Baker Box and New Discs from BIS, Oehms, Audite & Challenge

Janet Baker box

DAME JANET BAKER: THE GREAT EMI RECORDINGS Janet Baker, Various orchestras & conductors/EMI 5099990377129 (20 CD Box)  For those of us lucky enough to have seen Janet Baker on many occasions before her retirement, there is little argument over one ineluctable fact: she was this country’s greatest mezzo soprano, and a worthy heir apparent to her equally distinguished predecessor Kathleen Ferrier (although working in an era of more ambitious recording programs, Baker was given a far wider range of music within which to demonstrate her astonishing skills). But if, like me, you already have the great majority of the singer’s EMI recordings, do not think that this new box set is not to be considered – there is much Janet Baker material here you will not have heard. EMI pays tribute with this compendious collection celebrating her career. Highlights include such classic recordings as Elgar’s Sea Pictures (with Sir John Barbirolli) and Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody (with Sir Adrian Boult). Also showcased is Baker’s mastery in the field of opera, as an interpreter of lieder, chanson and song, and as a performer of sacred works. Also included is music by such composers as Schubert, Monteverdi and Mahler (a specialty), along with some of the singer’s work with such conductors as Otto Klemperer and André Previn. This 20CD box is crammed with classic performances, with — a key point of interest! — nearly 25% of the recordings in this set appearing on CD for the first time. The Janet Baker 80th Birthday Edition contains 25 hours of music.

MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 8  Soloists, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Mariss Jansons/RCO Live RCO13003 SACD+DVD  “Try to imagine the whole universe beginning to ring and resound. There are no more human voices, only planets and suns revolving in their orbits,” wrote Gustav Mahler to the conductor, Willem Mengelberg in 1906. The composer had just completed the sketches of the Eighth Symphony. The relationship between Gustav Mahler, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Willem Mengelberg established a copper-bottomed tradition of playing Mahler in Amsterdam, continued during the 1960s when the orchestra and Bernard Haitink inaugurated a Mahler sequence rivalled only by those of Bernstein and Solti. Janssons offers a highly competitive – if not quite front rank – reading.


R. STRAUSS: JOSEPHSLEGENDE, OP. 63 LOVE SCENE FROM ‘FEUERSNOT’, OP. 50, FESTMARSCH, OP. 1  Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Neeme Järvi/Chandos CHSA 5120  This is a sumptuous feast for Straussians. Josephslegende is based on the Biblical tale of the adventures of Joseph in Egypt after he has been sold into slavery by his brothers. Typically, Strauss sought for the sensual in a notably unsensual biblical tale, and wryly noted: ‘Joseph isn’t progressing as quickly as I expected. The chaste Joseph himself isn’t at all up my street, and if a thing bores me I find it difficult to set it to music. This God-seeker Joseph – he’s going to be a hell of an effort!’ The resulting piece is hardly top drawer Strauss, but is essential for follows of the composer and this refulgent SACD version marginally eclipses Fischer’s earlier version. Also on this disc is the Festmarsch, Op. 1, Strauss’s first published orchestral work, which the composer wrote at the age of twelve. 


ELGAR: SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN E FLAT MAJOR OP. 63; SOSPIRI; ELEGY FOR STRINGS Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo/BIS SACD 1879  Elgar’s Symphony No. 2 (dedicated to the memory of King Edward VII) needs careful advocacy: which is precisely what it receives here, with a touch more febrile intensity than Hickox’s celebrated Chandos recording, though the latter balanced more acutely the slightly neurotic energy and fin-de-siècle melancholy (both SACD recordings have immense range). All here is lovingly moulded by Oramo, the new Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra.


FALLA: EL AMOR BRUJO, CONCIERTO PARA CLAVE, FLAUTA, OBOE, CLARINETTE, VIOLIN Y VIOLONCELLO, SIETE CANCIONES POPULARES ESPAÑOLAS, CUATRO OBRAS ESPAÑOLAS, FANTASIA BÉTICA  Victoria de Los Angeles, Alicia de Larrocha, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Ernest Ansermet/Praga SACD DSD350090  A welcome second anthology from Praga Digitals of Manuel de Falla’s masterpieces in which he virtually forged a new musical language, ‘invented’ modern Spanish music and also revived authentic songs, rhythms and dances from Andalusia’s past. The concerto for harpsichord (written for Wanda Landowska) is the exception, having no Andalucian fingerprints. The artists here are non-pareil: Victoria de los Angeles, Ernest Ansermet, Ataulfo Argenta and Alicia de Larrocha. And though the performances are decades old, they largely come up fresh as paint, if inevitably without the dynamic range of modern recordings.


