Channelling Messiaen: Pierre-Laurent Aimard talks to Classical CD Choice

Pierre-Laurent Aimard on his new recording for PENTATAONE of Messiaen’s Catalogue d’Oiseaux. Classical CD Choice spoke to the much-acclaimed French pianist about his illustrious teacher

Your new recording of Messiaen’s Catalogue d’Oiseaux is one that surely would have pleased the composer. You studied with him; did you feel his presence metaphorically at your side as you recorded the piece for PENTATONE? 

Well, you might say that I felt Messiaen’s presence – in a spiritual sense at least. Certainly, when I was playing this piece, I was conscious of how the composer not only created a new language of music, but also of how he instilled in the listener an immersion into a new meditative state – the experience of a composition by Messiaen should possess a variety of extra-musical elements which a pianist such as myself must try to realise. In many ways, it’s the perfect music for our own over-busy, invasive world in which sound can be a source of distraction rather than beauty or transcendence.

How important is your shared nationality with the composer? Is there any reason why a French pianist such as yourself might find it easier to enter the Francophone world of Messiaen?

Shared nationality? Not important at all! I consider myself more European than French in any case, and all great music must have a universality which means that performers from all countries could do justice to it. In the case of Messiaen, just look at how many musicians from your own country are superb interpreters of the composer — Jennifer Bate in his organ music, for instance.

Which is more important in this piece: peerless technique or entering on an emotional level the world of the composer’s mystical relationship with nature?

I think I can answer that by saying that the technique is a vessel through which the music must pass. Of course, you have to have the technique under your belt, but a piece like Catalogue d’Oiseaux must never simply become a showcase for the pianist. And as for that relationship with nature, I was reminded how crucial that was by giving a performance recently in a hide for birdwatchers – in fact, the audience was half birdwatchers and half music lovers, and I noticed that the birdwatchers had the patience and perceptiveness required to respond to music that most of them would not have heard before. I found it a very enlightening experience!

Catalogue d’Oiseaux is demanding on both the performer and to some degree the listener (though immensely rewarding). How much would you recommend the domestic listener consumes at a sitting – more than one disc? 

That’s up to each individual listener, but I suppose someone new to the piece must approach it with care and patience — hopefully they will find it rewarding enough to develop their capacity to experience exactly what Messiaen was attempting to convey.

The PENTATONE company has a particularly analytical surround sound recording technique in which every pianistic nuance is registered. Does this place more demands on you as a performer?

Frankly, I’m very grateful that I have recorded this music at this particular time in my life, when recording techniques such as those practised by PENTATONE are so advanced, and can do full justice to the entire range of the piano sound. Just listen, for instance, to the timbre of the piano that the engineers have accorded the music. I like to think that Messiaen would have been very pleased by this recording; the reproduction of piano sound has moved on considerably since his day.




A Bernstein Box and Other Delights

LEONARD BERNSTEIN: THE COMPLETE NAXOS RECORDINGS, Various soloists and orchestras, Marin Alsop/Naxos 8 CDs & 1 DVD, 8.508018  Marin Alsop would no doubt be among the first to admit that Leonard Bernstein’s own performances of his work remain the gold standard, but this talented protégée of the late composer and conductor has made the greatest contribution to the enshrinement of his legacy, particularly with this remarkable Naxos set, which contains virtually all of Bernstein’s celebrated legacy as a classical composer. And performed in readings of great style and panache – not to mention recorded with the greatest possible fidelity short of the surround sound medium. And what is particularly cherishable are not just the recordings of the major pieces, but the many unusual works (and several premiers); musts for completists. This celebration of Bernstein’s centenary brings together all of the acclaimed Naxos recordings of his music conducted by Alsop, as well as an insightful documentary DVD – no hagiography, thankfully — in which colleagues and family sum up this boundlessly brilliant and charismatic musical giant of the 20th century. It includes interviews with Bernstein’s children as well as colleagues and artistic collaborators such as Stephen Sondheim, Gustavo Dudamel, Marin Alsop and many others. Marin Alsop’s Naxos recordings of Bernstein’s music have been given great critical acclaim, notably her Chichester Psalms, On the Waterfront and On the Town (and the controversial but always exciting Mass). Two new CDs from Alsop with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra contain world premiere recordings of the striking CBS Music, the Birthday Bouquet which comprises eight variations on ‘New York, New York’ from On the Town, and orchestrations of eleven of the Anniversaries.

WIRÉN: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Rumon Gamba/Chandos SACD CHSA 5194  Many composers are remembered for a single piece — whatever the virtues of their other compositions (Albinoni for his Adagio, for instance), and there is no question that Dag Wirén is best known for his charming Serenade for Strings. But those who have not encountered his striking symphonies – works of considerable merit and of a larger range of ambition – are doing themselves a disservice. This new recording of Wirén’s engaging third Symphony will hopefully win the composer many new friends – and persuade listeners that there is far more to him than that signature piece. The composer’s Scandinavian musical ethos is writ large, but the music is more accessible than many of Wirén’s contemporaries. These lively works by the Swedish composer are here brought together in a unique, powerful surround-sound recording by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Rumon Gamba.

KORNGOLD: VIOLIN CONCERTO BERNSTEIN: SERENADE, Liza Ferschtman, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Malat & Vasquez/Challenge SACD CC7265  While several recording companies have, sadly, relinquished their commitment to the SACD surround sound medium, Challenge Classics are to be applauded for continuing to support the matchless sound recording technology which does more service to recorded music than any other available system. And despite the fact that DG (with Mutter) recorded in surround sound the Korngold concerto to be found on this SACD, that DG disc is now difficult to find and expensive, which makes this winning new reading by Liza Ferschtman particularly cherishable, not least because the coupling — Bernstein’s ambitious Serenade — makes for a very attractive issue. Ferschtman has the absolute measure of the piece, combining its classical virtues with the elements drawn from the emigré composer’s Hollywood background (the latter, of course, was the very thing that held back appreciation of Korngold for many years). The definitive reading may remain that of the violinist the piece was written for, Jascha Heifitz, but the sound of that classic reading cannot match the wonderfully nuanced recording here, and the new performance – in terms of poetry and feeling — is all that one could wish for.

BRAHMS VARIATIONS FOR ORGAN, Christoph Schoener, Organ of Michaelis Church Hamburg/MDG SACD 949 2051-6 Inevitably, something is lost in these transcriptions for organ by various hands of such pieces as Brahms’ Handel Variations, but it might be argued that much is gained also — and organ enthusiasts will find this an extremely pleasurable set of performances. The sound of the organ of Michaelis Church Hamburg is magnificent throughout.

