Superlative Rachmaninov from PentaTone


Rachmaninov Etudes-Tableaux, etc. Nareh Arghamanyan PentaTone SACD

These days there is almost an embarrassment of riches where phenomenally gifted young artists are concerned. They burst upon the music scene blessed with astonishing technical prowess and with a fistful of awards from international competitions, so any newcomer has to be the possessor of extra special qualities to make any impression amongst a bewildering array of talent. On the evidence of the new PentaTone SACD the 23 year-old pianist Nareh Arghamanyan has these qualities in abundance. She was born on January 21, 1989, in Armenia, to a professional family – her father is a lawyer and her mother a textile engineer. At the tender age of eight, her parents enrolled her at the Tchaikovsky Music School for Gifted Children in Yerevan, where she studied with Alexander Gurgenov. Her career blossomed in 2008 when she won the Montreal International Music Competition and currently she continues her studies with Arie Vardi in Hannover. She has made a CD for the Analekta label, but this is her first for PentaTone with whom she has signed an exclusive contract.  On this disc Nareh Arghamanyan has chosen compositions that span three periods of Rachmaninov’s creative life from the early ‘Morceaux de Fantasie’ Op.3 (1892), the first set of Etudes-Tableaux Op.33 (1911) and finally the ‘Variations on a Theme of Corelli’ Op.42 (1931). This is a taxing programme, but one that allows her to display her fine musicianship to the full. Of the early pieces, the famous ‘Prelude in C-sharp minor’ is performed with a wide gradation of dynamics and controlled power that fully communicates the melodrama inherent this piece whilst the wistful gentleness of the ‘Mélodie’ Op 3 No.3 contrasts with the coruscating account of the capricious ‘Polichinelle’. She seems completely unfazed by the virtuoso challenges of the ‘Etudes-Tableaux’ that follow and which she delivers with great sensitivity and a maturity that her age belies. A quite riveting and wonderfully nuanced performance of Rachmaninov’s masterly Corelli Variations completes this marvellous disc.
The packaging also includes a DVD on which we see Nareh Arghamanyan playing the C sharp minor Prelude and the first seven of the Corelli variations. The rest of the DVD consists of an interview in which the pianist speaks fluently and unaffectedly about her early life, training and thoughts about the music that she performs on this recital to the interviewer Hans Visser who asks such searching questions as “I’m sure you have an i-pod?”Jean-Marie Geijsen’s resplendent recording captures the richness and depth of Arghamanyan’s Steinway piano in the excellent acoustic of the Concertboerderij Valthermond, while for those listening in 5.0 surround sound a further realistic bloom is imparted to the sonics by the hall’s ambience. Thoughtful liner notes by the pianist herself are also most welcome.
This is one of the most enjoyable Rachmaninov recitals that I have heard for many a year, and one hopes that it a precursor to future recordings from this exciting and exceptionally talented young pianist.
No less than a top recommendation is deserved.



An Underwhelming Gentleman

Strauss: ‘Le Bougeois Gentilhomme’ /Songs, Musikkollegium, Winterthur, Douglas Boyd MDG SACD

The ill-fated project  by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss to pair Molière’s play ‘Le Bougeois Gentilhomme’ with an opera seria based on the Greek legend of  Ariadne abandoned on the island of Naxos was an unmitigated disaster at its première in in 1912, but it did eventually yield the final form of the  delightful opera ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’ that we know today; and in addition  the delectable incidental music that Strauss composed for use throughout  Molière’s play. Originally this incidental music comprised a total of     sixteen numbers, including some vocal ones. However, in 1918 Strauss     assembled a 35-minute purely instrumental suite from the full score, and it     is this that is the first item on this new recording from MDG.The performance by Musikkollegium, Winterthur conducted by Douglas Boyd is   efficient rather than characterful and lacks some of the charm and individuality essential for a full realization of Strauss’s witty music with its engaging   chamber music textures. The ‘Entrance and Dance of the Tailors’ (tr.4) is  unusually pedestrian and the two Lully derived movements (trs. 5 and 6) are  also rather ponderous. The limitations of Boyd’s performance becomes most apparent when one turns to Rudolf Kempe’s 1971 CD version with the Dresden  Staatskapelle. Here the Suite really comes to life, while the recording wears its years lightly. On SACD Paavo Järvi (Pentatone) and Fritz Reiner   (Living Stereo)currently provide the only alternatives to Boyd, though it  should be noted that Reiner omits the two Lully movements altogether.

