GRANDISSIMA GRAVITA

GRANDISSIMA GRAVITA, Brecon Baroque, Rachel Podger/Challange Classics CCS SA 39217  Discerning collectors and lovers of the baroque violin in particular already know that every release from Rachel Podger and her accomplished colleagues in the period instrument group Brecon Baroque is always worth investigating. Podger’s combination of probing musical intelligence and joyous virtuosity makes each issue one to savour. This is especially true of her latest disc in which she performs sonatas by Vivaldi, Tartini, Veracini and Pisendel – four composers who were not only close contemporaries but are also linked by their indebtedness and admiration for the musical inventiveness and originality of Arcangelo Corelli. The disc opens with Vivaldi’s Sonata for violin and continuo in A major, Op.2 No. 2, one of the set of twelve sonatas written by the composer in 1709. This is a short but beguiling piece in which the contribution of members of Brecon Baroque – Daniele Caminiti (lute and guitar), Alison McGillivray (cello) and Marcin Świątkiewicz (harpsichord) – is as delightful and imaginative as that of the soloist. The “Grandissima Gravita” title for this disc is provided by the four minor key sonatas that follow.
Tartini’s Sonata in A minor Op.2 No.5 opens with a richly expressive ‘Andante Cantabile’ that allows the eloquence of Podger’s playing to hold the listener entranced throughout its eight minutes duration. The two well-contrasted sonatas by Veracini, in G minor and D minor respectively, are beautifully nuanced in the more reflective movements by these performers while there is plenty of rhythmic bounce in the more lively ones. The fourth sonata on this disc is by Johann Georg Pisendel the German violinist and composer who for many years led the Court Orchestra in Dresden. Pisendel was much admired by Vivaldi, Albinoni and Telemann all of whom dedicated violin concertos to him. The four-movement ‘Sonata for violin and harpsichord in C minor’ notable for the improvisatory nature of the opening ‘Adagio’ and the grave tranquillity of the ‘Affetuoso ‘ third movement, is given a typically engaging and fluent performance in which Podger is ably supported by Marcin Świątkiewicz and Alison McGillivray. Continue reading

Strauss & Mahler from Pentatone


  1. STRAUSS: ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA, MAHLER: TOTENFEIER, RSO Berlin, Vladimir Jurowski Pentatone PTC5186 597 SACD Those familiar with his work with the London Philharmonic Orchestra will know that Vladimir Jurowski is one of the most exciting and gifted conductors of his generation, so his new appointment as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the RSO Berlin is a cause for celebration. The possibility of a really outstanding performance and recording of Strauss’s ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ in multi-channel sound from Pentatone was also an enticing prospect, but unfortunately my high expectations for this release were not met. The famous opening ‘Einleitung’ should be sonorous and immediately arresting, but here it makes little impact. The timpani sound boomy and cavernous while the Seifert organ – dubbed on from the St. Matthias Kirche, Berlin-Schöneberg – sounds unimpressive and decidedly lacking in weight in the lower frequencies. As the work proceeds Jurowski elicits some luscious string sounds from his fine orchestra and the fairly closely miked recording allows much detail in the orchestration to be heard. The fugal ‘Von der Wissenschaft’ section is especially clearly articulated by the double basses – not always the case, but again the lack of heft from the organ at the climax of this section is disappointing. ‘Das ‘Tanzlied’ benefits from the deft playing of concertmaster Rainer Walters and though at times Jurowski’s tempi seem a tad cautious, the build up to the final huge climax and the strokes of the midnight bell are impressively delivered. The concluding epilogue ‘Nachtwanderlied’ typifies Jurowski’s rather cerebral approach to this piece. ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, though running continuously, has nine clearly defined sections, but Pentatone, in contrast to most of the available alternative versions on disc has unaccountably (and unhelpfully) allotted a single track to the whole work that lasts 32′ 53”. They did the same with their recent recording of Strauss’s ‘Ein Heldenleben’, another regrettable decision. Jurowski and his orchestra seem much more involved with their account of Mahler’s early symphonic poem ‘Totenfeier’ that the composer re-worked as the opening movement of his second symphony. Here the playing is fiercely committed and makes a good case for occasional outings of this example of Mahler’s first thoughts. “The Symphonic Prelude in C minor,” attributed here to Mahler is a student work from 1876 that sounds very like early Bruckner. There is no trace of the original score, but a preliminary sketch for it, apparently made by one of Mahler’s student friends, is preserved at the Austrian National Library. The task of orchestrating the Prelude was undertaken (at the request of Peter Ruzicka the artistic director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra) by Albrecht Gürsching, the Hamburg composer and musicologist and it was first performed in March1981 by this orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster. Subsequent research, however, has thrown doubt as to whether this piece is actually by Mahler and Henri de La Grange, a leading authority on the composer, has wisely expressed the view that: “Until such time as new evidence comes to light, it seems extremely unwise to ascribe this piece to Mahler”. The current general consensus seems to be that if not by Bruckner himself it is probably by one of the Bruckner adherents among Mahler’s fellow students. This short brooding piece is, to be honest, pretty unremarkable, but Jurowski’s expansive performance does it more justice than that heard on Neeme Järvi’s 1992 account for Chandos. Pentatone’s DSD recording is to the usual high house standard and, while perhaps not their finest, does not disappoint.