MOZART: VIOLIN CONCERTOS 4 & 5, Nicolai Znaider, violin and conductor, London Symphony Orchestra/LSO 0807 SACD  The notion of the soloist as conductor was a common one in Mozart’s day, but is less frequent today. Nicolai Znaider proves adept at this complex task, and these performances of Mozart’s fourth and fifth violin concertos are highly competitive, even in a crowded field; the string playing of the LSO has notable precision and attack.

BRAHMS: THE THREE VIOLIN SONATAS, Tasmin Little, violin, Piers Lane, piano/ CHANDOS 10977  There are many listeners who consider themselves Brahmsians, yet who resist the lure of the three violin sonatas. Here, however, is a recording that will convert the unconverted, in which Tasmin Little and Piers Lane bring their considerable musical acumen to work on these three remarkable pieces. Little’s very busy schedule for the Chandos label is producing a golden age of violin recordings with a level of consistency that remains non-paeil — and this latest Brahms disc is well within the honourable tradition she has established. Those unfamiliar with the three sonatas may find this the perfect entrée to the musical world the sonatas inhabit. The leading British duo in romantic repertoire climbs three summits in the violin sonata genre, exploring the radiant effusiveness and tender lyricism at the heart of Brahms.

BACH: SUITES: BWV 1007-1012: the Cello suites arranged for saxophone/Raaf Hekkema Challenge SACD CC 72769 Is there a composer who has enjoyed (if that is the word) more transcriptions for other media than Johann Sebastian Bach? The transcriptions of his organ works are, of course, legion, with heavyweight composers such as Respighi and Elgar making impressive orchestral versions of music written for the organ. But here is something different – the cello suites arranged for saxophone — and, what’s more, performed on historic saxophones with the instruments matched to individual works. The result – which, while it certainly won’t be to every taste – is very persuasive, and what is remarkable is how well the reed sound of the instrument matches the very sympathetic transcriptions. Inevitably, the pieces are best listened to in smaller measures than en masse (thus avoiding aural fatigue), but this is still a brave experiment which (largely speaking) is a success.

RESPIGHI: Vetrate di chiesa; Il tramonto; Trittico botticelliano Anna Caterina Antonacci, Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, John Neschling BIS2250  Of recent recordings of the music of Respighi in surround sound, the BIS series by John Neschling has been one of the most conspicuously successful, with the composer demonstrating a commitment to the dramatic, richly coloured music of the Italian composer that few have matched over the years. This particular disc is one of the triumphs of an already considerable series with Church Windows In particular being as vivid a reading as this glorious piece has received – enhanced, what’s more, by the remarkably faithful and impactful SACD sound. The reminder of the program is similarly treated with great sympathy and understanding, and this is a quite remarkable disc. Scored for small orchestra, Respighi’s Botticellian Triptych has all the freshness of the famous paintings of the Renaissance master. Subtitled ‘poemetto lirico’ Il tramonto was originally composed for voice and string quartet, but is often performed with a larger complement of strings, as here. SopranoAnna Caterina Antonacci breathes impassioned life into Shelley’s Romantic poem The Sunset (translated into Italian) in which love is brutally cut short by death. The disc closes with the four Church Windows. (SEE ALSO GRAHAM WILLIAMS REVIEW OPPOSITE)

Lutosławski: Vocal and Orchestral Works, Soloists / BBC Symphony Orchestra / Edward Gardner/Chandos SACD CHSA 5223(5)  If you have not been collecting the ongoing Chandos series of Lutosławski recordings individually, here is a chance at bargain price to remedy that omission. One wonders how many listeners are able to appreciate the very approachable Bartokian Concerto for Orchestra alongside the much more rebarbative later works, but even if you choose just to pick and mix from the selections on offer here, this is still a very intriguing set. The complete five-volume Chandos series, all discs now in surround-sound, featuring a string of the composer’s masterpieces performed by some of Chandos’ finest artists

RACHMANINOV, PROKOFIEV 2ND PIANO CONCERTOS, Denis Matsuev, Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/Mariinsky MAR0599-D  It goes without saying the Gergiev has the measure of most of the classics of the Russian repertoire, and so it proves once again here, even if there is something of a rough-edged quality to these otherwise characterful readings. The technical challenges of the pieces hold no terrors for Dennis Matsuev.

DEBUSSY: Songs, Volume 4 Lucy Crowe, Christopher Maltman, Malcolm Martineau, Jennifer France, Lucy Wakeford/ HYPERION CDA68075  Over the years there have been many recordings of Debussy’s beautiful works for the voice, but this one is something special. A recital of songs spanning Debussy’s entire compositional career, from ‘Tragédie’ written in early 1881, to his very last song, ‘Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons’ from the end of 1915. A strong finis to this series with Lucy Crowe and Malcolm Martineau.

MAHLER SYMPHONY NO. 4, ETC., Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Gustavo Gimeno/PENTATONE SACD PTC 186651  While not perhaps in the front rank of recordings of this much-loved Mahler Symphony, this is a highly capable performance, finding a great deal of the rumbustious charm of the piece, notably in the exquisite vocal final movement with Miah Persson. There is also a particular attractive bonus in Colin Matthews’ clever orchestration of Mahler’s fragment of a Piano Quartet.

BEETHOVEN: PIANO TRIOS, Van Baerle Trio/Challenge SACD 72765  While many listeners have been long committed to the chamber music of Beethoven, there are many listeners stash even those who consider themselves Beethoven aficionados who have yet to learn to love the piano trios, apart, perhaps, from the Ghost and Archduke. This new cycle by the Van Baerle Trio in surround sound is the perfect way to make the acquaintance of this music.

DVOŘÁK: American Quartet, TCHAIKOVSKY: Quartet No. 1, BORODIN: Quartet No. 2 Escher String Quartet/SACD BIS2280  While orchestral music is perhaps the best test of the extra levels of dynamics that surround sound may grant recorded music,, recordings of chamber music – when played as idiomatically as here – are equal advertisements for the medium. The Escher String Quartet’s recording of Mendelssohn’s first and fourth quartets were much acclaimed, and after completing the three-disc Mendelssohn cycle – and earning further accolades – the quartet now returns with a programme that couples three much loved quartets played with more forcefulness than is customary, but not sacrificing the necessary poetic qualities.