The rest of the disc is taken up by Strauss orchestral songs sung by the     Swedish-born soprano Lisa Larsson. A glance at her biography shows that her     career to date has been mainly, but not exclusively, confined to the     Baroque repertoire where she has had great success singing roles in the     operas of Handel and Mozart. Her voice is certainly attractive – bright,     steady and clear – and one can envisage her being a wonderful Zebinetta in     ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’. It is unfortunate that at this stage in her career she     has decided to tackle the ‘Vier Letzte Lieder’. These four songs represent     one of the pinnacles of the soprano repertoire and inevitably comparisons     will be drawn with the many great interpretations of the past that include     those by Lisa della Casa, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Gundula Janowitz, Jessye     Norman and Lucia Popp. The ecstatic vocal quality and refulgent tone     provided by many of the finest interpreters of these wonderful songs is     lacking in Lisa Larsson’s performance. The accompaniment by Douglas Boyd     and the Musikkollegium, Winterthur is workmanlike and generally brisk, but     one misses the sumptuous orchestral richness found in the majority of     alternative versions on disc. Sadly Larsson’s voice is also not especially     suited to the three of Strauss’s most well-known songs that she has     included in her programme. She is at her best in ‘Wiegenlied’ which she     sings with an appealing tenderness over the orchestra’s sympathetic     accompaniment, but she sounds slightly uncomfortable and over-parted in     ‘Zueignung’ which lacks the radiance found on many of the countless     recordings of this song. This latter song, incidentally, is not performed     in the orchestration by Strauss but that by Robert Heger, though there is     no mention of this fact in the liner notes. The third song, ‘Morgen’ has     inexplicably been placed after the ‘Vier letzte Lieder’ as if it were     something of an after-thought. It is doubtful if many listener’s to this  SACD would wish to hear this song immediately after the sublime postlude of  ‘Im Abendrot’ .

MDG’s recording is clean sounding and quite well-balanced in the rather     anonymous acoustic of the Stadhaus, Winterthur. There are, however, some     audible thumps to be heard at times – possibly from the podium. The     surround channels provide surprisingly little ambience.

All in all a rather disappointing release.



Renaud Capuçon Records Brahms and Berg for Virgin

“I’ve long dreamed of playing with the Wiener Philharmoniker,” said violinist Renaud Capuçon in 2011, and his dream has come true with a September issue from Virgin of  his recording of two concerto masterpieces of the Austro-German repertoire: the Brahms and the Berg, composed almost 50 years apart. The conductor is Daniel Harding, who has built a close relationship the legendary Viennese orchestra. Renaud Capuçon, the leading French violinist of his generation, joins the British conductor Daniel Harding and the Wiener Philharmoniker for two landmark concertos of the Austro-German repertoire. The expansive Brahms concerto, first performed in 1878 by Joseph Joachim, is a peak of the composer’s glowingly warm Romanticism, while the Berg concerto – written in 1935, the last year of Berg’s life, and dedicated to the memory of Manon Gropius, who had died aged just 19 – poignantly blends the atonality of the Second Viennese School with subtle lyricism and, in its second movement, a haunting Bach chorale.


