The Classical CD Choice Interview: Jonathan Cooper at Chandos

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

New SACDs from Challenge, PENTATONE, Chandos et al

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complete Duel in the Sun from Prometheus

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

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

A magnificent Missa Solemnis from PENTATONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Davis Takes Up the Vaughan Williams Challenge

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Job / Symphony No. 9, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis/ CHSA 5180  There are those (such as this listener) who found the death of the late Richard Hickox particularly affecting as his commitment to English music was particularly strong, and his advocacy had been immortalised in a series of remarkable readings for the Chandos label. A particular jewel in his crown was the series of recordings of the Vaughan Williams symphonies, cut short by Hickox’s death. Over the years, rumours that other conductors would complete the cycle had been rife, so it’s fortunate indeed that it is Sir Andrew Davis who has taken up the RVW baton in this impressive surround sound coupling of the composer’s final symphony and his ballet masterpiece Job. The result is particularly cherishable, even if (in the final analysis), Davis’s reading of Job lacks the monumental quality of Hickox’s stereo-only recording. On the other hand, the recording here is infinitely richer and more powerful than the Hickox, with the organ passage for Satan particular cataclysmic in its impact. The Ninth symphony, too, receives a performance of great distinction. The late Hickox left a remarkable legacy in the Vaughan Williams discography and he has posthumously found the perfect successor in Davis.

WEINBERG: Chamber Symphonies, Piano Quintet (Orchestrated), Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer: violin, Yulianna Avdeeva: piano, Mate Bekavac: clarinet, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla: conductor/ ECM New Series 2538/39 2-CD 0289 4814604 8  if you are a completist (like so many classical music lovers), it’s particularly easy to obtain all the symphonies of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mahler — many recordings of each, of course, in the cases of those composers. But if you’re one of the steadfast (if restricted) band of admirers of the Russian composer Weinberg, it’s a considerably more ambitious job, as he was practically as proficient as Haydn in the symphonic medium. In fact, more and more of the symphonies are currently becoming available – and, thankfully, the work of this talented colleague of Shostakovich is gradually appearing on disc. This latest addition from ECM is particularly welcome, and not just because it plugs some symphonic gaps. There have previously been serviceable recordings of Weinberg’s Chamber Symphonies three and four, but this very welcome disc provides us with superb readings of the first and second symphonies in performances by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla which find all the plangent feeling located deep in the core of the composer’s music. The recording, too, is exemplary, although one might wish for SACD sound – but perhaps that’s looking a gift horse in the mouth. However, the real pleasure of this two disc set is not in the chamber symphonies, welcome though they are: it is in the newly orchestrated version of the Piano Quintet (arranged for piano, string orchestra and percussion), which turns out to be a remarkably winning new version of the piece; It’s this new find as much as the chamber symphonies which makes the disc an essential purchase for admirers of Weinberg.

DVORAK: Symphony No. 9, The Noon Witch – Staatsphilharmonic Nurnberg, Staatsphilharmonie Nürnberg conductor Marcus Bosch/Coviello Classics COV91618  When competition is so fierce, something special has to be pulled out of the hat to make any new recording of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony one to be reckoned with – even in the surround sound medium, in which there are several excellent readings. The Marcus Bosch cycle is proving to be highly distinctive, although perhaps without the rigour and freshness of his recent much-acclaimed Bruckner sequence. Nevertheless, this is a competitive ninth. With the nickname “From the New World” it is, of course, one of the most popular of classical pieces; the lesser-known symphonic poem, “The Noon Witch”, is the colourful fill-up. Hopefully, we can look forward to the completion of the cycle with the Brahmsian first Symphony, which has not yet appeared in the SACD medium.

SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77; Violin Concerto No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 129, Frank Peter Zimmermann, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Alan Gilbert/ BIS2247  Although the BIS label is not trumpeting the fact, this is the first time that Shostakovich’s two violin concertos have appeared on the same SACD, and this is a highly competitive issue, if not quite in the same category as some of the great readings of the past. Nevertheless, the recording here has all the nuance and drama of the troubled Russian composer’s style, and the sound palette (in excellent surround sound) is immensely faithful. If the notion of having both concertos on one disc appeals, you have no reason to hesitate. Shostakovich completed his Violin Concerto No. 1 in 1948, at a time when he had fallen out of grace with the Soviet authorities. Throughout the work there are allusions to the composer’s situation, such as the D-S-C-H motif that appears in so many of his works and which in the second movement is closely related to a theme reminiscent of Jewish popular music, as a symbol of Shostakovich’s identification with the suppressed Jewish culture. He completed his Violin Concerto No. 2 in 1967 after suffering a heart attack only the year before. Strong, focussed performances from Frank Peter Zimmermann with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, conducted by Alan Gilbert.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2, Overtures, Beethoven Orchester Bonn, Stefan Blunier /MDG SACD 937 1977-6  It seems strange to report the fact that one of the greatest (if not the greatest) of all composers has yet to have some key works available in the SACD medium. Not the symphonies, of course, of which there is a plethora of choice, but some of the overtures. This distinctive disc goes some way to redressing that balance with powerful, authoritative performances of some of the less recorded overtures alongside a strong and characterful reading of the Second Symphony. As a conductor of Beethoven, Stefan Blunier proves himself to be sui generis.