BRAHMS: THE SYMPHONIES, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati/Linn CKD 601  Slowly but surely, Robin Ticciatii has been building an impressive discography with his impressive series of recordings; this Brahms cycle is a worthy successor to his earlier much-acclaimed readings of the symphonies of Schumann. The listener’s only regret might be that that Linn label has abandoned the superb SACD recordings that distinguished earlier performances. Nevertheless, the sound is still highly impressive, the performces top-drawer.

LES BOYS: POULENC, TROTIGNON, BRUBECK, Duo Jatekok/Alpha 388  In the same fashion that the pianist Paul Wittgenstein commissioned several piano concerti for the left-hand alone, the piano duo of Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale performed a similar service by commissioning pieces for two pianos from such composers as Barber and John Cage. Known as ‘The Boys’ they were celebrated throughout the world, and this equally impressive young piano duo has recorded a lively tribute to them with an extremely eclectic repertoire

HINDEMITH: SYMPHONIC METAMORPHOSIS, NOBILISSMA VISONE. Boston Symphony, Marek Janowski/ PENTATONE PTC 186672  For many years, there was a marked resistance to the music of Hindemith, and it was frequently described it as dry and academic. And while there is some justification for that judgement about certain pieces, a disc such as this shows how wide of the mark that claim usually is – this is music of considerable attractiveness and brio when played as well as it is here. Paul Hindemith belongs to the most original and interesting composers of the twentieth century. Once described by the Boston Globe as a “20th-century Brahms”, Hindemith wrote music that is Modernist in its rhythmic audacity and colourful orchestration, but simultaneously inspired by Classical forms and styles. The WDR Symphony Orchestra and conductor Marek Janowski provide a fascinating interpretation of three orchestral works that display an irrepressible, almost wild passion for music-making that is omnipresent throughout Hindemith’s oeuvre.

DEBUSSY: LA MER, RAVEL: MA MERE L’OYE, Het Gelders Orkest, Antonello Manacorda/Challenge SACD CC72757  These days, it is a brave conductor who tackles this very familiar repertoire, so plentiful are the various recordings of these beloved pieces. What’s more, there are so many readings which are in the non-pareil category, and a merely efficient reading will not do the trick. Fortunately, the Het Gelders Orkest under the direction of Antonello Manacorda have scrupulously addressed the scores anew and bring to them the kind of attention to detail and colour that distinguishes the best performances. In either case here, the great performances of the past are not superceded, but these readings – particularly in the highly impressive Challenge Classics — sound do full justice to these scores.

BRAHMS: SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN D MAJOR, OP. 73; HAYDN VARIATIONS; ACADEMIC FESTIVAL OVERTURE, OP. 80; HUNGARIAN DANCES NOS 6, 7 & 5 (orch. by Thomas Dausgaard) Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard  BIS2253  The days when Brahms scores such as these were played in a heavy, listless fashion are thankfully in the past, but many would argue that the full resources of the symphony orchestra are required to bring out all levels of dynamism in these great Brahms scores. What we get here of course is the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, but what they lack in sheer weight of sound, they bring in concision of attack, and no one can argue that the exemplary performances here lacked weight. On a number of previous recordings the 40-odd members of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Thomas Dausgaard have shed a new light on the Romantic symphonic repertoire, with performances described as ‘tight’, ‘invigorating’, ‘transparent’ and ‘thrilling’.

NICO MUHLY & ANTONY PITTS: MASSES AND OTHER CHORAL MUSIC BY VERDI, CLEMENS NON PAPA, MOUTON, ESENVALDS & POULENC, Capella Pratensis & Netherlands Chamber Orchestra etc. conducted by Stephen Layton/Challenge Classics SACD 72711  The choral precision on this unorthodox collection is of the first order; admirers of choral works may wish to try these intriguing scores by Myhly and Pitts as well as the more familiar names.

THE SECRET MASS: CHORAL WORKS BY FRANK MARTIN & BOHUSLAV MARTINŮ, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Marcus Creed  The works on this highly unusual disc — Frank Martin: Mass for two Four-part Choirs; Bohuslav Martinů: Four Songs of the Virgin Mary; Frank Martin: Songs of Ariel; Bohuslav Martinů: Romance from the Dandelions — are granted the best possible advocacy, offering a reminder (if such a thing were needed) that 20th-century music of this ilk can be quite as immediately appealing as that of earlier eras. The pieces here by Frank Martin are perhaps more forbidding, but are given readings of such strength that there is an instant communication with the adventurous listener. The Grammy-Nominated, ECHO Award-winning Danish National Vocal Ensemble under the direction of Marcus Creed have a particualr affinity for the music of Martinů with its traces of impressionism and Stravinskian neoclassicism along with the love of folklore he shared with his countryman, Leoš Janáček.

New from Challenge, Hyperion & Capriccio

GRIEG: Piano Concerto; INCIDENTAL MUSIC TO ‘PEER GYNT’, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet / Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Edward Gardner/Chandos SACD CHSA 5190  For admirers of the composer Grieg, there is an argument for having his complete incidental music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt – but it is to be hoped that this consideration will not steer them away from the very generous selection included here (much more than in the familiar suites). Chandos and Gardner give us virtually all the important music that Grieg composed for the play. The score is given an extremely winning and characterful performance by Edward Gardner, who has rapidly established himself as one of the most important conductors to record regularly for the Chandos label. What’s more, this Peer Gynt is accompanied by a particularly distinctive performance of the composer’s other signature work, the warhorse that is  the Piano Concerto, and the wonderfully blooming surround sound recording does full justice to both works These keenly idiomatic performances of the most famous works by Grieg are superbly captured in exemplary Chandos surround sound.

TIPPETT: SYMPHONIES ONE & TWO, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins/Hyperion CDA 68203  Admirers may wonders if Michael Tippett’s operas will ever come back into fashion – their pursuit of the then-‘hip’ and fashionable rendered them instantly dated even as they appeared. For all their virtues, works such as The Ice Break are a salutary reminder that timelessness rather than trendiness is a more apposite choice for musical longevity. Such considerations, however, hardly apply to the composer’s superbly crafted symphonies which are here given fresh and vital new readings by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins in a recording that does full justice to the quirky and unusual nature of the composer’s orchestration. In the famous rivalry between Tippett and his contemporary Britten (the tenor Robert Tear told me that there was little love lost between the two men), it is the music of Britten that has the greater hold on the repertory. These highly impressive performance may help put Tippett’s symphonies back on the musical map.

