Scriabin from LSO Live, Beethoven from Reference

SCRIABIN SYMPHONIES 3 & 4, London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/LSO Live SACD LSO 0771 Judging by the number of recent and planned releases, record companies seem to have a new found interest in promulgating the orchestral music of Alexander Scriabin on disc. This release from LSO Live is the first in a cycle of Scriabin Symphonies from Valery Gergiev (a long time champion of this composer) and the London Symphony Orchestra. Both performances were recorded live in concerts at the Barbican in March 2014 (Symphony No.4, ‘The Poem of Ecstasy’) and April 2014 (Symphony No.3 ‘The Divine Poem’). Of the composer Gergiev says “Scriabin should be today understood as a man who was able to create a wonderfully magical musical world, and we just have to give in. We have to be imprisoned by these compositions and the magical powers of their creator”. True to his word Gergiev delivers riveting accounts of both works on this SACD, and thanks to the magnificent playing of the 100 – strong LSO, the compelling vision of his interpretations is realised to the full. The majority of the composition of Symphony No.3 ‘The Divine Poem’ took place in1903 at a time when Scriabin was becoming more preoccupied with the grandiose philosophical and mystical ideas that he attempted to express in his music. The Symphony is scored for massive orchestral forces and is the composer’s longest work. Continue reading

End-of-Year Temptations from BIS, Chandos & Mariinsky

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PROKOFIEV CINDERELLA, Mariinsky Ballet Orchestra, Diana Vishneva, Valery Gergiev/Blu-Ray MAR0555 Stereo only? In every other aspect (notably its beautifully detailed and lambent widescreen picture), this new version of Prokofiev’s classic ballet is state of the art – so why not surround sound, for God’s sake? Nevertheless, this is as exemplary a production as we’re likely to have in the Blu-Ray medium. The dancing is nonpareil, particularly Diana Vishneva in the title role who (as is the custom for dancers in the 21st-century) acts quite as persuasively as she dances. Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography – often angular and idiosyncratic — perfectly complements the scenario. But most of all it’s Gergiev’s perfectly judged contribution that winkles out every nuance in the score which makes this such a tempting acquisition. To go back to my first point – had this set been in surround sound, rather than stereo, it would have been one of the most competitive modern versions of the score, stage noises and applause notwithstanding. Nevertheless, a highly attractive set (Blu-Ray and DVD). SCHUBERT LIEDER, ORCHESTRATED BY REGER & WEBERN, Christian Elsner, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Marek Janowski/ PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186394 While the spirit of great Schubert interpreters such as Dietrich Fischer Dieskau need not be troubled by more recent interpreters, this is a particularly pleasurable disc – and the singing of Christian Eslner apart, what makes this a particularly valuable disc for collectors are the arrangements. Schubert lieder orchestrations were attempted by various composers, such as Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Benjamin Britten, Hector Berlioz. Max Reger and Anton Webern also made arrangements of Schubert’s songs. These arrangements – beautifully orchestrated — are real rarities, and this set features 17 Schubert Lieder, of which 13 were orchestrated by late Romantic German composer Reger, and four by Second Viennese School member, Anton Webern. The songs are beautifully performed by tenor Christian Elsner together with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and conducted by Marek Janowski. The 1 bit DSD, 2,8 mhz recording is available on SACD and in FLAC and DSD format.

