Richard Strauss in Nicholas Clee’s Things I Ashamed Of

Richard Strauss admirers should note that Amazon has published Nicholas Clee’s autobiographical work, Things I Am Ashamed Of, as a Kindle Single at 99p.
THINGS I AM ASHAMED OF on the Kindle Singles store
Things I Am Ashamed Of is a memoir and a study of ordinary foibles, of the kind to which most of us are prone. Drawing on the works of writers from Anita Brookner to Stefan Zweig, and of musicians from Richard Strauss to Laura Nyro, this is a funny and unsettling account of what it means to behave well, and badly.
Clee on Strauss: Richard Strauss was the pre-eminent figure in musical life in Germany. In opera, he had once been notorious as the composer of Salome (1906), which climaxed – the sexual term is appropriate – as the delirious heroine, her rapturous singing punctuated by brutal, dissonant chords, kissed the severed head of John the Baptist. Continue reading


 Garsington Opera, celebrating its 25th anniversary season in June-July 2014, releases its first commercially available recording in June, the rare Rossini opera Maometto secondo under the Avie label.   The 3-CD set, recorded live at Garsington Opera’s universally acclaimed 2013 performances – the first-ever fully staged production of Maometto secondo in the UK –  is stylishly packaged in a 100-page hardbound book, complete with synopsis, essay and libretto in Italian with English translations. Continue reading

Surround Sound Finessing for Wagner and Aho

AHO: SYMPHONY NO. 15, etc., Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä/BIS SACD 1866  Kalevi Aho is one of the most exciting and prolific composers of our time. He possesses a fertile musical imagination and has a total command of writing for the orchestra as the three works on this superbly recorded SACD demonstrate. ‘Minea’ (Concertante Music for Orchestra) was commissioned by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra in 2005 and premièred in 2009. The work (whose name is a truncated version of Minneapolis) was conceived as a virtuoso piece that would illustrate the qualities of all the players in that orchestra. Listening to it on this recording played by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra one is left in no doubt that Aho’s aims have been achieved. Continue reading

Cataclysmic Nielsen, Poetic Ravel

Nielsen Oramo

 NIELSEN: SYMPHONIES 4 & 5, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo/BIS SACD 2028 (Classical CD Choice CD of the Month) The test (as much as anything else) of any performance of Nielsen’s dramatic Fifth Symphony is whether or not the side drum is encouraged to obey the composer’s instruction to ‘halt the progress of the orchestra’ – precisely what happens on the superb new recording by Sakari Oramo, the first since the legendary Jascha Horenstein version on Unicorn to really take the composer at his word. The disc (in superb surround sound) also boasts a splendid version of Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony.



ROZSA FILM MUSIC, BBC Philharmonic, Rumon Gamba, CHAN10806  Is there a modern classical label which has done more to celebrate the great orchestral film scores than Chandos? Once again, the BBC Philharmonic under Rumon Gamba do outstanding work in the latest disc devoted to the work of Miklós Rósza. Rósza channelled the genius of his native Hungary and that of his countrymen Bartok and Kodaly for the remarkable film scores here, and although all have previously enjoyed impressive readings, Gamba once again provides the most passionate advocacy for this music, suggesting it might be considered alongside more ‘respectable’ concert fare (though the Ben Hur extracts don’t match the composer’s own reading for sheer panache). And if the truth be told, a great deal of the music here stands more chance of immortality that many a trendy commission which may receive one or two performances but then vanishes without trace.


WILLIAMSON COMPLETE PIANO CONCERTOS, Howard Shelley, Piers Lane, Tasmanian S.O., Hyperion CDA 68011/2  A choice item from Hyperion’s Anglo-Australian artistic collaboration: music by an Australian composer who was once Master of the Queen’s Music (and sometimes criticised for insufficient graft in the role) That, however, is now ancient history, and this double-album set of Malcolm Williamson’s complete Piano Concertos is colourful and energetic. It contains the world premiere performance of Concerto No 4, as well as much attractive music.


