Philharmonic is the continuation of a series initiated almost ten years ago by the late Richard Hickox. This latest collection of orchestral works by Holst is something of an overview of his career, ranging from such early works as A Winder Idyll (composed in 1897 when he was still studying at the Royal College of Music) to the Scherzo of a symphony on which he was working towards the end of his life. None of the music recorded here was published in his lifetime, but all of it is worthy of the attention of Holstians.

BRAHMS: SYMPHONY NO. 3, ALTO RHAPSODY, HUNGARIAN DANCES, SCHUBERT SONGS, Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard/BIS 2319 SACD  Perhaps the most appealing aspect of this disc is its unusual collection of ancillary pieces, all of which will make the purchase of the disc de rigeuer for the Brahmsian. As for the performance of the Third Symphony, it is perfectly efficient but perhaps lacks the distinction that Thomas Dausgaard and his forces previously bought to their cycles of the symphonies of Schubert and Schumann. The 40-odd members of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and their conductor Dausgaard are well on their way to completing their series of Brahms’s orchestral works. This disc opens with the Symphony No. 3, followed by the rare orchestrations of six Schubert songs, with Anna Larsson and Johan Reuter as vocal soloists. As on previous discs, Dausgaard has included a set of the much-loved Hungarian Dances in his own orchestrations. The disc closes with one of Brahms’s most personal works, the Alto Rhapsody that he composed after having learned that Robert Schumann’s daughter Julie, with whom he was secretly in love, had become engaged to another man.

LARSSON: SYMPHONIC WORKS, VOL. 3, Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Manze/CPO 777673-2 SACD   If you are the kind of listener who is seeking out something more adventurous than the standard repertoire, it is perhaps time for you to make the acquaintance of the music of Lars-Erik Larsson. And there is no better place to start than with this highly engaging reading of his Third Symphony, music of the modern age which nevertheless takes of the pleasures of tonality and approachability. CPO’s series of recordings of Larsson’s symphonic works is now finally complete. The composer’s Third symphony (a four-movement work) is a masterpiece, and it is difficult to understand why Larsson withdrew this symphony shortly after its premiere and retained only the finale, now with a new, lengthier slow introduction and the title Concerto Overture No. 3. This finale is in fact a movement of especially captivating elegance, a unique humorous quality, and outstanding craftsmanship, but the symphony has to be experienced in toto – as here.

BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO.3, R. STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck/Reference Recordings SACD FR-728  The more genned-up classical listener will have added to their mental lists a particularly unbeatable combination: the dynamic conductor Manfred Honeck (with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) and the American classical label Reference Recordings, whose mastery of audiophile values now has few rivals in the field. In a continuing series of impressive recordings, the conductor, orchestra and the label have managed to bring a fresh perspective to some familiar music — and they have presented themselves a particular challenge on this enterprising disc. But you might ask why I’ve utilised the adjective ‘enterprising’ when this is yet another recording in the endless stream of takes on Beethoven’s third Symphony — but a fresh reading of Strauss’s first Horn Concerto sets both works in a new context and forces the listener to listen afresh. When so many recordings of the mighty Eroica have done considerable justice to Beethoven’s masterpiece, something special is needed for each new recording, and that is precisely what Honeck and his forces offer in this incisive and exhilarating reading. The disc was recorded in Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and mastered in wide-ranging audiophile sound by the team at Soundmirror. (See also Graham Williams’ review opposite)

BERLIOZ: REQUIEM/GRANDE MESSE DES MORTS, Bergen Philharmonic, Soloists, Edward Gardner/Chandos SACD CHSA 5219  When Roger Norrington’s remarkable surround sound recording of the Berlioz Requiem appeared, utilising all available channels (and thus replicating the composer’s stated intention of putting the audience at the centre of the music), it seemed that a definitive reading – and recording of immense range – had assumed default position as a listener’s choice. But now that Norrington set has an imposing rival which similarly utilises all the resources of multichannel recording to great dramatic effect, and the choice between the two becomes difficult. If Norrington’s choir and soloists have slightly more pointed articulacy (at least as accorded to them by the engineers), there is no denying the sheer impact of the forces made available to Edward Gardner who has been proving through his series for Chandos his immense flexibility and versatility as a musician. The new recording thoroughly utilises the spatial possibilities of Grieghallen in Bergen. As has been pointed out, the music is not that of an orthodox believer but of a visionary (as with the similarly sceptical Vaughan Williams and Brahms).

