Respighi Roman Trilogy in Magnificent Sound; Bartok Violin Concertos

RESPIGHI – ROMAN TRILOGY: FONTANE DI ROMA/PINI DI ROMA/FESTE ROMANE

São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/ John Neschling/BIS

Respighi’s Roman Trilogy (the tone poems Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals) is one of the most breathtaking sequences of orchestral showpieces in the repertoire, and its rich opulence is finally emerging from the cloud of sniffy disapproval it suffered under. This amazing recording – quite the most breathtaking the trilogy has ever enjoyed — will hasten that process. Thrillingly, the recording engineers have utilised multiple channels to the full on the Super Audio recording (brass blazes from the rear channels, rather than those channels just being used for ambience) – with the volume turned up, your pulse is likely to be racing. Neschling’s highly recommendable set may, however, require the registering of a few caveats: an amazing sound stage, as noted, but a recessed organ and some undercharged elements such as the Neapolitan tune, played in rather straight-laced fashion. But these are small points; many moments (such as the cataclysmic finales) absolutely take the breath away. A truly exhilarating disc.

 

BARTOK: THE TWO VIOLIN CONCERTOS

Arabella Steinbacher, violin/Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Marek Janowski/Pentatone

This is the recording of these two matchless modern classics that we have been waiting for; any suspense that Arabella Steinbacher will not have the measure of the Hungarian idiom or the sheer fire-power required for these virtuoso pieces is banished almost immediately – and the typically wide-ranging Pentatone SACD recording captures both the subtlety and the excitement.

 

RAVEL: DAPHNIS ET CHLOE/PAVANE/BOLERO

London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev/LSO Live

Sound of quite resplendent quality finesses these warm performances of Ravel masterworks, with Bolero enjoying its most riveting and hypnotic performance in the SACD medium. Thankfully (as always with these live LSO/Gergiev performances), applause is excised.

 

STANLEY BATE & RICHARD ARNELL: SYMPHONIES

Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates/Dutton Epoch

The third volume of Dutton Epoch’s splendid Stanley Bate series is another winner. The music of Bate (who died in his forties in 1959) fully justifies the company’s confidence in him. They have already issued – to much acclaim — the rhapsodic Viola Concerto and the Vaughan Williams-like wartime Third Symphony, and here add to that tally the dramatic Fourth Symphony, dating from the mid-1950s, and as worthy of rediscovery as any of the earlier issues. Martin Yates and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra supplement the symphony with Martin Yates’ own completion of Richard Arnell’s Seventh Symphony, another deeply involving piece.

 

RESPIGHI: LA BOUTIQUE FANTASQUE (COMPLETE); GLI UCCELLI

Orchestra Sinfonica del Teatro Massimo di Palermo/Marzio Conti/CPO

More mesmerising Respighi; this hybrid SACD consists of Respighi’s suite for small orchestra, Gli Uccelli (The Birds), lively orchestrations of various harpsichord and lute miniatures, and — the key piece on the disc — the composer’s sumptuous ballet La Boutique Fantasque, after Rossini. It’s a delectable coupling, though the Rossini orchestrations are more fully achieved.

 

ELGAR VIOLIN CONCERTO

Tasmin Little/Andrew Davis/Chandos

Already enjoying critical acclaim, Tasmin Little’s heartfelt reading of Elgar’s Violin Concerto is one of the finest of this magnificent piece (always lucky on record). Tasmin Little has a close relationship with this concerto, having celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edward Elgar with performances of it on a tour to Southeast Asia and Australia in 2007. A key selling point here is Little’s inclusion of the cadenza used in the work’s first recording, set down in 1916 with Marie Hall. For that recording, Elgar, incorporated harps to counter the sonic limitations of the acoustic recording process. Fillups are equally attractive; SACD sound is non-pareil

 

WAGNER: DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN/BLU-RAY

Zubin Mehta/Staged by La Fura dels Baus/ C Major

A controversial production, perhaps, but in splendid widescreen 16:9, HD format, with impressive DTS 7.1 sound, this is a Ring to reckon with; if the Barenboim set remains the definitive DVD incarnation, this rival is still well worth experiencing. Mehta has the full measure of the music’s timeless drama.

