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BRAHMS: SYMPHONIES 3 & 4, LSO, Valery Gergiev/LSO Live SACD LSO 0737  The recording of two Brahms Symphonies that occupy this SACD stem from performances by the LSO under Valery Gergiev given at the Barbican in December 2012. At these concerts Gergiev paired Brahms Symphonies with those of Szymanowski – an idea that many might regard as a bizarre piece of programming. However, the latter have already appeared on the LSO Live label no doubt helping to increase the listening public’s awareness of the fine music by an unfamiliar Polish composer. Brahms needs no such advocacy and with a catalogue bursting with recordings of Brahms Symphonies from some of the greatest conductors of the past 100 years one is left wondering why anyone at LSO Live thought that Gergiev’s accounts were worth preserving on disc, especially as there is already a fine set of these symphonies by Bernard Haitink on this same label. That said, Gergiev’s powerful performance of the Brahms 3rd Symphony is quite impressive with some notably fine wind and brass playing throughout from the LSO and his division of violins antiphonally helps to keep the textures of Brahms’s more densely scored passages clear.  The opening movement (exposition repeat taken) is expansive though certainly not lacking in ‘ brio’. The following ‘Andante’ flows expressively as does the melancholic and songful third movement ‘Poco allegretto’ – the latter also having the dubious benefit of a brief touch of the conductor’s vocalisations at its start. Gergiev’s finale is forceful and dramatic and brings Brahms’s most personal symphony to a satisfying conclusion. Unlike the previous work, Gergiev’s account of the 4th Symphony disappoints. The opening movement seems somewhat perfunctory, lacking both forward momentum and purpose. The slow movement is dutiful rather than engaging, in spite of some lovely instrumental solos from the orchestra, and once again is marred by Gergiev’s humming. The scherzo, however, is buoyant and energetic whilst the finale, here played ‘attacca’, unfolds with appropriate passion and grandeur. Sadly, the intractable Barbican acoustic could hardly be more unsuited to the music of Brahms and the recording engineers have been faced with an almost impossible task in attempting to capture the music’s warmth and richness.  When playing forte or above the violins sound shrill, whilst timpani are dry and boxy. There is also little sense of depth to the sound which could only be described as claustrophobic. With so many excellent performances and recordings of these works available (even on SACD), Gergiev’s accounts are really not competitive.

ELGAR: THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS, SEA PICTURES, Soloists, Andrew Davis/Chandos SACD CHSA5140(2)  It is almost half a century since Sir John Barbirolli’s account of Elgar’s greatest oratorio ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ was recorded for EMI in Manchester  with the Hallé Orchestra (27-30 December 1964) and not surprisingly it quickly achieved the classic status it still enjoys today. For some it will always be the only recording they wish to listen to, thanks mainly to the incomparable singing of Janet Baker as the ‘Angel’ and the marvellous flexibility and sweep of Barbirolli’s conducting. But, as is the case with all musical masterpieces, there is always room for new performances from the artists of today to challenge those from the past, especially when they are as outstanding as this new SACD set from Chandos. The latest version of this much-recorded work has the inestimable advantage of being conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, a conductor with a pre-eminent reputation in English music and who for many years has been one of its finest exponents. (The DVD of his 1997 performance in celebration of the tercentenary of St. Paul’s Cathedral is still rather special and well worth watching). Now we have Davis’s excellent interpretation on SACD, expertly recorded in superb 5.0 channel surround sound. In Davis’s hands the score unfolds with an inevitability that only a great conductor can bring to it. It is beautifully paced – expansive yet always with a forward moving pulse. The conductor’s vast experience in both the opera house and the concert hall allows him to position the piece somewhere between an oratorio and an opera by ensuring that his soloists and choir extract the maximum drama from Newman’s words. In this he is aided by splendid playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra whose absolute familiarity with this composition and empathy with their former Chief Conductor is apparent throughout. The shadow of Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ looms large over ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, so the choice of the Australian tenor Stuart Skelton as Gerontius is an inspired one. His heroic ringing voice has the necessary heft to deliver the more histrionic passages of the part effortlessly without losing any beauty of tone and his diction throughout is impeccable. Perhaps what is even more impressive is his ability to pare down his voice to a whisper in “I go before my Judge” just before Davis builds the orchestral passage that follows to an awesome climax. Sarah Connolly uses her luxuriant mezzo-soprano with noteworthy intelligence and characterises the ‘Angel’ perfectly. The tonal beauty and firmness of her singing in “My work is done” at the start of Part II and in the valedictory “Softly and gently” is matched by her perfect enunciation of the text – altogether a consummate performance. The young bass David Soar as Priest and Angel of the Agony, delivers his solos with great authority and vocal firmness. The well-drilled BBC Symphony Chorus – obviously inspired by Davis’s impassioned direction – make the most of the huge choral outbursts such “Praise to the Holiest” and the Chorus of Demons, but are equally impressive as Assistants in the more tranquil passages in Part I where they display great sensitivity in their singing. The recording venue was the Fairfield Halls, Croydon whose excellent acoustic conveys a sense of spaciousness without in any way lessening the music’s impact. It is also worth mentioning that the organ pedal notes are captured with a depth and solidity that enhances the music’s sense of scale for the listener at home to thrilling effect and as a final bonus, at the end of the second SACD, we are given a further performance of the Prelude in its concert version. Sarah Connolly is also the soloist in Elgar’s song cycle ‘Sea Pictures’ that precedes the oratorio on this 2-disc set. These are five settings of poems by different poets including one by Caroline Alice Elgar, the composer’s wife. Though written for a Contralto, many Mezzo-sopranos have performed these exquisite songs with great success and this is in fact the second time Sarah Connolly has committed ‘Sea Pictures’ to disc; the first being eight years ago for Naxos.  Her singing is as rich and eloquent as on the earlier release but, as in the case of the main work, the greatest competition again comes from the glorious 1964 recording by Janet Baker and the London Symphony Orchestra  conducted by Barbirolli that is available on SACD. Davis’s tempi are swifter than those adopted by Barbirolli in each of the five songs – something that will please some more than others – but his use of the ad libitum organ parts in ‘Sabbath Morning at Sea’ and ‘The Swimmer’ adds a thrilling weight to their final stanzas. This outstanding release is, without doubt, the finest recording of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ to have appeared on SACD and  it makes one eager for the forthcoming Chandos recording of  Elgar’s ‘King Olaf’ from Davis and Bergen forces. Recommended without reservation.