CHOPIN: NOCTURNES, Ingrid Fliter/Linn CKD 565   These exquisite masterpieces for the piano could hardly be said to have been neglected over the years, and with so many impressive performances on disc, Ingrid Fliter (as she is no doubt aware) is entering a crowded field. Those who know her earlier Chopin performances will not be surprised to learn of the poetry and musicality of these recordings, sadly only in CD stereo sound rather than Linn’s superb earlier use of the SACD medium. Some extraneous vocal noises by the pianist are not distracting.

SCHREKER: THE BIRTHDAY OF THE INFANTA – SUITE, PRELUDE TO A DRAMA, ROMANTIC SUITE, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta/Naxos  if your personal yardstick for full-blooded late romantic music is a tone poems by Richard Strauss, but you have played to exhaustion your discs of Also Sprach Zarathustra and Don Juan, then there is a lesser-known composer who may slake that late romantic thirst. Franz Schreker was a prominent figure in early 20th-century Austro-German music, his reputation as an opera composer rivalling that of Richard Strauss. The Prelude to a Drama is the concert overture of Schreker’s acclaimed opera Die Gezeichneten, a lurid drama involving murder and madness. Conceived as a theatrical pantomime, The Birthday of the Infanta adapts Oscar Wilde’s tragic tale of an ugly dwarf who dies of a broken heart. Perfomances her do full justice to the music, while not quite matching the idiomatic readings of the concurrent Chandos Schreker series.

Classical CD Choice Disc of the Month  MOZART: SYMPHONIES KV 425 “LINZ”,” KV 385 “HAFFNER”, Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Gordan Nikolić/Tacet S230 SACD  When the Tacet label extols the virtues of its ‘real surround sound’, it is speaking with nothing less than the absolute truth. The company’s policy of placing the listener absolutely central in any musical experience – in other words, utilising all available channels of the SACD medium for more than just ambience and locating the instruments both behind and in front of the listener — has at times been a controversial one, but the impressive results speak for themselves. For those with a proper equipment (and that naturally includes classical listeners with a taste for the richest and most comprehensive reproduction of sound values), the Tacet discs are a truly exhilarating listening experience. That is very much the case with these pointed and athletic performances of two of Mozart’s best loved symphonies. Part of the success of the Tacet label is the fact that with this particular recording method, every strand of the orchestration can be heard with total clarity – and this Mozart disc is the perfect calling card.

HANDEL: ODE FOR ST CECILIA’S DAY, Dunedin Consort, John Butt/Linn CKD578  With its dramatic and colourful sound values, this recording of Handel’s ever-popular choral piece bids fair to be the most impressive reading of the piece in years – and one that at a stroke become the definitive available version. While taking on board current practices in Handel performance, there is a warmth and affection to the reading that is pleasantly redolent of an earlier era – the best of all possible worlds, in fact. A rich and colourful tribute to music’s patron saint, recorded during this year’s Misteria Paschalia Festival in Poland, the Dunedin Consort’s performance of Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day sees them joined for the first time by tenor Ian Bostridge and soprano Carolyn Sampson. Bostridge demonstrates the technical mastery and vocal precision that has seen him win many of the major international record prizes in his twenty-five year career. Highly sought-after for her refined Baroque sensibilities and pure intonation, Sampson’s lyric soprano is ideally suited to Handel. Led by John Butt, with singers from the Polish Radio Choir, this rich and colourful tribute to music’s patron saint is the latest in their much-lauded Handel discography, which includes Messiah, Acis & Galatea and Esther, each having won widespread acclaim.

HANDEL: ABBANDONANTA: ITALIAN CANTATAS, Carolyn Sampson, at the Kings Consort, Robert King/Vivat 117  Along with the recording of Handel’s Ode to St Cecilia’s Day discussed above, this disc clearly proves that we are living in something of a golden age of Handel recordings. Apart from its considerable musical values (notably a strong, incisive approach to the cantatas, with Carolyn Sampson in glorious voice), this is something of a deluxe presentation with a 60 page booklet as part of the package.

