Gergiev’s Formidable Die Walküre

WAGNER: DIE WALKÜRE Anja Kampe, Nina Stemme, Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Mikhail Petrenko, Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/Mariinsky SACD MARO527 If all goes according to plan the Wagner bicentenary this year will yield two new complete cycles of ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ on SACD. As part of their on-going cycle of ten Wagner operas, PentaTone have already recorded the first two Ring operas ‘Das Rheingold’ and ‘Die Walküre’, but they are yet to be released. Now the Mariinsky label begins its projected Ring cycle with a very impressive recording of ‘Die Walküre’ from Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky forces. Continue reading

More Handel from Virgin Classics

Virgin Classics’  latest recording in its series of Handel Operas is Giove in Argo conducted by Alan Curtis. This recording follows the successful Ariodante released in 2011. Surprisingly the delightful Giove in Argo (Jupiter in Argos) is fairly unknown compared to Ariodante, written four years earlier, which is acknowledged as an operatic masterpiece. This is the first recording of the edition published in 2012 by the authoritative Hallische Händel-Ausgabe. No copy of the composer’s complete score exists today, but the libretto printed for the London’s King’s Theatre (the original libretto was written for Dresden by the Venetian poet Antonio Maria Lucchini) suggested that two arias were missing. They were rediscovered in 2001, turning out to be the work of Handel’s younger contemporary, the Neapolitan-born Francesco Araia. Stunningly brilliant, they are by no means inferior to the succession of spectacular arias that Handel himself wrote for the score.

Prof Johnson Delivers Elgar and Vaughan Williams

ELGAR: ENIGMA VARIATIONS; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: THE WASPS  Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern, Reference Recordings RR-129   Any new recording on the ‘Reference Recordings’ label is something of a special event for Hi-Fi buffs, and this latest is no exception. Keith (Prof.) Johnson has, for many years, produced spectacular recordings, often of colourful orchestral show-pieces, but the most recent ones have also been notable for their fine musical values as well as their dazzling 24-bit HDCD sonics. Michael Stern and the Kansas Symphony have already given us a splendid account of works by Benjamin Britten (RR 120) and continue the British theme with this disc of music by two of the most popular and pre-eminent English composers – Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar.Vaughan Williams is represented by his ‘Aristophanic Suite -The Wasps’. More often it is just the Overture that is heard both on record and in the concert hall, but Stern and the Kansas Symphony give us the complete five-movement suite that is full of delightfully orchestrated ear-tickling tunes. This is followed by a tranquil and beguiling account of the popular ‘Fantasia on “Greensleeves” notable for the sumptuous strings of the Kansas Symphony and Michael Gordon’s limpid flute playing.A finely nuanced account of Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’ completes the programme. Stern characterises each Variation with great skill and though some might find his restraint in Variation XIV(Nimrod) robs the music of some of its catharsis, the eloquent cello playing in Variation XII (B.G.N.) and the superb room-shaking organ in the Finale makes this a performance and recording to relish. Informative liner notes by Richard E. Rodda complete a most desirable release.

Exemplary Berlioz and Nielsen

BERLIOZ: OVERTURES: LE ROI LEAR; LE CARNAVAL ROMAIN; BÉATRICE ET BÉNÉDICT; LE CORSAIRE; WAVERLEY; LES FRANCS-JUGES; BENVENUTO CELLINI; MARCH FROM ‘LA DAMNATION DE FAUST’, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5118  The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis have assembled a winning (and for collectors, very useful) programme of seven virtuoso orchestral overtures by Hector Berlioz, all brimming with the energy and colour that are the composer’s trademarks. The overtures are varied in mood, as are the operas which they precede. The early Overture to Les Francs Juges suggests the élan which will distinguish the marriage of orchestra and conductor; the copacetic results of which communicates itself throughout, The overture to Benvenuto Cellini, is superbly characterised, and if Le Carnaval Romain does not find the final whipcrack intensity of earlier readings, it is still enjoyably dynamic – as is everything on this extremely attractive collection.

PUCCINI: TURANDOT Susan Foster, Rosario la Spina, Orcetsre Victoria, Andrea Licata Opera Australia OPOZ56033BD Blu-ray  Puccini’s final masterpiece has been well-served on DVD, and here is an impressive, visually sumptuous new Blu-ray issue of the opera (with its unlovable heroine) to rival previous versions, with a performance that excels in both musical and dramaturgical values, but also takes full advantage of the pinprick sharp picture (and audio) quality of the Blu-ray medium. Rosario la Spina may be one of the heftiest Calfs since Pavarotti, but sings with authority, while Susan Foster is an incandescent Principessa.

NIELSEN: SYMPHONIES NOS. 2 & 3  Lucy Hall, Marcus Farnsworth, London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis LSO LIVE LSO0722 SACD  With this sublime setting down of Symphonies 2 & 3, Colin Davis brings to a triumphant conclusion his enlightening Nielsen symphony cycle. The first title in the series, Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5, was an instant critical success (with some caveats), while the second, with Symphonies 1 & 6, was similarly acclaimed. Nielsen’s Second Symphony was a result of the composer’s exposure to a naïve painting representing the four temperaments of the human personality. The Third is the most characteristically Danish of his symphonies, and is given a non-pareil reading here in glowing surround sound which tames the Barbican acoustic.