STRAVINSKY: OEDIPUS REX, APOLLON MUSAGETE, Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, London Symphony Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner/LSO LIVE SACD LSO0751  An intriguing SACD debut for two later works by Stravinsky. Apollo (as it is sometimes called) in particular is given a truly incisive and sinewy performance that secures and locates all the austere beauty of the work. Whether or not you respond to Oedipus Rex depends on your own tolerance for the hectoring narrative, here passionately spoken by the French actress Fanny Ardant. Personally, whoever the narrator is, this element has always precluded for me any enjoyment of the work — and I’d love to hear the music shorn of the narration. But that’s not likely to happen, so suspect I’ll be playing this disc for the exceptional performance of the purely orchestral piece.


MIRACULOUS METAMORPHOSES: HINDEMITH, PROKOFIEV, BARTOK, Kansas City Symphony, Michael Stern Reference RR-132  It is clear that the programming and creative team behind the splendid label Reference Recordings (notably the legendary engineer Prof. Johnson) have a particular predilection for colourful and vivid orchestral music principally from first half of the 20th century, as evinced by this latest recording collecting three of the most dynamic and inventive scores of the era. Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony are on something of a roll in terms of recordings for the label, as this latest collection matches (in sheer energy and authority) earlier recordings, but the Bartok suite in particular is given a reading that points up all the barbarity and violence of the score – and few recordings match this one in terms of integrating the organ passages with the turbulent orchestral texture (though Antal Dorati’s famous Decca recording remains the gold standard here). Reference have issued a two-channel CD of these scores which sounds as weightily impressive as one might wish, but SACD enthusiasts will be particularly impatient for the version in that medium which is to follow.


SALMANOV SYMPHONIES, Various Orchestras, Yevgeny Mvransiky MELODIYA MELCD 1002119  Those who have heard today of the neglected Russian composer Salmanov (and they are a modest number) perhaps have an image of a party apparatchik (in the vein of Krennikov) who toed the Communist line and curried establishment favour while far greater composers such as Shostakovich fared less well under crass party disapproval. What’s more, there is the feeling that Salmanov’s own music owes its more interesting passages to borrowings from Shostakovich. Neither perceptions is the whole truth; leaving aside Salmanov’s relation to the party, his music – while undoubtedly influenced by the greatest modern Russian symphonist, Shostakovich, has a character and identity of its own and is not simply tub-thumping rhetoric; there is a pronounced melancholy strain in his music alongside the more exciting passages (and there are plenty of those) which speak of an individual voice. Yevgeny Mavrinsky, perhaps the composer’s most ardent proselytiser, here gives the four symphonies as committed readings as they are likely to enjoy, but there is a caveat that may rule out the set for all but the most adventurous: the first three symphonies are given in elderly mono recordings, whose tubby, congested sound does little justice to the extremely colourful writing of the composer, further compromised by asthmatic-sounding audiences (the fourth, however, is a stereo recording from 1977). But beggars can’t be choosers, and those interested in modern Soviet music should most definitely take an interest in this unusual set.


RAVEL: ORCHESTRAL WORKS Bielefelder Philharmoniker Alexander Kalajdzic MDG 9011820 | 07606231820631 SACD  An interesting disc, despite a certain opacity in the recording. Ravel orchestrated several of his piano compositions for full orchestra, but never got around to the chillingly evocative Gaspard de la nuit. It was the composer Marius Constant who did service here, and under the conductor Alexander Kalajdzic the Bielefeld Philharmonic reveals previously unexplored and undiscovered dimensions of this masterpiece of French piano music. Other works on the disc are Menuet antique, Valses nobles et sentimentales and Pavane pour une infante défunte.


MADETOJA SYMPHONIES NOS. 1-3; OKON FUOKO SUITE, OP. 58 Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, John Storgårds  Ondine Ode 1211-2 This latest disc is the second in Ondine’s Madetoja’s symphonies. Admirers of this contemporary of Sibelius and aficionados of Finnish orchestral music should pay heed. Madetoja synthesises the landscape and folk songs of his native province of Ostrobothnia with a French elegance (Symphony No. 3) to create a unique voice.


