Brahms – via Schoenberg, via PENTATONE

BRAHMS: 1ST PIANO QUARTET OP.25, ORCH. SCHOENBERG, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Marc Albrecht/PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186398  One early manifestation of Arnold Schoenberg’s admiration of Brahms as a progressive composer is his orchestration of the latter’s 1st Piano Quartet Op.25 that he undertook in 1937. In a letter to the music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle two years after the premier Schoenberg gave a number of cogent reasons for undertaking his arrangement of the quartet. I like the piece” “It is seldom played” “It is always very badly played, because, the better the pianist, the louder he plays and you hear nothing from the strings. I wanted once to hear everything, and this I achieved.” “My intentions: To remain strictly in the style of Brahms and not to go farther than he himself would have gone if he lived today.” Continue reading

Walton in London & Other New Discs


WILLIAM WALTON: LONDON CONCERT, Soloists, LSO, Andre Previn/Arthaus Blu-ray 109111 Watching the new Arthaus Blu-ray of William Walton: London Concert from 1982 has been a trip in a time machine for me. Apart from watching a relatively youthful Kyung Wha-Chung give a superlative performance of the Walton Violin Concerto, I can see — over the top of Andre Previn’s head – my younger self, enjoying every second of this superlative tribute to one of the greatest English composers – with a frail-looking Walton himself in the Royal box, visibly moved by the energetic performance that Belshazzar’s Feast is given. Thomas Allen is a superbly declamatory soloist in the latter, and the whole concert is a delight – but a certain historical indulgence is required, technically speaking. The picture is (of course) Academy ratio, and not inordinately sharp, despite the Blu-ray wash-and-rinse, and the sound — while largely impressive — shows its age in a certain tubbiness. But as a document of one of the great evenings in the Royal Festival Hall, this is unmissable – and it goes without saying that Walton aficionados need not hesitate.

MANKELL: PIANO CONCERTO OP. 30; GÖSTA NYSTROEM: CONCERTO RICERCANTE, Anna Christensson, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Roberto Paternostro/CAPRICCIO: C5240 There may be a market for this disc, which has nothing to do with the classical music industry. The composer Henning Mankell is not (as some may assume ) the talented and influential Swedish crime writer and creator of Kurt Wallander, but is the latter’s grandfather. This fact will inspire some interest — but (frankly) will it be rewarded? Swedish composer Henning Mankell was a private teacher of piano and music theory in Stockholm, a music critic and a member of the board of the Academy of Music. His works, from the last decades of his life, were given labels such as ‘impressionist’ or ‘futurist’, and although he was probably interested in French Impressionism, he did not identify with it. To this listener, the music by the older Mankell is relatively anonymous, and I can’t see that I will be returning to it very often; there is, however, no denying its efficiency and expertise. The Mankell pieces find a stylistic allegiance in the music of Gösta Nystroem, the stablemate here

BERNSTEIN: SYMPHONY NO.3, KADDISH, etc., Marin Alsop/NAXOS 8.559742  I definitely count myself among passionate admirers of the composer Leonard Bernstein, and have tried over the years to respond positively to the ‘Kaddish’ Symphony, but the self-indulgent, hectoring narrative which is such an integral part of the piece has always acted as a disincentive to me – even in the understated reading it is given here by Claire Bloom (very different from the over-stated histrionic efforts by previous narrators). But if you can cope with the narration, then it’s hard to see the symphony being given a more committed performance than that by Marin Alsop, a Bernstein protégé, who has written fondly and extensively about studying with him. This disc presents Bernstein the vocal composer performed in largely original editions by one of his best contemporary interpreters.

SCHUMANN: SONG CYCLES James Gilchrist, tenor Anna Tilbrook, piano Lynne SACD CKD 474  The tenor James Gilchrist has frequently demonstrated that he is one of the most sensitive and nuanced of modern singers, and delivers this set of Schumann song cycles with maximum sensitivity. If the great performances of the past (notably by the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) are not unseated, those preferring these cycles delivered by a higher voice will not be disappointed. Linz SACD sound captures every subtlety.