STRAUSS: ELEKTRA Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet/LSO/Gergiev/LSO LIVE SACD  This is the second recording of Richard Strauss’s Elektra to appear in the SACD format. The first was released in 2006 on the Profil label Strauss: Elektra – Bychkov and was notable for the especially strong casting of the main roles, the thrilling conducting of Semyon Bychkov (always impressive in Strauss) and the imaginative use of multi-channel recording. This LSO Live version stems from performances and, judging by the photographs in the liner notes, rehearsals given in the Barbican in January 2010. Continue reading


Naxos Music Library has announced the addition of the Warner Classics, Teldec and Erato labels to its streaming audio collection. These immense catalogues include recordings which have become the standard for their repertoire and many great performances, such as the Barenboim Mozart Operas and Bayreuth Wagner Ring Cycle, the Harnoncourt Beethoven Symphonies and the José Serebrier Glazunov Symphonies and Concertos, as well as the Harnoncourt Complete Bach Sacred Cantatas. On July 3rd, more than 1,000 albums from these catalogues will be available on the Naxos Music Library.


In September, there will bea fascinating new departure for the French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, ashe invites a diverse group of musical friends to join him in celebrating Le Boeuf sur le toit, the legendary Paris cabaret that became a hotspot of Parisian and international culture in the heady 1920s. A confluence of jazzy musical currents brings together French composers like Ravel, Milhaud, Wiener and Doucet and American songwriters like Gershwin, Kern and Porter. Continue reading

CD of the Week and other Delights


FRANK BRIDGE: ORCHESTRAL WORKS VOLUMES 1-6 Richard Hickox, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, CHANDOS (6 CDS) If, like me, your shelves are groaning under the weight of an army of CDs and SACDs, the survival tactic is not to filter your entire collection into a single electronic box (how could such a concept ever appeal to a real collector?), but perhaps to downsize certain items when a convenient boxed set collects some cherishable music in individual sleeves. And here is the best possible case for such an initiative. This ‘Bridge Box’ contains sensitive and nuanced performances by the much-missed Richard Hickox, making the best possible case for the neglected music of Frank Bridge, and hearing them altogether courtesy of this Chandos reissue is a reminder of how the under-regarded Bridge was one of the great glories of English music. The set, crammed with such delectable items as the orchestral suite The Sea, is also instructive when listened to while remembering that Bridge was Benjamin Britten’s teacher. It does, however, prompt the thought that the prickly Britten greatly admired this music, though he was less enamoured of the more talented English composer Vaughan Williams (although the latter, with far greater generosity, always supported the younger composer). Such thoughts aside, however, this is both an attractive and affordable set, easily the equal of the company’s earlier collection of the orchestral works of Glière. Here are nature-inspired tone poems, such as The Sea and Enter Spring and the war-inspired pieces such as Oration and the Overture Rebus. An unmissable set. 

SHOSTAKOVICH SYMPHONY NO.4/PROLOGUE TO ORANGO Esa-Pekka Salonen, Los Angeles Philharmonic, DG This is a sinewy performance of one of Shostakovich’s masterworks (famously withdrawn shortly after it was written to avoid the unmusical disapproval of Stalin and his apparatchiks. But perhaps the real selling point of the disc (given that there are a multiplicity of persuasive alternatives for the Fourth Symphony) is the premiere recording of the short suite to Orango, which (while no masterwork) is an extremely tempting item for admirers of the composer. Commissioned to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the October Revolution in 1932, Orango has a tendentious scenario involving a human-ape hybrid, who rises via hack journalism and stock-exchange scams to become a ruthless newspaper baron. Clearly relevant today, this is a piece that Shostakovich left unfinished. The score languished until 2004, when a 13 page piano score was found in Moscow, which (at the request of the composer’s widow), Gerald McBurney orchestrated. It’s eccentric and inventive, and an interesting footnote to the composer’s career.