LUTOSLAWSKI: ORCHESTRAL WORKS vol. 2 (Cello Concerto, etc.) Robert Cohen, Ewa Pobłocka, Orchestra Sinfonia Varsova, Jerzy Maksymiuk/BeArTon SACD CDB 052 This is a welcome further entry in BeArTon’s project of recording the finest pieces by Lutoslawski (in its Pearls of Polish music series), and the enterprise preceded a similar initiative from Chandos (which has slightly stolen the Polish company’s thunder). Standards are of the highest; this SACD is designed to coincide with Lutoslawski Year (the 100th birthday of the composer) and showcase some superb performers, notably the British cellist Robert Cohen, acclaimed as one of the most distinguished cellists of our time, along with the pianist Ewa Pobłocka and the Sinfonia Varsovia conducted by Jerzy Maksymiuk. 


GRIEG: COMPLETE SYMPHONIC WORKS  VOL. III: Concert Overture ‘In Autumn’, Op. 11, Lyric Suite, Op. 54, Klokkeklang, Op. 54, No. 6, Old Norwegian Melody with Variations, Op. 51, Three Orchestral Pieces from ‘Sigurd Jorsalfar’, Op. 56  WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Eivind Aadland/SACD AUDITE92669  There was such a lengthy, aching gap since the last issue in this splendid series that one feared for its continuation – but here, at last, is volume 3 — and (thankfully) it was well worth the wait. The WDR Sinfonieorchester and the Norwegian conductor Eivind Aadland continue their survey of Edvard Grieg’s orchestral works with this beautifully realised collection from the composer’s orchestral repertoire, including such items as orchestrated selections from his piano suite ‘Lyric Pieces’. The Concert Overture ‘In Autumn’, written by the 22-year-old composer during a stay in Rome, is a remarkable achievement. A highly collectable series, effectively displacing the DG set of the same repertoire by Järvi. 


BRUCKNER: SYMPHONY NO. 0 IN D MINOR  Hamburg Philharmonic, Simone Young/SACD OEHMS OC685  Could Bruckner’s unnumbered symphonies be coming in from the cold at last? This is the sixth release in Simone Young’s survey of Bruckner’s Symphonic works – and maintains the high standard which has distinguished the series. Young persuades us that this ‘orphan’ symphony belongs – almost – with its mighty successors. Let’s hope the Double-Nought Symphony (not, as yet, on SACD) is on the agenda for these forces. 


BERGER: VIOLA CONCERTO OP. 12; SYMPHONY NO. 4 OP. 30 Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Nils Mönkemeyer, Horia Andreescu/CPO 777756-2  The little-known Berger composed his Viola Concerto in 1959. It is a lyrical, haunted work, while the more open and aggressive symphony has both colour and inventiveness; its neglect may not be remedied by this persuasive reading from the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin – but it should be.


SCHÖNBERG / BERG: PELLEAS & MELISANDE / DREI ORCHESTERSTUCKE  Dortmunder Philharmoniker/Jac van Steen/MDG SACD 901 1807  Performed with immense conviction by the Dortmund Philharmonic under its principal conductor, Jac van Steen, the one piece by Schönberg (apart from Transfigured Night) that is considered approachable (before the composer’s once-highly-regarded serial odyssey, now largely unplayed) is given a lambent, Straussian reading. 


CHAMOUARD: SYMPHONIE NO. 8, POEME DU VENT  Orchestre Cymphonique du Conservatoire de Rouen/Claude Brendel/HORTUS HOR 548 Parisian composer (1952), Philippe Chamouard defies category. The music is, frankly, unchallenging, but generally attractive (if undistinctive), and well recorded here.