MARTINŮ: Early Orchestral Works, Volume Three: Vanishing Midnight; Ballade (after Böcklin’s picture Villa by the Sea); Dream of the Past, Sinfonia Varsovia, Ian Hobson/Toccata TOCC 0414   Those not signed up to an admiration society of the composer Martinů may be prepared to concede that his symphonies (and such pieces as the Double Concerto) are unquestionably top drawer, but some dismiss much of his other music as efficient note-spinning. Those naysayers will no doubt apply such strictures to the collection on this record, but admirers of Martinů will be grateful that these three under-regarded pieces have been committed to disc in performances brimming with affection. Ballade (after Böcklin’s picture Villa by the Sea) is a particular pleasure here, and it is interesting to see a piece inspired by the painter which is something other than his celebrated Isle of the Dead, which memorably inspired Rachmaninov’s tone poem.

WEINBERG: Violin Concerto; KABALEVSKY: Piano Fantasy; Cello Concerto No. 1, Benjamin Schmid, Claire Huangci, Harriet Krijgh, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Cornelius Meister/Capriccio B077BQGBT1  There is a provocative mix of Soviet composers on this expertly played disc – two musicians who underwent very different experiences under the oppressive Stalin regime that ruined the lives of so many of their peers. Kabalevsky, more adroit at passing through the requisite hoops, escaped largely unscathed, but Weinberg (not least for his Jewishness in a notably anti-Semitic era) had his wings clipped – which makes his an astonishingly prodigious output under these circumstances all the more impressive. Listening to the various pieces on this disc makes it clear that Weinberg is the more accomplished of the two composers, although both wrote music full of invention and character. The more substantial work, Weinberg’s Violin Concerto, is given an extremely authoritative reading here.

SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Sonata, 24 Preludes (arr. violin and piano), Sergei Dogadin, Violin, Nikolai Tokarev, Piano/Naxos C5310  If one were to attempt any ‘innocent ear’ test with the transcription of Shostakovich’s piano Preludes to be found on this disc, the listener might consider that these pieces were written for precisely the forces utilised here, i.e. violin and piano. And while this new version does not unseat the composer’s original thoughts, it makes for a fascinating alternative to the piano-only original. Dmitri Shostakovich’s succinctly composed and highly distinctive 24 Preludes have proved their popularity in numerous arrangements, but when the composer heard these transcriptions by Dmitry Tsyganov he declared that ‘I forgot they were originally written for piano, so naturally did they sound.’ The set was completed in 2000 by the Russian-born composer and pianist Lera Auerbach. These often whimsical and ironic Preludes contrast greatly with the chilling and profound Violin Sonata, a late work that concludes with Shostakovich’s last ever use of passacaglia form.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: SONGS OF TRAVEL, etc., James Gilchrist / Philip Dukes / Anna Tilbrook/Chandos 10969   Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel have been particularly lucky on disc, both in its voice-and-piano version and in the later orchestral transcription. It is the former which is given an airing here, and while James Gilchrist’s adroit performance does not unseat some distinctive readings of the past, Gilchrist is nevertheless able to find all the nuances in both Robert Louis Stevenson’s text and Vaughan Williams’ impeccable rendering of the same. In fact RVW admirers may be attracted by the disc’s fill-ups, which consist of several other pieces by the composer in effective performances. Having championed British repertoire together for the past twenty years, Anna Tilbrook and James Gilchrist are joined by Philip Dukes in a lyrical journey through some of Vaughan Williams’s best songs and rarely heard chamber music.

R. STRAUSS: DER ROSENKAVALIER, Camilla Nylund, Peter Rose, Paula Murrihy, Netherlands Philharmonic orchestra Mark Albrecht Challenge Classics SACD While the great Rosenkavalier readings of the past (notably Solti and Karajan) are not unseated by this new contender, it is still a strong and characterful addition (in vivid surround sound) to the long list of recordings of Strauss’s glorious opera. The three principal soloists (while variable) find many of the nuances of the character sometimes elided in otherwise top drawer performances. And the sense of stage drama is pointed up at various important junctures. Hardly a definitive reading, but which performance of the Rosenkavalier is?

RAAFF: Violin Concerto/Symphony No.1, Tasmin Little, Radio Filharmonisch Orkest conductor Jaap van Zweeden/Etcetera Records KTC1593   Do you consider yourself an adventurous classical music aficionado? If so, here is a disc which is well worth your time – particularly given the fact that the violinist Tasmin Little applies her considerable skills to this unfamiliar music and makes the best possible case for it. De Raaff is of the generation of Dutch composers who emerged in the nineties. In 1999 De Raaff had the special privilege of being invited to work as George Benjamin’s only composition student at the Royal College of Music in London where he also studied with Julian Anderson. The very word concerto naturally calls up automatic associations with the Classic and Romantic musical traditions. If, however, there is one composition that does not fit this classical template, it is de Raaff’s Violin Concerto. Tasmin Little’s performances are non-pareil.

BRITISH CONCERTANTE ,Various orchestras, Gavin Sutherland, Barry Wordsworth/Heritage Records HTGCD191  For many years, British light music was held in relatively low regard, despite the fact that even the slightest investigation of the field discloses music of real invention and charm, taking it well beyond the ‘easy listening’ category. And here is a collection to make that point. British Concertante features orchestral music written for soloist and accompaniment composed by leading figures in the Light Music movement: Angela Morley (equally creative as when Morley was known as Wally Stott), Bryan Kelly, Francis Chagrin, Philip Spratley and David Lyon.

COPLAND: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 3, BBC Philharmonic / John Wilson/Chandos SACD CHSA 5195  There are those (including this this listener ) who would prefer Copland’s original thoughts and prefer his ‘Organ’ Symphony, which has a heft and a dramatic power somewhat reduced in the composer’s later transcription to standard forces recorded here. What’s more, John Wilson has already given us an impressive performance of the former piece. Nevertheless, if your taste is for the orchestral version alone, you are unlikely to find it performed with more dedication and musicianship than here. An invigorating programme of orchestral works by Copland, the third volume in John Wilson’s already widely praised exploration, featuring in particular the First Symphony and the lively Outdoor Overture. (See also Graham Williams’ review opposite)

Forthcoming from PENTATONE

On the horizon from PENTATONE are new recordings of Mendelssohn’s Fourth and Fifth symphonies by Andrew Manze, along with an intriguing disc of Hindemith orchestral music from Marek Janowski. Both, it can be anticipated, will shine in the company’s splendid SACD surround sound.