BERLIOZ: SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE, WAVERLEY, LSO, Valery Gergiev/LSO Live SACD LSO 0757 These recordings stem from concerts given in the Barbican (31st October and 13 November 2013) and represent the first release in what promises to be an exciting Berlioz cycle from Valery Gergiev and the LSO. It is hardly necessary to state that the LSO have the music of Berlioz in their blood. The championship of this composer for 40 years by their late musical director Sir Colin Davis ensured that Berlioz remained in the forefront of this orchestra’s repertoire. What may come as a surprise to many listening to this recording, as it did to me, is the total empathy Gergiev displays towards this music. The opening movement ‘Rêveries – Passions’ is uncharacteristically relaxed and poetic with beautifully nuanced playing especially from the strings. Gergiev’s seating of the orchestra with antiphonal violins is an excellent plus point as is his inclusion of the exposition repeat – something not always found on recordings from the past. The main allegro is exciting but not hard driven. Again in ‘Un Ball’ – a difficult movement to bring off – the conductor’s insouciant tempo allows elegant phrasing from every section of the LSO and it is pleasing to note that he uses the optional cornet parts that Berlioz later added. The spatial effects at the start of the ‘Scène au Champs’ are well conveyed even in the unforgiving Barbican acoustic, whilst the pastoral mood is established perfectly by Christine Pendrill’s lovely cor anglais solos. The main body of the movement is characterised by a flowing pace allowing for much fine legato playing and an acute awareness of the music’s changing moods. As one might expect Gergiev is in his element in the final two movements. The ‘Marche au Supplice’ blazes with the LSO brass and percussion in full cry and once again he includes the repeat in this movement. In ‘Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat’. Gergiev makes the most of all of Berlioz’s imaginative, and often grotesque, orchestral devices such as the clarinet glissandi (at 0.30), col legno strings (from 8.33) and atmospheric off-stage cast bells. The LSO respond with enthusiasm, bringing his stirring account of ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ to a rousing conclusion. The fill-up is a satisfyingly spirited performance of ‘Waverley’, one of Berlioz’s least performed overtures. In a new departure for LSO Live the 2-disc package contains both a hybrid SACD with 5.1 multi-channel and 2.0 stereo mixes and also a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc (DTS – HD MA 24bit/192kHz). The latter also includes what is modestly described on the CD case as ‘video footage’, but is in fact an excellently filmed complete Barbican performance of the Symphonie Fantastique in high definition video. This is well worth watching if only to marvel at how the tooth pick wielding maestro gets such compelling results from his orchestra. Constraints of the Barbican acoustic apart, the sound quality on both SACD and Blu-ray discs is clean and impactful, but like all LSO Live discs they need to be played at a suitably high volume to give of their best. Even without taking into account LSO Live’s competitive pricing this issue represents a considerable bargain for those sympathetic to Gergiev’s persuasive Berlioz and I look forward to its future continuation.

HINDEMITH, PROKOFIEV, BARTOK; ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Kansa City Symphony, Michael Stern/REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR 132 SACD  Michael Stern’s accounts of these three popular 20th century masterpieces with his fine Kansas City Symphony demonstrates musicianship of a high order throughout. Stern eschews any temptation to treat them merely as virtuoso orchestral showpieces, focusing instead on their more subtle musical values. The Hindemith is a perfect illustration of Stern’s approach. Tempi are well judged allowing his players to phrase ingratiatingly – for example, the flute solos in the ‘Andantino’ – while the final ‘Marsch’ is trenchant and dogged but at the same time uplifting and joyous in its final bars. The Prokofiev is similarly undemonstrative, and though some might feel that the opening is not quite incisive enough, Stern’s sane approach pays dividends as the Suite progresses. The ‘Infernal Scene’ (track 6) has great menace, not least due to the percussive impact of the recording, and the well-known ‘March’ is steady and cleanly articulated by the Kansas City Symphony. I particularly enjoyed the sensuousness Stern and his players bring to ‘The Prince and Princess’ (track 9). While the Concert Suite from ‘The Miraculous Mandarin’ may not have the  rawness of some native Hungarian performances, Stern’s more contained approach to this wonderful score yields many felicitations in the orchestral execution – the appropriately oleaginous clarinet playing of Robert Santos being just one example – and the savagery engendered in the Suite’s final section is spine tingling. The recording was entrusted to the capable hands of the veteran producer David Frost and engineer Keith O Johnson and, as one might expect, ‘Prof.’ Johnson’s sonics are spectacular in their richness and impact – especially at the bass end of the spectrum. Unlike the earlier releases of the Kansas City Symphony on Reference Recordings, this one was made in the orchestra’s impressive new performing home, the Helzberg Hall located in the Kauffman Centre for the Performing Arts (February 5-11, 2012). The 5.1 multi-channel SACD is sonically streets ahead of the CD/HDCD version of these performances issued some months ago. The listener is placed some way back in the hall but the sound has a wide spread between the speakers with a convincing depth and a pleasing ambience, most apparent in the quieter sections of these scores. I did, however, find it necessary to turn up the volume a tad to achieve real presence. With that done, the visceral impact of the Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ at the opening of the Bartok became immediately apparent. It must be said, however, that, in all three works, the energy generated by every entry of the bass drum is of floor-shaking proportions. Though this is certainly attention grabbing, it is perhaps too much of a good thing especially for those with bass rich speakers. The accompanying liner notes on the three works by Richard Freed, are clear, informative and detailed in a way that is not always emulated by other companies. These expertly recorded and vividly etched performances can be confidently recommended.

JANACEK: SINFONIETTA, ETC. Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner CHANDOS CHSA 5142 SACD  Judging by this splendid first volume in a planned series of Janacek’s orchestral works for Chandos, Edward Gardner’s new appointment as Chief Conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra from October 2015 has the potential to yield some exciting future releases. This SACD opens with a dynamic performance of the popular ‘Sinfonietta’ that perfectly demonstrates the outstanding qualities of this orchestra. Gardner elicits incisive playing from the cohorts of brass in the fanfares that open and close the work, but he is also sensitive to the more lyrical and atmospheric passages such as those that open the third movement. Janacek’s very individual use of percussion is especially well captured by the engineers and perhaps the only thing missing is the edge-of-the-seat excitement generated by Sir Charles Mackerras in his final account of this piece with the Czech Philharmonic (CD only). Janacek’s ‘Capriccio’, like the ‘Sinfonietta ‘,was also written in 1926, this time at the request of the pianist Otakar Hollmann who having been wounded in the First World War could only use his left hand. Other Czech composers such as Martinu had already written works for Hollmann so Janacek’s commission is in many ways the counterpart to those received by Ravel, Prokofiev, Richard Strauss and Korngold by the similarly disabled pianist Paul Wittgenstein. The four-movement piece is written for the unusual combination of piano left-hand and a wind ensemble comprising a flute, two trumpets, three trombones and tenor tuba . The music is as capricious as its name suggests and requires as much virtuosity from seven wind players as the soloist.  One could hardly have a more persuasive exponent of this quirky piece – described by the composer as “nothing but pranks and puns” – than Jean-Efflam Bavouzet who is expertly accompanied on this disc by seven soloists from the orchestra each of whom is rightly credited by name. The Orchestral Suite from Janacek’s opera ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ is most often performed in the arrangement made by the Czech conductor Vaclav Talich (1883-1961), though an earlier Suite made by Frantisek Jilek is occasionally heard – as on Jonathan Nott’s slightly underwhelming Janacek programme on the Tudor label. Talich’s Suite is in essence an orchestral transcription of the opera’s first Act, but was re-orchestrated in a way that romanticised and blunted the impact of Janacek’s unique sound. Here, however, we have Talich’s Suite in a version made by Sir Charles Mackerras a couple of years before his death in 2010. Mackerras restored Janacek’s original orchestration and slightly expanded the Suite’s second movement to make what surely must become a definitive arrangement. As in the other two works, the Bergen PO play this colourful music with a winning style and flare. The 5.0 recording made in the Grieghallen, Bergen in March 2014 is of the usual high standard expected from Chandos. In all three works we are given a marvellously coherent sound picture that is full of detail yet retains the warm ambience of this venue. Authoritative liner notes by the Janacek expert John Tyrell put the seal on this most recommendable issue.

