RÓZSA: BEN HUR: THE COMPLETE SCORE City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Nic Raine

This Miklos Rózsa two-disc set is an indispensable acquisition for admirers of the composer. Despite splendid efforts from such contemporary rivals as Dimitri Tiomkin, Rózsa’s Hungarian-influenced scores were the definitive musical incarnations of the Hollywood epic, and this celebrated  score is considered by many aficionados to be Rózsa’s best work in that vein, full-blooded and passionate. Apart from the generous playing times of these discs, the icing on the cake is the sheer panache of the orchestral playing by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the ever-reliable Nic Raine, the conductor who, more than any other contemporary musician, has the full measure of these scores. The original soundtrack recording of this music left much to be desired sonically, with boxy, thin sound – nothing like as rich as this state-of-the-art modern recoding. Rózsa admirers have had their prayers answered – although the composer’s own vivid Decca recording of extracts from the score should not be parted with.

RÓZSA: BEN HUR: THE COMPLETE SCORE City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Nic Raine

 

Filippo Gorini: Beethoven in London

Those lucky enough to have recently attended a private concert in London near the BBC will have been privileged to hear a rare display of nonpareil pianism from the young Italian pianist Filippo Gorini. With a sensitivity, maturity and sense of poetry that belied his youth, Gorini gave a recital including the Diabelli Variations that winkled out every nuance in Beethoven’s masterpiece with an attention to detail that recalled the masterly performances of the great Alfred Brendel. And this was no surprise to have heard Gorini’s recent record of the piece on Alpha Classics, sporting a performance that rivalled the older man’s reading. Neither would it surprise those who knew that after hearing Filippo’s performance of the Variations, Alfred Brendel invited Filippo to work with him, and they have since continued to work together regularly. The Diabelli Variations feature on Filippo’s debut disc, which has garnered much acclaim, including a Diapason d’Or Award and a stellar review on The Guardian.

Upcoming performances for Gorini include concertos in Korea, Germany, China, and prestigious recitals throughout Europe, including the Elphilharmonie Hamburg, the Brussels Flagey Piano Days Festival, and the Accademia Filarmonica di Trento. He will appear also in Australia and North America in 2019. In May 2017, Filippo received the Beethoven-Ring prize from the Citizens for Beethoven Association in Bonn. His previous competition achievements include first prize at the Neuhaus Competition in Moscow, and prize of the Young Euro Classics Festival in Berlin.

His concert appearances in Europe have drawn unanimous acclaim; in particular, his tour with the Klassische Philharmonie Bonn and his debut in Warsaw at the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. He has performed on many prestigious stages such as the Konzerthaus Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Laeiszhalle Hamburg, Die Glocke Bremen, Società del Quartetto di Milano, Royal Academy of Music London, Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, Beethovenhaus Bonn, and Sale Apollinee at Teatro La Fenice. Alongside his solo career, Filippo continues to perform as a chamber musician: last year he performed at “Chamber Music Connects the World” in Kronberg, with Steven Isserlis.

After graduating from the Donizetti Conservatory in Bergamo, Filippo continues his studies with Alfred Brendel, Maria Grazia Bellocchio, and with Pavel Gililov at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. He is a scholarship recipient of the Lichtenstein Music Academy.

 

Striking SACD Dvorak from Bosch on Coviello

DVORAK: SYMPHONY NO.1, Staatsphilharmonie Nurnberg, Marcus Bosch/Coviello COV 91718  Over the years, a great many of the gaps in the surround sound discography have been plugged, but there have still been some surprising omissions. In the case of the great Czech master Dvorak, for instance, eight of his nine symphonies have been available for some time in SACD format, with just one in stereo only, the Brahmsian First Symphony. But now, the under the auspices of the Staatsphilharmonie Nurnberg under Marcus Bosch, that omission has been rectified. What’s more, this is no placeholder performance, but a reading of great energy and zest – the qualities that have distinguished other discs by this conductor. Bosch is a musician unafraid to take certain unorthodox choices – his recent set of Bruckner symphonies, for instance, utilised some daringly accelerated speeds. But such was the rigour and conviction with which he employed them, many listeners were persuaded that this was a perfectly legitimate approach to a composer normally granted stately tempi. The methodology employed with Dvorak’s First here is not quite as radical, but does perform a perfectly legitimate piece of orchestral surgery on the work. As mentioned above, the symphony was composed when Dvorak was still under the spell of Brahms, and most performances have tended to stress that connection. Bosch, however, suggests the direction that the composer’s imagination was to take subsequently and renders it more of a brother (or sister) to the more colourful (in a specifically Czech sense) to the later symphonies. This approach is largely convincing and this is among the most striking performances the symphony has enjoyed. If there is a caveat, it is the fact that no room has been found for a fill-up – Neeme Järvi on his impressive Chandos reading includes the symphonic poem The Hero’s Song. Nevertheless, this is a small quibble, and Dvorak admirers should not hesitate.