 

MOZART: VIOLIN CONCERTOS/SINFONIA CONCERTANTE

Richard Tognetti (violin/leader), Christopher Moore (viola)/Australian Chamber Orchestra/BIS

The Australian Chamber Orchestra and their leader (and soloist) Richard Tognetti produce exhilarating results in this first of two discs on BISof Mozart’s violin concertos. The fact that the strings have an unusual timbre (both soloist and orchestra utilise gut strings) produces unusual results, while the wind players use replicas of instruments from Mozart’s time.

 

LUTOSŁAWSKI: CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA/SYMPHONY NO. 3/CHAIN 3

BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner/Chandos

The music director of English National Opera, Edward Gardner, inaugurates for Chandos a projected series devoted to Polish music, in bracing SACD sound. This disc focuses on music by one of Poland’s most important twentieth century, composers, Witold Lutosławski, including his Bartokian masterpiece the Concerto for Orchestra, which enjoys a nigh-definitive reading. The other pieces are distinctly knottier, but worth persevering with, particularly in these perceptive readings.

 

SCHUBERT: WINTERREISE

Peter Harvey/Gary Cooper/Linn

For many years the various Fischer-Dieskau recordings have been the baritone yardsticks for Schubert’s great song cycle; Peter Harvey’s sensitively sung, deeply felt performance is a viable modern alternative, with exceptional support from Gary Cooper.

 

CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: SHAKESPEARE OVERTURES #2

West Australian Symphony Orchestra/ Andrew Penny/Naxos

Shakespeare was a great source of inspiration for Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Along with operas and a variety of settings of songs and sonnets, the composer wrote 11 Shakespeare Overtures which are enjoying (courtesy of Naxos) their first ever complete recording. Utilising all the resources of the symphony orchestra, these are delightful pieces; as cherishable as the earlier set from the same company.

 

BRAHMS: EIN DEUTSCHES REQUIEM

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester & chor Berlin/Marek Janowski/Pentatone

The result here of an unusual piece of rethinking is another Pentatone triumph.The choir on this recording, the Rundfunkchor Berlin, recently recorded the piece for another lable but was not satisfied with the result. These second thoughts are perceptive and intelligent, rendered in the rich acoustic of surround sound that Pentatone is noted for, with Janowski impeccably delineating the architecture of the piece, even if both soloists are not on their best form. Nevertheless, a remarkable reading.

 

RICHARD STRAUSS: ELECTRA BLU-RAY

Linda Watson, Hugo Von Hofmannsthal/Munich Philharmonic Orchestra/Christian Thielemann/Opus Arte

One of the great Richard Strauss operas enjoys a powerful reading, even though soprano Linda Watson is distinctly matronly in appearance, so a certain suspension of disbelief is required (the voice is not always ideally steady, but her performance has the correct mix of the steely and the demented). Conducted by Christian Thielemann, this performance was a great success at the 2010 Baden-Baden Festival. Strauss’ one-act masterwork (after Euripides) is a high watermark in both opera and Strauss’s oeuvre.

 

CASELLA: NOTTE DI MAGGIO/CELLO CONCERTO/SCARLATTIANA

Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma/Francesco La Vecchia/Naxos

This sterling disc continues one of two welcome surveys of Casella’s orchestral music  (the other is on Chandos), and should continue to establish the reputation of a neglected composer – one whose prodigal invention seems as fresh in the 21st century as when it was written.

 

HAYDN: THREE THEATRICAL SYMPHONIES: NOS. 50, 12 & 60

Haydn Sinfonietta Wien/anfred Huss/BIS 

Splendid surround sound (with impressive tympni) distinguishes this intriguing set of Haydn symphonies; rarely have the pieces sounded so kinetic and involving.

 

TCHAIKOVSKY: SYMPHONY NO. 5 /FRANCESCA DA RIMINI: SYMPHONIC FANTASY AFTER DANTE

Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Mariss Jansons/BR Klassik

Much recorded, but distinguished here by a highly idiomatic performance, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony benefits from the Jansons touch. The symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini (also entering a highly competitive field) makes a striking companion on a collectable SACD.

 

BACH: VIOLIN CONCERTOS

Rachel Podger/Brecon Baroque/Channel Classics

Rachel Podger‘s highly accomplished team brings a crisp chamber music feel to these four concertos. The finely-etched performances favour lively tempos – with particularly genial results in BWV1041 and of BWV1042. The slow movements of these two concertos are poetically realised.