Brownridge’s Debussy & Other New Discs

DEBUSSY: PRÉLUDES BOOK 1 & BOOK 1; L’ISLE JOYEUSE, Angela Brownridge, piano/ Challenge Classics SACD CC72727  One of the greatest virtues of the SACD medium has been its notable faithfulness in reproducing the full range of the sound of the piano, often making early keyboard discs – particularly those in the predigital medium – sound (retrospectively) a touch on the constricted side. And if ever the complete spectrum of the piano was required by one composer’s music, it is in the masterpieces of Debussy. Recorded in truly authoritative performances by the talented Angela Brownridge, this disc represents the third release from the pianist on Challenge Classics. She presents here some of the cornerstones of Debussy’s creative output. Hailed as a major star in classical music, Brownridge has been compared with such pianists as the legendary Solomon, Rachmaninov, Cherkassky, and Bolet. This Debussy disc represents the apogee of her achievement.

SHOSTAKOVICH: THE GADFLY† Complete Original Score for the 1955 Film, Reconstructed by Mark Fitz-Gerald

THE COUNTERPLAN (excerpts) Bachchor Mainz • Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Mark Fitz-Gerald/Naxos 8.573747 †WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING  Most Shostakovich admirers will be familiar with the suite from his film score The Gadfly, and like most film music by the composer – at least that which has been widely recorded – it’s music with an intriguing mix of styles but with an emphasis on lighter, more accessible compositional techniques. Finally, however, we have a chance to hear the entire score. Given the best possible advocacy by the Bachchor Mainz and the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, under Mark Fitz-Gerald  Set in mid-nineteenth-century Italy during a turbulent period of pre-Unifi cation political unrest, The Gadfl y drew from Shostakovich one of his most popular film scores, heard hitherto on record only in the version arranged and re-orchestrated by Levon Atovmian. This recording presents the full, original score for the first time, as closely as possible to Shostakovich’s original conception. Reconstructed by Mark Fitz-Gerald from the original manuscript and the Russian film soundtrack, it calls for a large orchestra including church bells, an organ, two guitars and a mandolin, all excluded from the Atovmian suite. The excerpts from The Counterplan, which marked the fifteenth anniversary of the 1917 Revolution, include the infectious hit-tune The Song of the Counterplan.

ELGAR: FALSTAFF, ETC., Roderick Williams, BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davis/Chandos CHSA 5188 SACD  Given the amount of time that the surround sound medium has been with us, it’s hardly surprising that the bulk of the classic orchestral repertoire has found its way onto disc in this format, particularly the large-scale late 19th and early 20th century orchestral scores that clearly benefit so much from the extra dimensional sound. There have, however, been holdouts – strange omissions from the recorded repertoire — but they are gradually being filled. Take, for instance, Elgar’s masterpiece. Falstaff — which has now found its way onto disc and (one can say with some certainty) in a performance that does full justice to the composer’s orchestral mastery. Earlier readings by such conductors as Adrian Boult may have found a touch more nuance, but very few have the full-blooded swagger of this new reading. Sir Andrew Davis takes his multi-award-winning Elgar discography to the next level with this Falstaff, Elgar’s most accomplished and characteristic work, and several orchestral songs, with exemplary support from the BBC Philharmonic and Roderick Williams.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: A LONDON SYMPHONY & OTHER WORKS, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins/HYPERION CDA68190   If you’re confused by the variety of readings of Vaughan Williams’ ode to the metropolis, his great Second Symphony, in its various iterations, you are not alone. Many thought that the issue of which of the composer’s versions to listen to was solved with Richard Hickox’s groundbreaking interpretation of the piece which restored missing passages, but newer versions – such as this impressive performance – have muddied the waters further. Vaughan Williams’s London Symphony (the composer’s favourite of the nine) makes a rare appearance in its 1920 first publication. Three lesser-known works complete a highly desirable programme, while Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra understand how this music should be played like few others.

SCHUMANN:SYMPHONIES 1-4, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas/SFS Media SACD  To say that the competition in recordings of the symphonies of Schumann is steep is to somewhat understate the case — recent performances have included the impressively detailed readings by Robin Ticciati. But it is hardly surprising that this set by Michael Tilson Thomas joins – at a stroke — the upper echelons of the pack. Recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall during the 2015-16 season, the album offers a nuanced approach that accentuates the lyrical and tender elements of the composer’s orchestral masterpieces. Released in a deluxe two-album hardbound SACD set, it includes an 88-page booklet with extended notes, photos, and an essay on performing Schumann by Michael Tilson Thomas. It is also available digitally for streaming and download in stereo, 5.1 surround, iTunes quality, and 24-bit/192kHz Studio Master.

BARTÓK: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, James Ehnes / Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Edward Gardner/Chandos CHSA 5189 SACD  The recordings of the conductor Edward Gardner are unquestionably among the jewels in the Chandos Records diadem, and his prolific series of discs for the label are showing a welcome emphasis on striking 20th-century scores — such as this very attractive Bartok coupling. If earlier readings of these astonishing pieces are not quite unseated (Solti, Fischer), there is no denying Gardner’s achievement – particularly in the SACD sound accorded the conductor’s full-blooded interpretation. Four years after a highly successful Bartók recording with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Gardner here returns to the composer, with his Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and James Ehnes, for outstanding accounts of four major orchestral works.

LAJTHA: CAPRICCIO, OP. 39 – SUITE DE BALLET, Pécs Symphony Orchestra, Nicolás Pasquet/NAXOS 8.573649  Slowly but surely, the Naxos label has been reissuing the impressive series of discs of Lajtha’s neglected music which were originally available on the Marco Polo label. Now, finally, the reissue programme is complete, with one of the most attractive entries in the series. László Lajtha is recognised, along with Bartók, Kodály and Dohnányi, as one of the great Hungarian composers of the first half of the 20th century. He established his reputation as his country’s foremost symphonist but also showed a strong affinity for the stage, writing his one-act ballet Capriccio in 1944. Despite the darkness of the times the ballet is filled with light and set in the period around 1700, the age of Watteau. Taking commedia dell’arte as his model, Lajtha’s characterisation brims with wit and elegance.

