New PENTATONE, Mariinsky, Naxos & Channel

DEBUSSY: SONATA FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO; SONATA FOR CELLO AND PIANO; SONATA FOR FLUTE, VIOLA AND HARP; SYRINX FOR FLUTE SOLO, Joseph Silverstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, Jules Eskin, Doriot Anthony Dwyer, Burton Fine, Ann Hobson, Boston Symphony Chamber Players/ PENTATONE PTC 5186 226 SACD PENTATONE’s revelatory series of Remastered Classics from the 1970s have breathed a new life into many superb recordings from that era, often with spectacular results, thanks to the care with which the original 4.0 channel tapes have been transferred to multi-channel SACD. This disc of Debussy late chamber works from the Deutsche Grammophon catalogue is such an example, and whether assessed on artistic or sonic criteria is outstanding. Debussy composed these three instrumental sonatas between 1915 and 1917. They were planned to be part of a group of six diverse compositions. The other three sonatas were intended for the unusual combinations oboe, horn, and harpsichord (no.4), trumpet, bassoon, and clarinet (no.5) while the sixth was to bring all the instruments together. Sadly Debussy’s depression and torment over the war in France and his battle with the cancer that was to end his life resulted in the completion of just the three works enshrined on this treasurable SACD. They represent what the composer described as a return to “pure music” and are characterised by lyricism and subtle understatement, inspired by the grace, clarity and wit of the French baroque composers Couperin and Rameau whom Debussy admired. The five members of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players heard on this recording come from an orchestra with a very strong French tradition instilled in the players by such conductors as Pierre Monteux and Charles Munch. Continue reading

From Not-quite-Respighi to The Uninvited

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RICHARD STRAUSS: DUETT-CONCERTINO FOR CLARINET, BASSOON, STRING ORCHESTRA & HARP; DER BÜRGER ALS EDELMANN OP. 60; SUITE FOR ORCHESTRA (1917) Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Markus Poschner/CPO 777990-2 There is a slightly more generous PENTATONE SACD of this particular coupling (but also including the Sextet from Strauss’ Capriccio) in which the performances are slightly more elegant and pointed. Nevertheless, for those not possessing the earlier disc, this is a winning performance, given just the right degree of Straussian élan (although it should also be noted that the SACD sound is inevitably more rounded chez PENTATONE than this disc, which is CD only) This is the first recording Markus Poschner has made with the orchestra. Along with the Suite Op. 60 with the incidental music to Der Bürger als Edelmann of 1917, Poschner conducts the Duet Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon, and Strings penned by Strauss much later, in 1947, for the Lugano Orchestra and also premiered by him there. The historical bonus tracks include selections (Four Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by Strauss) from this concert conducted by the composer on 11 June 1947 (his birthday) as well as the concert address delivered by Bernhard Paumgartner on the same occasion.

JAN VAN DER ROOST: SPARTACUS, POÈME MONTAGNARD, SINFONIETTA ‘SUITO SKETCHES’, Philharmonic Winds OSAKAN, Jan Van der Roost, NAXOS 8573486 Let’s be frank – you are unlikely to have heard of this composer, and many of the listeners who would take a punt on new music on the affordable Naxos label are known to peruse the information on the rear of the jewel case as a guide to the kind of composer they will be sampling. The sleeve notes here hopefully invoke Respighi, apparently a favourite composer of Jan Van der Roost, and there is certainly an attempt on his part to channel the vigour and excitement of the Italian composer’s music. Van der Roost, however, is not Respighi, and the very distinctive character of his mentor’s work is not greatly in evidence, even though the accoutrements are to be found. Nevertheless, there is much here that is vigorous, and which may attract those who have collected every note of the earlier composer but are still hungry for more. Jan Van der Roost is represented here by three compositions that are very different in style and inspiration. His tone poem Spartacus is a homage to Respighi, whose sense of colour and imagination have long fascinated Van der Roost. The expressive ‘mountain poem’ Poème Montagnard depicts the wonderful natural scenery of the Aosta Valley and the Sinfonietta ‘Suito Sketches’ consists of four contrasting movements exploring the qualities and virtuosic possibilities of the modern wind orchestra. Based in Osaka Prefecture, Philharmonic. Winds OSAKAN is Japan’s first professional wind ensemble.

