Fischer’s Mahler, Lintu’s Sibelius

MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 9, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer/Channel Classics SACD CC SSA 36115  One imagines that it must be a daunting prospect for any conductor to contemplate the recording of a cycle of Mahler symphonies, particularly in view of the abundant recorded legacy available from some of the greatest conductors of the past such as Walter, Klemperer, Bernstein, Solti, Abbado.. the list goes on. Ivan Fischer’s cycle of these works with his hand-picked Budapest Festival Orchestra has emerged gradually over the past ten years, and even with this outstanding new SACD of the Symphony No. 9 we have the enticing prospect of Symphonies 3, 7 and 8 still to come. The slow gestation period of this Mahler cycle has meant that Fischer has been able to refine and deepen his interpretations of these works with his marvellous orchestra in the concert hall before committing them to disc in the studio. The magnificent results are plain to hear in what many consider to be the apogee of Mahler’s symphonic output. Continue reading

Orchestral Splendour from PENTATONE, BIS & CHANDOS

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SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONY NO. 7, ‘LENINGRAD’, Russian National Orchestra, Parvo Järvi/PENTATONE SACD PTC5186511  How do you solve a problem like Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony? The reputation of the piece has, of course, varied wildly across the years, from its initial massive acclaim in the West to the routine dismissal of what was seen as its banal first movement (parodied by Bartok in his Concerto for Orchestra). Now the dust has settled, we can see it as one of the composer’s most substantial works, if not in the class of his fifth or tenth symphonies. The work needs careful advocacy – along with an important decision regarding conceptual approach. How to treat that relentless first movement with its unvarying side drum? Unsurprisingly Järvi takes exactly what many listeners now consider to be the right approach in current perceptions of the work: that is to say, lean, sinewy and free of bombast — but never at the expense of the sheer overwhelming force of the music, which is always given full measure in this remarkable reading. Swifter than most (it is accommodated on a single disc), this performance is accorded one of PentaTone’s most wide-ranging recordings, and the sheer impact of the climaxes is nigh overwhelming.

RICHARD STRAUSS: AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW, Erich Schulz, director, C Major Blu-ray  Those used to more conventional examinations of musical genius may find this curious patchwork documentary something of a challenge, but Eric Schulz’s approach (which utilises a variety of voices, from conductors to pianists to musicologists) paints a provocative and intriguing portrait of the composer of Also Sprach Zarathustra and Der Rosenkavalier that captures the astonishing fecundity of Strauss’s compositional identity as well as his pawky Bavarian humour. The film is even-handed when dealing with Strauss’s dealing with the Nazis (whose philistinism he cordially loathed). But there are curious omissions: no mention, for instance, of his most important collaborator, the librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and a great deal of the glorious orchestral music is heard – perversely – in piano transcriptions. But this film is still essential viewing for Straussians, not least for its detailed analysis of the composer’s understated talent as a conductor, which is given an almost forensic attention. The Blu-ray has the splendid pictorial values that are the sine qua non of the medium.

ARNOLD: THE COMPLETE SYMPHONIES. CD 1: Symphonies Nos. 1* and 2* / CD 2: Symphonies Nos. 3* and 4* / CD 3: Symphonies Nos. 5*, 6*, 8† / CD 4: Symphonies Nos. 7† and 9†. London Symphony Orchestra* / Richard Hickox*. BBC Philharmonic† / Rumon Gamba† CHAN 10853(4) He may have been cast aside during the Sir William Glock serial music-oriented era of the BBC when accessible modern music such as his was distinctly out of favour, but it’s good to see the fortunes of the late Malcolm Arnold being reversed – and thankfully, he lived long enough to see a revival of interest in his remarkable oeuvre. This four-CD box set presents the complete cycle of the award winning recordings of Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Symphonies under two of the finest conductors of their times, both exclusive to Chandos: the late Richard Hickox and Rumon Gamba, respectively conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic. The set is a must-have for all fans of Arnold as well as for those who want to know more about his symphonic compositions. Among the English symphonists of the twentieth century, Malcolm Arnold is one of the very few prolific high-profile masters of the genre – comparable to Vaughan Williams and his nine symphonies. The emotional and colouristic range of his style, together with his structural originality, sets his achievements apart from those of his compatriots who, likewise, engaged with the symphony to any significant extent.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS/MACMILLAN: OBOE CONCERTOS, etc. Nicholas Daniel, oboe, Britten Sinfonia, Macmillan/SACD Harmonia Mundi HMU 807573. With a lambent and sensitive recording, this first appearance of Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto on SACD is a winner – for those, that is, who are open to its subtle charms, which do not reveal themselves instantly to the listener. The same might be said of the contemporary music on this disc, but Macmillan’s Oboe Concerto, which — while it may not be to every taste — is performed with was great subtlety and musicality