SMETANA: Ma Vlast, Bamberger Symphoniker, Jakob Hrusa/Tudor SACD 7196  There are a wide selection of recordings of this colourful, nationalistic masterpiece available, but the choice in the SACD medium is more restricted. If this reading by the Bamberger Symphoniker under Jakob Hrusa is not quite in the upper echelons, it still crammed full of drama and energy, making it a competitive issue. The recording has a suitably wide dynamic range, typical of the Tudor label.

BE GLAD THEN, AMERICA: Robert Russell Bennett, William Schuman, National Symphony Orchestra, Antal Dorati/Eloquence 482 2884  This is a particularly enterprising programme, showcasing two remarkable American composers, neither of whom has quite received the due to which they are entitled to. William Schuman’s calling card piece, the New England Triptych, here receives a vid and kinetic reading (as might be expected from Antal Dorati, always masterful in American music) and the piece by Robert Russell Bennett despite its unfortunate title, ‘The Fun and Faith of William Billings, American’, has much of the charm of the composer’s little-known music — proving once again that there was much more to him than the definitive orchestrator of Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter shows.

MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Soloists, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir John Eliot Gardiner/LSO Live SACD & Blu-Ray 822231179221  First, the good news. This is as pointed and full-blooded a performance of Mendelssohn’s orchestral music to Shakespeare’s play as one is likely to hear, finding both the poetry and the exquisite delicacy of the orchestration. And now, the caveat — and it’s a major one. Why on earth did the producer opt to interject great chunks of Shakespeare’s text in between the musical passages? While the Bard may be our greatest writer, most listeners of this piece will not want to hear these lengthy sections again and again, and while it works admirably in the accompanying Blu-ray, the text quickly becomes tiresome on the SACD. Nevertheless, there is no denying the appeal of the performance of the music and if the text is not a problem for you, then you need not hesitate.

CASELLA Divertimento per Fulvia, DONATONI Music for Chamber Orchestra†, GHEDINI Concerto grosso†, MALIPIERO Imaginary Orient† Orchestra della Svizzera italiana (OSI), Damian Iorio, †WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING/Naxos  Minor stuff here, but mostly attractive, with the Casella and Malipiero items unsurprisingly being the most accomplished pieces on the disc (the uningratiating Donatoni is not likely to detain many listeners for long). This programme of four complementary works for small orchestra enshrines the lighter side of four twentieth-century Italian composers, concentrating on Alfredo Casella’s Divertimento for Fulvia, composed for his young daughter. Casella’s friend Gian Francesco Malipiero wrote Oriente immaginario (Imaginary Orient) for a Futurist play by Achille Ricciardi (1884-1923).

HOLBROOKE: Auld Lang Syne (Variations for full orchestra, Op. 60); Concerto for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 59 ‘The Grasshopper’; The Raven (Poem No. 1 for orchestra, Op. 25), Judith Ingolfsson, Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt, Howard Griffiths/ CPO 777636-2  Holbrooke is something of a discovery among neglected composers, although his actual level of achievement can be (it has to be said) hit or miss. This selection is not quite in the higher reaches of his achievement, but will be welcomed by those who have been collecting his other orchestral tone poems, notably those inspired by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. The Raven here is particularly winning. When this symphonic poem after Poe, celebrated its premiere in London in March 1900, the critics extolled the virtues of its young composer. His sole violin concerto, The Grasshopper, can also be heard here.

TISHCHENKO: Symphony No. 8, Concerto for violin, piano and string orchestra, Three Songs to Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, Yuri Serov/Naxos The find here is the symphony, which is a piece that most purchasers of this disc will be returning to most often. Obviously written in the shadow of Shostakovich, it nevertheless has its own individual character, even though the more famous composer’s fingerprints are all over it. Tishchenko was an important Russian composers, whose star has dimmed compared to that of his mentor. The Symphony No. 8, one of his last completed works, was written to be performed immediately after Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, to which it makes reference. Also on the disc are his Concerto for violin, piano and string orchestra and Three Songs to Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva. Tishchenko set the words of this important Russian poet to music three years ahead of Shostakovich.

GARRIDO-LECCA: Peruvian Suite, Andean Folk Dances • Laudes, Symphonic Tableaux, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya/Naxos  Colourful and appealing pieces are offered on this unusual disc; certainly, they are not (by any stretch) undiscovered masterpieces, but make a very beguiling programme. A native of Peru, Celso Garrido-Lecca is one of the foremost Ibero-American composers, integrating a unique blend of musical elements that include serialism, the native sounds of the Andes, and the influence of the ‘Nueva Canción Chilena’ movement.

