Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and a rediscovered female composer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New from Naxos, Somm, Linn, Channel, etc.

ELGAR: SYMPHONY NO. 2 / SERENADE FOR STRINGS, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Edward Gardner/Chandos SACD CHSA 5197  In its day, Richard Hickox’s remarkable performance of Elgar’s Second Symphony – the first in the SACD medium – was a market leader, and it still remains immensely impressive, with the conductor’s implacable commitment to the music evident in every bar. Since then the symphony has had other catalogue entries in surround sound, here is another striking reading in SACD from the very company that issued that first disc, Chandos. While not displacing the Hickox disc, Edward Gardner’s BBC Symphony Orchestra take is commensurate in achievement with everything else that the conductor has set down for the company recently – a performance of real heft and drama. The bonus is a sympathetic reading of one of Elgar’s most performed works: the Serenade for Strings

RACHMANINOV: SYMPHONIES 1-3, SYMPHONIC DANCES, London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/LSO Live SACD LSO 0816  Comprising 3 hybrid SACDs and one Pure Audio Blu-ray, this collection of Gergiev’s Rachmaninov recordings for LSO Live present these full-blooded masterpieces in readings rich with Russian colour and passion, in suitably impactful sound. The one misfire on the set is the Third Symphony, a stolidly dispatched performance that is surprising from such a customarily dynamic conductor, but that aside it’s a strong and persuasive collection.

HAYDN: THE CREATION, Soloists, Houston Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Andres Orozco-Estrada/PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186614  Haydn’s durable choral masterpiece has enjoyed many recordings over the years, but this is a particularly distinguished addition to the ranks, and couched in the surround sound medium, it immediately becomes a market leader. The conductor Andres Orozco-Estrada draws impeccable playing from his American orchestra, and while soloists may not displace memories of some of their distinguished predecessors, they do full justice to Haydn’s score. Toby Spence in particular lends a ringing assurance to his declarations.

GRIEG: SONGS, Carole Farley, London Philharmonic Orchestra/SOMM Ariadne 5001  While the talented Carol Farley’s voice may be the key selling point for this mellifluous collection, it is the sensitive orchestration of Greg’s piano writing by the conductor Jose Serebrier that makes the disc unique among kindred recordings. Utilising echoes of the variety of orchestration that Grieg used in his own orchestral pieces, it is the perfect accompaniment to Farley’s beautifully sung contributions. Might a second volume be feasible? Greg aficionados who hear this will disc be fervently hoping so….

POULENC: LES BICHES: SUITE, LES ANIMAUX MODÈLES: SUITE, SINFONIETTA, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra • Jean-Luc Tingaud/ Naxos 8573739  French musical sophistication of the most rarefied kind distinguishes this welcome issue, and the disc is a reminder that Poulenc is a composer who deserves to be more than caviar to the general. Poulenc wrote two ballets, the suites from which feature on this recording. Fusing together musical styles from various periods and genres enabled him to construct the largely plot-free narrative of Les Biches, a sequence of captivating dances that explore many themes which were considered taboo at the time. In Les Animaux modèles, Poulenc transforms the animals of La Fontaine’s fables into human characters in a patchwork score brimming with colour, wit and self-borrowings. The Sinfonietta is playful and light-hearted.

DVORAK: PIANO QUINTETS, BAGATELLES, Busch Trio, Maria Milstein, Miguel Da Silva/Alpha Classics Alpha 403  For those love the music of Dvorak, much pleasure is to be found in the composer’s elegant chamber works with his contributions to the idiom (for virtually all combination of instruments) full of charm, demonstrating something like the warmth and approachability of his symphonies – although of course, the latter remain the composer’s calling card music — and likely to remain so. This very welcome disc of the piano quintets and bagatelles is admirably well played by Busch Trio, Maria Milstein and Miguel Da Silva, and if the pieces do not immediately reveal their secrets as readily as some of the composer’s more distinctive chamber music, the disc is still one will give much pleasure, particularly in performances as sympathetic as this.