PARRY: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, BBC National Chorus & Orchestra of Wales / Rumon Gamba/ CHAN 10994  Admirers of Vaughan Williams sometimes turn to the music of one of his tutors, Parry, to hear pre-echoes of their favourite composer. But it has to be said that this is usually done more in the spirit of optimism than realism, as Vaughan Williams was by far the more radical musician. But Parry’s music has its appeal, as this disc from Chandos Records proves, and this is an attractive collection, if hardly proof that Parry belongs along with on the slopes of Mount Parnassus with such composers as Elgar and Britten. To commemorate the centenary of Parry’s death, Rumon Gamba and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales offer this rare album of major works never recorded before, at the centre of which stands the original version of Parry’s Symphony No. 4.

RIMSKY AND CO. : ORIGINALS, Various orchestras, Major Arjan Tien/Channel Classics CCSA 4818  This is a novel concept, brought off rather winningly. Lesser-known pieces by Prokofiev (the Athletic Festival March) and Khachaturian’s To the Heroes of the Russian War (both, as their titles suggest, a touch tub-thumping — if fun) are set against more familiar pieces by Stravinsky and Shostakovich in lively enthusiastic performances.

A FESTIVAL OF NINE LESSONS AND CAROLS, Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury/King’s College Cambridge Double CD  The first observation that should be made about this mellifluous recording is just how faithfully the sound engineers (in the later recordings) have captured the experience of hearing the music in situ. We are used to impressive recordings of the Choir of Kings College from their own label, so there is not a quantum leap here – merely a continuation of the recording tradition established earlier in which the finessing of the distinctive timbre of the choir is matched with performances that do full justice to the perfectly judged musical values. The attraction here is partly due to the fact that this special double album presents the lengthy history of the choir via such directors of music as David Willcocks, Philip Ledger and (of course) Stephen Cleobury in recordings which reach from the late 1950s to the present. It is a fascinating aural history.

STRAVINSKY: PETRUSHKA, JEU DE CARTES, Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/Mariinsky SACD MARO577 Interestingly, this is the second of two recordings of Stravinsky’s Jeu de Cartes to surface in the same month, and it’s a close call as to which is the first to appear in the surround sound medium. Needless to say, Gergiev has the measure of this winning (if neglected) Stravinsky piece, and if his Petrushka is more rough and ready than most, it does not shortchange the listener in terms of excitement or vitality.

RICHARD STRAUSS: ABER DER RICHTIGE: VIOLIN CONCERTO AND MINIATURES, Arabella Steinbacher WDR Symphony Orchestra, Lawrence Foster/PENTATAONE SACD PTC 5186653  While even the most ardent Straussian would hardly make a claim for the modest Violin Concerto being one of his masterpieces, it is an amiable enough piece (if not particularly characteristic), and enjoys the best possible advocacy by Arabella Steinbacher here. The violinist, we learn, is called ‘Arabella’ after Strauss’s opera (her parents were both Straussians), and the violin and orchestra transcription of that opera’s most famous aria, Aber der richtige, gives this collection its name. It is poetically played, as are the transcriptions of songs, etc., which make of the second half of this SACD. Not major Strauss, but a disc that will find favour with many.

STRAVINSKY: THE RITE OF SPRING, FUNERAL SONG, GAME OF CARDS, CONCERTO IN D, AGON, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Gustavo Gimeno, Pentataone SACD PTC 518 6650  This highly useful two-disc set is an extremely convenient way for listeners to accrue (in excellent SACD sound) some familiar and lesser known pieces by Stravinsky. For many it will not be the appeal of yet another Rite of Spring that makes this an attractive set, but the opportunity to acquire such works as Jeu de Cartes (see the rival reading above) and even to reassess the knotty but intriguing Agon. We are also given the first recording in surround sound of the recently discovered Funeral Song.

Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and a rediscovered female composer

BERNSTEIN: WONDERFUL TOWN, Soloists, London Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle/LSO LIVE SACD LSO 9813  Those lucky enough to have seen Rattle’s wonderful Glyndebourne performances of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess will know just how much the conductor has the measure of music closer to the popular idiom than the concert hall – and they will not be surprised that this performance of Bernstein’s early theatrical masterpiece is so winning (in this year of what would have been his hundredth birthday). The performance has exactly the right infusion of theatrical vividness, and if the whole enterprise doesn’t quite match the pizazz and snap of the earlier John Owen Edwards set, it’s still a real winner. What’s more, the disc sounds particularly impressive in the warm LSO Live surround sound.