SZYMANOWSKI: Concert Overture, Op. 12; Slopiewnie, Op. 46bis; Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony No. 4), Op. 60; Nocturne and Tarantella, Marisol Montalvo, Ewa Kupiec, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Karl-Heinz Steffens/ C 5280  The first few bars of Szymanowski’s Concert Overture will have the listener convinced that they are hearing a little-known tone poem by Richard Strauss, but many composers were under the German master’s influence. The piece enjoys an exhilarating performance here, coupled with an intelligent and sympathetic reading of the Fourth Symphony, which is much more in the characteristic refulgent Szymanowski style. The composer’s earliest works were clearly influenced by the late Romantic style, but, halfway through the First World War, he became particularly attracted to Impressionism. From then on he remained committed to tonality, but pushed it to its very limits with lush, seductive blazes of colour that find their closest parallels in the music of Alexander Scriabin, attested to by this recording.

REIJSEGER: The Volcano Symphony – Forma Antiqva, Winter & Winter, Ernst Reijseger (cello) Forma Antiqua conductor Aarón ZapicoJosef/Winter & Winter 9102402 8.95/0025091024025  Despite the jeremiads that bedevil the classical recording industry, many labels still have enterprising recording programs – and not just reheatings of well-worn repertoire pieces. Here, for instance, is an opportunity to discover a composer and a piece most listeners will not have heard of. I have to say that I did not find the music distinctive or individual, but it is certainly given the best possible advocacy here. And if you’re more persuadable, you may find this an interesting issue. Composer and cellist Ernst Reijseger presents his first symphonic poem, “The Volcano Symphony”, written for the Baroque orchestra Forma Antiqua conducted by Aarón Zapico. The symphony (we are told) ‘tells of death and life’’. Soprano Eugenia Boix embodies the voice of Pele — not a footballer but the goddess of the volcanoes, according to Hawaiian belief.

THE FILM MUSIC OF WILLIAM ALWYN, VOLUME 4, BBC Philharmonic | Rumon Gamba/ CHAN 10930  Chandos’ commitment to recording the film music of William Alwyn has been particularly commendable, given that his music for the cinema has not enjoyed the currency of better known composers such as Vaughan Williams and Walton. Alwyn, in his dramatic vein (as opposed to the more disposable light music-style items on offer here) is a match for his better-known contemporaries. This fourth volume is a particularly arresting issue, bringing new recordings of music from the prolific decades of the 40s and 50s, during which Alwyn scored a number of famous films. These scores show to perfection Alwyn’s supreme skill in providing music totally attuned to the subject.

STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos† (Symphony-Suite, arr. D. Wilson Ochoa), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme – Suite, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, †WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING  If, like me, you are a collector of orchestral suites drawn from operas, you need not hesitate with this charming confection drawn from Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. The cohesion between the various pieces is persuasive, and the performance finds the gentle charm of the composer in his more companionable vein. Richard Strauss’ Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme suite was one of his own favourite scores, incidental music that combines the composer’s romanticism with his admiration for the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully.

HOLST: The Planets / STRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra, CBSO Youth Chorus / National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain / Edward Gardner/Chandos CHSA 5179 see also Graham Williams review opposite    For its first album on Chandos, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain brings enthusiasm to a dramatic programme with playing that prioritises energy over finesse. Edward Gardner marshals his youthful forces with skill, utilising the acoustic of Symphony Hall, Birmingham in a surround-sound recording markedly different from most of the company’s SACD recordings.

DEBUSSY AND HOSOKAWA: Point and Line, Momo Kodama: piano/ ECM New Series 2509 CD 481 4738  Listeners may not be attracted by the little-known pieces by Hosokawa recorded here but they will find them a very pleasant surprise – particularly when recorded alongside very persuasive readings of the better-known Debussy piano pieces. Kodama proves to be the most sensitive of interpreters, both in Hosokawa and Debussy, Born in Osaka, educated at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris, Momo Kodama is well-placed to approach music from both Eastern and Western vantage points, as she does in this album.

Can ATILLA: Symphony No. 2 ‘Gallipoli – The 57th Regiment’, Angela Ahıskal, Soprano • Onur Şenler, Cello Bilkent Symphony Orchestra • Burak Tüzün  Another enterprising issue from Naxos, although this listener was not seduced by the straightforward and workmanlike music of the Turkish composer Can Attila, one of the leading Turkish composers of his generation. Success in film and television music has been accompanied by comparable achievement in the orchestral repertory. The Gallipoli campaigns in the First World War have always held particular significance for Atilla, and Symphony No. 2 ‘Gallipoli’ – The 57th Regiment is a war symphony, composed for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the battle. This powerful elegy, in which the first two movements have an important role for solo cello, commemorates the tragic Turkish 57th Regiment and is also dedicated to the Anzac soldiers who perished in the battle.