CASELLA: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 4.: SYMPHONIC FRAGMENTS FROM ‘LE COUVENT SUR L’EAU’, OP. 19 / ELEGIA EROICA, OP. 29 / SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN B MINOR, OP. 5, BBC Philharmonic / Gianandrea Noseda/CHANDOS CHAN 10880 Ask admirers of orchestral music from Italy (rather than opera) to name key composers, and there may be a struggle to come up with someone other than Respighi . But now we’ve had the chance to listen to some of his distinguished contemporaries, and few have been as rewarding as Casella. Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic here present a fourth captivating volume of orchestral works by Alfredo Casella, part of their ongoing Musica Italiana series. In 1912, with his music for the ‘choreographic comedy’ Le Couvent sur l’eau, Casella demonstrated that stylistic versatility was no disadvantage for a ballet composer, and although Diaghilev turned down the work for the Ballets Russes, Casella selected the highly colourful and once popular ‘symphonic fragments’, heard here, for concert use. Similarly, the Elegia eroica is stylistically eclectic, constructed, according to Casella, as a ‘vast triptych’, opening with a dissonant funeral march and ending with a comforting, tuneful lullaby. Casella wrote this piece, which he dedicated ‘to the memory of a soldier killed in the war’, after Italy had entered the First World War and suffered enormous losses. The three-movement Symphony in B minor is an early work (1906) of creative energy and burning conviction, in which Casella’s enthusiasm for Russian music is revealed already in the sombre Mussorgskyan opening theme. This hypnotic first movement is almost pleasantly oppressive in comparison to the gentler, melodious second, and the bold final movement represents the adventurous exploits of an ambitious young composer.

KORNGOLD: COMPLETE SONGS, Konrad Jarnot, Adrianne Pieczonka, Reinild Mees/Capriccio C5252 One trusts that Korngold’s reputation has now been thoroughly rehabilitated. The young prodigy who had been praised by Richard Strauss’s father was for years routinely written off for his adult sojourn in Hollywood, despite the fact that the music he produced in his American years was as rich with melody and invention as in his earlier Viennese period. But what of the songs? If, like this reviewer, you are familiar with only a handful of them, it might be considered that a complete two-disc set would be prove to be valuable. And so it is – but with reservations. My own perception of the songs was that they were in the largely in the idiom of the composer whose father had acclaimed young Korngold, but although the rich vein of melody is often apparent in this well-sung collection, this corpus of work never rivals the lieder of Strauss. Notwithstanding, there is much that is valuable here — even though I was finally unpersuaded. From his first attempts at composition, Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote songs; Der Knabe und das Veilchen dates from early 1905 when Korngold was just seven years old and is recorded here for the first time, together with a number of individual songs, only recently published. As one of the last exponents of the Austro-Germanic lied which lasted almost two centuries, Korngold occupies a special place in that tradition.

HAYDN: SYMPHONIES 102, 103, 104, Cappella Coloniesis, Bruno Weil/ARS SACD 38 064 Since the inauguration of the SACD medium, a variety conductors have presented impressive versions of Haydn symphonies, and while Bruno Weil has only recorded the ‘London’ Symphonies (leaving aside earlier recordings by the conductor), this is proving to be one of the most accomplished and worthwhile additions to the catalogue, with a flawless balance between authentic performance modes (just relish that crisp, ear-pinging timpani) and modern orchestral thinking. In fact this series (live, but free of audience noise) has proved to be so accomplished, one can only wish that Weil would tackle all the other hundred-plus Haydn symphonies. This culmination of the complete recording of Haydn’s ‘London’ Symphonies” with Capella Coloniens is a series which has also featured an unusual concept: along with each work, Weil presents an explanatory introduction, which is hardly likely to be revisited as often as the music.

POULENC: PIANO CONCERTO‡ / CONCERTO FOR TWO PIANOS*†‡ / Aubade*‡ / Sonata for Piano Four Hands*† / Élégie*† / L’Embarquement pour Cythère*†. Louis Lortie*, Hélène Mercier† (Piano) / BBC Philharmonic‡ /Edward Gardner‡ CHANDOS CHAN 10875 Versions of this coupling have appeared before, and it must be admitted that these new takes – however admirable — do not supplant their admirable predecessors. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for this particular combination of Poulenc works for piano and orchestra in spanking modern sound, there is absolutely no necessity to hesitate, as Lortie and Gardner point up all the colour and energy in these delightful scores. After a cycle of Chopin works for solo piano, Louis Lortie plays here works by Poulenc with his duet partner Hélène Mercier. In Aubade and the two concertos they are joined by Edward Gardner and the BBC Philharmonic. The French-Canadian pianists draw a persuasive portrait of the melancholic Parisian that Poulenc was: playful and depressed, like his tutor, Erik Satie. There is always a sense of palpable anxiety in these pieces, be it the sarcastic joie de vivre of the ‘choreographic concerto’ Aubade or the ironic melancholy of the explosive Concerto for Two Pianos – Mozartean and Stravinskyan at the same time.

