Warner Classics signs Beatrice Rana

Warner Classics has announced the signing of Beatrice Rana, who shot to stardom at just 20 years of age when she claimed the Silver Medal and the coveted Audience Award in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. On that occasion, Huffington Post described her performance as ‘an endlessly fascinating piece of humanity that had the orchestra riveted on every note’. Continue reading

Remembering Ted Greenfield

Barry Forshaw writes: Exquisite playing by Tasmin Little at a Spitalfields service for Edward Greeenfield arranged by Paul Westcott; luminaries of the classical world present included Anthony Payne, Julian Lloyd Webber and Ivan March. Enjoyed  the celebratory conversations afterwards: Ted Greenfield was a great influence on my own writing about classical music.

New SACDs from PENTATONE & CHALLENGE

‘ROMANTIC METAMORPHOSES’: VIEUXTEMPS: VIOLA SONATA, ZEMTSOV: MELODIE IM ALTEN STIL, BLOCH: SUITE, Dana Zemtsov, viola, Cathelijne Noorland, piano/Channel Classics SACD CC SSA 37215  The young viola player Dana Zemtsov’s first disc for Channel Classics, entitled ‘Enigma’, immediately confirmed her as an artist of immense talent and musical intelligence. On that disc she confidently delivered an exacting group of compositions for unaccompanied viola that challenged both listener and performer. In complete contrast, her latest recording ‘Romantic Metamorphoses’ comprises a varied and well-chosen programme that explores the various manifestations of the word ‘romantic’ in musical terms. Continue reading

From Weil’s Haydn to Gardner’s Janaček

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HAYDN: LONDON SYMPHONIES, VOLUMES ONE, TWO AND THREE, Capella Coloniensis, Bruno Weill/ARS SACD 38061, 2, 3  The first three volumes in this impressive series establish a benchmark in the surround sound medium for this immensely civilised music which would be hard to match, let alone exceed. Played with full attention to current modes of authenticity (but with academic fustiness thoroughly banished), Weill and his forces provide the kind of treatment now requisite in Haydn’s symphonies (particularly the spirited No. 99), the scores sounding fresh as paint in these readings which scrub away the accretions of less energetic performances of the past. Sound quality is matchless, and makes the listener impatient for the final volume in the series. Live performances, but with barely a trace of ambient noise and, thankfully, no applause.

ATTERBERG: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 3.: Symphony No. 1 in B minor, Op. 3 / Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 20 ‘Sinfonia funebre’ Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra / Neeme Järvi/CHANDOS CHSA 5154  However glorious the orchestral tone poems of Richard Strauss are – or the symphonies of Sibelius and Vaughan Williams – there are (dare one say it?) times when the listener has heard them so often that something new is new is needed to freshen the palette. Or at least something which is less familiar than these much-loved classics. Such a palette-freshener is the music of the Nordic composer Atterberg, which has only recently begun to obtain the kind of listenership that is its clear due. Not least because of initiatives such as the BIS set of the symphonies and this new Chandos sequence, capturing the symphonies, this time in glorious surround sound. This is music teeming with invention and colour, with all of its nuances winkled out by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Järvi. Järvi’s Atterberg survey has now reached this third volume of symphonies. The composer sent the first three completed movements of his Symphony No. 1 to Stockholm’s Royal Academy, seeking a scholarship in order to travel to several cities in Germany to attend musical performances. When he came back he added a finale with an introductory Adagio in which he, as it were, ‘reminded’ himself of what he had already composed. Like everything else on this disc it is strong and memorable

MENDELSSOHN, TCHAIKOVSKY: VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Arabella Steinbacher, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Charles Dutoit/ PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 504 Surprising as it may seem, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto has not made many appearances in the SACD medium, and it is particularly welcome in a poetic reading such as this. The Tchaikovsky, however, is (unsurprisingly) more often to be heard in the medium, and once again Steinbacher delivers a highly competitive performance, although this reading does not displace any of its illustrious predecessors, being perhaps a touch cooler and steadier in approach than most. PENTATONE (the caps now de rigeuer when writing the name) is a prestigious classical music label specialising in high-end surround sound recordings, and adds to its solid catalogue with this disc featuring violinist Arabella Steinbacher and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under the baton of Maestro Charles Dutoit.

SHOSTAKOVICH: UNDER STALIN’S SHADOW, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons/DG CD 479 505N Many admirers of the music of Dimitri Shostakovich have wondered what it would have been like to have a private conversation with the composer and discover what he really felt about the tyrant who ruled his country. However, we have to read Shostakovich’s attitude to Stalin in the interstices of his music, and few issues have been as eloquent in that regard as this new disc , the first instalment of a major collaboration with one of the most exciting young conductors of our time: Andris Nelsons, Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The goal of this partnership is a complete Shostakovich cycle on Deutsche Grammophon with the Boston Symphony. The theme of the first album with Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony and Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth is a reflection on Shostakovich and Stalin. Symphony Nos. 5, 8, and 9, as well as incidental music to Hamlet will be released in a 2-CD set in May 2016;, and these works will be recorded during the BSO’s 2015-16 season.