BARTÓK: Concerto for 2 Pianos, Percussion & Orchestra, Victor BABIN: Concerto for 2 Pianos & Orchestra Piano Duo Genova & Dimitrov, Dobri Paliev, Plamen Todorov, Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Yordan Kamdzhalov/ CPO 555001-2  An earlier performance of Bartok’s transcription of his Sonata for Two pianos and Percussion by Simon Rattle had more point and precision, but this is a still a powerful and persuasive reading, making for an attractive disc. Particularly, in fact, when coupled with the winning Babin Concerto which will be unfamiliar to most listeners The Hungarian composer, pianist, folk music researcher, editor, and teacher Béla Bartók moved the piano or pianos closer to the percussion family.

LOKSHIN: Symphony No. 5 ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets’; Quintet for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello; Variations for piano, Ivan Mozgovenko, The Komitas Quartet, Maria Grinberg, Yan Kratov, Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai/ MELCD 1002446  . This is unusual repertoire which is unlikely to be on the radar of most listeners. It is mostly intriguing stuff, well performed by the great Rudolf Barshai, a friend and admirer of the composer, and creator of the first Soviet chamber orchestra – the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.

SIBELIUS: In the Stream of Life, Gerald Finley | Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra | Edward Gardner/ Chandos CHSA 5178 [PREMIERE RECORDINGS]: see also Graham Williams review opposite  One has to admire the imagination which this particular program was put together. Sibelius’s songs, particularly in a baritone iteration, require careful handling to avoid aural monotony — and that is precisely what they receive in these exquisite orchestrations – not to mention the clever interpolation of some of the composer’s tone poems to balance them. The exceptional collaboration and friendship between the late Einojuhani Rautavaara and the internationally acclaimed bass-baritone Gerald Finley culminates in this unique album of orchestral songs by Sibelius, on which the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Edward Gardner. The album offers orchestrations, by Sibelius and others, of songs which Sibelius originally wrote for voice and piano, and includes the premiere recording of In the Stream of Life, seven songs orchestrated by Rautavaara for his friend.

 

 

Shostakovich and Co. from Challenge, BIS, Chandos

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SHOSTAKOVICH & TCHAIKOVSKY: VIOLIN CONCERTOS Linus Roth (violin), London Symphony Orchestra & Thomas Sanderling/Challenge Classics SACD CC72689   There are those admirers of the SACD medium (and this listener, I have to confess is one of them) who are always pleased when a colourful piece of 20th-century music is accorded a first reading in the medium. Shostakovich’s first Violin Concerto has already enjoyed that privilege, but here for the first time is the more enigmatic (but no less masterly) secondly concerto making its debut in surround sound. What’s more, Linus Roth pairs it with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto – the world premiere recording of its original version. With the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Thomas Sanderling, the real find here is the Shostakovich, which receives a reading of concentrated intelligence that is the equal of many of the great readings of the past; it is something of a revelation. The Tchaikovsky is inevitably up against formidable competition, but this performance, for textural reasons, is somewhat different from versions listeners will have encountered before. This is the first recording of the Tchaikovsky Concerto that takes the new Urtext, published by Henle Edition as a source. There are a few different notes, phrasings and bowings from what is usually played but the most obvious audible difference is that the whole second movement is played with the mute on. Shostakovich’s Second Violin Concerto is a late work written when the composer was already ill and aware that his life would be soon over. The conductor Thomas Sanderling, was a friend who knew Shostakovich well in his late years and provides unique musical insights into the piece.

DEBUSSY: IMAGES, JEUX & LA PLUS QUE LENTE, San Francisco Symphony & Michael Tilson Thomas SFS0069 821936006924 SACD  Those who eagerly collected the Mahler Symphony cycle by these forces under Michael Tilson Thomas will be well aware that this is a musical combination which can almost always be relied upon to offer something special, and that  proves once again to be the case with this Debussy collection. One of the hallmarks of the series has been the remarkably vivid and detailed recordings, a plus factor once again making for a splendid disc (although some may find that the conductor’s notably elastic approach to tempi leads to unorthodox readings). However, Jeux in particular receives a reading that identifies an impeccable logic at the heart of this often evanescent music, and is frequently reminiscent of a reading that many listeners of a certain age will have grown up with, that by Pierre Boulez. This latest release in Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony’s award-winning discography also features Debussy’s exquisite miniature La Plus Que Lente and a superb Images.
GINASTERA: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 2, Xiayin Wang / Manchester Chamber Choir / BBC Philharmonic / Juanjo Mena/ CHAN 10924  Those masters of the serendipitous recording art, Chandos Records, continue their excavation of eth composer Ginastera with another cherishable disc. Panamabi has already enjoyed some persuasive recorded performances in the past, but few, however, have been as colourful as this one — which leads to one caveat: what a shame that Chandos did not accord this music the surround sound recording which is their particular speciality. The keen musicality and sweeping virtuosity of Xiayin Wang meet the sumptuous sound of the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juanjo Mena in Ginastera’s late Second Piano Concerto.