WAGNER: GREAT ORCHESTRAL WORKS  Various Orchestras and conductors METCD 8023  Magdalen celebrates the Wagner bicentenary with a striking anthology of Wagnerian orchestral showpieces recorded between 1938 and 1960, conducted by such legendary interpreters as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Hans Knappertsbusch, Arturo Toscanini and Otto Klemperer. Almost every opera (from Rienzi to Parsifal) is represented, as well as the Siegfried Idyll – in total, almost 157 minutes of magnificent music. The set is accompanied by an extended essay on the composer’s life and artist biographies. Placed at either end of this collection of Wagnerian heavyweights are two comparative rarities from Fritz Lehmann (Rienzi) and a Meistersinger Overture from Ferdinand Leitner


HEAR MY PRAYER Jeremy Budd (treble), Andrew Lucas (organ) St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, John Scott/HELIOS CDH55445  This recording features an appealing (if anodyne) selection of choral chestnuts, delivered with affection by St Paul’s Cathedral Choir and the treble Jeremy Budd, the latter perhaps not an Ernest Lough de nos jours.


TURINA: PIANO MUSIC VOL 9 COINS DE SÉVILLE, OP. 5 • POR LAS CALLES DE SEVILLA, OP. 96, CONTEMPLACIÓN , OP. 99, etc. Jordi Masó, piano/NAXOS 8572915  Jordi Masó’s sympathetic survey of Turina’s complete piano music can still surprise. Turina’s melodic gifts are profusely in evidence in such pieces as the early Coins de Séville (a meld of Andalucian folk music and French impressionism), plus many other choice pieces. To be sampled, though, in small measures rather than en masse.


RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 1 Yevgeny Sudbin Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Lan Shui/BIS SACD 2012  Perhaps the most successful item here is the passionate reading of the first piano concerto, more intensely realised than the symphony. Following previous collaborations on BIS (notably a splendid Paganini Rhapsody), pianist Yevgeny Sudbin joins forces with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Lan Shui in a disc which celebrates the talent of a young Rachmaninov. The composer’s Symphony No 1 is efficiently dispatched in wide-ranging sound, perhaps not quite troubling recent rival readings.


CASELLA: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOLUME 3 ITALIA, OP. 11; INTRODUZIONE, CORALE E MARCIA, OP. 57; SINFONIA, OP. 63 (SYMPHONY NO. 3) BBC Philharmonic, Gianandrea Noseda/Chandos CHAN 10768  The third volume in this winning survey of the orchestral works by Respighi rival Alfredo Casella maintains the standard of its predecessors, with the BBC Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda on non-pareil form and making an unarguable case for the composer.


SHORT NOTICES Finally, commendation for some notable CDs and SACDs worthy of your attention. From Hungaroton, striking individual performances of BARTOK’S coruscating Violin Sonatas by Barnabas Kelemen in wide-ranging SACD sound, while another 20th century master, SZYMANOWSKI, is granted performances of the first two symphonies by Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra on LSO Live (also in surround sound). Warner have issued some collectable discs of English music: a two-disc set of the distinctive but neglected works of JOHN FOULDS and a well-filled box (containing both CDs and DVDs), The Essential BENJAMIN BRITTEN. Challenge continues to document assiduously the performances by Jaap van Zweeden and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic orchestra, with perhaps the most rigorous performance of BRUCKNER’s Sixth Symphony that the SACD medium has yet enjoyed. Also from Challenge, sheer delight is afforded by Rachel Podger’s lively performances with the Brecon Baroque of BACH’s double and triple Concertos. And an interesting curiosity from SFZ: the unusual organ works of the composer FREDERIC FRAHM, persuasively played by Casavant Frères.




Obama presents Renée Fleming with the 2012 National Medal of Arts

President Barack Obama has presented soprano (and Decca artiste) Renée Fleming with the 2012 National Medal of Arts “for her contributions to American music.” Among those who also received honours in the East Room of the White House, in the presence of the First Lady, were filmmaker George Lucas, comedy actress Elaine May and jazz legend Allen Toussaint. Continue reading

Harmonia Mundi Signs Ensemble Correspondances

 Harmonia Mundi have announced a new signing – the Ensemble Correspondances and Sébastien Daucé. Their first release on HM will be Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Litanies de la Vierge – Motets pour la Maison de Guise (Ensemble Correspondances, Sébastien Daucé, HMC902169). The UK release date is  29 July.