NIELSEN: CONCERTOS, Nikolaj Znaider, Robert Langevin, Anthony McGill SACD 6.220556  In the ranks of recordings of Nielsen’s remarkable (and often spiky) concertos, competition is stiff, and it takes something special to rise above the rest. That particular magical ingredient is present here, and these are cherishable readings of these masterworks (if not quite in the first rank). Talking of his development as a composer, Carl Nielsen himself said: “I think in terms of the instruments themselves – I sort of creep into their souls”. Indeed, his 3 solo concertos for violin, flute and clarinet are expressive and highly individual works which stand all stand as key works in 20th century instrumental repertoire. For this concluding Nielsen Project issue, Alan Gilbert wished to use the New York Philharmonic’s own principal wind players, following Leonard Bernstein’s now legendary recordings from the 1960s. The Philharmonic’s renowned Canadian principal flute Robert Langevin sparkles in the flute concerto and Anthony McGill presents himself as the orchestra’s new principal clarinet. For the violin concerto, Gilbert invited the Danish star violinist Nikolaj Znaider who grew up immersed in the composer’s music. Like the symphonies, the 3 concertos are all recorded in surround sound in live performances at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

BRUCKNER: SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN CMINOR, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden/Challenge Classics SACD CC 72556  In a highly competitive field, the performances of Bruckner symphonies by these forces have (with only the occasional misstep) been self-recommending (while not quite possessing the gravitas of older classic accounts), and this recording of the Novak edition of the First Symphony presents a strongly characterised reading that shows particular attention to the energy of the music. Recording (as in other discs in the series) is exemplary.

DVORAK: SYMPHONY NO. 9, THE NEW WORLD/AMERICAN SUITE, Bamberger Symphony Orchestra, Robin Ticciati/Tudor SACD 7194  The conductor Robin Ticciati has been on something of a roll recently in terms of critical esteem, laying down some nigh-definitive performances of classic pieces which banish any suggestion of the routine. If this New World is not in the class of some of its recent predecessors from the conductor, it possesses the not inconsiderable virtue of making the very familiar music seem fresh and unhackneyed.

JANÁČEK: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 2.: Jealousy / The Fiddler’s Child* / Taras Bulba/ The Ballad of Blaník / The Danube† / Violin Concerto ‘The Wandering of a Little Soul‡ Susanna Andersson (soprano)† James Ehnes (violin)‡ / Melina Mandozzi (violin)* Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Edward Gardner/CHANDOS SACD  It’s something of a mystery as to why the colourful, energetic and wide-ranging orchestral music of Janaček has only intermittently found its way into the SACD medium, and that omission is being supplied in welcome fashion by this extremely approachable new program from Edward Gardner. This latest issue in the series is particularly interesting is its mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar, all delivered in nonpareil performances. The first piece featured here is Jealousy – his first declared piece of programme music, originally written to preface the opera Jenůfa but never included in any production of it during his lifetime. Both The Ballad of Blaník and The Fiddler’s Child (also known as a ‘ballad for orchestra’) are characterised by the use of musicals symbols, reflecting the Czech poems on which the pieces are based and also some of the composer’s personal reflections and responses.

NIELSEN: MASKARADE, Soloists, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Michael Schønwandt/Dacapo (2 SACD box set) 6.220641-42  Nielsen’s signature opera Maskarade has been relatively lucky on disc, and this latest performance is one of the most exuberant and life-affirming that the piece has ever received. Dacapo Records present this millennium’s first complete studio recording of Carl Nielsen’s 3 act opera with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra led by Nielsen expert Michael Schønwandt. The cast has been selected from The Royal Danish Opera’s finest soloists, including Johan Reuter, Stephen Milling and Dénise Beck.

SAINT-SAËNS: SYMPHONIES, VOL. 2 SYMPHONY NO. 3, SYMPHONY IN A MAJOR, LE ROUET D’OMPHALE Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Marc Soustrot/Naxos 8573139  Pour yourself a glass of your favourite tipple, check that your neighbours are out, and turn the volume on your hi-fi up as far as it will go without distortion and treat yourself to this sonic splendour. Needless to say, Saint-Saëns’ Symphony is an absolute natural for the surround sound medium and this Blu-ray audio is a treat. Inspired by Liszt, to whose memory the work is dedicated, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 is ground-breaking in its inclusion of organ and piano. For the composer this represented ‘the progress made in modern instrumentation’ and the result is a work both spectacular and grandiose. By contrast the Symphony in A, his first completed symphony, is a youthful piece, fully revealing his admiration for Mozart, whilst Le rouet d’Omphale, dating from the 1870s, is an impressively atmospheric tone poem.