ATTERBERG: CELLO CONCERTO IN C MINOR, OP. 21; HORN CONCERTO IN A MAJOR, OP. 28, Nikolaj Schneider, Johannes-Theodor Wiemes, NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, Ari Rasilainen/CPO999874-2 If you’re one of those listeners lucky enough to have encountered the neglected music of Atterberg, you’ll realise that his time in the wilderness has been notably unjust – and it has been particularly welcome to have the composer’s symphonies available in excellent modern recordings This disc, a codicil to the symphonies, concludes CPO’s series of the concertos of Kurt Atterberg. The Swedish composer penned both works in the 1920s, and took an approach that was more intuitive than analytical – in the Horn Concerto he employs the unusual combination of strings, piano, and percussion to create a tonal phenomenon completely different from the Cello Concerto.

BERG: VIOLIN CONCERTO, etc., Rachel Cunz, Musikkloegium Winterthur, Pierre-Alain Monot/MDG 9011913 SACD To my knowledge, this is the first recording in the SACD medium of Berg’s plangent Violin Concerto. It is something of a cliché to say that this piece is the music by Berg for those who do not like Berg, and there is no question that the romantic overtones of the piece make its serial accoutrements much easier to swallow than much music of the Second Viennese school. It is played here with great sympathy and understanding, and (along with the more serial-oriented pieces by Berg on the disc) makes for an intriguing issue.

DVORAK: SYMPHONY NO. 5, ETC., Staatsphilharmonie Nürnberg, Marcus Bosch/Coviello COV 91512 SACD It seems strange that this is the debut in the SACD medium for Dvorak’s glorious fifth – surely there have been other surround sound this is before this? However, the wait has proved well worthwhile, and this is a truly splendid performance. Marcus Bosch finds all the colour and invention in the composer’s vivid orchestration.

1615: GABRIELLI IN VENICE The Choir of King’s College, Stephen Cleobury/KGS0012 SACD The selling point here is the fact that this is in the new Dolby Atmos system which delivers truly multidimensional sound – including speakers overhead. The system is clearly enjoying the commitment of several companies – many new Blu-rays are being issued in this format, but of those of us enjoying the benefits of surround sound, few will yet have overhead speakers. Nevertheless, even in five channels, the effect is impressive here, although one surprise that the rear channels are hardly used, even for ambience – surely this would be a natural for this recording.

SCHUMANN: DAS PARADIES UND DIE PERI, London Symphony Orchestra, Soloists, Sir Simon Rattle/LSO Live LSO 0782 With both an SACD and an Audio Blu-ray in the package, this is an issue which will be of interest to admirers of Schumann, although the non-converted may not be swayed. Nevertheless, it is given the best possible reading here.

HINDEMITH: MATHIS DER MAHLER, SYMPHONY IN E FLAT, NDR Symphony Orchestra, Christoph Eschenbach/Ondine ODE 12572  It something of a mystery why these symphonies by Hindemith are not more popular (although Mathis enjoys some currency), as the energy and vitality of the music make them not at all difficult to approach. Perhaps these persuasive performance will lift them out of the shadow under which they reside (the disc is not SACD, despite earlier notifications to that effect).

J.S. BACH: MAGNIFICAT & CHRISTMAS CANTATA, Dunedin Consort; John Butt/Linn Classical CKD 469 Quite possibly the most persuasive version of Bach’s Magnificat you are likely to hear in modern times. This is the premiere recording of J.S. Bach’s Magnificat heard for the first time within its original liturgical context, alongside the beautiful Christmas Cantata. The first 1000 customers will also receive a free bonus disc of highlights from the Consort’s Gramophone Award-winning seasonal favourite ‘Handel: Messiah’. Dunedin Consort recreates Bach’s first Christmas at Leipzig (Vespers in the Nikolaikirche, 25 December 1723); the recording opens with a Gabrieli motet and includes organ preludes and a seasonal congregational chorale. Director John Butt has given listeners an interpretation that will provide a refreshing outlook on this masterpiece and will show the Magnificat in a completely new light. This recording marks the return of Dunedin Consort’s star-studded cast including, Nicholas Mulroy, Matthew Brook, Joanne Lunn and Clare Wilkinson plus newcomer Julia Doyle.

