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

Reich from LSO Live

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REICH: SEXTET; CLAPPING MUSIC; MUSIC FOR PIECES OF WOOD, LSO Percussion Ensemble, Neil Percy/LSO Live SACD LSO5073  This timely release of three works by one of the pioneers of minimalism Steve Reich appears a few months before the composer celebrates his 80th birthday on 3rd October 2016. The three performances recorded here were given by members of the London Symphony Orchestra Percussion Ensemble led by Neil Percy – a consummate virtuoso – who for almost 20 years has been the LSO’s Principal Percussionist. ‘Clapping Music’ composed in 1972 is exactly what it says on the tin. Reich conceived the piece from a desire to compose music “that would need no instrument beyond the human body”. Beginning with a single rhythmic cell of 12 beats modelled on traditional African bell rhythms it uses Reich’s familiar phasing technique to explore the basic rhythmic pattern with mesmerising effect. Neil Percy and his LSO Co-Principal Sam Walton, deliver a faultless account of what must surely be a most challenging piece for performers. A year later in 1973 Reich composed his ‘Music for Pieces of Wood’ in which five performers play five sets of wood blocks (claves) tuned A, B, C#, D# and the D# an octave above. Though, unlike ‘Clapping Music’, the element of pitch is present, it is the interplay of the complex rhythmic patterns that captivates the listener. Neil Percy and Sam Walton are joined by Simon Crawford-Phillips, David Jackson and Antoine Bedewi to yield a performance of amazing precision and control of dynamics. The final and longest piece on this SACD is the ‘Sextet’ of 1985 for which Philip Moore joins the ensemble. While the first two works represent Reich in what might be considered to be his purest style, the ‘Sextet’ brings a wider range of instrumental sonorities into play in what is a more ambitious and colourful composition. Continue reading

Superlative Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian from Chandos

TCHAIKOVSKY: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2/KHACHATURIAN: PIANO CONCERTO, Xiayin Wang (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian/CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5167  I was hugely impressed by the Chinese American pianist Xiayin Wang on her debut disc for the Chandos label of three piano concertos by American composers. Now having had a year’s break from her concert schedule to start a family she returns with a stunning SACD of two concertos that though composed by familiar names are not heard that often in the concert hall. This disc confirms her as a pianist who combines virtuosity with consummate sensitivity, qualities required in different degrees for the execution of both of these somewhat neglected concertos. The Tchaikovsky 2nd Piano Concerto is performed in its original version, free of the disfiguring cuts that are thankfully rarely made in performances these days, so the the grandeur and scale of this formidable work is fully retained. From the opening orchestral flourish it is clear that the contribution from Peter Oundjian and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is going to be worthy of the dazzling pianism on offer, and so it proves. Whether in the tuttis or accompanying the soloist in quiet passages the cultivated playing, especially from the woodwind section, is a major factor in the success of Wang’s account of this monumental work. In the gorgeous slow movement, one of Tchaikovsky’s most imaginative creations, the delicacy of Wang’s playing is beautifully matched by that of Maya Iwabuchi (violin) and Aleksei Kiseliov (cello). Xiayin Wang revels in the high spirits of the finale with playing that abounds with charm and flair. The recording is rich and detailed in the usual Chandos style, but the piano is more naturally balanced and integrated with the orchestra than on Denis Matsuev’s equally fine, though differently coupled, version of this concerto on the Mariinsky label. The coupling here is the Piano Concerto of Aram Khachaturian, his sole venture in this genre, and this too is a winner. The only competition on SACD is from Nareh Arghamanyan on Pentatone, and enjoyable though that performance was, I would venture that this one is even more exciting simply because Xiayin Wang fully embraces the work’s brashness with more uninhibited playing. Arguably another advantage of this Chandos release is the use of a flexatone in the slow movement as specified in the score. On the Pentatone version a musical saw is used which, while effective, did not provide quite the eerie sound that the composer probably had in mind. Again the sound is first-rate and those seeking a coupling of these works need not hesitate.

Exuberant Ibert from Chandos

IBERT: OUVERTURE DE FETE; ESCALES; BACCHANALE; DIVERTISSEMENT; HOMMAGE A MOZART; FEERIQUE; SARABANDE POUR DULCINÉE; PARIS, SUITE SYMPHONIQUE POUR ORCHESTRE, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Neeme Järvi/Chandos CHSA 5168  This new survey from Chandos of the instantly appealing and inventive orchestral music of Jacques Ibert (1890-1962), delivered here in high resolution multichannel sound, will be welcomed by those who have enjoyed Neeme Järvi’s four previous companion discs for this label of works by Massenet, Chabrier, Offenbach and Saint-Säens. On this vividly recorded SACD, Järvi and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande perform a varied selection of eight of the composer’s works written between 1922 to 1956, some of which are rarely heard in the concert hall. Continue reading

A Spectacular Glagolitic Mass

JANÁČEK: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 3: GLAGOLITIC MASS / ADAGIO FOR ORCHESTRA / ZDRÁVAS MARIA [AVE MARIA] / OTČE NÁŠ [OUR FATHER], Soloists,Choirs, Bergen Philharmonic / Edward Gardner/ CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5165 The first two volumes of Janáček’s orchestral works for Chandos from Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra were spectacularly successful both in terms of performance and sonics. Gardner brilliantly demonstrated his command of Janáček’s unique sound world and his ability to elicit idiomatic performances from his Bergen players. To this end he was aided by the efforts of the Chandos recording team who achieved matchless sound quality in the Grieghallen, Bergen. It is pleasing to report that in all respects Volume 3 matches or possibly even exceeds the exemplary standard of the previous two issues. Though the main work on this latest volume is the much recorded ‘Glagolitic Mass’ the disc also includes three valuable and rarely heard fill-ups that devotees of the composer will definitely wish to acquire, especially when performed as splendidly as here. Continue reading