 

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In June 2007 Gabriel Feltz was conducting in Milan and during a break in rehearsals visited a well-stocked music shop and made an amazing discovery – the score from a ballet by Respighi which he had never heard of: Belkis, Queen of Sheba. Premiered in 1932, it was one of the most extravagant ballet productions ever staged with over 200 musicians and at least as many dancers. After a few performances, the work was forgotten until it was rediscovered by Gabriel Feltz and the decision made to film the concert. The recording is released on Blu-ray and DVD.  CLASSICAL CD CHOICE CD SET OF THE MONTH: BEETHOVEN COMPLETE STRING QUARTETS, Tokyo String Quartet/Hamonia Mundi SACD 807641-8 (8 SACDs).  As each individual episode in this complete traversal of Beethoven’s quartets has appeared, critics have largely speaking been immensely enthusiastic, but arriving as a collective set (in superb SACD sound) this will clearly become the collection of choice for those seeking the a key modern expressions of Beethoven’s genius in the quartet format. Individual quibbles aside, and there are one or two controversial tempi), this is an absolutely magnificent set; Beethovenians need not hesitate.  PROKOFIEV SYMPHONIES 1&2, São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop/Naxos Blu-ray audio NBD 0044 The sheer impact of the sound on these dramatic and idiomatic performances renders them first choice in this repertoire, although there are rival sets under way.  WALTON, HINDEMITH CELLO CONCERTOS São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Christian Poltera, Frank Shipway/BIS SACD  A welcome debut in the surround sound medium for two of the most distinctive of modern era cello concertos played with immense sensitivity and grace. A warning, though, the cellist Christian Poltera takes loud and intrusive inhalations of breath before most leading phrases which will rule the disc hors de combat for many listeners.  RACHMANINOV: TRIO ELEGIAQUE, The Borodin Trio/Audite SACD 92691  The Borodin Trio, sensitive as ever in Rachmaninov. Recommendable, but there are problems, however. In order to tame the very close piano sound of the Audite recording, the violin and cello here sound distinctly muted. Nevertheless, the performance here is exemplary, finding all the nuances of the composer’s highly individual sound world.  GLIERE: SYMPHONY NO.3, IL’YA MUROMETS, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, Naxos Blu-ray audio NBD 0041 Glorious though the sound stage presented on most SACD discs is, it is equalled by the high-definition audio content on such Blu-Ray audio discs as this cherishable new entry from Naxos? The disc comes in 24 bit 96KHZ stereo and surround sound – all of which greatly enhance the stunning orchestral picture presented here. The epic symphony is given a truly exhilarating reading by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta. The piece is, of course, the calling card for the composer, and has enjoyed a variety of readings (of different merit) over the years; this is undoubtedly one that balances the more dramatic, brass-heavy sections of the music with its subtler, more poetic moments and may make people hungry for more Gliere from this particular combination of artists.  BEETHOVEN COMPLETE PIANO SONATAS, Mari Kodama/PentaTone SACD PTC 5186 4190 (10 SACDs)  First of all: the piano sound. Rarely in the history of recorded music has the sound of the piano been rendered with such felicity as the PentaTone engineers have achieved here. The effects is of an instrument in a modest sized hall with impeccable acoustics, and renders with the greatest exactitude of the instrument utilised here. As for the intensely musical performances themselves, individual issues have been generally well received, although no one has claimed that Mari Kodoma rivals such masters as Daniel Barenboim in representation of this greatest body of work for the piano. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy here, and lovers of the keyboard will be continually astonished by the fidelity of the sound.  MENDELSSOHN IN BIRMINGHAM VOL. 2 /Chandos SACD CHSA 5139  These sensitive and ebullient performances have not been received without reservation (and previous classic performances have been cited in comparison), but they remain useful and attractive for those collecting Mendelssohn symphonies in typically impressive Chandos surround sound.  RÃœTTI: SYMPHONY, DIETHELM:- THE LAST WORKS FOR STRING ORCHESTRA, SPCON, Rainer Held/Guild, GMCD7407/2SPCON  While his music will not be to everyone’s taste, Carl Rütti has established himself internationally as the leading Swiss composer of his generation, with a number of fine  recordings of his large-scale choral-orchestral and organ music, and  this magnificent new release reinforces his reputation with the world premiere recording of his major symphonic work, the Symphony ‘The Visions of Niklaus von Flüe’ a large-scale composition for soprano solo, organ, percussion and chamber orchestra on a Mahlerian scale in terms  of length, a score which demonstrates the composer’s mastery of large-scale creation. It is coupled with a major work by Caspar Diethelm, one of the composer’s final scores. 2 CDs for the price of 1.  ELGAR: THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS, SEA PICTURES, Soloists, Andrew Davis/Chandos SACD CHSA5140(2)  As Graham Williams’ separate review (up shortly) attests, this is a sterling Gerontius, and I largely concur with his very positive judgment. However, I feel about this Chandos version much as I did concerning the recent (excellent) PentaTone. Terrific sound, moving performance – but it’s not just Barbirolli’s conducting on the vintage EMI set or Janet Baker’s Angel whom their successors cannot compare. Both of the newer tenors produce a kind of beautiful, if generalised tenor sound with good attention to the words, while the sometimes–criticised Richard Lewis (for Barbirolli) made every single nuance and change of mood count; there simply isn’t anyone to compare with him. Similarly, Janet Baker’s recording of Sea Pictures-remains the benchmark for this piece, although Sarah Connolly does full justice to them – and what’s more, the use of the organ part in the songs add immeasurably to the impact.  BERG: BY ARRANGEMENT MUSIC FOR STRINGS /Toccata Classics Toccata 0247  So slender is the body of purely orchestral work by the composer Berg that aficionados will be grateful for this unusual collection. It features orchestration of the Piano Sonata along with the Lyric Suite in the composer’s own arrangement supplemented by that of other hands. Performances are nuanced and characterful, although it has to be said that Berg’s restricted sound world here undoubtedly means that the listeners might be better advised not to play the whole disc at a single sitting. BLACKFORD/SAINT-SAENS: THE GREAT ANIMAL ORCHESTRA, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Martyn Brabbins/Nimbus Alliance B00LH119DFY  The use of the recorded sound of animals in the Blackford piece here may make this a useful CD to introducing orchestral music to children; adult listeners, however, will be attracted by the new orchestration (also by Blackford) of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.  ORGAN POLYCHROME: THE FRENCH SCHOOL, Jan Kraybill/ Reference RecordingsRR-133HDCD  This premier solo recording of French masterworks for the organ is something of a revelation, as much for the thoroughly individual character of the music as for the typically wide-ranging Reference Recordings sound.  BAX: PHANTASY, ETC., BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davis/Chandos CHAN 10829  Can there really be more of Bax’s more obscure orchestral music to be dusted off and recorded? Yes, it seems there is – and this collection of little-known works by the composer proves not to be just chippings from the work desk but thoroughly characteristic and attractive pieces. Admittedly, there are assuredly no undiscovered masterpieces here, but Baxians will want to supplement their collections with his disc (and it’s surely safe to assume that Bax enthusiast will already possess the matchless box of the symphonies conducted by Vernon Handley, also from Chandos?). PROKOFIEV VISIONS FUGITIVES Camerata Nordica conductor/BIS SACD 2126  It is particularly cheering to welcome this first appearance in the surround sound medium of the Rudolf Barshai arrangement for string orchestra of Prokofiev’s knotty Visions Fugitives. And if that were not enough, the companion pieces are almost equally interesting, notably Bartok’s lively divertimento strings (although the Webern Five Piece may be for his admirers only).  MENDELSSOHN: SYMPHONY NO. 3, SCOTTISH/THE HEBRIDES/SCHUMANN PIANO CONCERTO, London Symphony Orchestra, Maria Joao Pires, London Symphony Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner/LSO Live SACD LSO 0765  More Mendelssohn, this time from the impressive forces of the LSO under John Eliot Gardiner. While the Barbican acoustic here is less subtle than that on the Chandos disc discussed above, the performances have more fire. Listeners will have to decide for themselves which of the two approaches they prefer. Both have their virtues, but Gardiner is the more dynamic of the two.  FILM AND TV SPORTING THEMES, Various Artists, Silva Screen Records, SILCD 1457  If, like this reviewer, you have zero interest in sport, the appeal of this disc has to be purely musical, and there are several very attractive pieces here, notably John Williams’ ebullient at Olympic theme, although the spirits drop with the inevitable Chariots of Fire – the continuing success of the piece (beyond its associations) remains inexplicable.  ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, George Schaefer, director/VAI DVD  The cinema is littered with great musicals that were shorn of some of their best songs in the transition from stage to screen, from Rodgers and Hart’s Babes in Arms and Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town to Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. That doesn’t, of course, mean that the resulting films, were not be solid pieces in their own right, but aficionados of the musical always regret this filleting process. The film of Kurt Weill’s musical One Touch of Venus (written with the participation of top American humourists Ogden Nash and SJ Perelman), though shaved of most of its songs, was a perfectly creditable piece of work with a radiant Ava Gardener, but it is a real pleasure to welcome this famous – but previously difficult to see — 1955 telecast of the show which retains most of the songs and even the Agnes DeMille ballets. It’s an absolute must for admirers of musicals (crude though the technical quality is), not least for the presence of Janet Blair, incandescent in the title role and being allowed to sing such Kurt Weill tunes as Speak Low.