Spruced-up Strauss

RICHARD STRAUSS: SALOME & ELEKTRA, Birgit Nilsson, Soloists, Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti/Universal Blu-ray Audio 4831498  & 4831494 (both 3 discs, inc. 1 Blu-ray audio) Audiophiles and opera lovers alike have been fervently hoping that Universal might give the same Blu-ray audio spruce-up to these classic Decca sets – for many years the definitive reading of Richard Strauss’s operas – that the company had accorded to such recordings as Karajan’s Madama Butterfly and Solti’s Ring. Now those wistful wishes have come to fruition and we may hear anew – in astonishingly detailed pre-digital sound – what Nilsson, Solti and producer John Culshaw achieved in their heyday. If the latter’s famous aural effects now seem like a certain gilding of the lily, there is no gainsaying the power and drama of the performances, with Nilsson at her matchless best. And both operas are complete on one Blu-ray disc each (with CDs also included). A Richard Strauss cornucopia indeed.

SACD OF THE MONTH: SZYMANOWSKI, KARŁOWICZ: VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Tasmin Little / BBC Symphony Orchestra / Edward Gardner Chandos CHSA 5185  There have been previous performances available on CD of this evocative (and somewhat neglected) Polish music, including versions on the Chandos label, as is this one – although that was in stereo only. But here we have (in glorious surround sound) performances of these pieces which at a stroke become nigh-definitive, with the persuasive combination of Little’s strikingly poetic playing and Gardner’s typically incisive approach to the subtle orchestral writing. What’s more, with three concerti on offer, this represents something of a bargain with its generous playing time. This SACD recording follows performances that The Guardian described as ‘a thrilling show of ferocity and feistiness’, given by the same forces in January at the Barbican. All three pieces were written within the space of a generation (1902, 1916, and 1933), and yet they belong to quite different worlds.

SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONY NO. 5/BARBER: ADAGIO FOR STRINGS, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck/Reference Recordings SACD RRFR-724  One might argue that the most recorded of Shostakovich’s symphonies hardly needs another reading, but that’s not taking into account the muscular approach that Manfred Honeck takes here, continuing his unbroken series of impressive recordings for the Reference label. If Honeck concentrates more on the sheer elemental power of the piece rather than its moments of menacing repose (as opposed to Dmitrij Kitajenko’s memorable reading of the Fifth as part of his complete cycle), this is music that responds well to that particular orientation. If the fill-up, yet another performance of Barber’s Adagio might occasion some disappointment, it should be noted that this is a particularly sensitive reading of Barber’s calling card piece, even if one wishes that Honeck might have chosen something Russian as accompaniment — Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla overture, for instance. Customarily exemplary audiophile sound enhances Honeck’s performance. The conductor’s notes reminds us that Joseph Stalin’s Soviet government was offended by the composer’s previous works. Under threat of arrest or banishment to Siberia, Shostakovich devised a new, less-complex compositional style for the 5th Symphony, still full of irony and double meaning, to appease Stalin and appeal to the common people.

GRANADOS: GOYESCAS, José Menor, piano/IBS 82017  Granados’ masterpiece for piano has been fortunate in its recordings over the years, not least with what many regard as the definitive take, that by Alicia de la Rocha on Decca. This new version from José Menor is a contender, displaying both grace and sensitivity, although the recording of the piano sound has as a slight restriction in the upper register.

STRAUSS: THE COMPLETE SONGS, VOLUME 8, Nicky Spence, Rebecca Evans, Roger Vignoles/Hyperion CDA68185  Many listeners would argue that the greatest songwriters in the classical repertoire are Schubert and Strauss, and both composers have enjoyed copious recorded attention over the years. This particular cycle from Hyperion is a notable addition to the lists, with singers of great sensitivity impeccably accompanied by the always reliable Roger Vignoles. The pianist astutely notes that Strauss’s songs cannot be played ‘without a vivid sense of the orchestral colours and textures that they imply’, so how better to conclude our series of the complete songs than with the piano-accompanied versions of the Vier letzte Lieder? These wondrous valedictions are the summation of a great composer’s love affair with the voice, written at the very end of a long creative life.’