JOHN WILLIAMS AT THE MOVIES, Dallas Winds, Jerry Junkin REFERENCE RR-142 SACD  Like the venerable composers who inspired him (such as Eric Wolfgang Korngold and Bernard Herrmann, who straddled the worlds of Hollywood and the concert hall), John Williams’ writing for strings is one of the glories of his matchless film music — which is what makes this lively and attractive set such a surprise, given that the transcriptions here are for woodwind and brass (plus a few other instruments). But how well they work — particularly in the superbly engineered Reference Recordings sound. If you need persuading, just listen to a few bars of Jerry Jenkins and the Dallas Winds’ take on the glorious Superman March or the inevitable extracts from Star Wars. Even if you have the original soundtracks, you may well find yourself being tempted by this delicious disc (see also Graham Williams’ review opposite).

RUTH GIPPS: SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN B MAJOR; SYMPHONY NO. 4; SONG FOR ORCHESTRA; KNIGHT IN ARMOUR, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rumon Gamba/Chandos CHAN 20078  It is perhaps time that we accept the new orthodoxy that women composers deserve as much attention as men, even though it is undeniably true that (for whatever reasons) music by male composers of real accomplishment is far more plentiful than that written that by the female sex. Which is not to say that the neglect of such composers as the very talented Ruth Gipps – a pupil of Vaughan Williams – is justified. This admirable collection is proof of her accomplishment and a reminder that (like her male contemporaries such as Malcolm Arnold) her highly approachable tonal music fell out of favour when 12 tone and atonal music became the fashionable norm, obliterating more traditional fare. History has now made a sensible judgement, and the work of such neglected composers as Gipps is being (thankfully) dusted off. Great work by Rumon Gamba and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, who have already championed many British composers from the twentieth century with their series devoted to British Tone Poems and Overtures from the British Isles. While, not surprisingly, there are echoes of the most popular composers of the time – Sibelius, Walton, and Vaughan Williams – the music is notable for its personal voice, confident conception, and vivid writing for the orchestra. Gipps herself actually felt her best works were those for orchestra. In a programme of contrasting impressions and emotions, Symphonies Nos 2 and 4, the former inspired by the Second World War, offer an approachable tuneful idiom. They are complemented by the lyrical, shorter Song for Orchestra and the early tone poem Knight in Armour, premiered at the last Night of the Proms in 1942.

Classical CD Choice Disc of the Month: PISTON; JONES; ALBERT: AMERICAN SYMPHONIES – WALTER PISTON: SYMPHONY NO. 6; SAMUEL JONES: SYMPHONY NO. 3 (PALO DURO CANYON); STEPHEN ALBERT: SYMPHONY NO. 2, London Symphony Orchestra; Lance Friedel / BIS2118 SACD  Those with adventurous tastes in American music will have moved on from the more familiar scores of such composers as Copland to sample less traversed territory, such as the often abrasive — but immensely rewarding — music of William Schuman. Another American composition well worth exploring is Walter Piston’s Sixth Symphony, the most familiar piece on this enterprising and very attractive disc. It’s given a very persuasive performance in typically impressive BIS surround sound, but what makes the disc eminently collectable are the two unfamiliar pieces that accompany it – music with which most listeners will be totally unfamiliar On this recording, conductor Lance Friedel strikes a blow for three fellow American composers, with the help of the eminent London Symphony Orchestra. The disc opens with Piston’s 6th. It was completed in 1955, by which time many regarded Piston (1894-1976) as clinging to tradition in the face of modernism. When Samuel Jones (b. 1935) presented his Third Symphony ‘Palo Duro Canyon’ in 1992, the pendulum was swinging back, however, and traditional music built of melody, harmony and rhythm was no longer considered hopelessly outdated. The work nevertheless begins in a rather non-traditional fashion with the recorded sound of the wind of the Texas plains, where the Palo Duro Canyon is situated. Jones’s slightly younger colleague Stephen Albert (1941-92) was just completing his Second Symphony when he was killed in a car accident. The work had been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic.