 

 

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wagnerIn 2010, PentaTone decided to embark on the ambitious project of recording the ten major Wagner operas with the same musical forces. Never before had a record company recorded all of Wagner’s operas with the same orchestra, choir and conductor, even the same producer, within a period of two and a half years.  On top of that, all of the operas, including the Ring Cycle, were recorded for the first time in multi-channel surround sound and with the highest technical quality. Continue reading

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BIS1939

ELGAR: SYMPHONY NO. 1/COCKAIGNE OVERTURE, Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo/BIS SACD 1939  The internationalism of Elgar’s music is now so well established that it is hard to believe that for many it was once regarded as the preserve of just English conductors and orchestras. How much that has changed is clear from a glance at the current Solti in the main Allegro Oramo does not disappoint when the ‘big tune’ arrives at 6.50. The remainder of the movement and especially its triumphant closing pages are notable for the magnificent brass of the Stockholm orchestra. Elgar’s ‘Cockaigne’ Overture, here receiving only its second recording on SACD, is given a stylish and idiomatic performance in which freshness and energy are the key features. The sound here has an almost tactile quality, but though Oramo includes the organ in the closing pages its pedal notes are lacking in weight so those expecting a floor list of recordings of Elgar’s 1st Symphony on SACD where only one of the six currently available versions is performed by a British orchestra and conductor. Sakari Oramo has long been a champion of British music as his tenure as musical director of the CBSO in the post Rattle era (1999-2007) attests. During this period his enthusiastic advocacy of Elgar’s music in Symphony Hall culminated in an impressive CD release of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ and the ‘Enigma Variations’ – issued in 2007 to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. On this impressive new coupling of Elgar’s 1st Symphony and ‘ Cockaigne’ Overture Oramo elicits thrilling playing from every section of the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and has the added benefit of some of the finest recorded sound these works have received. Oramo’s moderate pacing of the Symphony’s first movement happens to be identical with that of Hickox but the aural picture is quite different. The BIS recording is more immediate and sharply focused, clearly demonstrating that the string body of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales is no match for those of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in richness of tone. This is especially evident in the exciting scherzo where the articulation of the Stockholm players could hardly be bettered. One might, however, question Oramo’s sudden broadening of the tempo at 4’29”, something that briefly impedes the movement’s forward drive. The slow movement, surely the clincher in any performance of this work, is glorious. It unfolds with the utmost expressiveness at an ideal tempo, its concluding bars establishing a mood of absolute tranquillity. The finale is terrific and though perhaps lacking a touch of the fire and drive of, say, the Solti reading may well be disappointed. As I have suggested the recordings of both works made in the Stockholm Concert Hall some six months apart are superb possessing a wide but natural sounding dynamic range that, aided by the conductor’s antiphonal seating of the violins, misses not one iota of Elgar subtle handling of his themes. I hope that BIS will give us more British music from these artists and especially having just heard a magnificent Prom performance of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Job’ from Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra I would put that work and a new cycle of the Symphonies at the top of my wish list.

BRUCKNER: ‘STUDY’ SYMPHONY 00 IN F MINOR, Hamburg Philharmoniker, Simone Young/Oehms OC 686 SACD  This is the seventh release in Simone Young’s fine cycle of Bruckner Symphonies recorded live with the Hamburg Philharmoniker. Bruckner’s F minor symphony was composed in 1863 and was given the name ‘Study Symphony’ by Leopold Nowak when he compiled his ‘Bruckner Complete Edition’. It is also known as Symphony No. 00 to indicate that it pre-dates Bruckner’s early D minor Symphony No.0. Both these works were annulled by the composer and were omitted from his numbered canon. Though not typical of Bruckner’s more monumental later style they are well crafted and definitely worth hearing, so any new recordings of them are most welcome. The F minor ‘Study Symphony’ begins with a lively and beguiling ‘Allegro molto vivace’ whose freshness immediately brings Mendelssohn to mind, though the remainder of the symphony is more reminiscent of Schumann. The second movement is a deeply felt ‘Andante molto’ that unfolds with a leisurely beauty in Young’s sensitive account and benefits from much fine playing from the Hamburg orchestra. The brief ‘Scherzo’ that follows does give a hint of the scherzi found in Bruckner’s later symphonies while Young keeps a firm grip on the ‘Finale’, arguably the weakest of the four movements. The live recording made in the clean and reverberant acoustic of the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg is excellent, and shows no evidence of the presence of an audience apart from a slight rustling between the movements. Though there are many recordings of this symphony on CD the only competition on SACD is from Marcus Bosch on Coviello Classics. Bosch despatches the work in 36.29 which leaves room for him to include Symphony 0 on the same disc. Young’s more spacious performance takes 41.59 and has no fill-up ( Bruckner’s early Overture in G minor also dating from 1863 would have been be an obvious candidate – a missed opportunity).Admirers of Simone Young’s Bruckner interpretations will be well satisfied by this latest instalment.

FASCH: QUARTETS & CONCERTOS, Ensemble Marsyas, Peter Whelan/LINN CKD 467 SACD  This is an enchanting disc of music by the little-known Baroque composer Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758)  – a perfect follow-up to the recent release of Zelenka Sonatas by Peter Whelan’s excellent Edinburgh based period group Ensemble Marsyas. Fasch’s long tenure as Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst began in 1722 and continued  there until his death. He produced a considerable body of work much of which is still being unearthed from collections in Dresden and Darmstadt. The generous collection (72min.) of eight of Fasch’s works recorded here comprise four Quartets written for two oboes, obbligato bassoon and continuo, the same line-up that Zelenka used in some of his sonatas, a Horn Quartet, a Recorder Quartet and a couple of concertos – one for bassoon and one for recorder. All the music on this SACD is immediately engaging thanks both to its varied instrumentation and especially the virtuosity and enthusiasm of the performers. For a taste of what is on offer try the opening of the Quartet in B-flat where the bright and pungent oboes pleasingly contrast with Peter Whelan’s smooth and sonorous bassoon, or marvel at Pamela Thorby’s virtuoso account of the  F major Recorder – a work that has only come to light in the past few years. Linn’s hybrid multi-channel  recording was made in the intimate acoustic of London’s Wigmore Hall (9-11 August 2013) and expertly balanced by engineer Philip Hobbs while Brian Clark’s detailed biographical notes on Fasch and the works recorded here add to one’s appreciation of a most enjoyable disc. Highly recommended.

