To tie in with a performance at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday 23 March 201, Quatuor Ebène will record for Virgin two quartets by Felix Mendelssohn:and one by his elder sister Fanny. “Felix’s quartets speak with intimacy, but are not devoid of violent, stormy emotion,” says Raphaël Merlin of the Quatuor Ebène. He praises Fanny for composing “with surprising freedom”, saying “we fell in love with her string quartet’. Like Felix, Fanny was a highly gifted child, but, as a woman, her life took a different path from his. Felix remained close to her and solicited and respected her opinions on his music. She produced a canon of well over 400 pieces – although only one string quartet; by contrast, Felix composed seven works in the genre, one of them a youthful work that carries no opus number. This disc features the A minor quartet he composed in 1827, very much under the influence of Beethoven, and the F minor quartet of 20 years later, a highly emotional piece, expressive of the grief he felt at Fanny’s death, aged 41, in May 1847.  As it turned out, the quartet was to be the last major work he composed: he himself died in November of that year, at the age of just 38.




Glorious Sound for Richard Strauss

RICHARD STRAUSS: EINE ALPENSINFONIE, São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Frank Shipway, BIS SACD  The commitment of the BIS label to record (in gorgeous super audio CD sound) the most colourful and dramatic works in the repertoire continues unabated, and is to be much applauded. Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, however, comes up against a great deal of competition even in the SACD field, where many listeners rate the Luisi performance the most impressive. If Shipway, however persuasive, is not in that category, there is another reason why this is an essential purchase: the substantial fill up: an orchestral suite from Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten; the rich and ripe writing by Strauss has never sounded as stunning and forceful as it does here, with every detail rendered lucid. 

RICHARD STRAUSS: ARABELLA Wiener Staatsoper, Soloists, Franz Welser-Möst, Electric Picture BLU-RAY  In the 21st century, it seems strange to think that Arabella was once regarded as a failed attempt to recreate the success of Strauss and Hoffmannsthal’s most popular opera Der Rosenkavalier, when the very distinct character of both pieces now seems so clear to us, despite the obvious similarities. In terms of visual recordings of classic performances it’s a source of regret that singers such as Lisa della Casa were not filmed, but Straussians can luxuriate in the Kiri Te Kanawa assumption of the role, although the sound quality is a touch thin and the Academy ratio picture less than sharp in close-up on that DVD. These technical considerations are not a problem in this new Blu-ray, where the sound quality does full justice to Strauss’s opulent orchestration. Similarly, the widescreen picture is as rich and detailed as one could wish (perhaps too much so in the later scenes in which bare-chested men in drag with tiny bowler hats sit listlessly behind Arabella as she is unfairly denounced by Mandryka. But don’t let this give you this impression that this is a typically eccentric modern production; this unfortunate detail can be largely ignored. Emily Magee may not have the sweetest of voices as the eponymous heroine, but she has the measure of the emotional content of the role. Similarly, Tomas Konieczny’s is aware that his blunt nobleman Mandryka cannot present too much finesse (either in terms of his characterisation or vocally). Magee is a solid, mature Arabella – but how often do we get to see the virginal teenager that Strauss and Hofmannsthal appear to have had in mind?

KHACHATURIAN: CONCERTO-RHAPSODY IN B FLAT/ LIAPUNOV: VIOLIN CONCERTO  Hideko Udagawa, RPO, SIGNUM  The neglect of this winning and dramatic piece by Armenia’s most distinguished composer is inexplicable, but perhaps the reading here of the Concerto-Rhapsody will redress the balance, such is the persuasiveness of the playing. The coupling, Liapunov’s violin concerto, while a lesser piece, is also realised with great attention to detail.

WITOLD LUTOSŁAWSKI: ORCHESTRAL WORKS III: SYMPHONY NO. 2, ETC. Paul Watkins (cello),BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner CHANDOS SACD  More challenging than its predecessors, this is the fourth volume in Chandos’ series devoted to the music of the Polish master Witold Lutosławski. The reliable Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra are complemented here by the cellist Paul Watkins, a player of great sensitivity. Lutosławski finessed thematic material for his Little Suite (Mała suita) from folk melodies from the village of Machów in south-east Poland, and it is highly attractive; the Second Symphony, though, while rigorous and focussed, is uncompromising fare – and perhaps one for the composer’s serious admirers. 