 

DEBUSSY/RAVEL/MASSENET: WORKS FOR PIANO & ORCHESTRA

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano/BBC Symphony Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier/Chandos

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet finds all the charm and piquancy to be discovered in this repertoire, even if the earlier Louis Lortie Chandos recording of the Ravel concertos (not SACD) sounds more nuanced in the G Major and conjures more drama in the left-hand concerto. Nevertheless, this is a winner (particularly with the Super Audio recording doing full justice to Ravel’s exquisite orchestration). The composer’s witty Piano Concerto in G major, with its clear evidence of influence from the jazz Ravel had heard in the USA coruscates here, and his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during the First World War) enjoys a brisker and less dramatic reading than usual, but is still brilliantly played and recorded. Also included is Debussy’s Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra – realised here with translucent beauty.

 

RUTLAND BOUGHTON & EDGAR BAINTON: ORCHESTRAL TONE POEMS

Royal Scottish National Orchestra/ Martin Yates/Dutton Epoch

To commemorate the Boughton anniversary, the RSNO and Martin Yates here provide three of Boughton’s full-blooded, richly orchestrated Edwardian orchestral pieces. Love and Spring, Op.23, Troilus & Cressida (Thou & I), Op.17 and A Summer Night, Op.5 – totally neglected today, but clearly worth reviving in the 21st century with the growing appetite for such forgotten gems. Icing on the cake consists of with three like-minded Edwardian-era tone poems: Paracelsus, Op.8, Pompilia, Op.11 and Prometheus, Op.19 – by Boughton’s associate Edgar Bainton. This is gorgeous stuff, well worth dusting off.

 

AURIC: LES BALLETS RUSSES VOL. 7 – GEORGES AURIC LES FACHEUX, LA PASTORALE

Deutsche Radio Philharmonie/Christoph Poppen/Hanssler

A hearty welcome for the latest CD in this very enterprising series, this time featuring unfamiliar fare with two of the three ballets which were forged for the Ballet Russes with a libretto by Boris Kochno and music by the talented George Auric. Les Fachcheux (originally premiered in 1924) and Las Pastorale (which appeared in 1926) are both tuneful and attractive in Auric’s most winning manner. La Pastorale, though now eclipsed, is a key artefact in the history of ballet, being one of the first independent works in Balanchine’s repertoire.

 

BÉLA BARTÓK SONATA FOR TWO PIANOS AND PERCUSSION, ETC.

Wolfgang Rihm, Schrift-Um-Schrift/Neos

The most intriguing aspect of this SACD is the dramatic use of all the multiple channels for Bartók’s percussive masterpiece – a thoroughly successful notion. Bartók wrote this sonata in 1937, after creating the similar Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. This is as dynamic as a performance as it has ever received. Rihm’s nebulous piece for similar forces from 2007 is very much an acquired taste, but the exemplary Bartók performance tips the balance for the disc.

 

BRAHMS: SYMPHONY NO.1 IN C MINOR, OP.68

Hamburg Philharmonic/Simone Young/Oehms

Under the talented Simone Young, the much-revered Hamburg Philharmonic delivers a stately but monumental reading of Brahms’s First Symphony. The orchestra (celebrated in recent years for its recordings of the original versions of Bruckner symphonies) has the full measure of one of the masterworks of the orchestral repertoire. Here, under Young, the orchestra plays with great finesse, though Marin Alsop’s Naxos reading (also SACD, though difficult to obtain) has more electricity.

 

KORNGOLD: SYMPHONY IN F SHARP OP.40, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING – INCIDENTAL MUSIC OP.11

Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg/Marc Albrecht/Pentatone

Now that Korngold‘s reputation has recovered from the once-customary dismissal, what better time for this lustrously characterised reading of his remarkable symphony? The composer began working on his Symphony in F Sharp in Vienna in 1951 and finished it the following year. As a summation of his ‘two worlds’, opera and film, it is passionate and trenchant. Albrecht shows immense sympathy for the piece, though the recording of the fill-up, the Much Ado About Nothing suite, loses some detail in the resonant acoustic.