MENDELSSOHN IN BIRMINGHAM VOL. 2, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner/CHANDOS CHSA 5139 SACD  The second volume of Edward Gardner’s “Mendelssohn in Birmingham” cycle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra follows the same pattern as the previous issue – two Symphonies preceded by an Overture. Here it is the fine Overture to “Ruy Blas” that opens Gardner’s programme in an alert and winning performance. This is followed by, in order of composition, Mendelssohn’s first and last mature Symphonies. Symphony No. 1 in C minor is in fact the final one of the composer’s 13 symphonies for strings that at the age of 15 he scored for a full orchestra and published in 1831 . It is a marvellously confident work that demonstrates the young Mendelssohn’s prodigious compositional gifts. One can only imagine that its comparative neglect in the concert hall is partly due to the absence of a sobriquet unlike each of the other four symphonies. Gardner’s beautifully paced account of this work will make it many new friends, and one’s only regret is that its clarity would have been further improved by antiphonal seating of the violins – especially in the fugal passages of the Symphony’s finale. This is something that Mendelssohn certainly would have expected, but which Gardner unfortunately eschews. Gardner’s straightforward account of Symphony No. 3 ‘Scottish’, whilst not especially distinctive, does not disappoint. The abundant charm of the music is never in doubt in Gardner’s performance. Melodies are elegantly shaped and the playing of the CBSO is incisive with plenty of rhythmic vigour especially in the finale. Bayan Northcott’s informative liner notes state that Mendelssohn was insistent that the four movements should follow each other without a break, but here we have the usual few seconds break between them. The sound quality matches that of the earlier issue which is hardly surprising as both symphonies were recorded at sessions within a couple of days of those on Volume 1. Though the rather over reverberant acoustic of Birmingham Town Hall gives an occasional and unwelcome steely edge to the violins there is a generally pleasing bloom to the sound – enhanced for those listening to the  multichannel layer by further ambient information. Wind, brass and timpani are exceptionally clear and vividly reproduced. Competition on disc in these works is intense, but those collecting Gardner’s Mendelssohn series will be unlikely to be disappointed with this release.

 

 

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When this writer was interviewing Simon Heffer about his sympathetic study of Vaughan Williams, I took gentle exception to his claiming the composer for the political Right (he was adducing RVW’s quintessential Englishness); ironically, when the interview appeared and I mildly suggested that Elgar rather than Vaughan Williams might have been of a Tory nature, I received a deal of critical mail, interpreting my comment as an attack on Elgar. God forbid — I had simply tried to draw a distinction between the left-leaning Vaughan Williams (whose political persuasions and agnosticism were not automatic characteristics of his class) and the older composer, but I wonder what my critics might make of this superbly readable anthology which goes far further in placing the composer in a political context, and left-leaning one at that. In fact, it is that element more than anything else — the rigorous and balanced setting of Vaughan Williams in a sociopolitical context — that distinguishes this collection of essays from any of its predecessors. Which is not to say, of course, that the composer’s genius is not celebrated in perspicacious and penetrating essays from such writers as David Manning (talking about RVW as a public figure) and Eric Saylor discussing his music for stage and film. But for those like myself — who love every aspect of the composer’s work from the exquisite beauty of his string writing to the muscular brass fanfares of the Fourth Symphony and Job — this is perhaps the most valuable book on the composer to appear in many years. And its new perspectives mark it out decisively from the work of such perceptive earlier critics as Michael Kennedy. It goes without saying that any admirer of Vaughan Williams should have it on their shelves.

The Cambridge Companion to Vaughan Williams, Alain Frogley & Aidan J Thomson, editors is published by Cambridge University Press

 

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BIS1939

ELGAR SYMPHONY NO.1/COCKAIGNE OVERTURE Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo/SACD BIS-1939 (CLASSICAL CD CHOICE CD OF THE MONTH)  One shouldn’t be surprised. Given the immense acclaim that greeted the recent recording of Elgar’s Second Symphony by these forces, one would have been surprised by an indifferent follow-up – and this is anything but that. The First Symphony has been particularly lucky on record, and that syndrome continues here with a beautifully focused, impeccably recorded reading that may not quite have the fiery energy of (for instance) Georg Solti’s fondly remembered reading for Decca, but captures Oramo’s perfectly judged, forward moving impulse along with the music’s profound and nuanced feeling (essential in Elgar). If the disc is not quite as revelatory as Oramo’s recording of the Second Symphony, it is nevertheless a highly competitive entry in the catalogue, and many will be tempted by this disc – not least for its ebullient reading of the Cockaigne overture. The customarily impressive BIS surround sound is a given.

PUCCINI: MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Mirella Freni, Placido Domingo, Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert Von Karajan/DGG Blu-ray  Recordings of Madama Butterfly (both visual records such as this and on CD) may come and go, but one reading remains the gold standard in both mediums – and it is this moving and exquisitely sung performance with both singers at the very peak of their form. This Blu-ray version of a previously issued DVD increases the capabilities of both the visual and aural palette and becomes at a stroke the definitive recording in the medium. Certain things, admittedly, have the picture is inevitably in constricted Academy ratio, and some of the make-up looks ill-advised today (such as false buck teeth on Japanese characters), but the performances are as astonishing as ever. One wonders if any future recorded versions of this opera will give Karajan and his singers a run for their money? 

WEINBERG: SYMPHONY NO. 21; POLISH TUNES, Veronika Bartenyeva, Siberian Symphony Orchestra, Dmitry Vasilyev/Toccata Classics TOCC 0193 I don’t know about other classical music aficionados, but I have now had to inaugurate a checklist of the ever-proliferating Weinberg symphonies to find out just what has appeared – but that’s not a complaint.From the days when the oddMelodiya recording of Weinberg’s music appeared to the current embarrassment of riches, it’s hearting to see this neglected (and discriminated against) composer belatedly achieving his due. Since his death in 1996, Weinberg’s vast output – which includes 26 symphonies, 7 operas and 17 string quartets – has enjoyed increasing recognition as some of the most individual and compelling music of the twentieth century.

BALLET MUSIC BY STRAUSS; LISZT; KORNG OLD; BUSONI; SCHREKER, Orchestre De La Suisse Romande; Kazuki Yamada, PentaTone Classics SACD PTC5186518  Magnificent though the music is, one does not always want to settle down with something as challenging as The Ring or one of Bruckner’s longer symphonies. The palate occasionally need something lighter, and this well-chosen collection is the perfect amuse bouche. The performances of these delightful pieces are impeccable, with the kind of wide-ranging recording that PentaTone is celebrated for. Perhaps the only blot on the escutcheon is a rather unseductive performance of Strauss’s The Dance of the Seven Veils. The second CD in PentaTone’s dance music series lets the listener savour vibrant compositions from the German speaking countries; there are vigorous performances, and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande plays with élan.

TURINA: LA PROCESIÓN DEL ROCÍO, OP. 9 / CANTO A SEVILLA, OP. 37/ DANZAS GITANAS, OP. 55 / RAPSODIA SINFÓNICA, OP. 66, María Espada (soprano), Martin Roscoe (piano), BBC Philharmonic, Juanjo Mena/CHANDOS 10819  Over the years, Chandos has again and again demonstrated its commitment to recording music of vibrancy and colour, so it was perhaps only a matter of time before the company got around to the vivid compositions of Joaquin Turina. This particular collection is immensely winning, with conductor, pianist, orchestra and singer all fully in tune with the composer’s very individual sound world. La procesión del Rocío, Turina’s first orchestral work, was inspired by memories of a procession held in the gypsy quarter of Seville and is filled with lively dance rhythms. Canto a Sevilla, a song cycle with orchestra, is a heartfelt tribute to Seville and its culture, taking on themes such as the vibrant Easter Procession, Seville’s beautiful ornamental fountains, and even a ghost that haunts the streets at night. Danzas gitanas, a collection of Andalusian gypsy dances, introduces a nocturnal atmosphere into a style normally characterised by bright orchestral colours and extravagant rhythmic intricacies. The Rapsodia sinfónica, one of Turina’s last works, represents a more mature, reflective composer.

