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.

 

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.