GINASTERA: ORCHESTRAL WORKS: Estancia* / Ollantay / Pampeana No. 3, Lucas Somoza Osterc (Baritone)* / BBC Philharmonic / Juanjo Mena/CHANDOS CHAN 10884 It’s something of a mystery why this music is not better known, as Ginastera’s scores bristle with the kind of colour and inventiveness that makes them very accessible indeed. It is in fact the kind of repertoire which the Chandos label specialises in their excavations of attractive 20th-century music such as this (although one might wonder why such music is not rendered here in the SACD format that the company is noted for). In their Spanish music series, the BBC Philharmonic and its chief conductor, Juanjo Mena, now explores the works of the Argentinean composer in three orchestral volumes. Not only acknowledged as a leading South-American composer of his day, Ginastera is also seen as one of the heroes of Latin-American music in general, whose enduring source of inspiration was Argentina itself: its pre-Columbian legacy on the one hand and the vast landscapes of the pampas on the other. Indeed, if Ollantay is inspired by the former, and more especially by a dramatic poem of Inca origin, Ginastera turned to the latter for the setting of his second ballet, Estancia, based on the life of the gauchos who work in those wide open spaces. The essential genre of music in this piece is the malambo, an exclusively masculine, competitive traditional dance, far from the seductive tangos of Ginastera’s now more famous compatriot and pupil Astor Piazzolla. While the landscape is the same in Pampeana No. 3, the music is more abstract and contrasted, marking the transition from what the composer called a compositional period of ‘objective nationalism’ to a ‘subjective one’.

CHOPIN: CHRONOLOGICAL CHOPIN: BALLADES; PRELUDES; SCHERZI AND OTHER WORKS, Burkard Schliessmann/ Divine Art SACD DDC25752 Earlier performances by this pianist on disc have been somewhat controversial, but this intelligently (and unusually) laid out Chopin program displays much of the sensitivity of earlier Chopin specialists such as Ashkenazy, captured here in a surround sound recording that registers every nuance of the piano. German pianist Burkard Schliessmann’s triple SACD set with state of the art sound and luxury packaging chronicles the works of Chopin in order, showing the composer’s development and is thus informative for scholars as well as being an impressive recital.

IVES: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 2: Three Places in New England / A Symphony: New England Holidays / Central Park in the Dark / The Unanswered Question / Melbourne Symphony Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis/CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5163 A personal declaration: at intervals (over several decades), I’ve listened to these pieces to try to unlock their strange secrets, and I’m still unsure as to whether or not I can respond to them. I was hoping that this new recital – recorded in the best possible SACD sound which is certainly streets ahead of any previous rivals in that respect — might firm up my commitment to these tone poems one way or the other. It hasn’t, but if you’re an Ives aficionado, there is no need to resist. In this second volume of a series, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and its chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis play some of the most characteristic pieces of Charles Ives, an insurance salesman by trade and one of the most precociously original of all American composers. Three Places in New England – composed between 1912 and 1916 and revised several times, as most of Ives’s pieces were – was one of Ives’s first major works to receive long overdue attention. It is performed here in its fully orchestrated version, as Ives conceived it at an early stage. The first movement, characteristically, features a superimposition of various thematic fragments of popular melodies accompanied by a simple march beat of timpani and lower strings. The album also features A Symphony: New England Holidays, its four constituent movements (marking national holidays) forming a chronological sequence of the seasons. They can perfectly well be performed in isolation however, which is why Ives chose not to include the work amongst his numbered symphonies. Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question are shorter, companion pieces, the essential light-heartedness of the former pointedly contrasting with the more serious metaphysics of the latter

SIBELIUS, KAIPAINEN, TIENSUU: Different Voices – Kamus String Quartet/Alba Records Oy ABCD383 SACD An unusual programme, in which – inevitably — the Sibelius string quartet (poetically played here) is the principal selling point, with its shaded and elusive appeal brought closer to the surface than usual. ‘Different Voices’ is the latest CD by the Kamus Quartet, rapidly establishing a strong reputation. The quartet’s second disc well demonstrates Finland’s fine tradition of string quartet repertoire with some world premiere recordings.

SHOSTAKOVICH: The Two Violin Sonatas & Rare Chamber Works, Jeremy Menuhin/First Hand Records FHR37, Sasha Rozhdestvensky (violin) Jeremy Menuhin (piano) Ilona Domnich (soprano) Alexandra Sherman (mezzo-soprano) Sonata for Violin and Piano, Unfinished Sonata for Violin and Piano, Andantino from String Quartet No. 4, (arr. violin & piano by Dmitri Tsyganov), Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms 1 (arr. piano duet by Dmitri Shostakovich, c.1930) Braga: La Serenata – A Walachian Legend, (Andante con moto) 2 (transcrib. soprano, mezzo-soprano, violin & piano by Dmitri Shostakovich, 1972) Discovery Records Austere but fascinating repertoire, delivered with maximum conviction in acceptable (if slightly clouded) sound. It’s a disc that will undoubtedly attract admirers of Shostakovich, but given the dark sound world of much of the music, it might be best listened to in segments rather than as a complete programme.