HINDEMITH: NOBILISSIMA VISIONE, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz/Naxos 8.572763  Over the years, there have been several recordings of Nobilissima Visione which have done justice to its fascinating mixture of sinewy strength and utterly focused orchestration; we now have another reading to join these impressive ranks. A series of powerful, largely radical works in the early 1920s saw the establishment of Hindemith as Germany’s leading young composer. In 1936 he was asked by choreographer and dancer Léonide Massine to collaborate on a ballet project and Hindemith proposed scenes from the life of St Francis of Assisi. The resulting ballet, Nobilissima Visione (The Noblest Vision), is a work of lyricism, elegy and majesty performed by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra under Gerard Schwarz. This is the first recording of the complete ballet score, and is accompanied on disc with the Five Pieces for String Orchestra, an earlier, spirited work dating from 1927.

DEBUSSY: CHAMBER MUSIC: PRÉLUDE À L’APRÈS-MIDI D’UN FAUNE, CELLO SONATA, RÊVERIE, VIOLIN SONATA, LA FILLE AUX CHEVEUX DE LIN, PIANO TRIO NO.1, Prazák Quartet, Kinsky Trio Prague/Praga Digitalis SACD PRD/DSD250302  One might have thought that there would be a large variety of choice on disc for Debussy’s chamber works, but in fact this is not quite the case – which is what makes this beautifully played disc so welcome. Apart from ‘Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Faune’, which is of academic interest only in this reduced version (the ear is constantly filling in the exquisite orchestration which is not here), this is a very cherishable collection. Better known for his works for orchestra or solo piano, Claude Debussy also composed a wealth of beautiful chamber music. This disc featuring the Prazák Quartet and the Kinsky Trio Prague (and invited guests) offers a selection of six works, ranging from the Piano Trio No.1 of 1879, via the above-mentioned chamber arrangement of ‘Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Faune’ to his last work, the Cello Sonata written in 1915. This audiophile quality multi-channel SACD presents these works in a unique coupling, not featured on any other disc.

KHACHATURIAN: VIOLIN SONATA AND DANCES FROM GAYANEH & SPARTACUS, Hideko Udagawa, violin, Boris Berezovsky, piano/Nimbus BOOJEEOG41  To some degree, Khachaturian is a victim of a similar syndrome to that affecting the colourful music of Respighi: the complete dominance of one or two pieces casting the rest of the work in the shade. This impressive reading of the Armenian composer’s muscular Violin Sonata should hopefully go some way to redressing the balance.

SCHUBERT: THE LATE PIANO SONATAS D784, 958, 959, 960, Paul Lewis, piano, Harmonia Mundi HMC902165/66 Beethoven’s late piano sonatas are the staples of many a pianist’s repertoire, but Paul Lewis readings of Schubert’s late essays in the genre may inspire other pianists to investigate these masterpieces. Paul Lewis is today regarded as one of the leading pianists of his generation, having won the most coveted prizes of the great classical institutions, for both his concert career and his recordings on Harmonia mundi, topped by three Gramophone Awards including Record of the Year in 2008. He is also the first pianist in the history of the BBC Proms to have played the complete Beethoven concertos in a single season (2010).

BEETHOVEN: COMPLETE STRING QUARTETS III: STRING QUARTET IN C MINOR, OP. 18, NO. 4, ‘GREAT FUGUE’ IN B FLAT MAJOR, OP. 133, STRING QUARTET IN F MAJOR, OP. 59, NO. 1,Quartetto di Cremona/Audite SACD 92.682  If you have been collecting the recordings by the Quartetto di Cremona’s of the Beethoven quartets (in analytical wide-ranging SACD sound), you will need little persuasion to investigate this latest addition to the cycle. Comparisons have already been drawn with the imperishable readings by another Italian Quartet, the Quartetto Italiano, and while such parallels are perhaps a little tendentious, this is nevertheless proving to be a truly impressive cycle. In the Quartetto di Cremona’s third volume of the Complete Beethoven String Quartets, enthusiastically received by press and audience alike, the ensemble undertakes a bold triple jump through Beethoven’s different stages of musical development. Presented here are the C minor work from the first, ingenious set of quartets Op. 18, the first of the highly virtuosic ‘Razumovsky’ Quartets Op. 59, as well as the Große Fuge [Great Fugue], a pinnacle of musical artistry.

BRUCKNER: SYMPHONY NO.7 IN E MAJOR, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer/ Channel Classics SACD CCSSA33714 Fischer’s recordings with the Budapest Festival Orchestra are among the glories of the current music scene, and although this latest edition has occasioned some controversy over the speed of the readings, those who do not lament Fischer’s eschewingof funereal-style readings of the composer will find the liveliness and energy here winning, if a touch unpoetic. “Bruckner is the saint, the tzadik, the bodhisattva, the guru among composers. He is the purest and most capable of religious ecstasy.” So opines Ivan Fischer in the liner notes to this new recording of the 7th Symphony. Fischer is founder and Music Director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra. This partnership has become one of the greatest success stories in the past 25 years of classical music. Intense international touring and a series of acclaimed recordings for Philips Classics, later for Channel Classics have contributed to Fischer’s reputation as one of the world’s most  successful orchestra leaders.

HAYDN: SYMPHONIES 92, 93, 97, 98 & 99, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis/ LSO Live SACD 0702  Leonard Bernstein had little truck with the authenticity movement when it came to the music of Haydn, and these recordings by the late Colin Davis suggests that the sound world of later composers such as Beethoven were in the conductor’s mind .The late Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra present a collection of Haydn’s London Symphonies alongside the spirited Oxford Symphony. Davis was long recognised as a pre-eminent Haydn interpreter. During his Indian summer with the orchestra he recorded both ‘The Creation’ and ‘The Seasons’ for LSO Live. The symphonies presented here were recorded in 2011 and make for revelatory listening. Entering a new chapter after the death of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn’s forward-looking late symphonies were conceived on a large scale and exude all the hallmarks of the composer’s protean maturity. Surpassing even his own high standards and received to an enormous success, their expressive strength and inventive mastery of form gave his international reputation a substantial boost: Haydn’s contrapuntal mastery and thematic rigour are fully evident.

JANACEK: STRING QUARTETS 1 & 2, PIANO CONCERTINO, Quatuor Prazak Praga Digitalis SACD DSD 250301  The long playing times of SACDs have led to some intriguing pieces of programming, very much the case here in the highly individual chamber works of Janacek. This is an unusual late Janacek chamber programme including the Concertino, an adventurous, amazingly experimental work. Its ‘programme’ recalls the naturalism and anthropomorphisms of the adventures of the ‘Cunning Little Vixen’ and the concluding Allegro, opening with an unpredictable, almost swaggering recitative, is progressively hinged on an increasingly rapid rhythm that leads to a popular scene of jubilation that foreshadows the fanfares of the Glagolitic Mass.

TEN YEARS OF MUSICA ITALIANA Selected highlights from the series Musica Italiana Gianandrea Noseda /CHANDOS 241-47  Inevitably, there is not much of a through line for this collection apart from its Italianate quality, but there is some glorious music here. This special ‘2 for 1’ compilation release celebrates ten years of Gianandrea Noseda’s Musica Italiana series. Recording with both the BBC Philharmonic and the Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino, Noseda has shown a remarkable commitment to championing long-forgotten scores by well-known composers as well as the finest works by altogether neglected ones. On Disc 1 he revives several works long absent from the concert hall. His recordings of the Symphony No. 2, Symphonic Fragments and Concerto for Orchestra excerpted here have brought Casella’s music to a new and passionate audience. Luigi Dallapiccola, a composer particularly close to Noseda’s heart, is known for his lyrical, Italianate take on Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system; three contrasting works are represented here. Noseda’s highly acclaimed Respighi recordings heard here look beyond the tone poems for which the composer is best known, shining a light on some equally ravishing scores. Disc 2 presents a collection of orchestral movements from the richly romantic Italian operatic repertoire.