BRAUNFELS: CARNIVAL OVERTURE, OP. 22; TWO HÖLDERLIN SONGS, OP. 27; SCOTTISH FANTASY, OP. 47; PRELUDE AND FUGUE, OP. 36, Barbara Buntrock, Paul Armin Edelmann, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Gregor Bühl/Capriccio C5308  To many listeners, the name of the composer Walter Braunfels will be unfamiliar, but his colourful late romantic/modern scores fully deserve the excavation they have been receiving lately. If this disc does not offer the revelations that earlier recordings have accorded us, it is still an attractive (if slight) collection.

MAHLER SYMPHONY NO. 8, Utah Symphony Orchestra, Thierry Fischer, Music Director, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Reference Recordings SACD FR 725  It will hardly come as a revelation to those who have been collecting earlier Reference Recordings discs of the great masterpieces of the orchestral repertoire that this new reading of Mahler’s monumental Eighth Symphony is so impressive. Apart from anything else, it takes rigorous, ambitious recording standards, such as those considered de rigueur by the company, to do justice to an all-encompassing, sprawling score such as this, and within a few bars – the opening peroration for organ, orchestra and chorus – it’s clear that both the musical and recording values are (as usual) firmly in place. The singing, too, is mostly nonpareil (counterintuitively, no trace of religiosity in the weighty Mormon Tabernacle Choir) and this is as impressive a reading of the Symphony of a Thousand as one is likely to find.

BRITISH VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Clare Howick, violin, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Grant Llewellyn/Naxos 8.573791  No undiscovered masterpieces here, but extremely professional music which features three major British concertos spanning 70 years. Kenneth Leighton’s Concerto is a work of tensile urgency, scored with great imagination, and the Concerto by Gordon Jacob contains at its heart a threnodic slow movement cast in long, moving paragraphs and accompanied by poetic effects. Written for (and premiered by) the soloist in this recording, Paul Patterson’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (‘Serenade’) is rich in high spirits; songlike, and exuberantly sparkling. Clare Howick performs these works with finesse, and is accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Grant Llewellyn

PROKOFIEV: SYMPHONIES 2 & 3, State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia, Vladimir Jurowksi/PentaTone PTC 518 6624  In the kind of impactful sound that we have come to expect from the PentaTone label, these are dramatic and energetic performances of the two symphonies that followed Prokofiev’s calling card Classical Symphony. The reliable Vladimir Jurowksi gives highly persuasive readings which almost rival (while not surpassing) the recent surround sound takes on the symphonies by Mariss Janson, and there is no questioning that they are serious contenders in their own right.

BRASS HERALDS: BACH HANDEL TELEMANN, German Brass Berlin Classics030 1005 BC  For those listeners with a taste for the sound of burnished brass, this collection will be seventh heaven, with writing for brass instruments from three masters: Bach, Handel and Telemann, showcased in performances that are impeccably musical. Some may find the aural palette a touch restricted after a few tracks, but these two discs are not necessarily designed to be listened to in sequence; small samplings will give much pleasure.

BENNETT: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 1, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / John Wilson Chandos CHSA 5202

While the music here may not be to every taste (and it is certainly not as instantly ingratiating as the film music by the composer) this new series, devoted to the orchestral works of the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett is of note. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and its Associate Guest Conductor, John Wilson are recording for the first time together on Chandos, and the disc features the knotty Third Symphony. If the virtuosic Marimba Concerto outstays its welcome, it is tackled here with verve by the percussionist Colin Currie.

SCHUMANN: PIANO SONATA NO. 1 IN F SHARP MINOR, ETC. Adam Golka, piano/FHR 62  These are performances of poetry and sensitivity, with the reading of the piano sonata rivalling some of the great discs of the past. Adam Golka is joined by the soprano Lauren Eberwein, an artist of subtle skill, on An Anna II, and a particularly delicate reading is given of all the music here, which is perhaps not as familiar as it should be.

Chandos Completes Vaughan Williams Cycle on SACD

Classical CD Choice Disc of the Month: VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: SINFONIA ANTARTICA, ETC., Soloists / Bergen Philharmonic / Sir Andrew Davis/Chandos CHSA 5186  There have been several complete cycles of years of Vaughan Williams’ remarkable nine symphonies (beginning with the celebrated Adrian Boult accounts), but one particularly distinguished cycle (the first complete sequence in in surround sound) seemed to be benighted — that inaugurated by Chandos with the late conductor Richard Hickox. Before his death, Hickox committed some powerfully persuasive readings, notably a definitive reading of the original version of the London Symphony, and a blistering account of the muscular Fourth, but his VW sequence was not be completed because of his early death. However, Chandos wisely commissioned Andrew Davis to commit the missing symphonies to disc, and a recent strong recording of the Ninth (coupled with the ballet Job) is now followed by a very persuasive Sinfonia Antartica. Intensely atmosphere, bleak and dramatic by turn, this reading has a breathtaking climax in the landscape movement, in which the breaking of an ice floe is conveyed by a thunderous organ passage. In the surround sound medium, it almost goes without saying that this has never been better done. This long-awaited concluding entry in Chandos’s historic series of Vaughan Williams’s Symphonies sports an exceptional cast and a rare combination of repertoire. While the indefatigable piano duo Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier tackle the virtuosic Double Piano Concerto, the baritone Roderick Williams OBE offers breathtaking interpretations of the rarely heard, yet passionate Four Last Songs.

BRITTEN AND HINDEMITH: VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Arabella Steinbacher, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and Vladimir Jurowski/PentaTone PTC 5186625 SACD  When so many couplings on classical music discs are devised almost by the numbers, one has to recognise real initiative – and that is precisely what happens with this very cherishable PentaTone disc coupling two 20th-century concerti that, we discover, perfectly complement each other in their combination of sinewy modern orchestral colouration and deep and profound feeling. All facets of both Britten and Hindemith’s concerti are explored in these readings which become nigh-definitive (without quite displacing earlier readings – differently coupled — in the SACD medium) Arabella Steinbacher excels in the lyrical, troubled and profound violin concertos of Britten and Hindemith; breathtaking virtuosity flows seamlessly with expansive lyrical passages and fiendish passagework. Britten’s haunting and mesmerising violin concerto is considered one of the 20th century’s finest. The three contrasting movements are replete with grand theatrical gestures, unabashed lyricism, and show-stopping pyrotechnics, the work closing with an austere passacaglia of other-worldly beauty and power.