MESSIAEN L’AMOUR ET LA FOI TROIS PETITES LITURGIES DE LA PRÉSENCE DIVINE (1943) FOR FEMALE VOICES, PIANO, ONDES MARTENOT, CELESTE, VIBRAPHONE, PERCUSSION AND STRING ORCHESTRA; O SACRUM CONVIVIUM! (1937) A CAPELLA; CINQ RECHANTS (1948) FOR 12 SOLO VOICES Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish national Concert Choir, Danish National Chamber Orchestra, Marcus Creed (Cond.)./6.220612 Those who are seduced by the immense impact of Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony often search in vain for other music from the composer with the same overwhelming impact. The pieces here are definitely not in that category, but share the same sound world. Three of Messiaen’s most passionate vocal masterworks are presented on this programme, from the visionary “Trois petites liturgies de la Présence divine” (Three Small Liturgies of the Divine Presence) for sixteen solo strings and eighteen sopranos (Messiaen’s original version), the popular O sacrum convivium! and the extraordinarily difficult Cinq Rechants (Five Refrains) of 1948. Choral conductor Marcus Creed’s contribution is non-pareil.

SCRIABIN SYMPHONY NUMBER 1, POEM OF ECSTASY, Russian National Orchestra, Mikhail Pletnev/PENTATONE SACD PTC5186511  Given that the SACD medium is perfect for accommodating music of the widest possible dynamic range, it is surprising that Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy has had such a limited amount of interest in the surround sound medium. That neglect is remedied with this overwhelming performance, as orgiastic as the composer might have wished. A good case is also made for the composer’s lesser-known First Symphony, which may win new friends in this strong and intelligent performance.

KORNGOLD VIOLIN CONCERTO, VIOLIN SONATA,  Kristóf Baráti violin, Philharmonie Zuidnederland, Otto Tausk conductor Gábor Farkas piano/Brilliant Classics 95006BR  This latest performance of Korngold’s glorious concerto — while not unseating other classic recordings — is more than serviceable. Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a child prodigy (his musical talent was compared to that of the young Mozart) and his early works are written in the tradition of Mahler and Richard Strauss. He later emigrated to America and became one of Hollywood’s most successful film music composers. Korngold’s Violin Concerto is a fascinating and eclectic showpiece, exquisite Mahlerian harmonies alternate with Hollywood sentiment, the violin indulging in soaring melodies and exuberant virtuosic display. The Violin Sonata was written 30 years before the concerto.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: BURSTS OF ACCLAMATION/ALBION’S VISION, Various artists/ALBCD 021, ALBCD SAMP  These discs – the first, a two-disc collection Vaughan Williams’ organ music and transcriptions, the second a sampler of his lesser-known music are proof (if proof were needed) that the enterprising Albion label continues to do great service for British music and – in particular — that of RVW. Aficionados of the composer will leap on these discs, even if not everything on the organ set, however superbly played by David Briggs, fully convinces. The transcription for organ of The Wasps overture somewhat saps its energy and the dancing quality of the piece, but there are many delights here, not least the astonishing Passacaglia. Albion’s Vision, too, has much to enchant, pieces drawn from previous issues by the company.