SAWYERS Cello Concerto/Symphony No. 2 Nimbus Alliance NI6281  Another intriguing composer deserving of our attention — one who admittedly does not give up all his secrets on first hearing, but who has a great deal to offer. Philip Sawyers’ works have been performed and broadcast in many countries worldwide including USA, Canada, Spain, Austria, Czech Republic, France and UK. Music-web International described the Nimbus Alliance CD of Sawyers’ orchestral work as “music of instant appeal and enduring quality”. Robert Matthew-Walker writing in Classical Source described the premiere of the second symphony by the London Mozart Players as a “deeply impressive work, serious in tone throughout, and genuinely symphonic… one of the finest new symphonies by a British composer I have heard in years…” Sawyers began composing as a teenager, shortly after picking up the violin for the first time at the age of 13.  However, it has only been in the last few years that his talent has begun to be recognised with major commissions and performances by orchestras in the USA and frequent performances in Europe. His work has been performed by the London Mozart Players, Grand Rapids Symphony, Orchestra of the Swan, Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias, Fort Worth, Albany NY, Tuscon, Tulsa, Omaha and Modesto Symphony Orchestras.

BERLIOZ LA CAPTIVE, LA MORT DE CLEOPATRE, Het Gelders Orkest, Antonello Manacorda, Lisa Larsson/SACD Challenge Classics CC72639  Berlioz’s dramatic cantatas have enjoyed several successive readings of varying merit, but this is among the very best, captured in truly impressive surround sound. At times, even the classic Janet Baker reading is challenged – if not, finally, surpassed. Nevertheless, a striking disc.

THE MUSIC OF HANS ZIMMER, Various Orchestras/Silva Screen Records SILCD 1453  The last generation of great film composers has been thinned out over the years (we have lost such giants as Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein), although thankfully we still have John Williams with us, and – despite his age — in prime form. So who are the leaders of the new generation of film composers? Hans Zimmer undoubtedly has to be a key contender; extremely prolific, his inventive scores (which combine modern techniques with powerful Holstian orchestral writing) have become the default soundtrack for superhero movies, with the new screen incarnations of Superman and Batman enjoying his attention. This handsome six-CD box encapsulates and celebrate his achievement; I’m sure that Zimmer would be the first to admit he is not the class of Goldsmith and Co., but he is a composer of immense skill, and this boxed set makes for exciting, varied (if at times repetitive) and intriguing listening.

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The Classic Karajan recording of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (also featuring Christa Ludwig, Robert Kerns and Michel Sénéchal) is a  long-time bestseller from the Unitel catalogue and has already been available in different video formats; it is now available on Blu-ray. It is staged, directed and designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

 

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Tianwa Yang’s profile is rapidly growing on the international concert circuit, aided by her discography on the Naxos label. Earlier this year, she completed her acclaimed cycle of Sarasate’s violin music for orchestra and piano and her recent album of Ysaÿe’s Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27 (8.572995) showcases Tianwa’s skill, dexterity, and artistry. Tianwa will be making her much anticipated UK début on 23rd September with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Cadogan Hall performing Brahms’s Violin Concerto. Buy tadalafil generic

 

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TCHAIKOVSKY: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1, Un poco di Chopin, Chopin: Bacarolle, Schubert / Liszt: Erlkönig, Frühlingsglaube, Die Forelle, Auf dem Wasser zu Singen, Die Stadt (Schwanengesang), Schumann / Liszt: Liebeslied (Widmung)/Daniil Trifonov (piano)/Mariinsky Orchestra, Valéry Gergiev/Mariinsky Live SACD Mar 0530  The 21 year-old Russian pianist Daniel Trifonov is the latest young piano virtuoso to be hailed by the musical press, not only for his prodigious technique – something that these days is almost taken for granted – but also for the maturity of his performances. During the last couple of years he has won medals at three of the most prestigious competitions in the music world: the Chopin Competition in Warsaw (Third Prize), the Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv (First Prize) and the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow (First Prize and Grand Prix). No less a pianist than Martha Argerich has heaped fulsome praise on Trifonov for the tenderness and demonic elements of his playing, both of which are clearly evident on this disc. The performances given here were recorded between October 2011 and April 2012 in the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg. Sadly the recorded sound In the Tchaikovsky 1st Piano Concerto does not do justice to Trifonov’s exhilarating pianism. Vladimir Ryabenko is listed as producer, engineer, editor and mixer with the mastering done by Classic Sound’s Jonathan Stokes. What emerged from my speaker’s was so disappointing that I could not believe that this was actually SACD. The upper strings of the Mariinsky Orchestra sound thin and nasal, the piano hard and clangorous with the balance very much in favour of that instrument. The surround channels add little to the rather faceless acoustic. Trifonov gives a powerful account of the concerto’s outer movements – incandescent virtuosity and confidence rather than subtlety being the order of the day. The middle ‘Andantino semplice’ shows the pianist at his most sensitive. He plays the song-like main theme with a restrained delicacy while the fast central section is delivered with a mercurial brilliance. Gergiev’s accompaniment is dutiful rather than especially illuminating. Things improve considerably in the somewhat disparate choice of eight solo piano pieces that Daniil Trifonov has chosen to fill the rest of this disc. Though the piano can still sound a little hard above forte it is much more than acceptable. Tchaikovsky’s brief ‘Un poco di Chopin’ – one of his 18 Morceaux Op.72 – is a delightful trifle performed with wit and grace and Daniil Trifonov follows that with a mesmerising account of Chopin’s Barcarolle in which he marvellously captures the rapidly changing moods of this masterpiece. The Liszt arrangements of five of  Schubert’s most well-known songs suit both the eagerness and also the panache of Trifanov’s performances as does the lovely account of Schumann’s ‘Liebeslied’  (Widmung) also in the Liszt arrangement that completes his programme. Inexplicably the liner notes accompanying this disc are only concerned with the Tchaikovsky concerto – nothing whatsoever is written about the solo piano music that occupies half the disc. Shortly after completing this review I attended Trifonov’s stunning recital at the Edinburgh International Festival – a programme of Scriabin, Medtner, Debussy and Chopin delivered with a seemingly effortless combination of panache and subtle musicianship. That Daniil Trifanov is a pianist of stupendous talent and huge potential is in no doubt, and it is to be hoped that his gift will continue to be nurtured to full maturity in the coming years. This disc certainly gives a taste of what he has already achieved.