FUČÍK: A FESTIVAL OF FUČÍK: EINZUG DER GLADIATOREN, OP. 68 ETC;, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Neeme Järvi/CHANDOS CHSA 5158  Now, be honest: if you have heard of Julius Fučík at all, you will know him for one piece: Entry of the Gladiators, which now has more association with circuses of the clown and elephant variety than those on which Roman gladiators spilled their blood. That lively piece may inspire you to wonder what the rest of his music is like, and now in this splendidly recorded anthology, you have a chance to find out. Frankly, there are no great discoveries here, but it is all pleasant and likeable fare. Thirty years after having recorded Dvořák’s complete Symphonies on Chandos, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and its laureate conductor Neeme Järvi tackle another romantic Czech composer, Fučík, famous for his more than 400 polkas, marches, and waltzes, some of the best of which are featured here. Fučík studied violin in his early years, switching later to the bassoon, with a subsidiary in percussion and timpani. Playing in Austrian regiments, he gained invaluable experience of writing for military band and became a very prolific composer of marches. The most famous of these is of course Entry of the Gladiators, completed in 1899 and performed throughout the world ever since.

MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 1 ‘TITAN’, Utah Symphony Orchestra, Thierry Fischer/REFERENCE SACD FR-715  The first thing that strikes one about this new recording of Mahler’s First Symphony from the redoubtable Reference label is how the recorded sound is subtly different from most of the impressive previous entries from the company. Rather than providing a concert hall-style panoply, there appears to be a close miking of many of the instruments, rather in the fashion of Decca’s Phase Four engineers recording Stokowski in the 1970s. But it’s none the worse for that, as the ear soon adjusts to this new aural canvas. The performance here has the kind of kinetic sense of drama we associate with Fischer, and in a highly competitive field, the performance deserves attention. The Utah Symphony, celebrating its 75th anniversary, is one of America’s major symphony orchestras and a leading cultural organization in the Intermountain West. It is recognized internationally for its distinctive performances, commitment to music education programs and recording legacy. Reference Recordings have released this new performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 as part of the orchestra’s two-year Mahler Symphony Cycle.

HAYDN: SYMPHONIES NOS 31, 70 & 101, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati/LINN SACD  With an impressive ongoing Haydn series from Bruno Weil and ARS, it’s pleasing to find another Haydn symphonies disc as crisp and authentic-sounding as this, giving the music vigorous new life in similar fashion to Weil. Of course, this is no surprise to those who have bought earlier discs by Robin Ticciati , who is undoubtedly on something of a roll at the moment, with a universally acclaimed series of discs of music from very disparate composers. And it is not just Ticciati’s razor-sharp readings which have been gleaning plaudits, but the beautifully focused and sympathetic sound accorded to his performances by the Linn engineers. As is very much the case of with these-performances, which are truly splendid.

RODRIGO: CONCIERTO DE ARANJUEZ, etc., Narciso Yepes/PentaTone Classics SACD PTC5186209   Like many listeners of a certain age, this reviewer first discovered the Concierto de Aranjuez in the classic Decca recording by Narciso Yepes, and of his subsequent ventures into the world of the Spanish composer, this PENTATONE reissue proves that Yepes had lost not an iota of his sensitivity and soulfulness .The seeds were planted in the early 1970s when Deutsche Grammophon realised what amazing results could be achieved by recording on multichannel tapes, with either four or eight channels. Yet, due to a few restrictions, they never fully blossomed. Flaws in the playback equipment meant that music connoisseurs were prevented from enjoying these recordings in the way that artists, producers, engineers and other professionals intended, even though recording technology was already way ahead of its time. Now over a quarter of a century later and thanks to the arrival of the multichannel Super Audio CD, there is finally a system available which permits this precious recording to be released in SACD, a medium that does it full justice.

