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.