ANDREAE: SYMPHONY, SONGS, CONCERTINO, GMCD 7400  This is the latest volume in Guild’s intriguing series of recordings of the music of the Swiss composer and conductor Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962), and the third of his orchestral music. The discs in the series are all conducted by the composer’s grandson Marc Andreae, granting the performances a certain authority. These are all new recordings, set down in England with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. As in previous issues, there is much impressive music here alongside some more quotidian writing.


SCHARWENKA: PIANO CONCERTOS, Alexander Markovich, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi/CHANDOS CHAN 10814(2) Largely forgotten today, the Polish-born German composer Franz Xaver Scharwenka was a much lauded figure of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century music. His four piano concertos are central works among his small output. With Neeme Järvi and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Markovich has here recorded them together for the first time. There is an air of the faded here, but the best possible case is made for the music


PUCCINI Turandot Lise Lindstrom, Marco Berti, Eri Nakamura, Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Henrik Nánási/OPUS ARTE OA 11320 Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, September 2014, Andrei Serban’s spectacular and thrilling 1984 production of Puccini’s final and grandest opera has long been a classic at the Royal Opera House. First filmed for BBC TV in the 80s, this new recording – of its fifteenth revival – is in stunning HD and makes this famous production available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray.


SHORTER NOTICES   The exuberantly colourful orchestral writing of TCHAIKOVSKY is tailor-made for the extra dimension surround sound recordings grant, as two new discs demonstrate. Dmitrij Kitajenko’s recording (Oehms OC672) of the hybrid that is the composer’s posthumous Seventh Symphony makes the best possible case for the work. The days when this symphony is considered an ugly duckling in the composer’s output are numbered. Pentatone weighs in with a new recording of the composer’s Manfred Symphony from the Russian National Orchestra under Mikhail Pletnev (PTC 5186 387). The piece has had a fitful history on disc with some recordings wringing out every ounce of intensity and drama while others have been compromised by a weedy-sounding organ at the symphony’s all-important climax. No such problems with Pletnev’s disc which showcases the organ section in the widest ranging sound, although with a languid tempo. Excellent though the performance is, there is a caveat: Pletnev now rivals the late Colin Davis in adding loud vocal obbligato to his performances. Strikingly powerful is a new MAHLER 5 from Ivan Fischer on Channel Classics (CCS SA 34213). And the programme on SIBELIUS’ Violin Concerto (Chandos CHSA 5134) makes one wonder if this particular SACD was designed as a kind of ‘Sibelius sampler’, leaving aside its virtues in terms of recording and performance. We are given sympathetic recordings of two of the composer’s signature works, the Karelia Suite and Finlandia, as well as a sensitive reading of the concerto (although Henning Kraggerud’s Naxos SACD teases out more poetry). STRADIVARIUS IN RIO is an atmospheric collection of Latin pieces by such composers as Antonio Carlos Jobim, sympathetically played by Victoria Mullova (Onyx 4130), while Linn provides an intriguing SACD: a reconstruction the first performance of MOZART’s Requiem sensitively played by the Dunedin Consort conducted by John Butt (Linn CKD 449).







Rachel Podger has won the instrumental category of the prestigious BBC Music Magazine Awards for her acclaimed solo recital album Guardian Angel on Channel Classics. The award was decided by a public vote. Rachel Podger has said “Each piece of music on this CD has a special, personal significance for me. However clichéd that may sound, a good deal has to do with the nature of playing completely solo – and how you identify with each note, considered and crafted completely in your own space and time.’ The Awards jury had this to say about Rachel’s disc: “If you suspect that almost 80 minutes of solo Baroque violin is a tough sell, just surrender yourself to the musical ingenuity of JS Bach, Pisendel, Matteis, Tartini and Biber, in the hands of someone who speaks their language as effortlessly and fluently as they could possibly wish. It’s simply gorgeous.”