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New from LSO Live & Tacet

MENDELSSOHN: SYMPHONY NO. 2 (LOBESGESANG), John Eliot Gardiner/ LSO Live LSO0803  Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s riveting survey of Mendelssohn’s orchestral works with the London Symphony Orchestra (the 5 Symphonies, Overtures and the Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream) has yielded some of the most compelling releases on the LSO Live label in the past few years. It now reaches a triumphant conclusion with this magisterial account of the Symphony No. 2 (Lobesgesang) taken from two concerts at the Barbican given on 16th and 20th of October 2016. Continue reading

Opulent Schmidt & Mahler from MDG & Channel

SCHMIDT: SYMPHONY NO. 2, R. STRAUSS: FESTLICHES PRÄLUDIUM, Orchester Bonn, Stefan Blunier/MDG SACD 937 2006-6  Those with a penchant for sumptuous and grandiloquent late-Romantic orchestral works should investigate without delay this latest MDG release from Stefan Blunier and his fine Beethoven Orchester Bonn that couples the 2nd Symphony of Franz Schmidt with Richard Strauss’s imposing Festliches Präludium Op 61. Both these works received their premieres in 1913 and with this recording make their debut on SACD in high resolution sound. Continue reading

Invigorating New World & St John Passion

 

DVORAK: Symphony No.9 in E minor ‘From the New World’, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Orozco-Estrada/ PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 574  This, the third and final release of Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s survey with the Houston Symphony of Dvorak’s four most popular symphonies for the PENTATONE label is completed by the composer’s most popular work, the celebrated Symphony No.9 in E minor ‘From the New World’. With a plethora of recordings of the New World Symphony available on both CD and High Resolution formats (SACD and Blu-ray) collectors face a daunting though pleasurable task in choosing one or more versions for their libraries. Continue reading

New BIS & Chandos

SIBELIUS: Kullervo, Finlandia (choral version); KORTEKANGAS: Migrations, Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo-soprano), Tommi Hakala (baritone), YL Male Voice Choir, Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä (conductor) BIS SACD

Ever since its first commercial recording in 1970 Sibelius’s Kullervo Symphony Op.7 has been blessed by a remarkable number of perceptive interpretations on disc, five of which have been issued on SACD in high resolution multi-channel sound, providing fierce competition to any newcomer. Now, following on from Osmo Vänskä’s superb cycle of the seven numbered Sibelius Symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra, we have his latest thoughts on this monumental five movement work. This new live recording is taken from three concerts (4th, 5th and 6th of February 2016) given at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis and is in every respect a serious challenger to existing versions. Osmo Vänskä first recorded Kullervo in 2001 with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra as part of his first Sibelius cycle for BIS and excellent though it was, I have no hesitation in declaring that this new one is even better on a number of counts. Continue reading