CHARLES KOECHLIN: MAGICIEN ORCHESTRATEUR Sarah Wegener soprano, Florian Hoelscher piano, Holliger, Radio-Symphonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, Hänssler Classics When critics groan ‘Not another Beethoven cycle!’, recording producers might be forgiven for asking – but what else? Everything has been recorded – and Beethoven always sells. But here’s proof that a little serendipity can produce beguiling results. There is no hyperbole in calling Koechlin a master orchestrator, as several recordings over the years have given testament to that inarguable fact. But this particular, era-spanning collection (Schubert to Debussy) – one making, it has to be said, for rather an odd program – is a reminder of the composer’s astonishing expertise with the orchestra (leaving aside his own compositional skill). The highlight here is possibly his version of Debussy’s Khamma, but Koechlin’s adroit touch is evident in every piece. If there is a caveat, it is the one mentioned earlier – the radically different style of the pieces makes for a fractured programme. But that is unlikely to worry many listeners, given the pleasures on offer here.

BRUCKNER: SYMPHONY NO. 9 Simon Rattle, Berliner Philharmoniker, EMI The encomiums continue to flow in for this rich and imposing performance of Bruckner’s final symphonic masterpiece, with Rattle and his musicians making an admirable case for the performance of the piece in its completed, four-movement form. If one has a solitary reservation, it’s that British listeners are not being granted the SACD version of the disc which is available in other territories; we in the UK are given the stereo format (which still sounds splendid, however).

TANSMAN: WORKS FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA Christian Seibert, piano, Howard Griffiths, Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt, CPO As more and more rarities are dusted off for recording purposes, listeners might be forgiven for thinking that surely we will soon be in barrel-scraping territory – if we aren’t there already. But here is categorical proof that this is not the case. Recent recordings of Tansman’s symphonies have demonstrated how this neglected figure deserves the spotlight to be thrown on him again, and this winning selection of piano-based pieces confirms that impression, offering an hour or so of sheer delight in performances of charm and skill. These works for piano and orchestra by Alexandre Tansman are performed by Christian Seibert on piano and the Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt under Howard Griffiths. Pièce concertante is presented in its premiere recording. Tansman composed his Concert Piece for the left hand whilst in American exile in 1943 but left it merely in the form of a piano score. For sixty-five years it remained unpublished until the Polish composer Piotr Moss produced an orchestration in 2008. Also included on the disc are Piano Concertino, Élégie and Stèle, the latter two works dedicated to Darius Milhaud and Igor Stravinsky respectively.

HAILSTORK: AN AMERICAN PORT OF CALL,  SYMPHONY NO 1, ETC. Kevin Deas, baritone, JoAnn Falletta, Virginia Symphony Chorus, Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Naxos Let’s be frank – this isn’t great music, and no claims can be made for important rediscoveries. But if you are in an indulgent mood, this is highly professional and tuneful American music in which the deepest imperative is simply to entertain. And what’s wrong with that? Once again, Naxos shows its commendable willingness to explore unorthodox repertoire. And not everything spruced up for their recording schedule needs to be an imperishable masterpiece, does it? Award-winning (and bizarrely named) composer Adolphus Hailstork is a communicator; his Symphony No. 1 was commissioned for festival performance, and is a very endearing piece.




Splendid Vivaldi from Rachel Podger

Vivaldi: La Cetra – Rachel Podger, Holland Baroque SocietyWhen back in 2003 Rachel Podger’s recording of Vivaldi’s 12 violin concertos Op.4 ‘La Stravaganza’ Vivaldi: La Stravaganza – Podger/Arte Dei Suonatori was released it was universally acclaimed and quickly went on to garner numerous awards from many sections of the music press including Gramophone, Stereophile and The Absolute Sound as well as winning a Diapason d’Or. It is also interesting to note that even on more than one hundred people have recommended that recording. In the intervening years Rachel Podger has widened her recorded repertoire to make further highly regarded recordings of works by Bach, Haydn and Mozart, but she has now made a triumphant return to Vivaldi with this wonderful set of the composer’s 12 Violin Concertos Op.9 known as ‘La Cetra’ (“The Lyre”). Continue reading

Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado now recording for harmonia mundi

The acclaimed young Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado is now recording for harmonia mundi. Heras-Casado makes his label debut with two recordings currently in production to be released in 2013: Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, “Lobgesang” (with sopranos Christiane Karg and Christina Landshamer) and Schubert’s Symphonies No. 3 & 4. Continue reading