RACHMANINOV & PROKOFIEV: Works for Cello & Piano, Johannes Moser, Andrei Korobeinikov/PentaTone SACD B01M6V42LP  The chances are that admirers of the Russian masters Rachmaninov and Prokofiev will be unfamiliar with this aspect of their chamber music, and to some degree this is music that will sort out the casual listener from the hard-core aficionados. Neither work is immediately ingratiating in the manner of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev’s other music.. Nevertheless, as concentrated expressions of the musical identity of the composers, both of these cello works are immensely revealing, and it’s hard to imagine  more committed and sympathetic performances than they receive here. The musicians have talked about how they bore in mind images of nature and Russian folklore during recording sessions. The influence of this inspiration is, of course, impossible to quantify, but the results speak for themselves — and those wishing to move beyond more familiar works by these composers need not hesitate.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: FANTASIA ON A THEME BY THOMAS TALLIS, BRITTEN: FRANK BRIDGE VARIATIONS, ELGAR: INTRODUCTION AND ALLEGRO/LSO String Ensemble, Roman Simovic/LSO Live SACD LSO 0792  The classics of English music on this disc have enjoyed a variety of first-rate performances over the years, even (one might add) in the SACD medium, so competition is fierce. But Simovic and his impeccable ensemble deliver readings of great authority and feeling with a sound picture that does full justice to one of the great orchestras of this country. Following two well-received releases, the LSO String Ensemble continues with Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, a visionary fusion of folksong and sacred music; Britten Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, a challenging landmark of 20th-century string writing; and Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, a work with a special significance for the LSO, having been composed for and premiered by the Orchestra. If, in the final analysis, the performances do not unseat other readings, they nevertheless make for a competitive disc.

LAJTHA: SYMPHONY NO. 2, VARIATIONS, OP. 44, Pécs Symphony Orchestra, Nicolás Pasquet/Naxos 8.573643  The welcome series of reissues of Marco Polo recordings of the composer László Lajtha’s music continues with some of his most approachable scores, delivered in performances that make a strong case for these neglected pieces. Along with his contemporaries Bartók, Kodály and Dohnányi, László Lajtha was one of the leading Hungarian composers in the first half of the twentieth century, and while his reputation may not be the equal of his contemporaries in terms of either inspiration or influence, his music will be a revelation to many. Of his nine symphonies, Symphony No. 2, Op. 27 dates from 1938 and is an intense, sombre and brooding work as if foreshadowing the horrors of the war to come. When asked to compose incidental music for Georg Höllering’s film of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, Lajtha responded with three autonomous compositions of which one, the monumental Variations, Op. 44 from 1948, is recorded here.  

BRAHMS: STRING QUINTETS, Mandelring Quartett, Roland Glassl, violin/Audite 97.724  A particular kind of musical sensibility is required to find the rigour within these demanding entries in the chamber music canon, but the Mandelring Quartett and Roland Glassl have those resources aplenty and this is a particularly impressive set, finding all the panoply of feeling and mood within both works.

SCHREKER: ORCHESTRAL MUSIC FROM THE OPERAS, Royal Swedish Orchestra, Lawrence Renes, BIS SACD 2212  Those already acquainted with the orchestral music, of Schreker will need no cajoling to investigate this sumptuous disc – particularly as the music will be unfamiliar to most listeners, even to admirers of the composer. There is, inevitably, a fragmentary nature to most of the pieces here, but there is never a sense of bleeding chunks as Lawrence Renes manages to maintain an inner cohesion in each extract. And the music (which bears echoes of both Mahler and Debussy) is often inspired despite the occasional passage of conventional writing. With the première of the opera Der ferne Klang in Frankfurt, 1912, Franz Schreker’s operas – with their symbolist, often erotic subjects – were triumphantly successful, and he was seen as one of the most prominent representatives of ‘New Music’ – Arnold Schoenberg even called him ‘one of the foremost among us’. Schreker composed almost exclusively operas, and with few exceptions to his own librettos, thus ensuring that his subjects were suitable for, even demanding of, musical treatment.

FAURÉ: PIANO MUSIC, Hannes Minnaar, piano, Challenge Classics SACD CC 72731  The delicate poetic qualities of Fauré’s piano pieces requires the most sensitive of touches from the pianist tackling them, and it’s clear within a few bars of Hannes Minnaar’s selection that he is comfortably a master of the idiom. A particular pleasure is here is the First Nocturne, which opens the collection, as is a perfectly judged reading of the Fifth Impromptu. If the entire program listened to at a sitting might not be heard to best to the best advantage as the sound world is narrow in scope, it is nevertheless a judiciously chosen selection for admirers of the composer.