MAHLER: SYMPHONY NUMBER EIGHT, Utah Symphony, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Thierry Fischer Reference Recordings SACD FR725  Music lovers of an earlier generation will remember the impact that Georg Solti’s recording of the Mahler 8 made in its day: a dynamic performance in what was (for its day) state-of-the-art sound. And if ever a piece was designed to test the limits of recorded music in a domestic setting, it is this gargantuan symphony. Since Solti’s groundbreaking discs, there have been a variety of recordings of the Eighth — from the indifferent to the spectacular — but Thierry Fischer’s Utah recording will take some beating, not just its remarkable sensitivity to the composer’s intentions (every nuance and facet is found, from the more restrained colouristic passages to the great swells of orchestral excitement), captured in a recording which does full justice to the immense sound picture. The fact of that recording is so technically impressive will, of course, will come as no surprise to those used to the company Reference Recordings, which for some considerable time has been among the world’s best in setting down performances in the finest surround sound the medium is capable of. Generally speaking, the Mormon Tabernacle choir have a precision which matches Fischer’s breadth of vision.

STRAVINSKY: THE RITE OF SPRING LIGETI BERG, WEBERN London Symphony Orchestra LSO Live LSO 3028 Blu-ray and DVD  This writer’s conversations with the conductor Simon Rattle some decades ago once centred on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which Rattle rightly regarded as a lodestone in any modern conductor’s repertoire. Even as a young man, Rattle was not daunted by the Mount Parnassus reputation of the piece, and has long been one of its most powerful advocates. But, not surprisingly this latest disc – finally, in the kind of SACD sound that does justice to his vision – becomes his finest reading yet of the piece. Rattle’s triumphant return to Britain and the London Symphony Orchestra continues to be marked with some remarkable new performances – in the case of this set one of the warhorses of then-modern repertoire with several pieces of hardly enjoying the attention that Stravinsky’s masterpiece has been accorded in the years. What is particularly welcome about this set is its highly attractive presentation of a Blu-ray audio and a DVD which give the perfect visual record of the concerts from which the pieces were drawn. And this particular aspect is an asset in the delightful performance of Ligeti’s eccentric piece for soprano and orchestra, Mysteries of the Macabre, in which soprano Barbara Hannigan struts onstage in a jailbait outfit with white cotton socks, blowing bubble gum; the erotic playfulness perfectly matches an approachable work. If The Rite of Spring is not among the most kinetic performances Rattle has given of the work, it is still remarkably impressive and captured in sound of great depth and impact.

DEBUSSY: JEUX, KHAMMA, LA BOÎTE À JOUJOUX, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Lan Shui /BIS2162 SACD  A very welcome disc from the ever-reliable BIS label including three pieces by Debussy, which have not heretofore shared the same surround sound disc (although the late masterpiece Jeux has enjoyed an excellent SACD performance conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco). As in previous recordings of the music of Debussy, Lan Shui once again demonstrates that he has the full measure of the composer’s idiom – and the conductor might even be said to have finessed the pieces not orchestrated by the composer to make them sound impeccably Debussyian — a task aided considerably by the superb BIS sound. Debussy conceived three works as ballets, and they are gathered on this recording. All three were written between 1911–1913, during a period when the composer was under some financial pressure, and in the case of Khamma, Debussy himself admitted that ‘considerations of domestic finances’ contributed to him undertaking the commission for this ‘danced legend’. Having finished the piano score, Debussy asked Charles Koechlin to complete the orchestration under his supervision. He was more enthusiastic about a commission from the highly fashionable Ballets Russes, and did indeed complete Jeux himself, which Pierre Boulez regarded as one of the most prophetic works of the twentieth century. La Boîte à joujoux (‘The Toybox’) completes this collection.

FANTASY: SCHUMANN, CPE BACH, SCHUBERT, Danae Dorken, piano ARS 38150 SACD  A piquant choice of repertoire here: three pieces linked by being written in the ‘fantasy’idiom form, but providing some unusual bedfellows – when did you last hear a disc which featured keyboard music by both CPE Bach and Schubert? Danae Dorken’s performances are full of grace and authority, and the combination of the three pieces make for a most satisfying program.

PROKOFIEV: VIOLIN CONCERTO No. 2, etc., Roseanne Philippens, Sinfonieorchester St Gallen, Otto Tausk/Challenge Classic CCS39517  There seems to have been something of a fashion for recordings of the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto in recent years, but this is as striking and impassioned a rendition as one is likely to encounter, although it must be pointed out that it is in stereo sound only, not the surround sound to be heard among other recent readings. Roseanne Philippens has a sure grasp of Prokofiev’s colourful and distinctive writing, and one of the particular pleasures of the disc is her reading of the Violin Sonata in D major, folding in much impressive Russian feeling.

HAUSEGGER: BARBAROSSA (SYMPHONIC POEM); DREI HYMNEN AN DIE NACHT FOR BARITONE & ORCHESTRA, Hans Christoph Begemann, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Antony Hermu/CPO 777666-2  Let’s be honest – who, a decade or so ago, would have been familiar with the music of Hausegger? The composer’s name was simply something we’d read in reference books, but the CPO label has demonstrated that this is a neglected composer whose music (largely speaking in the vein of Richard Strauss or Mahler) deserves investigation. This latest disc is another remarkable discovery: a major piece dusted off and given what appears to be a totally authoritative reading.

GRANADOS: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Pablo González/ NAXOS V8.503295 [3-CD boxed set]  This is a very attractive collection of music, little of which will be familiar to the listener. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Enrique Granados’s birth the three internationally admired volumes of his orchestral discs have been brought together. The set includes one of the greatest pieces in all Spanish music, the Intermezzo from Goyescas, as well as much that is exceptionally rare, such as an impressive symphonic poem.

RACHMANINOV: VIRTUOSO ARRANGEMENTS VOL. 2, Martin Jones, Nimbus NI5695  Those of us who love the piano music of Rachmaninov tend to have an inordinate affection for it – and we really want to hear every piece that the composer wrote for his own instrument, both major and minor. This second collection of less celebrated pieces shows that Rachmaninov’s commitment to piano music was total. However, significant (or otherwise) the piece, Martin Jones matches the composer’s own celebrated virtuosity on his instrument.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Dona Nobis Pacem, BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms, Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, soloists, Britten Sinfonia, Stephen Cleobury, Kings College KG 50021 SACD  It was an intriguing notion to put these two remarkable 20th-century masterpieces for chorus and soloists on the same disc, and it is particularly welcome to have Dona Nobis Pacem making its debut in the surround sound medium. These are strong and committed performances, but there are caveats. Never have the orchestral passages in the RVW piece sounded as impressive as on this Cleobury disc, but — uncharacteristically for this label – some of the recordings of the choral passages are lacking clarity and the text is less clear than on rival recordings. That being said, these are strong performances and fully merit the listener’s attention.