SIBELIUS: FINLANDIA, THE OCEANIDES, EN SAGA, THE SWAN OF TUONELA, VALSE TRISTE, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Thomas Sondergard/Linn CKD 566  Admirers of the composer Sibelius have been well served over the years with multiple recordings of the symphonies and tone poems. In fact, the pieces on this disc have enjoyed a dazzling multiplicity of readings – many very distinguished, so something special is required to render any new entries competitive. That special quality is something that Thomas Sondergard and his forces have brought to the table with this very welcome issue. These are performances of immense sensitivity and (where required) dramatic forcefulness – The Oceanids in particular is given one of the most striking readings it has enjoyed in recent years. The sound quality is exemplary, although as ever with Linn these days, one is remnded that the company has abandoned its commitment to the SACD medium – Linn’s discs in surround sound were among the most impressive in the field, and it’s a cause for regret the company now issues stereo-only discs.

MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 6, Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä, SACD BIS-2266  Over the years, Mahler’s Sixth has been particularly lucky on disc, with performances ranging from the steady to the fiery and dramatic (of the latter, Georg Solti’s fleet reading from the predigital era was a favourite of many; that approach was echoed to even greater effect on the more recent SACD recording by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. Set against the powerful commitment of that American recording, this new disc by Osmo Vänskä (in BIS sound that encompasses the massive dynamic range that Mahler created) is very successful, if less exhilarating. Vänskä has a reputation for engaging with even the most iconic scores at face value, avoiding preconceived ideas and ‘time-honoured’ traditions. His and the Minnesota Orchestra’s recording of Mahler’s Sixth on BIS follows the 2017 release of the composer’s Fifth Symphony. Nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award, his interpretation has been described as ‘at once committed and detached, intense and transcendentally timeless’.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: CONCERTOS AND ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Soloists / Toronto Symphony Orchestra / Peter Oundjian/Chandos SACD CHSA 5201 The greatest possible advocacy is made here for some of Vaughan Williams’ less well-known music; this is an extremely attractive disc. The days when the music of Vaughan Williams was underrepresented on disc seem – thankfully — long distant (the situation began to change when Andre Previn and Sir Adrian Boult began much-acclaimed series of recordings of the symphonies). This unusual collection is a reminder of how popular this great English composer is in the 21st-century. The once-neglected Piano Concerto in particular has enjoyed a variety of recordings both in its one piano and two piano iterations, and this is one of the most impressive; ditto the charming oboe concerto. With this celebratory release completing his fourteen-year tenure as Music Director of the TSO, Peter Oundjian is supported by an all-Canadian cast of star soloists.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH: ORCHESTRAL MUSIC, VOLUME ONE: Divertimento in D, Op. 58; Symphony No. 4 in E flat, Op. 54; Variations on a Scottish Theme, Op. 72; Symphony No. 8; Pax Hominibus, Op.117, Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, John Gibbons /Toccata TOCC 0480   Another composer who deserves more recognition for his undervalued but considerable achievement is the English composer William Wordsworth, and this inaugural disc in a new orchestral series will win William Wordsworth (a descendant of the poet) many friends. It’s big-boned British music which will immediately appeal to admirers of Malcom Arnold and Bax.

R. STRAUSS: AUS ITALIEN, WOLF-FERRARI: SUITE VENEZIANA, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ariane Matiakh/Capriccio C5344  While this new disc is not in the surround sound medium, it is a demonstration that stereo-only recordings, while more sonically limited, can still do a great deal of justice to music as colourful as that recorded here. Aus Italien is something of a poor relation in terms of Strauss’s orchestral tone poems, lacking the popularity of Ein Heldenleben and Also Sprach Zarathustra. But Strauss aficionados are well aware that this is a charming and winning piece, particularly when played as enthusiastically as it is here. Orchestral colour abounds in the two works on this release from Capriccio: the first by a young Richard Strauss who was inspired in 1886 by the ruins of Rome to write his first major symphonic poem Aus Italien, and the second, Suite Veneziana, written half a century later by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, then approaching 60 years old and able to draw on his considerable experience as an opera composer. Conductor Ariane Matiakh draws excellent performances from the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra.