PICKARD: SYMPHONY NO. 5; SIXTEEN SUNRISES; CONCERTANTE VARIATIONS FOR WIND QUINTET, TIMPANI AND STRINGS; TOCCATA (MONTEVERDI), TRANSCRIPTION FOR ENSEMBLE AFTER CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Martyn Brabbins/BIS2261  The BIS label has something of a knack for discovering unfamiliar music worthy of our attention, and that is (with some reservations) what it has once again achieved here. Although Pickard’s music perhaps lacks that final ounce of distinction, it is still highly professional and impeccably judged in terms of its balance of orchestral forces Born in 1963, John Pickard is best known for a series of powerful orchestral and instrumental works; previous recordings of his music on BIS have received critical acclaim. The present disc brings together some of Pickard’s most recent orchestral compositions, in performances by two of his long-term collaborators: the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conductor Martyn Brabbins. The opening work is Symphony No. 5, which was composed in 2014 with these performers in mind. Lasting some thirty minutes, the symphony is in a single movement. The symphony is followed by Sixteen Sunrises; the title of the piece refers to the number of sunrises that can be observed during a twenty-four-hour period from the International Space Station (ISS), as it orbits the earth.

RAVEL: DAPHNIS ET CHLOÉ, UNE BARQUE SUR L’OCÉAN, PAVANE POUR UNE INFANTE DÉFUNTE, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Gustavo Gimeno/PENTATONE PTC 5186 652  Over the years, Ravel’s masterpiece has been particularly fortunate in its various recordings, with even the SACD medium now able to boast several rivals. If this new performance doesn’t quite dislodge such predecessors as Haitink and Gergiev, it is still a highly commendable. Gimeno conjures much of the sensuality of the music. Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé is widely regarded as his greatest orchestral masterpiece and one of the 20th century’s finest ballet scores. This vast musical fresco with its shimmering harmonies, magical diaphanous textures and spectacular conclusion is compellingly realised by Gustavo Gimeno and the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg in this eagerly awaited release from PentaTone. The album also contains the haunting and exquisite Pavane pour une infante défunte and the vividly scored Une barque sur l’océan. Stravinsky regarded Daphnis et Chloé as “not only Ravel’s best work, but also one of the most beautiful products of French music” and it’s easy to see why.

STRAUSS: CONCERTO IN D MAJOR FOR OBOE AND SMALL ORCHESTRA, TRV 292; SERENADE IN E FLAT MAJOR, TRV 106; SONATINA NO. 2 IN E FLAT MAJOR (FRÖHLICHE WERKSTATT), TRV 291, Alexei Ogrintchouk, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Winds of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Andris Nelsons/ BIS2163 Admirers of Richard Strauss (a group I belong to) have an inordinate fondness for the works on this particular disc, and these readings even rival such illustrious predecessors as Rudolf Kempe. As the Second World War was coming to an end, the eighty-year-old Strauss was working on his Oboe Concerto and Sonatina No. 2 for winds, as well as the Metamorphosen for strings. While the latter work was an explicit response to the destruction Strauss was witnessing, in the Concerto and the Sonatina the composer seemed to be turning his mind away from the events surrounding him. To an extent, one might say that Strauss at the end of his life returned to the musical models of his youth. It is therefore fitting that these two works frame the Serenade in E flat major for wind ensemble, composed more than sixty years earlier in the tradition of entertainment music by Schubert and Mendelssohn.

DEBUSSY: LA MER, ARIETTES OUBLIÉES, FAURÉ: PELLÉAS ET MELISANDE, Robin Ticciati, Magdalena Kozena, DSO Berlin, Linn CKD550  For admirers of the Linn label, It is a real source of regret that the splendid series of recordings by the conductor Robin Ticciati from the company in truly superb surround sound have now been downgraded to stereo only, although (it has to be said) it is stereo of superlative quality. And the performances are as nonpareil as ever — as with this intriguing coupling. The rarity here is the orchestration by Brett Dean of Debussy’s songs Ariettes Oubliées, sensitively sung by Magdalena Kozena and which in this new iteration add an intriguing new piece to the recorded repertoire of the French composer.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: THE POISONED KISS (OVERTURE); THREE PORTRAITS FROM ‘THE ENGLAND OF ELIZABETH’; BUCOLIC SUITE; IN THE FEN COUNTRY; FANTASIA ON SUSSEX FOLK TUNES, Martin Rummel, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Karl-Heinz Steffens /Capriccio C5314  It should be said at the start that there are rival performances of most of this music which have an ounce more fluidity and feeling but as a program, this is a particularly successful issue, bringing together several rarities that will attract new listeners. Around the beginning of the 20th century, Ralph Vaughan Williams, together with his friend Gustav Holst, deliberately began to free his compositional style from ‘German influences’, moving towards a more British musical style and finding inspirational models in English folk music. Most of the works recorded here are lesser-known pieces by the composer, but each clearly reflects Vaughan Williams’ uniquely personal style.