STRAVINSKY: PERSÉPHONE, Soloists, Finnish National Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonon/PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186688  It’s hardly surprising that Stravinsky’s rigorous, tightly organised piece has had relatively few recordings and performances over the years. Perséphone was written in a period when the composer had long since ceased striving for something between his abrasive and ingratiating manner (the presence of a narrator is clear sign of this rarefied approach). But admirers of Stravinsky looking for a definitive recording of this opaque piece have now been provided with the perfect disc, recorded in PENTATONE’s customarily exemplary surround sound.

KABALEVKSY: OVERTURE PATHÉTIQUE; VIOLIN CONCERTO; 5 RHAPSODY ON THE THEME OF THE SONG ‘SCHOOL YEARS’, VESNA (‘SPRING’); COLAS BREUGNON Suite, Yury Revich; Magda Amara; Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz; Karl-Heinz Steffens  His unfortunate collusion with the Soviet authorities rendered Kabalevsky a notably unheroic figure in music history, it is somewhat unfair that he has had his reputation so tarnished – after all, Shostakovich was similarly obliged to toe the line with the philistine Soviet authorities, but we are prepared to cut the latter more slack as we know his true feelings. The only thing that counts these days is how Kabalevsky’s music sounds, and he remains a composer of accomplishment, with several colourful, accessible pieces to his name. Certainly, he is not a composer to rival Shostakovich, but there are rewards to be found here — not least in the suite from his well known piece Colas Breugnon. Approach this with the correct expectations, and you will be guaranteed a pleasurable listening experience.

STENHAMMAR: SYMPHONY NO. 2; MUSIC TO ‘ETT DRÖMSPEL’, Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, Christian Lindberg/ BIS2329 SACD   Those with a taste for Scandinavian music will of course be familiar with the symphonic masterpieces of Sibelius and Nielsen, but Stenhammar is a composer you may find this well worth your time. The Second Symphony has a particularly stellar reputation, and this immensely musical performance does it full justice. Considered to be one of the great Nordic symphonies of its time, Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Symphony No. 2 in G minor was a long time in the making. Stenhammar the conductor and pianist was a leading figure in the musical life of Sweden and Scandinavia, but in his role as composer he struggled with self-doubt, feeling that his knowledge of musical theory was insufficient. In 1910 he decided to address this perceived shortcoming, and began an intensive study of counterpoint which included setting himself several thousand assignments over the following decade. At the same time, between 1911 and 1915, Stenhammar composed his G minor symphony, and against this background it is hardly surprising that it displays his preoccupation with counterpoint, its final movement a grandiose double fugue. If the symphony is one of Stenhammar’s most celebrated works, his music for Strindberg’s A Dream Play is one of the least-known. It was composed for a production of Strindberg’s existential drama in 1916, a year after the completion of the symphony.

COME TO ME IN MY DREAMS: Dame Sarah Connolly / Joseph Middleton/Chandos CHAN 10944  Singing of mellifluous beauty (with sensitive interpretations of the texts) is the hallmark of this very attractive collection. The disc is also a reminder of Sarah Connolly’s finely honed talent and the often neglected accomplishment of English song over many years. An exceptional, nocturnally inspired recital spanning over 120 years of British song, the CD includes world premieres of two songs by Benjamin Britten.

ROBERT GROSLOT: CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA, VIOLIN CONCERTO, Joanna Kurkowicz, Violin, Brussels Philharmonic, Robert Groslot/Naxos  One cannot praise too highly the very welcome enterprise of the Naxos label which is always ready to record and promote composers with whom the listener is unlikely to be familiar. And that enterprise sometimes throws up some real gems – very much the case here. Robert Groslot turns out to be a real find, writing music that is both ambitious and relatively easy on the ear. The Concerto for Orchestra while not rivalling such masterpieces of that idiom as Bartok’s is a wonderfully inventive and vividly coloured piece. The concerto occupies a central place in the works of leading Belgian composer, pianist and conductor, Robert Groslot. His experience as a renowned soloist informs the instrumental possibilities and playing techniques of his compositions, which are notable for their refined and rich contrast. Conforming to his preference for one-movement structures, the Violin Concerto is laced with scintillating motifs both ethereal and playful as well as complex moods ranging from the dream-like and magical to the dark and violent. The Concerto for Orchestra is a meticulously structured and dazzlingly evocative showpiece.