RESPIGHI: METAMORPHOSEON; BALLATA DELLE GNOMIDI; BELKIS, REGINA DI SABA, Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, John Neschling/BIS SACD 2130  There are other performances on SACD of these breathtaking pieces by Respighi, and arguments can be made for or against them individually. But while this new disc does not match the last Respighi recording by the conductor, it is a very useful anthology, which collects the first time these three pieces on one disc Three orchestral works by o Respighi are gathered here. Ballata delle gnomidi (‘The Ballad of the Gnomes’), composed in 1920 and inspired by a poem depicting satanic rituals, sexual abandonment and blood sacrifice, is here framed by two later and longer works. Metamorphoseon (1930) was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and it is in fact something of a concerto for orchestra, the 30-minute long work consisting of a theme and twelve variations or ‘modes’. The disc closes with the suite from Belkis, Regina di Saba, a full-length ballet depicting the encounter between the Queen of Sheba and Solomon. John Neschling has previously recorded two acclaimed discs of Respighi’s music for BIS. The most recent instalment also featured l’Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, in a performance of Impressioni brasiliane

IBERT: THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL, THREE BALLET PIECES, FAIRY SONG OF MADNESS, ELIZABETHAN SUITE, Slovak Philharmonic Chorus Orchestra, Adriano NAXOS 8.555568  Ibert remains a neglected composer, but perhaps this new disc will go some way to redressing the balance. Based on Oscar Wilde’s impassioned text Le Ballade de la Geôle de Reading, Jacques Ibert’s first symphonic work astonished and impressed audiences with its dark atmospheres of anguished madness and terror. The Trois Pièces de Ballet portray society guests with colourful music-hall wit, contrasting with the impressionistic symphonic poem Féerique and the horrors of war expressed in Chant de Folie, while the Suite Élisabéthaine introduces ancient styles to enhance Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

MOSOLOV: IRON FOUNDRY; PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1; LEGEND OP. 5; SONATA OP. 3; FOUR NEWSPAPER ANNOUNCEMENTS, Steffen Schleiermacher, Ringela Riemke, Natalia Pschenitschnikova, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Johannes Kalitzke/Capriccio C5241  Many composers are only known for single piece… but a piece that lasts only 3 minutes? Among his contemporary countrymen Alexander Mosolov certainly underwent one of the most individual developments. Although most of his compositions have remained unknown both in the Soviet Union and abroad, a single piece has ensured that his name has stayed lastingly present: the Iron Foundry from the ballet Steel (1926/27), a work that was at odds with Socialist Realism gradually becoming established in the post-revolutionary Soviet Union.

KLUGHARDT: SYMPHONY 4 IN C MINOR, Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau, Antony Hermus/CPO 7777402 Those hoping for a major rediscovery along the lines of many other composers whose work has been dusted off by CPO may be disappointed by this relatively quotidian music, but there is no denying its unpretentious appeal. This third CPO disc sets down more neglected orchestral works by August Klughardt. A live performance of the music on this disc, Symphony 4 in C minor was described as: “…a thoroughly noble work, with a simple thematic structure, filled with beautiful ideas, rich in its melodic invention.” This characterises Klughardt’s oeuvre as a whole, which becomes evident from the other works included here, performed by the Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau, and conducted by Antony Hermus.




Partnership for Vasily Petrenko and Oslo Philharmonic

Proper have announcement a new partnership between Vasily Petrenko and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.  They have recorded Scriabin Symphonies 3 & 4 for Norwegian label Lawo Classics . The relationship with Lawo is ongoing so more releases will follow. A selection of LPs are to be released on the Dutch label Vinyl Passions, all of which are remastered from the originals on 180 gm vinyl, some also with the original artwork.  Roby Lakatos has been in the recording studio with his musicians on the Avanti label, and has recorded Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in a surprising version. German label NEOS has recorded the complete piano works of Brian Ferneyhough, and following on from their recent success with Faure’s Requiem, Belgian label Evil Penguin Records continues their recordings of iconic composers’ choral works and releases Brahms’ Requiem conducted by Herve Niquet with the Flemish Radio Choir.