SUCHOŇ: BALADICKÁ SUITA, OP. 9 / METAMORFÓZY / SYMFONIETTA RUSTICA. Estonian National Symphony Orchestra// Neeme Järvi. CHANDOS CHAN 10849  How does Chandos do it? How are they still able to come up with neglected orchestral music of great colour and verve? Perhaps one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but just accept with gratitude discs as winning as this. Although his music is rarely performed nowadays, Eugen Suchoň (1908 – 1993) was the most influential and respected Slovak composer of the twentieth century. Three of his greatest symphonic works are performed here by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and its artistic director, Neeme Järvi. The works were composed during the years which Suchoň spent in Bratislava, where he turned his interest to the origins of Slovak folk music and to extended tonality. In the four-movement Baladická suita (Balladic Suite), of 1935, Suchoň incorporates some Slovak folk elements and demonstrates his mastery of orchestration in an almost impressionist piece of great power and vitality. Written in 1953, the Metamorfózy (Metamorphoses) reflects the composer’s own impressions during the war years, from a relatively tranquil pre-1939 to more disturbed wartime emotions in the Allegro moderato, the last two movements respectively peaceful and triumphal.

LISZT: SCHUBERT SONG TRANSCRIPTIONS: WINTERREISE (WINTER JOURNEY) SCHWANENGESANG (SWANSONG), Avan Yu, Piano/Naxos  More cherishable rarities from Naxos – with a disc calculated to appeal to lovers of both Liszt and Schubert. Liszt had a particular affection for the music of Schubert whom he considered to be “the most poetic musician who ever lived”. Ordered according to key relationships rather than the narrative content of the verse, his transcriptions of Schubert’s two great song cycles, Winterreise and Schwanengesang are outstanding examples of the genre and formed a popular part of his concert programmes during his years as a travelling virtuoso. Avan Yu, one of Canada’s most exciting pianists, won the Gold Medal at the Canadian Chopin Competition at the age of seventeen

NIELSEN: SYMPHONIES 2 & 6 Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Sakari Oramo BIS SACD BIS 2128 This is a very welcome release. Indeed, it’s fair to suggest that Oramo’s performances of the complete Nielsen symphonies are among the most recommendable in the current catalogue (particularly for those of us lucky enough to have heard them live) – and possibly the best single set as a complete entity. The final instalment of the Nielsen Symphony cycle with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Sakari Oramo is released on BIS this month. Symphony No 2 The Four Temperaments, dates from 1901–02 and some 23 years later the composer completed his sixth and final symphony, the Sinfonia semplice (‘Simple Symphony’). In the meantime, the Fourth and Fifth symphonies had brought Nielsen the greatest measure of professional recognition he ever enjoyed in his lifetime.

WEINBERG: SYMPHONIES NOS 5, 10 The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Kirill Kondrashin; The Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai/Melodiya MEL CD100228   After a drought comes a flood. After the many years in which Weinberg’s remarkable symphonic output languished in obscurity, the positive cornucopia of new issues continues unabated. Weinberg’s vivid style combines elements of Jewish, Polish and Russian musical cultures. Featured here are his Symphonies Nos. 5 and 10 composed during the period of the composer’s most intensive creative activity in the 1960s. The Fifth Symphony was recorded by Kirill Kondrashin in 1975, and the Tenth by Rudolf Barshai in 1970; these two conductors, along with the orchestras they founded respectively, played a significant part in popularizing Weinberg’s works.

PROKOFIEV: SYMPHONY NO. 3, SCYTHIAN SUITE, AUTUMN – SYMPHONIC SKETCH, São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop/NAXOS BLU-RAY AUDIO 30099 00746 If you have neighbours, prepare to upset them when you play this immensely dramatic and colourful reading at the volume it cries out for. This fourth volume in Marin Alsop’s acclaimed Prokofiev symphonic cycle features two of his most viscerally exciting works. Using material salvaged from his opera The Fiery Angel, the Third Symphony was hailed by Serge Koussevitzky at its 1929 première as ‘the best symphony since Tchaikovsky’s Sixth’. Originally commissioned as a ballet by Sergey Diaghilev but rejected as un-danceable, the Scythian Suite has become a popular orchestral showpiece, while Prokofiev retained a lifelong fondness for his dark-hued early symphonic sketch Autumn. Judging by the response to the previous volumes of this fruitful partnership with Marin Alsop and the excellent São Paulo Symphony Orchestra this new release will have no problems in becoming a market leader.