ASPECTS, Aquarelle Guitar Quartet/CHANDOS CHAN 10928  Those lucky enough to have heard the Aquarelle guitar quartet live will be aware that they are in for a treat with this delectable disc, in which musical virtuosity complements a lively selection of pieces (and the choices are eclectic indeed). And although the disc may be best listened to in separate sessions rather than straight through, that is hardly a criticism. The disc is a cogent demonstration that the quartet have not lost their ability to make four guitars sound as rich and colourful as an orchestra. ‘Aspects’ showcases the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet’s love of musical diversity. The album includes original works for four guitars, arrangements that have been made by members of the group, and even a new work written especially for this project.

HANDEL: MESSIAH (New Concert Edition by Sir Andrew Davis) Erin Wall / Elizabeth DeShong / Andrew Staples / John Relyea. Toronto Mendelssohn Choir / Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sir Andrew Davis CHSA 5176(2) [PREMIERE RECORDING]  Over the years, Messiah has enjoyed a remarkably varied series of readings for the recording medium from Sir Thomas Beecham’s enjoyable (if overinflated) classic reading through to the pointed and athletic Colin Davis performance (with such soloists as Heather Harper) a clear forerunner of the authentic, carefully research performances of the present. In that respect, the radical and experimental approach to the orchestration here is something of a throwback to the needlessly interventionist past, but that does not make the reading any less enjoyable — although it is not one for purists. Recorded live on SACD, this unique version makes use of all the colours available from the modern symphony orchestra to underline the mood and meaning of the individual movements. Without detracting from the innate power of the original, the conductor’s score calls for moments of drama, pathos, and even, sometimes, whimsicality. It is supported by substantial brass and woodwind forces, and several percussion instruments (including marimba!).

RICHARD STRAUSS – EIN HELDENLEBEN / MACBETH, Andres Orozco-Estrada, Frankfurt Radio Symphony/Pentatone SACD   Richard Strauss’s orchestral masterpiece Ein Heldenleben is here coupled with a far lesser known piece, but one admired by aficionados of the composer, the tone poem Macbeth. Both works have enjoyed persuasive performances in the surround sound medium, but the choice here is not quite as clear-cut as it may be, with performances of authority rather than bravura. However for those not possessing other recordings of the works, these readings are alert to the nuances of Strauss’s consummate orchestral writing. Perhaps the last ounce of panache in Ein Heldenleben may be more discernible in other readings from the past (Luisi on SACD, for instance), but having said that, the recorded sound — as so often with PentaTone’s SACDs — has great impact and allows much detail customary customarily obscured on ordinary CD recordings to emerge with great clarity. If you’re tempted by this particular coupling, there is no doubt that conductor and orchestra do considerable service to Strauss’s writing.

DVORAK: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES VOL. THREE (SYMPHONIES THREE AND FOUR) DRPSK, Karel Mark Chicon/SWR 19009 CD  While the later symphonies of Dvorak has been well served on disc, the earlier works, notably the third and fourth, have had considerably less representation — so it is encouraging to be able to welcome this sensitively played set, which offers readings of the third and fourth Symphony which are often reminiscent of such great interpreters of the composer as Istvan Kertesz. While the recording does not have a range of SACD readings, it is more than acceptable in catching the orchestral nuances of this very attractive set.

BRUCKNER: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES 1-9, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden/Challenge Classics SACD CC72707  Those who have been collecting the individual recordings of these imperishable masterpieces conducted by Jaap van Zweden will need little recommendation when it comes to this integral set. The conductor has clearly thought long and hard about his approach to this difficult music and there are echoes here of many of the great readings of the past, although van Zweden is very much his own man. For instance key tempi are always totally at the service of the individual symphonies, unlike the striking recent complete set by Bosch, there is not necessarily the same muscularity but a dramatic monumentality which, while never ponderous (in the Klemperer manner) refuses to go for more straightforwardly kinetic solutions to the faster music. One persistent characteristic of these remarkable recordings (which are almost a summa of the possibilities of the surround sound medium) is the combination of the best aspects of concert hall ambience with a clarity and precision only possible in a domestic setting. With recordings possessing this degree of analytical precision, this is a remarkable set, and many will find themselves choosing it as a default selection.

SCHOENBERG: GURRE-LIEDER, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Choirs / Edward Gardner / Alwyn Mellor / Anna Larsson / Stuart Skelton / Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke / James Cresswell / Sir Thomas Allen/ Chandos SACD CHSA 5172(2)  It’s hard to imagine a persuasive performance of Schoenberg’s late romantic masterpiece that according here by Edward Gardner, particularly in the wide-ranging multi-directional sound. Personally speaking, it’s a piece whose appeal customarily eludes me, but if you’re already persuaded then you need look no further if you’re searching for a modern performance of the piece. Recorded live on SACD in the impressive acoustic of Grieghallen in Bergen, this epic reading of Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder marshals over three hundred performers, including sizeable choral forces, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra – extended for the occasion – and six soloists, conducted by Edward Gardner.