ROUSSEL: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Kathryn Rudge / Alessandro Fisher / François Le Roux, CBSO Chorus / BBC Philharmonic / Yan Pascal Tortelier/ CHANDOS CHAN 10957  It is something of a mystery as to why music as colourful and inventive as this is not recorded and played more often, even though on the occasions when Roussel’s scores been set down, proper justice has been done. What’s more, it is hardly surprising that Yan Pascal Tortelier , long a master of the more resplendent items of the repertoire, presents the best possible advocacy for these pieces, particularly in the forte passages, are delivered with great conviction. Three of Roussel’s most remarkable compositions (notably the impressionistic Évocations), showcasing revelatory soloists and impeccable choral and orchestral forces are impressive in Tortelier’s hands. With this disc, the conductor celebrates a seventy-album discography on the Chandos label.

OPERA RECORDING OF THE MONTH: RESPIGHI: LA CAMPANA SOMMERSA, Valentina Farcas • Maria Luigia Borsi, Sopranos, Agostina Smimmero, Mezzo-soprano, Angelo Villari • Filippo Adami, Tenors, Thomas Gazheli, Bass-baritone, Teatro Lirico di Cagliari • Donato Renzetti, Conductor, Pier Francesco Maestrini, Stage Director/ Naxos: 2110571BLU-RAY   Surely it’s time that Respighi’s neglected operas began to receive their due? Few would argue that orchestral music was the composer’s forte – making him unusual among Italian composers — but there is exquisite writing to be found in his little-heard works for this stage – as this impressive issue attests. The opera La campana sommersa (‘The Sunken Bell’) is Respighi’s operatic masterpiece. A symbolist drama on a supernatural theme, it is steeped in beauty, mystery and foreboding, and orchestrated with the Romantic opulence familiar from his sumptuous trilogy of Roman tone-poems. Its triumph at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1928 was repeated at La Scala, Milan, and this most recent production at the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, world-renowned for its staging of rarities, was hailed for its ‘brilliant production’ and magnificent performances.

DAVID DIAMOND: SYMPHONY NO. 6 1†, ROUNDS FOR STRING ORCHESTRA 2 • ROMEO AND JULIET 2, Indiana University Chamber Orchestra 2 • Indiana University Philharmonic Orchestra 1 • Arthur Fagen, † WORLD PREMIERE RECORDING/Naxos  Of the list of American composers who were friends and colleagues of the late Leonard Bernstein, David Diamond — like his colleague William Schuman — deserves far more attention than he receives – particularly as his music is as approachable as it is intelligently conceived and orchestrated. This is modern music of real distinction, and this new disc affords the listener the premiere of a very intriguing piece. The three works on this recording were composed at the height of David Diamond’s popularity. Rounds is his most enduringly popular piece, whose simple economy of means prompted Aaron Copland to exclaim, “Oh, I wish I had written that piece.” The concert suite Romeo and Juliet explores the “innate beauty and pathos” of Shakespeare’s play. Taking its cue from the work of 19th-century Romantic composers, Symphony No. 6 is cyclical, the second and third movements deriving from material found in the first.

ARRANGEMENTS, English Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Woods/Avie  If like me, you are the kind of listener who likes to hear orchestrations of pieces originally composed for other media, you are in luck with this very tempting new disc, which provides cleverly orchestrated versions of Elgar pieces written for other forces. Two years ago, conductor Kenneth Woods and his English Symphony Orchestra made the world-premiere recordings of composer-arranger Donald Fraser’s orchestral arrangement of Elgar’s Piano Quintet and choral version of Sea Pictures. The musicians reunited in Abbey Road’s Studio 2, with Fraser conducting the orchestra in an album of his arrangements of works ranging from Dowland and Scottish folk tunes to Liszt and Ravel, then Woods taking to the podium to conduct Fraser’s original Sinfonietta for Strings.