PROKOFIEV: BACK IN THE USSR: Cantata on the 20th Anniversary of October Revolution, op.74/Cantata on the 30th Anniversary of October Revolution, op.114/A Toast! In Honour of Stalin’s 60th Birthday, op.85, Aleksander Titov/CuGate Classics CGC 006/4038912419210 The Melodiya label apart, classical recording companies have demonstrated a deep embarrassment regarding the agitprop pieces that Prokofiev and Shostakovich were obliged to write in honour of the dictator who ruled their country, though they both loathed Stalin. But surely in the 21st-century, listeners can see these pieces in context and even access the tub-thumping aspects (much criticised over the years) as simply another element in their composers’ armouries – and enjoy them as such? The three works on this album belong to music which dispels the myth that Prokofiev – ‘shaker of foundations’ and ‘daring innovator’ – became, after his return to the USSR, an ‘acquiescent traditionalist’. As a result of the Soviet government’s permit to tour abroad, he lived for more than 18 years outside the country. On his return to his homeland, he entered actively into the building of socialist musical culture. However, he also recognized soon the reverse of the medal: the socialist realism with its official preference for simple ‘folk’ melodies, composed in a mood of profound optimism and easily understood by the masses led to conflicts with progressive composers. They all were exposed to persecution in the press, deprived of work and doomed to poverty. Thus Prokofiev was forced to play by the rules of the game. Nevertheless, in his work there remained too much that conflicted with the ideals of the ‘construction of communism’

ENESCU: SYMPHONY NO. 4 IN E MINOR; NUAGES D’AUTOMNE SUR LES FORETS; CHAMBER SYMPHONY OP. 33

DR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, Peter Ruzicka/CPO 777966-2 Let’s be frank; Classical CD Choice always tries to be. This is not Enescu in his typically ear-tingling, colourful vein ; the Fourth Symphony is a far less ingratiating piece than some of its predecessors – and certainly not the place to start with this composer, unless you are more inclined towards challenging modern music. Nevertheless, all the composer’s considerable virtues are present, and those who have been collecting the earlier symphonies should give this disc a listen. The present recording, like the Symphony No. 5 in D major, is a world-premiere release conducted by Peter Ruzicka, and emphatically underscores Enescu’s rank as a serious symphonist of the 20th century.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G major, Dorothea Röschmann, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Mariss Jansons RCO15004 Some pieces of music have been particularly lucky in terms of recording, and few more so over the years than Mahler’s fourth Symphony, which has enjoyed a variety of classic recordings (many, for instance, remember the famous George Szell version with great affection). If this new performances is not in the same league as some of its distinguished predecessors, it still does justice to this most modest and charming of Mahler Symphonies, though there is certain lack of poetry in the interpretation. With Gustav Mahler, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has a very special relationship. The composer conducted the orchestra no less than 12 times and found in Amsterdam an understanding audience. Mahler’s Fourth Symphony was premiered in Amsterdam by the composer, who conducted it twice, once before and once after the interval, so that the audience could get to know the work better..