GOLDENTHAL: SYMPHONY IN G SHARP MINOR, Pacific Symphony, Carl St Clair/Zarathustra Music ZM008 4.30 0852726005087  Some may criticise the extremely modest running time of this disc – a mere 25 minutes (why no fill-up?) – but the music itself is worth investigating, Goldenthal is a composer who has supplied dramatic film scores for (among others) the Batman movies. Like his fellow film composer John Williams, Goldenthal works in a different idiom with his classical pieces — the case here. Zarathustra Music presents the world premiere recording of Goldenthal’s Symphony in G# Minor performed by Pacific Symphony under conductor Carl St. Clair. Composer, conductor, and orchestra previously collaborated 20 years before when Pacific Symphony commissioned and recorded Goldenthal’s highly acclaimed “Fire, Water, Paper – A Vietnam Oratorio.” For the occasion of the orchestra’s American Composers Festival 2014, Goldenthal composed his 25 minute symphony, in the obscure yet autobiographical key of G# Minor, especially for the occasion. The work premiered immediately after the composer’s 60th birthday in May 2014 and represents Goldenthal’s first large-scale concert work since Fire, Water, Paper. World premiere recording.

FINZI: CHAMBER MUSIC, Cologne Chamber Soloists/MDG SACD 903 1894-6  It is dizzying to think of the amount of music by respected composers which lies neglected – and sometimes, it must be said, with good reason. Not so with the little-known chamber music of Gerald Finzi, which (as this winning disc proves) may not be in the class of some of his better-known contemporaries, but is still full of charm and invention, particularly when played as sympathetically as here. There are no undiscovered masterpieces, but those who love English music should investigate.

A JOHN WILLIAMS CELEBRATION, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel/C Major Blu-ray 730404  With the composer himself in attendance (and clearly delighted by this exuberant tribute), the main appeal of this superbly recorded Blu-ray disc is its unorthodox program, which includes some of the composer’s more serious pieces along with crowd-pleasers such as the Imperial March from Star Wars. Largely speaking, the much-hyped Gustavo Dudamel has the measure of the music, but when Williams himself takes up the baton, it’s perfectly clear that he is the finest interpreter of his own work.

BACH: GOLDBERG VARIATIONS, Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Gould/Harmonia Mundi SACD 807633  In one of Ingmar Bergman’s later films, he has one of his characters describe Bach’s Goldberg variations among the loveliest and most haunting music ever written. In that case, he was talking about a piano version, as it is surely in that form that most of us know the piece (harpsichord versions are relatively rare these days). But of all the various transcriptions this imperishable piece has received, this latest by the Britten Sinfonia (in an arrangement by Dmitry Sitkovetsky) is among the most sympathetic and understanding, uncovering elements of the music which many of us will not have ecountered before. It is a truly exemplary performance, captured in the finest SACD sound.

D’INDY: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 6: Wallenstein, Op. 12 / Lied for Cello and Orchestra,Op.19*/Sérénade et Valse, Op. 28 / Suite dans le style ancien, Op. 24 / Prelude to Act III of Fervaal, Op. 40 Bryndís Halla Gylfadóttir (cello)* / Iceland Symphony Orchestra / Rumon Gamba/ CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5157  A pleasing conclusion for Chandos’ series of recordings of works by Vincent d’Indy (for some reason, the first in the SACD format — why not the earlier issues?). The project has aimed to bring these neglected, eclectic, and richly orchestrated works to a wider audience, confirming Chandos’ reputation as a top label in the groundbreaking search for much-overlooked musical gems. Previous volumes have garnered many awards. D’Indy’s Wagnerian influences are clearly highlighted both in the three interlinked symphonic ouvertures of Wallenstein, which employ leitmotiv techniques and cyclic themes, and in the Prelude to Act III of Fervaal, d’Indy’s first opera, a work of Wagnerian scale and proportions, displaying the influence of Parsifal.

SAINTON: MOBY DICK, Moscow Symphony Orchestra, William Stromberg/Naxos 8573367  While Moby Dick may be somewhat neglected as a film score, the reputation (among some music aficionados) for Philip Sainton’s music for John Huston’s adaptation of the Melville classic has many admirers, and Stromberg does it justice here.

Warner Classics on The Artemis Quartet

From Warner Classics: everyone at Warner Classics is deeply saddened by the loss of German violist Friedemann Weigle.  Friedemann was a truly inspiring and dedicated musician. He joined the Artemis Quartet in 2007, recording a critically acclaimed Beethoven cycle with the group, as well as albums of Schubert, Piazzolla, Mendelssohn and Brahms. We respect their request for time to mourn, reflect and regroup. Our thoughts are with his family and the other members of the quartet Vineta, Gregor and Eckart. Alain Lanceron,  President Warner Classics & Erato