GINASTERA: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 3, Xiayin Wang / BBC Philharmonic / Juanjo Mena/Chandos CHAN 10949  CHAN 10949  There was a time when admirers of Ginastera would have to investigate a variety of disparate sources in order to get their fix of the composer’s music. His neglect was always strange, given the fact that most of his works are full of colour and energy, with instant accessibility being a watchword. The fact that Chandos is now filling Ginastera gaps in generous fashion is not surprising given the company’s commitment to such vivid orchestral fare. The final volume in a series bringing Ginastera’s skills genius to a wider audience is consolidated here, with the bonus of exceptional piano playing from the virtuosic Xiayin Wang.

SMETANA: FESTIVE SYMPHONY, THE BARTERED BRIDE: OVERTURE AND DANCES, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra • Darrell Ang/ Naxos: 8573672  Well-known and lesser-known Smetana rub shoulders here. Bedřich Smetana’s Festive Symphony was composed in 1854 when hopes for Emperor Franz Joseph becoming King of Bohemia were high. The splendid sounds of Smetana’s only formal symphony pre-echo later masterpieces such as Má Vlast, but his use of the Austrian Imperial anthem became unacceptable in the subsequent spirit of Czech nationalism, resulting in the work’s neglect. With its sparkling overture and lively rural dances, The Bartered Bride secured Smetana’s international reputation and, as the only Czech opera of its day to enter the standard repertoire, it became a beacon for the nation’s 19th century musical renaissance.

NOWOWIEJSKI: SYMPHONIES NOS.2 & 3, Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra, Łukasz Borowicz/DUX1446  If you are a music lover of the more adventurous kind who is prepared to look further afield than familiar repertoire, the classical recording industry is showing a willingness to tempt you in recent years – and nowhere more so than in this disc of a composer that most modern listeners will not have heard of. Nowowiejski is known (if at all) as a composer of organ and choral music. His symphonic output, overshadowed by the works of Karol Szymanowski (who was composing at the same time) is rarely performed and has not been available to a wider audience in CD format until now. The present album, thanks to the efforts of the Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Łukasz Borowicz, fills this gap and present an intriguing (if hardly essential) picture of Polish music of the interwar period. This DUX release features Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 (Symphony No. 1 is lost).

MENDELSSOHN: A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM: OVERTURE & INCIDENTAL MUSIC, soloists, Budapest Festival Orchestra Ivan Fischer/Channel Classics CCSA 37418 SACD (See also Graham Williams review opposite)  If any one orchestra and conductor can point to a body of recorded work over the years with unalloyed pride, it’s the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Maestro Ivan Fischer. Their recordings of core repertoire and other less familiar pieces for the Channel Classics label had been of a nonpareil standard, with those few discs not instantly establishing themselves as market leaders still more distinguished than most of the competition. What’s more, these exemplary recordings have enjoyed typically impressive Channel surround sound of the kind that this company is celebrated for. So it’s hardly surprising this new disc of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream instantly establishes itself as one of the most poetic, and nuanced the score has enjoyed in recent years (and, the piece has hardly been lacking in recent recorded outings). If that final ounce of drama and sensitivity that distinguished the classic Andre Previn recording is not always in evidence, and some of the tempi are eccentric, in every other respect, this is a good recommendation – not least for those looking for the piece in SACD sound.