WEINBERG: SYMPHONY NO. 17, ‘MEMORY’, SUITE FOR ORCHESTRA† Siberian State Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Lande/NAXOS 8573565, † WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING  A key enterprise of Mieczysław Weinberg’s later life was On the Threshold of War, his symphonic trilogy dedicated to the ‘memory of the fallen in the Great Patriotic War’. The Symphony No. 17 is the largest-scale of the three and one of Weinberg’s most eloquent pieces. (Naxos has already issued Symphonies Nos. 18 and 19, on Naxos 8.573190 and 8.572752.) The Suite is a less substantial but intriguing piece.

JONGEN: SYMPHONIE CONCERTANTE, OP. 81 FOR ORGAN & ORCHESTRA; PASSACAGLIE ET GIGUE, OP. 90 FOR ORCHESTRA; SONATA EROICA, OP. 94 FOR ORGAN SOLO, Christian Schmitt, (Karl Schuke-Orgel der Philharmonie Luxembourg) Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern, Martin Haselböck/CPO SACD 777593-2  It’s a safe bet that this music will be unfamiliar to most listeners, and while these pieces by Jongen are hardly undiscovered masterpieces, they make an attractive proposition for admirers of the unfamiliar. Since concertos for organ and orchestra are relatively rare finds, it is no surprise that Joseph Jongen’s Symphonie concertante op. 81 that has kept his name alive beyond Belgium’s borders. The three works recorded on this CD concentrate on the organ, the orchestra, and interaction between the two.

REZNICEK: SYMPHONIC WORKS: Goldpirol (Idyllische Ouverture); Wie Till Eulenspiegel lebte; Konzertstück für Violine und Orchester in E major; Präludium und Fuge in C minor; Nachtstück für Violine, Hörner, Harfe und Streichorchester  Sophie Jaffé, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Marcus Bosch/CPO 777983-2  Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek, best known for his Donna Diana overture, is one of the late German Romantic composers whose varied compositional style makes him difficult to classify. Prior to the inauguration of CPO’s grand edition of Reznicek’s major works a few years ago, he was known to classical music fans solely as the composer of the overture mentioned above. But such colourful, lively discs as this may change that perception.

A VIOLIN FOR ALL SEASONS, Tasmin Little / BBC Symphony Orchestra/Chandos SACD CHSA 5175  Is there a piece of classical music more often recorded (I avoided saying hackneyed) than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? Any new entry has to provide something different, and that’s precisely what Tasmin Little and her forces do here. The selling point is the sheer musicality on offer (no surprise there, with Tasmin Little helming the performance, of course) but it is the filler on the disc, which makes it somewhat different from other recordings: Roxanna Panufnik’s Four World Seasons, the premiere recording of a set of inspirational pieces composed especially for the violinist.

VIVALDI: FOUR SEASONS, FRANTISEK JIRANEK: VIOLIN CONCERTO, Ars Antiqua Austria, Gunar Letzbor, Challenge Classics SACD CC72700  In the review above, I noted the ever-burgeoning multiplicity of recordings of The Four Seasons, and here to prove my point is yet another take on the work. Like the Tasman Little performance discussed above, the Ars Antiqua Austria set is also in the surround sound idiom but is markedly different, taking a more pointillist approach to the music and a more stately tempo (which may not be to every taste). However, Gunar Letzbor never allows the individual segments of musical argument to lack coherence, and there is a particular athleticism to be found in the sprung rhythms. Another echo of the Chandos set is the unusual filler, in this case Frantisek Jiranek’s Violin Concerto, which displays many fingerprints of the Vivaldi style in its brief duration. But with these two performances of Vivaldi’s calling card (and who knows how many more since these words were typed?), is it now time for a moratorium on the piece – for a short time at least?

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: DISCOVERIES: THREE NOCTURNES; A ROAD ALL PAVED WITH STARS; STRICKEN PENINSULA; FOUR LAST SONGS, Roderick Williams, Jennifer Johnston, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins//Albion ALBCD028  Discoveries brings together works spanning Vaughan Williams’s career from early maturity in 1907 to his death in 1958. Three living composers are engaged in this realization: Anthony Payne orchestrates two of the 1907- 08 Nocturnes, as well as all of the Four Last Songs, Adrian Williams has composed the symphonic rhapsody A Road all Paved with Stars based on music from the opera The Poisoned Kiss, and Philip Lane has reconstructed the lost score for the film ‘Stricken Peninsula’ from the film’s soundtrack. This recording, featuring two of Britain’s finest singers in this repertoire, Roderick Williams and Jennifer Johnston, was made in conjunction with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (conductor Martyn Brabbins) and BBC Radio 3.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: THE LARK ASCENDING, SUITE OF SIX SHORT PIECES, THE SOLENT, Jennifer Pike, Violin, Sina Kloke, Piano, Chamber Orchestra of New York • Salvatore Di Vittorio/Naxos 8573530  Once again, Albion music gifts admirers of the music of Vaughan Williams with its commendable agenda of recording pieces which are not likely to be familiar to the RVW aficionado, except perhaps in other readings with different forces. Vaughan Williams withdrew or destroyed many works from his earliest period, but he considered The Solent, with its haunting opening and luminous polyphonic textures, as among his ‘most important works’. The Fantasia is his earliest known piece for solo instrument with orchestra and contains some of his most bravura writing, contrasting with the graceful geniality of the Suite. Depicting a sublimely pastoral scene and now one of the best loved pieces ever written, Vaughan Williams called The Lark Ascending a ‘romance’, a term reserved for his most profoundly lyrical works. This release presents the world première recording of Vaughan Williams’ Suite of Six Short Pieces for Piano, and only the second recording of first editions of rediscovered early works.