BEETHOVEN: VIOLIN SONATAS 1, 10 & 5, ‘SPRING’, Lorenzo Gatto, Juline Libeer/Alpha 407  Over the years, there have been many exemplary recordings of Beethoven’s masterpieces for violin and piano, but this is a particularly competitive issue, with performances delivered with impeccable musicianship and feeling. If the great recordings of the past are not displaced, this represents a very recommendable modern day alternative.

BRAUNFELLS: WORKS FOR PIANO & ORCHESTRA, Tatjana Blome, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Gregor Bühl/ Capriccio C5345  It’s not so long ago that the music of Braunfells was languishing unheard, but a variety of labels have dusted off some of this most attractive music and committed it to disc – as in this case. Walter Braunfels’ music fell out of favour twice: first, when the Nazis declared his music ‘degenerate art’; and again when post-war Germany declared it had little use for the various schools of tonal music and considered any form of romantic music (almost the whole pre-war aesthetic) to be tainted. Post-war European music faced a fundamental shift in direction. This is Vol. 6 of Capriccio’s Braunfels Edition, devoted to reviving the composer’s rich legacy and showcasing the colourful range of his music. The programme features works for piano and orchestra from three different periods of his life: his first complete orchestral work, Witches’ Sabbath, Op. 8 (1906), the Concert Piece, Op. 64 (1946) and one of his last compositions.

MOZART: STRING QUARTES KV 387 & 421 Aryn Quarte /Tacet SACD S233  The Tacet label is celebrated for its nonpareil sound quality: surround sound recordings with a vividness and immediacy that puts many of their rivals (even several in the SACD field) to shame. Of course, aural virtues such as this would count for little if the performances were not of equal standard, and that is thankfully the case with virtually all of the company’s output. The Aryn Quartet deliver sensitive and musicianly Mozart performances giving these quartets a vibrancy and piquancy of real distinction.

STRAUSS: BURLESKE, OBE CONCERTO, DUET CONCERTINO, TILL EULENSPIEGEL, RIA Symphonie Rochester, Ferce Fricsay/Audite 95604 Listeners old enough to have grown up with the classic recordings of Ferenc Fricsay as an introduction to great music will find this judicious selection of pieces by Richard Strauss a nostalgic treat. But it is more than that. Although inevitably the age of the recordings accords everything a somewhat constricted aural picture, the performances blaze out with conviction and remind us what a great interpreter of Strauss Fricsay was.

BLACHER: DANCE SUITE; HAMLET; POÈME; CONCERTANT MUSIC, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Johannes Kalitzke/Capriccio C5349  Another composer who has hardly deserved the minimal attention his music has received is Boris Blacher, and this intriguing programme is a reminder of his considerable accomplishment, ably conducted by Johannes Klitzke. Blacher passed on the hallmarks of his own music to many of his students, including Gottfried von Einem, Aribert Reimann and Isang Yun: a pronounced dance-like energy, lyrical melodies, orchestral sparkle, and subtlety of instrumentation. Blacher wrote a large number of ballets, and Poème clearly exemplifies how the idea of movement plays a central role even in his absolute music. Faced with the Nazi cultural restrictions of his time, it’s surprising how Blacher continued to tread his own musical path in major works, a beneficiary perhaps of a lack of total unity among the authority’s ranks.

MEPHITOPHELES: AND OTHER BAD GUYS, Kevin Short, Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille, Lawrence Foster/PENTATONE PTC5186586  With arias by Beethoven Wagner, Mozart, Berlioz and Stravinsky, this was a particularly ingenious idea — marshalling a program featuring the great villains of music in toothsome extracts. Of course, such a disc stands or falls on the skills of its singer, and the talented Kevin Short proves to be a truly impressive performer in these arias. Never laying on the lipsmacking villainy with a trowel, his approach is always utterly musicianly but providing all the necessary dramatic grace notes that are required. It’s an inspired collection.