MOZART: PIANO CONCEROS 25 &26, Francesco Piemontesi, piano, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Andrew Manze/Linn CKD544   Manze’s adroitness as orchestral accompanist remain as ironclad as ever with these Mozart concertos granted a very persuasive advocacy, even in the teeth of some impressive competition. Described as a ‘stellar Mozartian’ Francesco Piemontesi finds a perfect partner in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra whose impeccable credentials are widely acknowledged. Conductor Andrew Manze, well known as a HIP pioneer, shares Piemontesi’s approach to creating an authentic performance, making this somewhat of a Mozart dream team. Francesco Piemontesi is a pianist of exceptional refinement of expression, which is allied to a consummate technical skill.

STRAUSS: ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA, MAHLER: TOTENFEIER Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Vladimir Jurowski/Penta Tone PTC 5186597 If you are seeking the perfect Also Sprach Zarathustra in surround sound, it has to be said that your search will have to continue, even though this new disc is a very creditable entry. The sound picture has many of the attributes that we associate with PentaTone, although even the now-ageing Charles Mackerras reading in artificially produced surround sound has greater dynamic range and impact. Nevertheless, Jurowski is clearly a conductor who has the measure of this glorious score and (for the most part) ensures that the various sections of Strauss’s masterpiece cohere. The Mahler filler is a curious choice, particularly for those who would rather hear the composer’s Second Symphony, his final thoughts on the music here. Nevertheless a disc of impressive music making. Vladimir Jurowski and the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin have set down these new recordings of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra and Mahler’s Totenfeier for PENTATONE to coincide with the Russian maestro taking up office as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the orchestra. Strauss’s bold and passionate tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra is a riveting work, famous for its startlingly atmospheric opening.

HOLST: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Soloists / City of London Sinfonia / Richard Hickox/Chandos CHAN 10948 X  A memory of the contribution that the much-missed conductor Richard Hickox made to the Chandos label — and to the cause of British music. This 1994 recording is one of the first Holst collections made by Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia, an orchestra which he conducted for thirty-seven years, until his death. It brought several neglected works (including the St Paul’s and Brook Green suites, as well as the Concerto for Two Violins) to greater international recognition.

WALLFISCH: ANNABELLE: CREATION, Silva Screen SI LCD 1551  The Silva Screen label has long been the home of impressive new recordings of film soundtracks, with a dedication to the art which is much to be commended. This new recording of a Benjamin Wallfisch score reveals its secrets slowly rather than in a rush, and the tempo (and emotional temperature) is for the most part subdued. Nevertheless, for the patient listener, this is music of colour and invention.

 

The Classical CD Choice Interview: Jonathan Cooper at Chandos

At Chandos Records, there are three parts to the work of the talented JONATHAN COOPER: Record Producer, Sound Engineer and Audio Editor. He will be celebrating 25 years of continuous service next August (2018) having returned in 1993, but he did do a year there prior to that as the 3rd “sandwich” year of his degree, which he spent working out in the industry before returning to University to do his Final year.
We fired several short questions at him about the many superb discs he has been involved with at Chandos.
What are the peculiar challenges of your job?
One of the challenges of producing is working with different artists who are all very different personalities; some don’t need much input, others want lots of guidance, some need cajoling and encouraging, other need pushing a little to get the best out of them. When working with someone for the first time, it can be difficult to gauge what feedback to give to help them give their best performance.
Are there things you find particularly pleasurable and others which are onerous?
One of the most pleasurable things is being able to witness an artist develop over the course of a long-term relationship with Chandos. I’ve been very lucky to watch Edward Gardner’s approach to recording with an orchestra change gradually over the last ten years or so, and watch his assuredness and self-confidence grow.
You’ve been with Chandos Records for 25 years, Jonathan – what are the most significant changes you’ve seen in the classical recording industry in that time?
The most significant changes have been the computerisation of the editing process, and more recently the move to online distribution of recordings. I’m perhaps fortunate to be too young to have ever had to edit with analogue tape and razor blades, when I first started at Chandos we were using the Sony PCM-1630 system which recorded onto digital tape, on larger versions of video cassettes like VHS. Editing using this system was very slow and there were quite serious restrictions as to what edits could be attempted. Our first computer editing system arrived in 1996 and it has all developed from there – now we can edit just about anywhere in a phrase, and we have tools to remove noises without affecting the music. With the increase in the use of the internet and growth of access to broadband, the move to online distribution was a natural one – but do records exist anymore?
All this computerisation leads also to the onerous task – but very very necessary – of making sure that all the data we now generate is properly backed up and archived somewhere; but this task is the same for anyone using computers!
Have you encountered recording artists over the years who take a great interest in what you do – or others who take your work for granted?
In my experience all artists take some interest in how the sound they are making is coming across through the microphones — it is unusual not to have to make some adjustments after the first balance test. Some artists do come to record with a very specific sound-picture in their mind, and it can be challenging to realise their vision.
Chandos Records is famous for its superlative sound and its commitment to the SACD surround sound medium.  What are the principal differences between recording in surround sound and in stereo?
For Chandos, there isn’t too much difference when we record; we have a trusted technique which we’ve developed over the years which lets us do both at once on a session. It is amazing when making the surround version how much difference to the listening experience the rear and centre channels make; when you listen to them on their own it sounds like not much is going on, but mix them in and it really lifts the sense of space and bass response.
Of the discs you’ve worked on over the years, which do you remember most fondly?
I’ll always remember my first project as producer back in 2006 very fondly – the Korngold string quartets with the Doric String Quartet. It was their first disc for Chandos so we all had reason to be very nervous. They are incredible musicians and have the most amazing work ethic and it’s absolutely wonderful music, even more astonishing when you consider Korngold was in his twenties when he wrote the first quartet.
Another favourite disc is Louis Lortie’s first Faure recital. We recorded it at Snape Maltings concert hall which is one of my favourite venues, and Louis was on superb form. The Prelude from the suite from pelleas and melisande is over 5 minutes long, and it was just a single take – there was no need to do anything again, it was so beautifully moving.
What’s your next disc project?
This week I’ll be starting work on Edward Gardner’s next release with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, a disc of Grieg’s incidental music to Peer Gynt, coupled with the Piano Concerto with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. The disc will be released in January 2018.