GRIEG: COMPLETE SYMPHONIC WORKS,• VOL. V:EXCERPTS FROM IBSENS’ PEER GYNT, OP. 23,SIX ORCHESTRAL SONGS: SOLVEIG’S SONG, SOLVEIG’S CRADLE SONG, FROM MONTE PINCIO, A SWAN, LAST SPRING, HENRIK WERGELAND TWO LYRIC PIECES, OP. 68 (NO. 4 & 5), THE MOUNTAIN RAPT, OP. 32, NORWEGIAN DANCES, OP. 35 Camilla Tilling, Audite SACD92671 What a delight this survey of Grieg’s orchestral music has proved to be – a tantalising delight, it has to be said, as there have been considerable gaps between the various additions to the series over the years. While individual recordings of some of the music might be more striking elsewhere, as an entity, this largely complete recording of the orchestral music has proved to be no definitive and – what’s more – recorded in the best possible surround sound This recording gathers several important examples of the less familiar Edvard Grieg as composer of songs with orchestra. Soprano Camilla Tilling plays a leading part in this fifth and final volume of Audite’s complete recording of Grieg’s orchestral works: although Grieg drew on his own songs with orchestra or piano for the ‘Six Orchestral Songs’, this set forms an independent, elegiacally-hued cycle reflecting the core of Grieg’s personality. It includes not only two songs from the incidental music to ‘Peer Gynt’ (Solveig’s Song and Solveig’s Lullaby) but also transcriptions of solemn piano songs such as the Roman ballad ‘From Monte Pincio’, or the memory of the short-lived Norwegian patriot Henrik Wergeland, to whom the final song (sung by Tom Erik Lie) is dedicated.

WEINBERG: IN SEARCH OF FREEDOM: PIANO QUINTET OP. 18, QUARTET NO. 10, OP. 85, QUARTET NO. 13, OP. 118 Zemlinsky Quartet/Praga Digital DSD 250 296 If you’ve been collecting the recent tsunami of recordings of the symphonies of Weinberg, you may feel the need to investigate some of his equally neglected chamber music The music of Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919 – 1996) is among some of the 20th century’s greatest hidden treasures. Born in Poland, Weinberg emigrated to Russia in perilous circumstances, where he was to live out the rest of his days in the shadow of his close friend Dimitri Shostakovich, by whom he was regarded as one of the most outstanding composers of the day, Weinberg is slowly being rediscovered as a 20th century genius, a figure of immense significance in the landscape of post-modern classical music. Weinberg’s musical idiom stylistically mixes traditional and contemporary forms, combining a freely tonal, individual language inspired by Shostakovich with ethnic (Jewish, Polish, Moldovian) influences and a unique sense of form, harmony and colour. His prolific output includes no less than 17 string quartets, over 20 large-scale symphonies, numerous sonatas for solo stringed instruments and piano as well as operas and film-scores. With the constant stream of recordings, score publications and concerts over the last decade, many of these gems have been unearthed to finally receive the critical praise and attention they deserve.

TASMIN LITTLE PLAYS BRITISH VIOLIN CONCERTOS: HAYDN WOOD (1882-1959): VIOLIN CONCERTO / SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR (1875-1912): VIOLIN CONCERTO / FREDERICK DELIUS (1862-1934): SUITE FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA , Tasmin Little (violin) / BBC Philharmonic / Sir Andrew Davis/ CHANDOS CHAN 10879 The first thing that needs to be said about this disc is how exquisitely played it is, but that will come as no surprise to aficionados of the remarkable violinist Tasman Little. If the music on the disc offers no neglected masterpieces, it is still immensely appealing, and is given the greatest possible advocacy here. Following on from the acclaimed Elgar and Moeran concertos, Tasmin Little and Sir Andrew Davis continue their special affinity for British music with this exciting new recording featuring the music of Coleridge-Taylor, Wood, and Delius. Born in England of an English mother and a Sierra Leonean father, Coleridge-Taylor was much revered as a composer, dubbed ‘the black Mahler’ in the US in his later years. He was commissioned to write a violin concerto in 1910 for the Norfolk Festival in Connecticut and responded with a work based on several spirituals. After submitting it, he decided to completely rewrite it, concluding that the new one was ‘ten thousand times better than the other’. The premiere in 1912 – delayed because scores had gone astray – met with critical acclaim. The composer died a few months later. Like his predecessor Coleridge-Taylor, Haydn Wood studied violin at the Royal College of Music and composition with Sir Charles Stanford. This concerto is his only surviving one for violin. The high-romantic expression of the first movement is followed by a virtually continuous stream of lyrical melody in the second, and a full-blooded finale that at the same time is light and lively. This album also features a Suite of four short character pieces by Delius, in the spirit of the Lyric Pieces for piano by his friend and mentor Edvard Grieg.