DANIEL JONES: SYMPHONIES 2 & 11, Bryden Thomson Lyrita SRCD364  Hardly major masterpieces, Daniel Jones’ symphonies are solidly composed, attractive music which are here given readings under the late Bryden Thomson which makes the best possible case for the works.

KARAYEV: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kirill Karabits/Chandos CHSA 5203  More neglected music, from a company that specialises in presenting new avenues for the more adventurous listener This set of idiomatically lyrical, rhythmic, and colourful pieces with the Bournemouth SO and its Chief Conductor, Kirill Karabits, who appears on Chandos for the first time, marks the start of a new series dedicated to lesser-known composers from former Soviet Union countries.

BORUP-JORENSEN: MARIN, Soloists, DNSO, Thomas Sondergard/ OUR Recordings, 21104 26   This curious package (containing both a DVD and a Super Audio CD) contains both an animated film and a portrait of the composer Axel Borup-Jorgensen. The music (unquestionably in avant-garde idiom) is written for a very disparate collection of instruments, which the composer utilises to the full. Not for every taste, but those of adventurous mien might find this a worthwhile investment.

BORENSTEIN: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Irmina Trynkos / Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Ashkenazy/Chandos CHSA 5209 SACD  The dedication of the Chandos label to bringing unfamiliar and accessible classical music to disc is well known and celebrated among classical music listeners , and this latest issue continues that tradition. Conducting the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra and the promising young violinist Irmina Trynkos, Vladimir Ashkenazy marks his 80th birthday by bringing the orchestral music of Nimrod Borenstein, a long-time protégé, to SACD for the first time. I have to confess that despite the professionalism and colourful writing on offer here, I found it difficult to detect an individual character to the music. But if you share Ashkenazy’s enthusiasm for Borenstein, then it’s hard to imagine these pieces being better performed.

CHISHOLM: VIOLIN CONCERTO & DANCE SUITE, Matthew Trusler, Danny Driver, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins/Hyperion CDA68208  If you’d asked a lover of British music a couple of decades ago If they’d heard the work of Eric Chisholm, you would probably have received a blank stare. Fortunately, that egregious neglect is being remedied with a series of issues from different companies that demonstrate Chisholm was a highly individual talent — and certainly did not warrant his nigh-invisible status. The very characterful music on this disc may be may of some help in redressing the balance. A bracing excursion to the Indian subcontinent via the Scottish Highlands: the compelling force of Scottish modernism, with Matthew Trusler and Danny Driver are the committed soloists in the two large-scale concertante works.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, Rebecca CLARKE, Benjamin BRITTEN: Let Beauty Awake, Ellen Nisbeth, Bengt Forsberg/BIS 2182  Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel has been particularly lucky on disc, enjoying a variety of impeccable vocal performances. But even RVW admirers may not be prepared for this latest outing, in which certain songs in the cycle are intelligently transcribed for violin. The results are highly persuasive, without quite displacing the original, but remaining pleasing. Swedish violist Ellen Nisbeth, hailing from a family of Scottish origin, feels a particular affinity for the landscapes of Scotland, and for the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. For her first recital disc Ellen Nisbeth has devised an all- British programme which includes her own transcriptions of selected songs from Songs of Travel – Ralph Vaughan Williams’s settings of poems by Stevenson. The songs intersperse the remainder of the programme, and one of them – Let Beauty Awake – has also lent its title to the entire disc. Together with the eminent pianist and chamber musician Bengt Forsberg, Nisbeth goes on to perform the impassioned Viola Sonata composed in 1919 by Rebecca Clarke, and Benjamin Britten’s Third Suite for Cello, transcribed for viola by Rebecca Clarke, and Benjamin Britten’s Third Suite for Cello, transcribed for viola by Ellen Nisbeth herself. This is a disc that will find a ready audience.

Richard RODGERS, George GERSHWIN, Frank LOESSER, Jerome KERN, Leonard BERNSTEIN, Mitch LEIGH  Glorious Quest Rodney Earl Clarke, Christopher Gould/STONE 5060192780758  A personal, caveat. Although the piano transcriptions by played by Christopher Gould here are as adroit as one could wish, those who love this glorious music will be missing the superb orchestral arrangements (usually by the Dean of Broadway orchestrators, Robert Russell Bennett), with which they are customarily arrayed. That said, however, this is still an attractive disc. Many music lovers would argue that the best work by the great Broadway composers such as Gershwin, Rodgers and Kern is a match for many more ‘respectable’ art songs, a premise that this collection comprehensively proves. Without quite shaking the customary sense that a popular non-trained singer might perhaps find the best in these pieces, this is a beautifully sung recital. Glorious Quest is the debut album from British baritone Rodney Earl Clarke.

LAJTHA: SYMPHONIES NOS. 8 AND 9, Pécs Symphony Orchestra,• Nicolás Pasquet/NAXOS  The welcome series of Marco Polo issues of Lajtha’s music on the Naxos label continues apace – and this is a particularly cherishable issue. Reflecting Hungary’s troubled times following the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, Lajtha’s last two symphonies are deeply emotional and dramatic works ranging from tragic intensity to optimism. Whereas the Eighth Symphony was aptly described by the composer’s wife as ‘a tragedy without consolation’, the emotional power and the melodic beauty of the Ninth Symphony evoke suffering, happiness and hope. A huge success at its 1963 Parisian premiere, the work was acclaimed by the critic Claude Rostand as ‘the one that convinced us that László Lajtha was truly one of the greatest symphonic composers of the 20th century.

WEINER: WEINER: SERENADE / TWO DIVERTIMENTOS, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra | Neeme Järvi/Chandos CHAN 10959  It appears that — after a fashion — Weiner’s time is coming. Neeme Järvi and his Estonian National Symphony Orchestra reveal here the delightful, witty Hungarian style of Leó Weiner by encapsulating the freshness and fluidity of engaging, yet too rarely performed Serenade and five Divertimentos.


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.