New SACDs from Challenge, PENTATONE, Chandos et al

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complete Duel in the Sun from Prometheus

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

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

A magnificent Missa Solemnis from PENTATONE

Conductor Marek Janowski and the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin continue their critically acclaimed collaboration with Pentatone in a magnificent reading of Beethoven’s monumental Missa Solemnis, recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie in September 2016. With the Missa Solemnis, Beethoven created a startlingly original and dramatic large scale work marshalling the disparate elements of liturgical, secular and operatic expression in a wholly original and compelling way. Marek Janowski and the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin are joined on this recording by the world famous MDR-Rundfunkchor Leipzig and soloists Re

Falla, Elgar et al from PENTATONE, Chandos, Challenge, Naxos

DE FALLA: NOCHES EN LOS JARDINES DE ESPAÑA AND, EL SOMBRERO DE TRES PICOS, ETC., Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Kazuki Yamada/PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 598  Some orchestral pieces simply cry out for the extra dimension that full-blooded multichannel surround sound can give them – pieces such as the exuberant Falla works on this generously filled disc. It’s something of a surprise that such colourful, brilliantly orchestrated music is making its debut in the SACD medium, but at least it’s coming from the most impeccable of sources – PENTATONE, a specialist in the SACD field who have brought all their engineering skills to work on these evergreen pieces. The performances are suitably energetic and the haunting languor of Nights in the Gardens of Spain is captured with a markedly poetic feeling by Kazuki Yamada and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. There are, however, a couple of caveats. Perhaps the all-important percussion in these pieces might have been more closely recorded as it is such a key element in Falla’s orchestration, and regarding the fill-ups, one hopes that the appearance here of the Ritual Fire Dance means that the company won’t attempt a complete El Amor Brujo. The sultry warm atmosphere of an Andalusian night is almost palpable in Falla’s spellbinding Noches en los jardines de España. With its shimmering, sensuous harmonies, exquisite orchestral colours and exuberant melodies and rhythms, it’s perhaps Falla’s most impressionistic work. Using a large orchestral canvas on which he paints with deft, luminous strokes, Falla skilfully integrates a virtuoso piano part to create lovingly evocative music, full of captivating beauty. Elsewhere with the sensational ballet El sombrero de tres picos, Falla conjures up music steeped in Andalusian culture which is boisterous, full-bloodied, and urgent.

ELGAR: SYMPHONY NO. 1 / INTRODUCTION AND ALLEGRO, Doric String Quartet / BBC Symphony Orchestra / Edward Gardner/CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5181  The Chandos label has already given us a splendid performance on SACD of Elgar’s glorious First Symphony by the late Richard Hickox, and one imagines that it is their commitment to the conductor Edward Gardner that has led to this rival from the same company. It turns out to be a focused and intense performance if lacking the final element of heft that Hickox (in a slightly steadier reading) brought to the music. Nevertheless, Gardener’s is a very worthwhile addition to the recorded repertoire of one of England’s greatest composers This surround-sound recording brings together some of Chandos’ finest artists for the first time in subtle, passionate accounts of these two Elgar masterpieces. The Doric String Quartet – highly praised for its series of Haydn and Schubert quartets – joins strings from the BBC Symphony under Edward Gardner in the Introduction and Allegro, while the full orchestra appears in the much-loved Symphony No. 1.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Piano Music, Mark Bebbington, Rebeca Omordia, SOMMCD 0164  Even the keenest admirers of the music of Vaughan Williams (such as this reviewer) would not make the claim that his piano music is among his most distinctive work, but it’s certainly easy on the ear, particularly when given persuasive advocacy as here. Following his previous all-Gershwin disc, Mark Bebbington returns to the English fare for which he is best-known, with the Complete Vaughan Williams Piano Music. This SOMM release contains world-premiere recordings, notably the Introduction and Fugue. Here, and in the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, both written for two-pianos, Bebbington is joined by the young Romanian-Nigerian pianist Rebeca Omordia.