RACHMANINOV: PIANO CONCERTOS 2 & 3, Yevgeny Sudbin, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo/BIS 2338SACD  From the composer himself onwards, recordings of Rachmaninov’s two most popular piano concertos (1 and 4 remaining less celebrated) have done considerable justice to these titans of the piano repertoire, and any new entry has to have a persuasive reason why it should be a contender. While Yevgeny Sudbin may not displace some of the talents of the past, this is a powerful, dramatic reading of both works, with the inestimable advantage of a typically impressive surround sound recording from BIS. Over the course of almost 10 years, Sudbin has been recording Rachmaninov’s works for piano and orchestra. The journey began in the U.S.A. in 2008 with the Fourth Piano Concerto, and what Classic FM Magazine described as ‘a glorious recording’ with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra under Grant Llewellyn. For the Paganini Variations and Piano Concerto No. 1, Sudbin continued to Asia and highly praised collaborations with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Lan Shui. The grand finale of Sudbin’s Rachmaninov cycle combines the two best-loved concertos – No. 2 in C minor and No. 3 in D minor. His partners in these are the BBC Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor Sakari Oramo, the perfect companions.

BIZET: LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES, Soloists, Orchestre Nationale de Lille, Alexandre Bloch/ PENTATONE PTC 5186 685 (2 discs)  The confusion over the various versions of Bizet’s colourful (if absurd) operatic masterpiece continues to this day, but those seeking the most authentic version will find that the new PENTATONE recording amply fulfils their needs. What’s more, it’s sung with great conviction and passion, doing full justice to those sinuous vocal lines. Les Pêcheurs de Perles contains a quintessentially French blend of lyricism, exoticism and drama, and the four soloists (Julie Fuchs as Leïla, Cyrille Dubois as Nadir, Florian Sempey as Zurga and Luc Bertin-Hugault as Nourabad) belong to today’s best performers for this specialist repertoire. Their vocal excellence is matched by the choral contributions of Les Cris de Paris. The rich sound palette of Les Pêcheurs is fully brought to life by the inspired playing of the Orchestre National de Lille under the baton of its new Music Director Alexandre Bloch.

WALTON: VIOLA CONCERTO, etc. James Ehnes / BBC SO / Edward Gardner CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5210 (See also Graham Williams’ review opposite)  The Edward Gardner series of recordings for Chandos have proved consistently excellent, maintaining the company’s long commitment to this glorious British composer. The selection on this latest disc, is particularly cherishable, given that none of the works on offer have been massively over-recorded. What is certain, however, is that these are among the most striking readings the pieces have ever enjoyed on disc, even stretching back as far as George Szell. ‘With Walton’s Viola Concerto, none of the writing is impossible but a lot of it is close. And in a way that is exactly where you want it to be: on the edge of technical limitations. There’s a tremendous amount of excitement in that.’ So says James Ehnes, who switches from his violin to tackle a monument in the viola’s literature, all superbly captured in surround sound

KORNGOLD: SYMPHONIC SERENADE, OP. 39 IN B FLAT MAJOR; SEXTET, OP. 10 IN D MAJOR (ARR. FOR STRINGS BY HARTMUT ROHDE), NFM Leopoldinum Orchestra, Hartmut Rohde/CPO 555138-2  It’s not difficult to spot the key reason for buying this disc: an orchestration of Korngold’s Sextet which does full justice to the composer’s full-blooded manner (if without that final ounce of mastery that he himself might have provided). For lovers of the ripely romantic music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, this is something of a treat. Not only is the performance of the Symphonic Serenade by Rohde and his forces more pointed than the otherwise admirable one by the BBC Philharmonic under Bamert (Chandos), we are given what is essentially a new Korngold orchestral piece: a sympathetic orchestration of the Sextet Opus 10. The arrangement for string orchestra by the conductor is perfectly attuned to the composer’s Straussian (but still highly individual) compositional character, and it’s a delightful piece — without replacing the original.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: THE PASSIONS OF VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, Philharmonia Orchestra, Richard Hickox, Rachel Roberts, Alistair Mackie, Schola Cantorum of Oxford, James Burton/CRUXGZ001DVD   The days when Vaughan Williams’ achievement as one of the great English composers had slightly slipped out of modern favour are, thankfully, in the past. Almost every note that he composed has found (or is finding) its way onto disc. This Crux selection is a particularly enjoyable collection, performed with great affection by a variety of artists (including the late Richard Hickox) – and make for an intriguing programme.