HONEGGER: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES  Philharmonisches Orchester Der Hansestadt Lübeck, Romna Brogli-Sacher Musicaphon SACD  Despite rumours of a threat to its continuing health in an era of downloads, proof that surround sound discs remain popular with discerning classical listeners requiring the best possible sound is once again evident with the issue of this unsusual set, the first complete recording of Honneger’s symphonies in the medium. The Philharmonisches Orchester Der Hansedstadt Lubeckunde under Romna Brogli-Ssacher have the full measure of these often elusive scores, with impressive, weighty sound (albeit with some distracting audience noise in these live performances).

MORTON GOULD: AMERICAN LEGEND  Various Artists [3 CDs] Naxos 8.503259 Sporting such ingratiating Morton Gould crowd-pleasers as American Ballads, Foster Gallery, American Salute, this 3CD boxed set collects several cherishable albums. Lighter fare, but with a strong, supple core.

MADETOJA: KULLERVO, OP. 15,SYMPHONY NO. 2, OP. 35, ELEGY, OP. 4/1  Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, John Storgårds/Ondine ODE 1212-2  Why is this attractive Sibelian music so under-represented in the catalogue? Perhaps this powerful and colourful reading of Madetoja’s Second Symphony will remedy that regrettable situation.

RAFF: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOLUME 1: SYMPHONY NO. 2, ORCHESTRAL PRELUDES TO THE TEMPEST, MACBETH, ROMEO AND JULIET, OTHELLO  Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Neeme Järvi/CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5117  What a welcome new series! The neglected orchestral works of the German-Swiss composer Joachim Raff were once championed by Bernard Herrmann, but have had only a tenuous hold on the repertoire. The sequence begins with Symphony No. 2 and the orchestral preludes to four plays by Shakespeare: The Tempest, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello, given committed readings by the venerable Orchestre de la Suisse romande, conducted by its new Artistic and Music Director, Neeme Järvi. Beethoven, Wagner and Brahms are conjoined in the mix here, and perhaps the last ounce of individuality is absent – but these are craftsman-like scores, with splendid SACD sound.

ANDRIESSEN: SYMPHONIC WORKS, VOLUME 1: SYMPHONY NO. 1; BALLET SUITE; SYMPHONIC ETUDE; VARIATION & FUGUE ON A THEME OF JOHANN KUHNAU  Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, David Porcelijn CPO 777721-2 Andriessen, a neglected composer of distinctive 20th Century orchestral music, deserves a fresh look, notably his First Symphony from 1920-1930, with its persuasive thematically linked movements.

WAGNER: DIE WALKÜRE Anja Kampe, Nina Stemme, Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Mikhail Petrenko, Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/Mariinsky SACD MARO527  The Mariinsky label is nothing if not ambitious, as this imposing project demonstrates: the first release of Valery Gergiev conducting Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, Die Walküre. Recorded in the Mariinsky Concert Hall, the SACD recording features an authoritataive(if at times uneven) cast, of singers, including Anja Kampe, Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape and the wonderful Nina Stemme,

WEINBERG: SYMPHONY NO. 8 ‘POLISH FLOWERS’, OP. 83  Rafał Bartmiński, Magdalena Dobrowolska, Ewa Marciniec, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Antoni Wit/Naxos 8.572873 Mieczysław Weinberg’s years of inspiration in the 1960s produced the imposing Eighth Symphony, which utilises texts drawn from Julian Tuwim’s epic poem Polish Flowers, inspired by Poland’s turbulent history. Social injustice was the fulcrum for one of the composer’s most individual achievements, realised here in blunt but powerful sound picture by Antoni Wit, the much-acclaimed Polish conductor.

RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scenes from The Invisible City of Kitezh, Sheherazade  St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra Yuri Temirkanov/ Signum Classics : SIGCD320  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s days as one of Mily Balakirev’s ‘Mighty Handful’ (Credo: a more purely Russian art music, as opposed to the Austro-German orthodoxy), resulted in the ebullient, vivid pieces found on this recording with the composer utilising influences from both Russia and other countries. The suite from his opera The Invisible City of Kitezh is evocatively realised, as is its stablemate Sheherazade (thought the latter has had more idiomatic readings) The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra under Yuri Temirkanov deliver the scores with panache.

WAGNER: TANNHAUSER Albert Dohmen, Robert Dean Smith, Nina Stemme, Rundfunk-sinfonieorchester Berlin Pentatone SACD PTC 5186 405 Wagner operas continue to proliferate on SACD with this latest PentaTone entry maintaining the high standard of its predecessors. The ubiquitous Nina Stemme is a particular asset here.

ANDREAE: PIANO & VIOLIN CONCERTOS Soloists, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Marc Andreae Guild GMCD 7394  Guild’s attention to the music of the Swiss composer and conductor Volkmar Andreae is most welcome; earlier issues of his chamber and orchestral music are complemented this new issue, recorded by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the composer’s grandson, Marc Andreae. The four works are all concertos or concertante compositions, and are given the best possible advocacy, though the violin concerto is comfortably the most distinguished and individual piece on the disc.

TURINA: DANZAS FANTÁSTICAS; Sinfonia Sevillana; Ritmos; Poema en forma de canciones; Farruca from ‘Triptico’; Saeta en forma de Salve a la Virgen de la Esperanza Clara Mouriz (mezzo soprano), BBC Philharmonic / Juanjo Mena CHAN 10753  Despite its vivid Latin colour, this disc is not, regrettably in surround sound (given Chandos’ commitment to the medium) but this entry in the label’s ongoing Spanish Music series, performed by the BBC Philharmonic and its Chief Conductor, Juanjo Mtena does enthusiastic justice to the orchestral works of the composer Joaquín Turina, one of the key Spanish composers of the twentieth century, along with Manuel de Falla. Immensely seductive fare.