WAGNER: SYMPHONY IN C MAJOR, SYMPHONY IN E MAJOR (FRAGMENT), MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Jun Märkl/NAXOS 8.573413   Wagnerians often have a somewhat underwhelming response to these early pieces by the composer of The Ring, and this new disc — while doing the job — did not alter (for this listener) my lack of enthusiasm. But if you’re a completist requiring every note by the composer, then this is a perfectly acceptable way to sample Wagner’s orchestral music. Although he is best known for his innovative operas and iconic music dramas, Richard Wagner maintained a keen interest in symphonic composition throughout his career. Written in his late teens and early twenties, these two symphonies stand as a tribute to Wagner’s passion for his great idol Beethoven. The Symphony in C major utilises elements of Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, while the Symphony in E major was alas left unfinished at its beautifully warm and lyrical Adagio cantabile.

PUCCINI: LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST, Plácido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Carol Neblett, Royal Opera House Orchestra & Chorus, Zubin Mehta, PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186243  Now this is a real discovery for opera aficionados; comfortably the most acclaimed performance of Puccini’s delicious Western opera is available in the surround sound medium, and details of the orchestration and the timbre of the impeccable singers’ voices are heard coming up as fresh as paint (who would have thought the bass drum in this recording, which we’ve heard over the years since the set was issued in stereo only, had such an impact, albeit – until now – an implicit one?) It’s almost unnecessary to point out how perfectly this set finds the essence of Puccini’s opera, and its virtues as a performance can be taken as read. What is novel here is the astonishing new sound mix that has been granted Puccini’s late opera La fanciulla del West, which bristles with drama and intrigue in this newly remastered classic recording with Zubin Mehta conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House and starring Plácido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes and Carol Neblett. With its potent mixture of stark realism and gushing romanticism, this Wild West melodrama builds on the hard-edged style Puccini had used in Tosca, infusing it with Debussyian harmonies and Straussian orchestral colours to produce his most distinctive and original opera. Although recorded in multi-channel sound, these memorable performances have previously been available only in the conventional two-channel stereo format. Using state of the art technology which avoids the need for re-mixing, PENTATONE’s engineers have remastered the original studio tapes to bring the performances to life as originally intended: in compelling and pristine multi-channel sound.

JANACEK: THE KREUZER SONATA, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Terje Tonnessen, LWC124  A very welcome disc with sensitive and sympathetic orchestrations of Janacek’s two superb string quartets, both transcriptions making the best possible case for this kind of endeavour. In fact it’s such an attractive issue that one wonders why space is wasted on the accompanying disc with a reading of the Tolstoy short story that inspired the composer. Great chunks of the Tolstoy piece are interrupted by great chunks of music, which makes one wonder how the company thought listeners would approach this, as the synthesis is maladroit. Forget this superfluous disc and simply listen to the Janacek transcriptions – you’ll get your money’s worth.

HIGDON: ALL THINGS MAJESTIC, VIOLA CONCERTO†1, OBOE CONCERTO†2, Roberto Díaz, Viola1 • James Button, Oboe2, Nashville Symphony • Giancarlo Guerrero, †WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING NAXOS 8.559823  The disc of Higdon’s music by Robert Spano on Telarc led many listeners to expect that this inventive and talented composer was worthy of the closest attention, and if this new disc is less of a discovery than its predecessor, it is still perfectly pleasant (although the compositional voltage is considerably lower). Jennifer Higdon is one of the most distinguished composers working in America today, and her music is a perfect fit for the Nashville Symphony, which has long maintained a commitment to championing the country’s most important voices. All Things Majestic is a four-movement suite which vividly captures the breath-taking beauty of the American landscape, and her wonderfully expressive concertos for viola and oboe bring out the unique textures and sonorities of these frequently overlooked solo instruments.

LAJTHA: SYMPHONIES NOS. 3 AND 4 ‘SPRING’, SUITE NO. 2, Pécs Symphony Orchestra, Nicolás Pasquet NAXOS 8.573645  If you’re one of those individuals who did not buy these performances when they first appeared on Marco Polo, that is an omission that should instantly be remedied. This is colourful Bartokian music, delivered in workmanlike rather than inspired performances, but offering the only performances one will find of the music. László Lajtha’s passionate Third Symphony emerged from a fruitful period when the composer was based in London. Its origin was a film score for T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, the author grateful for a soundtrack to “elevate [his] words and thoughts”. Lajtha’s Fourth Symphony uses Hungarian musical idioms with wit and charm to bewitch the listener from the outset, its escapist joie de vivre belying the dark circumstances that surrounded its creation, while the Second Suite is based on a ballet that uses Classical mythology to poke fun at fascist dictators.