BERNSTEIN: THIRTEEN ANNIVERSARIES, PIANO SONATA, SEVEN ANNIVERSARIES, MUSIC FOR THE DANCE NO. II:• NON TROPPO PRESTO, Alexandre Dossin, Piano/Naxos  Don’t expect the colour and the verve of Bernstein’s more approachable orchestral works; these are largely speaking performances for the cognoscenti, including several world première recordings. Known for his large-scale compositions, Leonard Bernstein also wrote for his own instrument, the piano. The sequence of four Anniversaries, published between 1944 and 1989, are brief, deftly evocative vignettes written to celebrate his many friends, colleagues and family members. The early Piano Sonata is imbued with youthful self-confidence, and explores certain compositional techniques to which he was to return in more mature works. The rhythmically incisive Music for the Dance No. II is another important early work.

WHITESIDE: DICHROIC LIGHT, Whiteside IMBT 001 Matthew Whiteside received a Quality Production award from Creative Scotland to compose a new work for viola d’amore, live electronics and motion sensor and to record an album of his music. ‘Dichroic Light’ features collaborations with clarinettist Joanna Nicholson, performances by Scotland’s contemporary music ensemble Red Note and the premiere of a new work for viola d’amore, live electronics and motion sensor. Whiteside’s work has been performed internationally at Salem Artworks in New York, Dublin’s National Concert Hall, Glasgow City Halls and the Belfast International Festival at Queen’s. Dichroic Light builds an enveloping soundscape of the calm drone-like quality of the cello and the players own voice; on Ulation the composer uses electronics to extend the sonic world of the viola.

SIBELIUS: PIANO WORKS #1 Joseph Tong/Quartz LC28888  Sibelius’ neglected and elusive piano music is often considered to be a closed book, even to the composer’s admirers, but Joseph Tong’s poetic approach may change listener’s minds.

HERRMANN: OBSESSION, City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Nic Raine/Tadlow Music Tadlow 019 CD & Blu-Ray Audio  For some considerable time, the producer James Fitzpatrick has been putting collectors of the finest orchestral film scores in his debt with a continuing program of new recordings from the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the estimable conductor Nic Raine. For a time, it seemed as if the dynamic recording of the complete score for Franz Waxman’s Taras Bulba was the high water mark of the company, but this issue, enshrining a complete performance of one of the last film scores by Bernard Herrmann, is something special. Why? The reasons are principally sonic: the first disc in this two-disc set is a CD version of the score, impressive enough in its own way, but paling in comparison to the amazing dynamic range of the accompanying disc which is in the Blu-ray audio media — and showcases the massive dynamic range of Herrmann’s score, notably its ground-shaking organ passages in the fullest possible sound picture. If this is anything to go by, one can hope that for all future Tadlow Music issues, the company utilises Blu-ray audio.

HERRMANN, GERSHWIN, WAXMAN, COPLAND Nash Ensemble Hyperion CDA 68094 More Bernard Herrmann, but this time of a more intimate nature: his charming and melancholic Souvenir de Voyage, the centrepiece of a subtle collection of small-scale works by composers (Gershwin apart), better known for their film scores. All the music here is dispatched with a combination of nuanced feeling and perfect attention to the colour of the restricted sound palette.

Perlman: The Complete Warner Recordings

Itzhak Perlman, born in 1945, is the supreme violinist of his time. Warner Classics salutes him in his 70th birthday year with Itzhak Perlman: The Complete Warner Recordings, 59 albums on 77 CDs, released in September 2015. Presenting his art in all its warmth, generosity and brilliance, this comprehensive edition unites the recordings Perlman made for both EMI and Teldec over a total period of more than 30 years. Available as a magnificent deluxe box set, or as 59 separate releases, Itzhak Perlman: The Complete Warner Recordings embraces every aspect of Perlman’s art. It contains concertos (the ‘essential’ concertos, of course, but also more rarely-heard works, including Perlman’s own commissions from living composers); Continue reading