SIR RICHARD RODNEY BENNETT: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 2, Howard McGill / BBC SSO / John Wilson/Chandos SUPER AUDIO CD CHSA 5212  Given that his massively popular film music (such as his winning themes for the original Murder on the Orient Express) has such a following, it’s surprising that Richard Rodney Bennett’s classical output has not enjoyed wider exposure – although it has to be admitted that some pieces such as his opera The Mines of Sulphur are difficult, forbidding work which might explain their relative neglect. This ongoing John Wilson series may bring more attention to the late composer, who was also a specialist in musical theatre (this writer frequently discussed the latter field with Bennett). From the glittering Symphony No. 2 to the jazzy Concerto for Stan Getz, this second volume in John Wilson and the BBC SSO’s invigorating exploration of fascinating orchestral works by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett breaks down the false walls between two musical worlds and will appeal to anyone willing to explore, discover, or simply enjoy great music.

SONGS FOR STRINGS, Donald Fraser, arr./Avie AV 2391  If you are an aficionado of music arranged for string orchestra that was originally written for other forces, Donald Fraser is clearly a musician worth your attention. If this collection of short pieces does not equal in ambition his earlier orchestration of Elgar’s piano quintet, it is nevertheless extremely attractive (if hardly epic in scope) On Songs for Strings, Donald Fraser demonstrates his flair for the art of arranging, crafting beautiful new versions for string orchestra of classic works by John Dowland, Edward Elgar, Henry Purcell, Antonio Vivaldi and others. In the 1990s, Fraser scored a hit with his orchestral arrangement of Marin Marais’ baroque classic The Bells of St. Genevieve which reached the Top 5 of Billboard’s Classical Chart and remains a radio evergreen to this day. Numerous commissions for arrangements followed for musicians such as The King’s Singers, Yehudi Menuhin and the English Chamber Orchestra. In 2016, AVIE released Fraser’s large-scale orchestration of Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet and choral version of Sea Pictures, which charted in the Top 10 of the UK Specialist Classical Chart. Fraser now returns to the art of arranging smaller scale, classic works by John Dowland, Henry Purcell, Antonio Vivaldi and others, including new versions of his own “Amen” from A Christmas Symphony which was written for and premiered by soprano Jessye Norman, a new re-mix of The Bells of St. Genevieve and orchestrations of four Elgar art songs that evoke the album’s title, Songs for Strings.

GOLDSCHMIDT: OVERTURE: THE COMEDY OF ERRORS; GREEK SUITE; SCHULHOFF: OGELALA, BEATE BILANDZIJA, Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Michail Jurowski CPO 999323-2  Perhaps there are no neglected masterpieces in this program, but it is nevertheless a reminder of how solidly written, highly accomplished music and composers suffered under totalitarian regimes. Berthold Goldschmidt and Erwin Schulhoff were two German composers whose fate illustrates with horrible clarity the extent to which Nazi rule impacted artist’s lives during an entire generation. Goldschmidt, who emigrated from Germany to England in 1935, fortunately survived and enjoyed success until his death in 1996. Erwin Schulhoff died in the Würzburg Concentration Camp in 1942. If Goldschmidt’s Comedy of Errors Overture may be termed a carefree and youthful stroke of genius, then his Greek Suite is a gloomy document of the time it was written in. The melodies derived by Goldschmidt from the thirty Mélodies populaires de Grèce at the time might have symbolized Greek as well as English opposition to the Axis powers. Schulhoff’s ballet mystery based on Ogelala, an ancient Mexican original, dates from the same period as Goldschmidt’s genial comic overture. A score displaying more magnificent colours could simply not be imagined. These works, in this combination, clearly demonstrate the great richness of Germany’s music during the 1920s.

JOUBERT: PIANO CONCERTO; SYMPHONY NO. 3, Martin Jones, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, William Boughton/Lyrita SRCD367  Those who have have discovered the music of Joubert have been well aware that he is a composer real accomplishment with the body of work that deserves far wider explosion exposure – perhaps discs like this will help spread the word. In keeping with Joubert’s instinctively symphonic approach to large-scale forms, the concerto is more of a sinfonia concertante than a bravura vehicle for pianistic display. The idea for a musico-dramatic work based on Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre originated in the early 1980s, when the composer took early retirement from the University of Birmingham. This was a labour of love which he embarked upon unprompted and without the security of a commission. Dedicated to the opera’s librettist Kenneth Birkin and his wife Inge, Symphony No.3 on themes from the opera ‘Jane Eyre’, Op.178 (2014-17), reworks the five orchestral interludes as five symphonic movements. Originally written for chamber orchestral forces, the material has been re-scored by the composer for a full symphony orchestra.