BAX & BATE CELLO CONCERTOS, LIONEL HANDY, ROYAL SCOTTISH NATIONAL ORCHESTRA, MARTIN YATES/Lyrita SRCD 351 The rehabilitation of Bax has been underway for some considerable time, and he is now comprehensively regarded as one of the great British composers (if one can say that of a musician so committed to Irish republicanism ). Stanley Bate, however, remains unknown to the general listening public ; perhaps discs such as this one will redress that balance. The first of his pieces for solo instrument and orchestra which Bax officially designated a ‘concerto’ was the Cello Concerto of 1932. In the Cello Concerto, the instrument is centre stage virtually from beginning to end and the composer takes great pains to ensure that it is clearly audible at all times. To accomplish this, he uses modest forces: three flutes, two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, harp, celesta and strings. By the composer’s usual standards, this orchestration is notably restrained, with an absence of trombones and tuba and only two trumpets, the second of which does not feature at all in the first movement. When supporting the soloist, textures often take on the transparency of chamber music and are varied with such invention and flair (including much creative use of divided strings) that we rarely encounter the same combination of instruments accompanying the cellist for two phrases in succession. Before he wrote his Cello Concerto in 1953, Bate had produced a couple of instrumental works for cello and piano, consisting of a Recitative, op.52a (1945), and a Fantasy, op.56 (1947). The fluency of his writing in the concerto suggests that the composer had a natural empathy with the solo instrument’s lyrical and declamatory nature. It was premiered in late 1954 by the Eastman Rochester Orchestra at the Eastman School of Music, New York. Compact and sparingly scored, Bate’s concerto maintains the spotlight firmly on the soloist throughout. A sizeable orchestra is rarely exerted at full stretch and then only fleetingly. It is made up of two flutes, two oboes, clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals and strings.

MIKLOS RÓZSA: SODOM AND GOMORRAH City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, Nic Raine/Prometheus XPCD 178 Those familiar with earlier recordings of classic film scores produced by James Fitzpatrick will be well aware of this ambitious attempts to record virtually complete orchestral scores from the golden age of Hollywood. Listening to this glorious and exhilarating music, it’s hard to remember when film music (even when composed by musicians with such solid classical credentials as Miklos Rózsa) was regarded rather sniffily, as if there was something utterly infra dig about composing music for the cinema – the fact that such illustrious composers as Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich and William Walton had deigned to tackle the field seemed to cut no ice. But Rózsa’s magnificent score for Sodom and Gomorrah is perfect ammunition to use against the naysayers. The Robert Aldrich epic for which the score was written is virtually impossible see in the form which the director intended, with censorship cuts rendering the carnal activities of the famous twin sin cities rather innocuous (Anouk Aimée’s lesbian Queen has to have her Sapphic predilections taken on trust). But there are no reservations about the music, which is in the composer’s most grandiloquent style with particularly impressive use of brass (ringing fanfares were always a speciality of Rózsa in historical epics). Admittedly, the score uses key material more frequently that would be found in a symphonic composition, but it’s none the worse for that – particularly in a performance with the panache provided here by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus under the estimable Nic Raine, which makes the best possible case for the music. And if you find yourself succumbing to the aural splendour on offer here, you should investigate immediately the previous James Fitzpatrick production with these forces – Franz Waxman’s equally splendid score for another compromised epic, Taras Bulba.

FILM FEST GENT AND BRUSSELS PHILHARMONIC PRESENT ALAN SILVESTRI /Silva Screen B015YCWL5U Supported by the Gent’s World Soundtrack Awards, this is the second release from the series and first on Silva Screen Records. Each year a major film music composer is invited to present their work during the annual World Soundtrack Awards Ceremony & Concert closing event. As part of the celebrations Film Fest Gent and partner Brussels Philharmonic record a CD of their music and this year’s guest of honour is Alan Silvestri.