SIBELIUS: KULLERVO, OP. 7; FINLANDIA, OP. 26, Olli KORTEKANGAS: MIGRATIONS, Lilli Paasikivi, Tommi Hakala, YL Male Voice Choir, Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä / BIS9048  The dedication of the label BIS to the music of Sibelius continues apace, even though this latest disc is not as distinctive as many of the early entries for the company. ‘The Great Migration’ – as it is sometimes called – of Finns to the United States began some 150 years ago. Many of them settled in the Mid-West, and especially in the so-called ‘Finn Hook’, consisting of parts of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. To celebrate this, the Minnesota Orchestra under its Finnish music director Osmo Vänskä commissioned the composer Olli Kortekangas to compose a work on the theme of migration, of a scale and nature suitable for performance alongside Jean Sibelius’s great Kullervo. Discovering the work of the Minnesota-based poet Sheila Packa, herself of Finnish descent, Kortekangas composed Migrations for mezzosoprano, male voice choir and orchestra, the same forces as in Kullervo, with the exception of the baritone soloist.

A SOUSA CELEBRATION, Kristjan Järvi / Royal Scottish National Orchestra/CHANDO CHSA 5182  Perhaps to be sampled a few tracks at a time rather than en masse, this becomes at a stroke the definitive single disc issue of Sousa’s music — for those who can take it (which, one has to admit is not every listener). Kristjan Järvi exploits the style and panache of the RSNO in a festive programme of works by Sousa, the American ‘March King’. Including such famous pieces as The Stars & Stripes Forever (National March of the USA) and The Liberty Bell (theme tune for Monty Python’s Flying Circus). A celebration enhanced by brightly coloured sound captured in surround sound.

RAVEL: ANTAR – INCIDENTAL MUSIC†1AFTER WORKS BY RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, SHÉHÉRAZADE2, André Dussolier, Narrator1 • Isabelle Druet, Mezzo-soprano2, Orchestre National de Lyon • Leonard Slatkin, †WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING NAXOS 8.573448  Despite the opportunity we are given with this disc to hear some extremely rare Ravel, this was something of a disappointment for me, for one simple reason – the interminable narration ladled over the music makes it virtually impossible to listen to consecutively unless you’re prepared to follow the text, or speak fluent French. But in either case, what one really wants to hear is Ravel’s music, and that is largely unfeasible given the unwonted verbal interactions it constantly receives here. The impact of Russian and Oriental culture on Ravel’s formative years retained a hold on him throughout his life. His colourfully re-orchestrated selections from Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite ‘Antar’ and opera Mlada, with interpolations of his own music, as the incidental score for a theatre production are heard here in their première recording, revived and reconstructed alongside a new text that symbolizes the romance and chivalric spirit of Antar the warrior-poet and his beloved Abla. Ravel’s fascination with the exotic is brought together with Debussy’s influence ever present.

MENDELSSOHN: VIOLIN CONCERTO, STRING OCTET, Liza Ferschtman, Het Gelders Orkest, Kees Bakels/CHALLENGE CLASSIC CC72748  That durable but still appealing warhorse, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, has been singularly lucky on disc over the years, with many first-rate performances. But few have done the work such consummate justice as this fresh and colourful reading by Liza Ferschtman and the Het Gelders Orkest under Kees Bakels, which keeps interpretative cliché at bay and offers a variety of new insights into a piece that all of us know intimately. And rather than having another Concerto as fill-up, we are given a persuasive performance of the Opus 20 String Octet. A winning disc.

HAYDN: SYMPHONIES NOS. 53, 64 & 96, Oregon Symphony Orchestra, Carlos Kalmar, PENTATONE PTC5186612  More and more Haydn symphonies are beginning to appear in the SACD medium – and, what’s more, in performances that marry excellent sound with the athletic modern approach that we now regard as de rigueur in this composer; the days of over-inflated stately performances are thankfully now a thing of the past. Kalmar’s disc is another winner, perhaps not offering performances with quite the distinction of the recent sets by Robin Ticciati, but still impressive.

NOVÁK: IN THE TATRA MOUNTAINS, LADY GODIVA OVERTURE, ETERNAL LONGING, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra • JoAnn Falletta NAXOS 8.573683  Other labels have attempted to plug the gap with these Novak pieces, but this is an affordable alternative in extremely able performances. Emerging from the fertile background of Bohemian nationalism, Vítĕzslav Novák’s music achieved cult status in his homeland for its richness of melody and full-blown romantic orchestral colour. The lush timbres and monumental solemnity of In the Tatra Mountains were inspired by the composer’s journeys in this magnificent region. Eternal Longing is based on a poem by Hans Christian Andersen, while the dramatic Lady Godiva Overture, complete with tolling bells at the finale, was written by Novák in two days and is considered one of his most powerful works.