MESSIAEN: CATALOGUE D’OISEAUX, Pierre-Laurent Aimard PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186670: Triple SACD + BONUS DVD  Classical CD Choice ran an interview with the pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard last month about this very set, and it’s heartening to report that the discs themselves do full justice to the pianist’s vision of his teacher Messiaen’s work. The performances are full of nuance (with perhaps a slight caveat that the pianist’s vocal interjections sometimes interpose themselves over the music). The renowned French pianist inaugurates his PENTATONE commitments with Olivier Messiaen’s Catalogue d’Oiseaux. The pianist had intimate ties to the composer himself and his wife, Yvonne Loriod, for whom Messiaen wrote the Catalogue. This is Aimard’s first recording of Messiaen’s most extensive, demanding and colourful piano composition. The luxurious CD box set contains an accompanying bonus DVD, on which Aimard shares his vast knowledge of and love for Messiaen’s work from behind the piano.

BIZET: DJAMILEH – COMIC OPERA IN ONE ACT,• Jennifer Feinstein, Eric Barry, George Mosley, Poznan Chamber Choir, Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Łukasz Borowicz/DUX 1412  While PENTATONE have supplied an exemplary reading of Bizet’s more familiar opera The Pearl Fishers (see above), it’s good to see the more neglected Djamileh appearing in a fine new reading on disc. And this is a very charming take on the one-act opera with a libretto by Louis Gallet. Djamileh tells an oriental love story between the title slave Djamileh and Cairo sultan Haroun. The plot, bringing to mind the atmosphere of One Thousand and One Nights, is a quite typical example of Romantic fascinations with the East. From the very beginning it raised Bizet’s doubts, who considered it to be too difficult for a stage adaptation. However, the artistic craft of the creator of Carmen balanced the libretto’s deficiencies, surrounding the story of oriental lovers with a suggestive sound aura, achieved thanks to an original instrumentation and bold, chromatised harmonic language. The craftsmanship of Jennifer Feinstein, performing the title part, allows the listener to enjoy all values of this little known opera.

MORYTO: WORKS FOR ORCHESTRA,The Witold Lutosławski Chamber Philharmonic in Łomza, Jan Miłosz Zarzycki, DUX  For those with adventurous tastes, this could be a CD well worth their time. This DUX CD is a review of Stanisław Moryta’s latest orchestral work, an outstanding contemporary composer, organist and teacher. Born in 1947, professor Moryto can boast of an exceptionally versatile artistic publishing activity, focused on Polish organ music and rich compositional output. Listening to the recording made by members of the Chamber Philharmonic Witold Lutosławski in Łomża, under the direction of Jan Miłosz Zarzycki, the listener will encounter original elaborations of motifs from Kurpie music and then follow the extensive dialogues of solo instruments in the Concerto for percussion, harp and string orchestra. Four Pieces in Polish Style for String Orchestra, Seven Kurpie Sings for Soprano and Orchestra, Suite for String Orchestra, Concerto for Percussion

BARTOK & KODALY: CONCERTOS FOR ORCHESTRA, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Jakub Hrůša/PENTATONE PTC5186626  For a long time, Georg Solti’s readings of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra were nigh-definitive, but in the SACD years, we have been provided with new and dramatic readings. That’s the case here, although earlier readings (such as the recent Hungaroton recording by Kocsis) are not displaced. The Kodaly Concerto for Orchestra is more of a rarity, although listeners new to the piece should be aware that it is minor work by him, unlike the Bartok which is one of the composer’s key pieces. These exuberant pieces are collected in vivid performances from the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by the podium sensation Jakub Hrůša on this release.