FRANCOIS COUPERIN: LES NATIONS – Premiere Ordre (La Françoise) & Deuxième Ordre (L’Espagnole) Rebel: Les Caractères de la Danse Florilegium: Ashley Solomon (Director), flute 1 Andrew Crawford, flute 2 Bojan Cicic, violin 1 Tuomi Suni, violin 2 Reiko Ichise, viola da gamba David Miller/Channel Classics SACD CCSA33213  That Florilegium is one of Britain’s finest period instrument groups is something to which their many award-winning recordings bear witness. Their repertoire is extensive and adventurous –  ranging from Vivaldi and Bach to three marvellous discs of Bolivian Baroque – so each new release is likely to be something for lovers of period performances to savour. On this latest recording Florilegium perform music by two composers active at the Court of Louis XIV in Versailles. François Couperin entered the service of the King as organist of the Chapelle du Roi in 1693 whilst Jean-Féry  Rebel, once a student of Jean Baptiste Lully, worked as a violinist and harpsichordist at the Académie Royale de Musique gradually rising through the musical hierarchy and securing a post as violinist in the Chapelle du Roi and eventually that of chamber composer for the King. In 1726 Couperin published ‘Les Nations’, a collection that juxtaposed some of his earlier sonatas from the 1690s – composed in the Italianate style of Corelli  –  alongside groups of dances written in the French style. The titles of the four sections of ‘Les Nations’ are La Françoise, L’Espagnole, L’impériale and La Piemontoise. On this disc  Florilegium perform the first two of these ‘Ordres’ (presumably the remainder will appear on a later release). As Ashley Solomon points out in his detailed and informative liner notes, although these pieces were almost certainly intended for two violins, bass viol and continuo, Couperin left no precise instructions as to the instrumentation of ‘Les Nations’. However, like many chamber works of the period, they are suitable for different combinations such as flutes or oboes or, as here, featuring the violin and flute. The pitch of the instruments on this recording is A392, a full tone below modern concert pitch (A440), and often considered to be the performing pitch at the Court of Louis XIV in the early part of the 18th century. This certainly seems to add  a burnished richness and depth to what we hear on this SACD. The final work is Jean-Féry Rebel’s ‘Les Caractères de la danse,’ and it makes a delightful contrast with Couperin’s more refined and sophisticated compositions that occupy the bulk of this disc. Rebel’s collaboration with the leading ballerina of the day, Françoise Prévost (1680–1741) led to the production of this highly successful ‘choreographed symphony’ in 1715. Two of Prévost’s most celebrated pupils, Marie Sallé  and Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo retained this work in their repertory and Sallé even danced it in London under Handel’s musical direction in 1727. The graceful Prelude, with which the work begins, leads to a succession of eleven contrasting popular dances of the time played with wit and elegance by Florilegium’s talented members. It almost goes without saying that Florilegium’s performances are accorded a state-of-the-art recording by Channel, and as always Jared Sack’s judicious choice of venue is of vital importance to the overall sound quality. Here All Saints Church, East Finchley, London provides a most appropriate acoustic to enhance the almost tactile sound produced by  Florilegium’s  seven accomplished players. Those listening to this 5.0 DSD recording in multi-channel will notice a more than usual amount of information from the surround speakers. Another fine addition to Florilegium’s extensive discography that can be recommended without reservation.

STRAVINSKY:OEDIPUS REX/APOLLON MUSAGÈTE, Soloists, London Symphony Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner/LSO Live SACD LSO0751   The pairing of two of Stravinsky’s finest neoclassical works, one instrumental and one vocal, makes for a most satisfying programme on disc when performed as splendidly as on this LSO Live SACD. This recording made in April 2013, was taken from one of the many concerts organised to celebrate the 70th birthday of the conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner. For Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio ‘Oedipus Rex’ Gardiner has assembled a superb group of soloists . In addition, he has his matchless Monteverdi Choir as the male voiced chorus and the LSO in blistering form. Stuart Skelton gives a wonderfully nuanced performance of the title role, his portrayal most effectively characterising Oedipus’s journey from hubris to anguish. Jennifer Johnson, a voice new to me, is a magnificent Jocasta, who, with her secure and authoritative delivery, brings an almost Verdian line to her Act 2 aria whilst Gidon Saks is a forthright Creon. The three smaller roles of Tiresias, Shepherd and Messenger are taken by members of the Monteverdi Choir, amongst whom the fine bass of David Shipley (Tiresias) is especially noteworthy. The French actress Fanny Ardant, familiar to many from her performances in the films of such distinguished directors as Truffaut, Resnais and Lelouch, to name but three, is a riveting narrator, who delivers Cocteau’s line’s with conviction and absolute clarity. From her opening words “Spectateurs, vous allez entendre une version latine d’Oedipe-roi” one’s attention is grabbed and held. Gardiner captures to the full the searing drama underlying the work’s stylized exterior, and from the thrilling attack of the opening chorus the listener is gripped by the power of his interpretation of this masterpiece. The LSO are in magnificent form – their incisive brass, skeltering woodwind and weighty percussion thrillingly captured by the recording. The liner notes include the full Latin text and English translation. This SACD is completed by an equally fine rendition of Stravinsky’s 1928 ballet ‘Apollon musagète’   – or ‘Apollo’ as the composer later preferred to call it  – performed in its revised version of 1947.The music of this ballet has a calm, delicate and transparent beauty to which the strings of the LSO do full justice. The sound is exceptionally well balanced with every instrumental line sharply delineated yet at the same time beautifully integrated in the tuttis. In both works the engineers (Jonathan Stokes and Nicholas Parker) have used the usually difficult Barbican acoustic to the music’s advantage. The multi-channel 5.0 recording (no mention anywhere of DSD) has the clarity and impact one might expect, but also a modicum of warmth and bloom that makes ‘Apollo’ especially easy on the ear. A most recommendable release.

‘BASSO BAILANDO’ Piazzolla: Four Seasons Rota: Divertimento Concertanto de Falla: 7 Canciones Rick Stotijn, double bass Malin Broman, violin Lavinia Meijer, harp Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Channel Classics SACD CCSA 33613  The evocatively witty cover photograph on Rick Stotijn’s wonderful new SACD ‘Basso Bailando’ gives an immediate flavour of the many delights contained on this disc. Who could fail to be captivated by the excitement and seductive tango rhythms of Astor Piazzolla’s ‘Cuatro Estaciones Portenas’, also known as ‘The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires’, performed here in an arrangement, made by Marijn van Prooijen, a former colleague of Rick Stotijn in the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, for double bass, violin and string orchestra ?  His excellent partner is the violinist Malin Broman, and the absolute rapport between these two performers is palpable in their fiery performance of this work; the strings of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Simon Crawford Phillips providing incisive support. In recent years the music of Nino Rota for the concert hall has come into prominence, and its high-quality has become to be appreciated by many of those perhaps more familiar with his superb film scores such as those for the great Italian film directors Fellini, Visconti and Francis Ford Coppola. Rota’s ‘Divertimento Concertante for Double Bass and Orchestra’, composed between 1967 and 1971, is a neo-classical work. It was written for the Italian virtuoso Franco Petracchi a colleague of Rota when they both worked at the Liceo Musicale in the Bari Conservatory . The piece is full of beguiling melodies and with its captivating orchestration is reminiscent of the music of Rossini whose style it emulates. Its four contrasting movements – Allegro, Aria, Marcia and Finale (a minor proofing error on the liner notes transposes the order of the two middle movements) – employ the full four octave range of the double bass, and set challenges for the soloist that are easily met by Rick Stoijn whose stunning playing and warm tone are a delight. Mats Rondin conducts the Swedish RSO in this work. The final work in this imaginative programme are arrangements, again made by Marijn van Prooijen,  of six of Manuel de Falla’s Seven Popular songs ( Seguidilla Murciana is omitted)  for the unlikely combination of double bass and harp – yet they work brilliantly. Rick Stotijn’s partner here is the exceptionally talented young Korean harpist Lavinia Meijer who has already made  a number of highly rated solo recordings for Channel Classics. With Stotijn’s double bass emulating the vocal line and Meijer the sound of a guitar this arrangement offers a new slant on the many vocal versions of these songs. The Piazzolla and Rota works are both live recordings, made (October and March 2012 respectively) in the lively and generous acoustic of the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm. Channel’s 5.0 DSD sound has great presence and clarity. It also retains the best qualities of live recordings that include spontaneity freshness and immediacy, but without the disadvantages of any audience noise or applause. The De Falla was made in the intimate and ideal church acoustic of Westvest, Schiedam. This is a more than worthy successor to Rick Stotijn’s marvellous Bottesini disc, so if this programme appeals, do not hesitate – you will not be disappointed.