KIP WINGER: CONVERSATIONS WITH NIJINSKY, GHOSTS, A PARTING GRACE, San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, Martin West/VBI B01G3MHHQI  This is something of a find, albeit a modest one. The composer Kip Winger, whose name will be unfamiliar to most listeners in the UK, proves to be a quirky and individual talent. One piece here, Conversations with Nijinsky, proving to be a particularly winning in accessible fashion. The piece is a four movement tribute to the great dancer, and is dispatched with affection by Martin West and his professional forces. If the other two pieces are not as appealing, they both have their charms, and this is an attractive disc.

Second View (see also the Graham Williams review opposite): PROKOFIEV SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 (1947) & 7, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Litton/BIS Records BIS SACD2134  The days when the Prokofiev symphonies were caviar to the general — and recorded performances were few and far between — seem very distant, and a variety of cycles are appearing which offer classical listeners a wide variety of choice. Litton’s performances are among the very finest these pieces have received, even rivalling the great Russian performances of the past but (needless to say) captured in surround sound which makes the much respected Melodiya readings sound thin and boxy. This third instalment in Andrew Litton’s cycle features the composer’s Symphony No.4, a substantial reworking of the first version of his fourth symphony, which did not enjoy great success. The 1947 version is larger scale score and is granted its own opus number. Prokofiev’s Fourth Symphony is unusual in that it exists in two such different versions that the composer considered them quite separate works, giving each its own opus number. The differences between the versions are many, but the principal contrast is that the 1947 version, given the opus number 112, is a much bigger and more ambitious score.

Second View (see also the Graham Williams review opposite): STRAUSS: ELEKTRA & DER ROSENKAVALIER SUITES, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck/ Reference Recordings SACD FR-722  I have to make a confession. I’m something of an aficionado of orchestral suites taken from operas, even when the necessary cutting and pasting results in the integuments linking the music being less than smooth. (The Peter Breuer orchestrations of Janacek opera suites are particularly successful). Needless to say, such discs do not replace the experience of hearing the complete works, but there are occasions when one simply want to enjoy the orchestral mastery, and these suites usually put together by other individuals than the composer) offer the listener that particular pleasure. Richard Strauss, of course, was one of the great masters of the orchestra, so many will be tempted by this highly intriguing coupling. We are of course familiar with a variety of suites from Der Rosenkavalier, and that utilised here is played with an emphasis on the sensuous, erotic qualities of the music (which does include most famous orgasm in classical music). There are those who object to the concert ending created for this particular suite, but this listener has no problems with that. The orchestral suite drawn from Strauss’s powerful dramatic opera Elektra is a very different proposition indeed, and the version prepared here does have moments which do not sew together the various sections with the precision that one might wish. But having said that, the performance is full of tremendous dramatic heft and converts the operatic Greek tragedy into a listening experience of considerable tension and excitement. There is little question that the disc needs to be in the collection of any dedicated Straussian.

Olga Jegunova: Poetic Piano Sonatas

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POETIC PIANO SONATAS: BEETHOVEN, CHOPIN, BARTOK, Olga Jegunova, piano/Music & Media MMC 114   It is an ambitious programme that the talented pianist Olga Jegunova has chosen for this winning recital, but it proves to be the perfect showcase for her nuanced and sensitive talents. Beethoven’s ‘Waldstein’ Sonata is given a reading which stresses the poetic (as per the album’s title) as opposed to the monumental aspect of the music, but bids fair to hold its own against the formidable competition in this piece over the years. Similarly, Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ Sonata is handled with great thoughtfulness, and the final item, Bartok’s Sonata sz. 80 is dispatched with the kind of neurotic energy that the piece demands. Those wondering, though, how this final percussive work can be included in a recital called ‘Poetic Piano Sonatas’, should note that Jegunova has selected (and comissioned) poetry to accompany and illuminate each piece — added value, in fact. It’s a striking disc, and the recording quality, while lacking the resonance of an SACD disc, has a remarkably faithful piano tone with a modest concert hall ambience.