BEETHOVEN: STRING QUARTET NO.11, KREUTZER SONATA NO.9 (ARR) Camerata Berlin, Antje Weithaas, AVI  This new recording offers two striking recent examples of orchestrations of chamber works: Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Minor op. 95 (not Mahler’s celebrated orchestration, but a new one) and the ‘Kreutzer’ Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major – the latter particularly successful. Both are demonstrations of how listeners’ perceptions of a piece of music may be altered by new accoutrements – controversial alterations, but a good case is made here, particularly in these sensitive transcriptions.

MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 8 Gurzenich Orchestra Cologne, Markus Stenz, OEHMS SACD   While the Gergiev LSO/Live performance remains the yardstick on SACD – not least for its stunning opening chords, organ well to the fore, and fiercely realised though-line, this critically celebrated series of Mahler recordings with the Gurzenich-Orchester Cologne conducted by Markus Stenz has proved full of riches (if, at times, it has been inconsistent). This new 8th adds to their lustre with a lean, tensile reading, in stunning surround sound with great impact.

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV/PROKOFIEV: SHEHERAZADE/SCYTHIAN SUITE – BALLETS RUSSES VOL.8 SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden & Frieburg, Alejo Perez, Kirill Karabits, HAENSSLER CLASSICS  Haenssler’s Les Ballets Russes series is proving a treasure trove, as with this volume presenting Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade and Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite in colourful, idiomatic performances. If Claudio Abbado’s DG performance of the Prokofiev possess more barbaric force, this is new version is still highly impressive. 

BRAUNFELS: CONCERTO FOR ORGAN, BOYS CHOIR AND ORCHESTRA, ETC. Apkalna, Tolzer Boys Choir, Munich Symphony Orchestra, Hansjurg Albrecht, OEHMS  While not immediately revealing their secrets, these world premiere recordings put a neglected composer in a new light. Presented here are three key works by Walter Braunfels (1882-1954); the Konzert for Organ, Boys Choir and Orchestra, the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue and the Symphonic Variations, all dispatched with enthusiasm, if the organ (so crucial here) is a little recessed in the sound picture.


DVORAK SYMPHONY NO. 8 Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Claus Peter Flor, BIS SACD  There is no shortage of recommendable versions of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 even on SACD. For this listener the field has been led by Ivan Fischer and his wonderful Budapest Festival Orchestra on a recording made in 2000, originally issued by Philips and now available on Channel Classics. The bracing vigour of the playing and fine recording by Polyhymnia engineers should put this SACD at the top of anyone’s short list for this work. Continue reading

Bruckner and Handel for Hyperion

Hyperion’s December releases include a Bruckner 7 with Donald Runnicles, chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who makes his debut with the label. Acknowledged worldwide as a master of the Romantic orchestral repertoire, here he presents Bruckner’s most popular symphony in a monumental performance. Another highlight is a CD of Handel’s Finest Arias for Bass Voice, a collection which demonstrates the variety and brilliance of Handel’s writing for the bass voice Continue reading


Released to commemorate National Holocaust Day in January 2013, Naxos will release the first major choral setting of The Diary of Anne Frank. Written by the British composer, James Whitbourn, the libretto takes the teenager’s remarkable and penetrating observations, written whilst hiding in an Amsterdam attic, as the basis of this extraordinary and moving work. Continue reading

Decca announce The Hobbit Soundtrack for December

WaterTower Music and Decca Records have announced the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on December 10th.  The soundtrack will be available both digitally and as a 2 CD set.  A Special Edition of the soundtrack featuring six exclusive bonus tracks, seven extended score cues, and deluxe liner notes will also be available December 10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey features original score by Academy Award® winner Howard Shore recorded at famed Abbey Road studios by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Continue reading