Top-Notch Strauss, Dvorak & Prokofiev

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STRAUSS: ELEKTRA & DER ROSENKAVALIER SUITES, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck/Reference Recordings SACD FR-722  All Straussians will be intrigued by this latest release from Manfred Honeck and his marvellous Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra of orchestral suites from what many would regard as the greatest of the composer’s fifteen operas – Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier, (though I would also include Salome and Die Frau ohne Schatten in any shortlist). Honeck has already demonstrated his mastery of the Strauss idiom in his previous fine accounts of some of the tone poems for both the Reference Recordings and Exton labels so the bar is set very high for any new release in this series. The first item on the disc is the world premiere recording of a suite from Strauss’s fourth opera Elektra. This opera, the composer’s first collaboration with the poet and playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, could fairly be described as a tone poem with voices, since the orchestra is without doubt the main protagonist. Of course, as well as being fully staged in the opera house, Elektra is often given in concert performance and this is possibly one of the reasons why Honeck, in collaboration with the Czech composer Tomáš Ille, has produced this ‘Symphonic Rhapsody’, first heard in Pittsburgh in 2014, as a means to bring the appreciation of Strauss’s searing masterpiece to an even wider audience. Honeck and Ille have carried out what was surely a challenging task with considerable skill and fashioned a coherent and gripping single-movement piece lasting 33’39” that convincingly encapsulates both the dramatic power of Strauss’s music and the crux of the original blood soaked tragedy. In the liner notes accompanying this superbly recorded SACD, Honeck provides a guide (with timings) to the music he has selected for his arrangement. Continue reading

Distinctive Tchaikovsky from Fischer

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TCHAIKOVSKY: SYMPHONY NO.6, ETC., Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer/Channel Classics SACDCCSA37016  It is now more than ten years since Ivan Fischer and his crack Budapest Festival Orchestra recorded a Tchaikovsky symphony for Channel Classics. Back then it was the 4th Symphony, a version that while widely praised did receive minor criticism in some quarters for a couple of idiosyncrasies in Fischer’s conducting. Over the intervening period both Fischer and his orchestra have produced a series of outstanding recordings that clearly illustrate how this conductor has now become, more than ever, a facilitator who brilliantly links the composer and composition with us, the listeners. His interpretive ideas, underpinned by a fierce musical intelligence, have increasingly become a means to that end rather than representing any attempt at self-aggrandisement. Continue reading

Superlative Mendelssohn from Gardiner

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MENDELSSOHN: SYMPHONIES 1 & 4, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor), LSO0769 (2 discs)  The first two issues in Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s ongoing cycle of the Mendelssohn Symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra placed them at a stroke into the top echelon of the most recommendable versions of these justifiably venerated and much recorded works. This coupling of the composer’s 1st and 4th Symphonies confirms without doubt that position. Sir John’s pre-eminence in the field of historically informed style is well known from his many recordings with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique and the English Baroque Soloists. Here he brilliantly imparts his expertise to the responsive players of the LSO with predictably exciting results. As is to be expected the violins are antiphonally divided, the strings use little or no vibrato and the timpani is played with hard sticks. What is not apparent in an audio only release is that in all the concerts of this cycle from which these recordings are taken the violin and viola sections play standing up. Gardiner believes that this gives the players a freedom that translates into a different type of dynamism and energy in the performances. Continue reading

Reference SAINT-SAËNS on SACD

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SAINT-SAËNS: SYMPHONY NO.3, ‘ORGAN’, ETC., Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern/Reference Recordings RR-135 SACD  The relationship between the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra and Reference Recordings has, over the past few years, yielded some outstanding recordings. Not surprisingly in view of the label’s audiophile credentials much, but not all, of the repertoire the orchestra has committed to disc has been of ‘demonstration’ worthy material. Reference Recordings is one of the few companies to use HDCD encoding, a system that is compatible with CD, so many will be delighted that this release which appeared last year in the CD/HDCD format now comes as a spectacular hybrid 5.1 multi-channel SACD. The two hors’d’oeuvres that precede the Symphony are well chosen. Continue reading