CHOPIN: THE FOUR BALLADES, PIANO SONATA NUMBER OPUS 35, FANTAISE OPUS 49, Angela Brownridge/Challenge Classics CC 72728. The reputation of the pianist Angela Brownridge is sui generis, and any performance she sets down on disc is automatically demanding of attention. Her sympathy and understanding of the music Chopin is evinced by this perfectly realised recital, which has another appealing factor apart from its musical virtues: rarely has the sound of a piano been captured with such fidelity as the Challenge Classics engineers have achieved here. The ambience is that of a medium-size concert hall and the piano sound makes most other recordings sound somewhat, under-nourished. A disc for all Chopin enthusiasts.

HANDEL: MESSIAH, Hanna Herfurtner, Soprano,• Gaia Petrone, Alto, Michael Schade, Tenor • Christian Immler, Bass, Salzburger Bachchor,• Bach Consort Wien, • Rubén Dubrovsky/Naxos Blu-Ray Audio NBD 0061 : The sound quality on this Blu-Ray Audio disc may be the most striking element of this performance (in terms of aural quality alone), but Handel’s durable masterpiece has received a reading with as much of the point and feeling as some great readings of the past – although it never quite captures the heights of the classic predigital Colin Davis performance on Philips with which it has several elements in common. Described by librettist Charles Jennens with typical English understatement as “a fine entertainment”, Handelʼs Messiah was initially controversial as a biblical oratorio written for secular theatres. Within years it was however being “received with universal applause” and its composer’s purpose in delighting and charming his listeners has made this masterpiece an international favourite ever since. This eye-catching, audio-visual recording of Handelʼs masterpiece with its cast of renowned soloists captures the 2016 Easter concert in the impressive baroque

VERDI: REQUIEM, Soloists, London Symphony Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda/LSO Live SACD LSO00800  With recorded sound of tremendous presence and impact, this is one of the swiftest readings of the Verdi Requiem that the listener is likely to encounter — and if you can accept the fleetness of foot in this impressive take, you should not hesitate. That consideration aside, the conductor Gianandrea Noseda once again shows his immense sympathy and understanding of Italian music. The soloists are uniformly strong, though Erika Grimaldi might have been better served by closer miking.

ADAM SCHOENBERG: Finding Rothko, American Symphony, Picture Studies, Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern/Reference Recordings SACD RR139  Demonstrating its continuous commitment to lesser-known American music, the enterprising label Reference Recordings makes this accessible and attractive music available in typically wide-ranging sound. Perhaps the biggest surprise regarding this the disc is how little the young composer’s listener-friendly music owes to his more challenging namesake; this is incontrovertibly music leaning towards the tonal.

RACHMANINOV: Early Piano Works, Elisa Tomellini piano/Piano Classics  Sometimes the early works of composers lack the distinction and individuality of their more mature pieces, but Rachmaninov’s early piano music is always worth listening to for admirers, as this new disc proves This new recording of Rachmaninov’s early works offers a fascinating insight into the budding genius of the great Russian. A child prodigy at the piano Rachmaninov was obviously drawn to his instrument when composing his first sketches and works. Pianistically challenging and bursting with melancholy and passion they are already vintage Rachmaninov and form the foundation for his later masterworks. The recording contains several character pieces like a Song Without Words and a separate Prelude, the 3 Nocturnes and the recently discovered Suite in D minor, as well as the Morceaux de Salon Op. 10. Italian pianist Elisa Tomellini has the measure of the music.

TIDES OF LIFE: WOLF, SCHUBERT, BRAHMS, BARBER, Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Candida Thompson violin, Thomas Hampson, baritone, Netherlands Female Youth Choir*, Choir Master Wilma ten Wolde/ CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS38917  Brahms’ Four Serious Songs has received some very striking and dramatic readings over the years, notably from Kathleen Ferrier, Janet Baker (a particularly striking reading ) and the great baritone Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, but this new version in splendid orchestral guise is one of the most persuasive yet. All the pieces here are given most plangent and affecting readings. In February 2014, the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and Thomas Hampson made a tour of twelve European concert halls performing a unique programme. The heart of the programme consisted of new arrangements of songs by Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert and Hugo Wolf. Amsterdam Sinfonietta commissioned the English composer David Matthews to arrange this song repertoire for string ensemble and baritone. These intimate compositions were performed in this new version for the first time in large-scale concert halls. The results are both persuasive and eloquent.