 

PROKOFIEV: ROMEO AND JULIET/BLU-RAY

Legris/Loudieres/Orchestre de l’Opera National de Paris/Vello Pahn/Warner Classics

It seems a long time ago when lovers of dance could really only indulge their passion in the theatre, as VHS videos offered such muddy and uninspiring snapshots of most productions. Even the early days of DVD provided scant illumination, with dim-looking (and equally dim-sounding) transfers of previously available material. But with this incredibly detailed new Blu-Ray of the Paris Opera Ballet production of the Rudolph Nureyev version of Prokofiev’s masterpiece, we are reminded that the medium of home entertainment can finally do justice to this most exhilarating of material. The dancing (by Manuel Legris and Monique Loudieres) is as virtuosic as one would expect, as is the playing of the orchestra under Vello Pahn; this glorious music has rarely sounded so impressive. What’s more, there is a companion Blu-Ray which enshrines another classic Nureyev production, La Bayadere. Needless to say, Minkus’ music does not have match that of the Prokofiev Ballet, but the dancing and the production itself most assuredly do. A highly collectible duo of Blu-Ray sets.

 

WEINER: TOLDI & CSONGOR AND TUNDE

North Hungarian Symphony Orchestra/Laszlo Kovacs/Hungaroton

Some years ago, it was ruefully accepted that the work of many a talented composer would languish unheard. How much preferable is our era, when such composers as the shamefully neglected Leo Weiner (who died in 1960) enjoy ambitious recording projects such as Hungaroton are bestowing on the Hungarian master. These two discs are typical of the series: colourful, fiery and full of brio.

 

MY GREATEST ROLES: FRENCH OPERA/PLACIDO DOMINGO

Warner Classics

Another in a very welcome series of bumper collations of some classic Domingo productions, this valuable set collects the singer in impressive (if staid) productions of Carmen, Samson et Dalilah and The Tales of Hoffmann. Much improved over previous incarnations, this is a timely reminder of one of the greatest tenors in opera, and a performer whose acting (unlike that of his equally golden-voiced rival Luciano Pavarotti) matched the power of the singing. Some of the casting has its ups and downs, but, frankly, all three are Domingo’s shows and admirers will not hesitate.

 

CHARLIE SIEM

Siem, violin/Warner Classics

The selection of items here may be eclectic, but there is no denying the sheer musicianship of Siem’s playing; and it is not just a question of technique; he finds the insouciant charm in many of these slighter pieces with the sense of nuance of his great violin predecessors. Not, however, to be played at one sitting.

 

JOHN FOULDS: ORCHESTRAL MUSIC VOL.2

BBC Concert Orchestra/Ronald Corp/Dutton Epoch

The first volume in Dutton Epoch’s John Foulds series was greeted warmly last summer, and Volume Two showcases more of Foulds’ light music suites and encores, along with the lively Indian Suite. Less substantial than the first Foulds rediscoveries from other labels, but enchanting fare nonetheless.

 

BARTOK/ROZSA: WORKS FOR VIOLA & ORCHESTRA

Lawrence Power, Viola/Bergen Philharmonic/Andrew Litton/Hyperion

The British viola player Lawrence Power deilver an idiomatic Hungarian program. Of the three works for viola and orchestra represented here, the most celebrated is Bartok’s Viola Concerto, finished after the composer’s death by Tibor Serly. Serly’s own Rhapsody for Viola and Orchestra is notably Bartokian, but is a powerful piece, as is the Viola Concerto by the composer Miklós Rósza, whose concert work is easily as distinguished as his plentiful commissions in the cinema.

 

THE LONDON HARP SOUND

16 Harp Players/Geoffrey Simon/Cala

Always the master of quirky and unusual repertoire, Geoffrey Simon draws playing of great élan from his unorthodox ensemble, with fresh, harp-oriented takes on composers from Debussy to Legrand. (Debussy, of course, is a speciality of the conductor; collectors still await a long-delayed SACD of Simon’s delectable programme of Debussy orchestrated by other hands to match his splendid surround-sound collections of Respighi and Ravel.)

 

GORDON JENKINS & RICHARD JONES: STOLEN HOURS & STRINGTIME

Gordon Jenkins, master orchestrator for Frank Sinatra, was a distinguished purveyor of light orchestral music in his own right, as is demonstrated to good advantage in this generous collation.