FREDERICK DELIUS: PIANO CONCERTO IN C MINOR (1907), Mark Bebbington, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Jan Latham-Koenig/ Somm 269  While the well-known the first concerto of Grieg is given a strong reading here, it is the orchestrated sketches – and solo piano passages – of the composer’s unfinished second piano Concerto which is the drawing point here. In the event, rather disappointingly, it turns out to be only eight minutes or so of music, and hardly indicates what the finished work would have been had the composer completed it. Nevertheless, it is intriguing listening for those who love Grieg, and the other piece here, the Delius piano concerto, is given any very sympathetic reading.

KARAYEV: SYMPHONY NO. 1, VIOLIN CONCERTO *, Janna Gandelman, Violin *,Kiev Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra, Dmitry Yablonsky/Naxos 8.573722  While many music lovers are content to spend their listening time in the company of old favourites from Beethoven to Respighi, there are those of us who are always on the lookout for something new to tickle the ear. New, that is, in the sense that while the music may be composed sometime in the past, it has largely remained unfamiliar. Case in point? Kara Karayev was one of the most prominent figures in the music of 20th-century Azerbaijan, and an inspiration to subsequent generations of Azerbaijani composers. His eloquently expressive and tautly dramatic First Symphony is a significant work in Karayev’s output, reflecting both the harmonies and melodic characteristics of the South Caucasus region and, in its orchestral brilliance, the influence of his mentor Shostakovich. The Violin Concerto shows a notable shift in style, exploring the serial techniques that add astringency and inventive depth to Karayev’s already richly coloured and vividly diverse palette.

VIVALDI: THE QUATTRO STAGIONI, Brecon Baroque, Rachel Podger/Channel Classics SACD CCSSA40318 (See also Graham Williams’ review opposite)  Not another Four Seasons, I hear you cry? Yes – and a very welcome one, given the absolute (and very typical) commitment to the music shown by Rachel Podger and the Brecon Baroque. Earlier readings by these forces have made very persuasive cases for the various scores that they have tackled, but they have set themselves a particularly challenging task in this case, with the music so overfamiliar for most listeners that a truly fresh and energetic approach is required – precisely what The Red Priest gets here. The sheer athletic prowess of the players provides music-making that banishes all thoughts of those interminable waits on phone lines with ‘Spring’ on a perpetual loop. We can hear it afresh in this new recording, which becomes one of the definitive readings at a stroke. Together with the star players of Brecon Baroque, Rachel Podger guides us through the seasons of nature and life. The musical range is sensational and matched all the way by Jared Sacks’s luminous and emotionally engaged recorded sound.

Also worthy of attention are a brace of new discs with notable individual qualities. The Audite label has a colourful and idiomatic quartet of readings of Strauss (RICHARD STRAUSS: MACBETH, DON JUAN, TOD AND VERKLARUNG AND THE FESTMARSCH IN C) with the Staatskaplle Wein conducted by Kiril Karabits, while the Alpha imprint boasts a very competitive reading of Scandinavian works (SIBELIUS, RAUTAVAARA: VIOLIN CONCERTOS) played by the virtuoso Tobias Feldmann and the Orchestre Philharmonique conducted by the authoritative Jean-Jaques Kandorow; there are many impressive readings of the Sibelius in the catalogue, but this is a real contender. From Linn, BIBER: THE MYSTERY SONATAS is granted an emotional reading by the Boston Baroque with Christina Day Martinson and Martin Pearlman, while from Les Soloistes de L’OSM, we are given intriguing versions of the BEETHOVEN’S SEPTET and a chamber version of STRAUSS’S TILL EULENSPIEGEL on the Analekta label. Finally, impressive readings of RAVEL, FRANCK, LIGETI AND MESSIAEN: CHAMBER WORKS from the Duo Gazzana on the ECM New Series imprint; the attention to detail on this fine disc is fastidious, with highly impressive results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




A Bernstein Box and Other Delights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New from Challenge, Hyperion & Capriccio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forthcoming from PENTATONE

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

Brownridge’s Debussy & Other New Discs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chandos Completes Vaughan Williams Cycle on SACD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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