BADINGS: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 5, Bochumer Symphoniker, David Porcelijn/ CPO 777669-2 Anyone adventurous enough to listen to the music of the neglected composer Henk Badings will be well aware that he is worthy of further investigation. This recording of his fourth and fifth symphonies is quite as intriguing as earlier discs in the series, and the fifth in particular is something of a find. This new recording from CPO underlines the composer’s place as one of the great twentieth-century Dutch composers. In defiance of the war time landscape in which it was composed, his fourth symphony is imbued with a musical lightness and wit, and the fifth he wrote in 1949 as a commissioned work for the sixtieth anniversary of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Today this music will surprise the listener with its freshness and vitality.

BRAUNFELS: DON JUAN, SYMPHONIC VARIATIONS ON AN OLD FRENCH NURSERY SONG, OP. 15, Philharmonisches Orchester Altenburg-Gera, Markus L. Frank/ Capriccio C5250 Even his most devoted admirers would not complain that this is the most distinguished music by Walter Braunfels, but (with reservations), it is worthy of attention. The composer was once applauded as a pioneering representative of New Music, but this programme is in classic-romantic style. His 7-movement phantasmagoria Don Juan incorporates variations on themes and motifs from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. The work was premièred in 1924, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler.

SAINT-SAËNS: CELLO CONCERTOS AND OTHER WORKS: Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921): Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33* / Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 119* / The Carnival of the Animals†‡§ / Africa, Op. 89† / Caprice-Valse, Op. 76 ‘Wedding-cake’† / Truls Mørk | Cello* Louis Lortie (Piano)† / Hélène Mercier (Piano)‡ / Alasdair Malloy (Glass Harmonica)§ / Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Neeme Järvi CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5162 A mixture of the familiar and the rare is the hallmark of this new recording by The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Neeme Järvi. The cello concertos are not the composer’s best work, but will appeal to his admirers. Truls Mørk, this season’s Artist in Residence with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, is the soloist in the two contrasted cello concertos. His ‘seemingly flawless technical command’ is tested in the suave, expressive, famous No. 1 as well as in the many taxing solo passages, huge leaps, and double-stopping flourishes of No. 2.

SIERRA: SINFONÍA NO. 3 ‘LA SALSA’, BEYOND THE SILENCE OF SORROW*, BORIKÉN • EL BAILE, Martha Guth, Soprano*, Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, Maximiano Valdés NAXOS There is no shortage of orchestral colour and rhythmic verve to be found here; what is perhaps lacking is that final ounce of melodic distinction (evident in many South American composers). The rhythms enshrined in these four works provide further evidence of the art of internationally acclaimed Puerto Rican composer, Roberto Sierra. The award-winning Sinfonía No. 3 ‘La Salsa’ owes its inspiration to the music of the Spanish Caribbean and is a salsa of older and newer rhythms, intoxicatingly presented amidst revelry and dance. The instrumentally vivid Borikén is based on the baroque chaconne but with a Latin twist, while El Baile invokes traditional music in a wholly distinctive way. Beyond the Silence of Sorrow is a lyrical song cycle.

VICTOR YOUNG: THE UNINVITED, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS • BRIGHT LEAF, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, Moscow Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, William Stromberg/ NAXOS While such composers as Eric Wolfgang Korngold and Bernard Herrmann have achieved considerable posthumous recognition, their contemporary Victor Young, one of Hollywood’s busiest and most esteemed film composers, is known principally to the cognoscenti. This disc of attractive scores by Young may go some way to redressing the balance. His scores are very winning, and his piano concerto-style score for The Uninvited which produced the standard Stella by Starlight was pivotal to arguably the best Hollywood ghost story ever produced. The animated Gulliver’s Travels relied heavily for its charm and dramatic impact on Young’s wonderful orchestrations, while the tobacco dynasty drama Bright Leaf inspired one of his most restrained and thoughtful film scores.

UPHELD BY STILLNESS, Ora, Suzi Digby Harmonia Mundi The label Harmonia Mundi has made a specialty of unusual repertoire, and this collection focusing on the English composer William Byrd will appeal to lovers of the voice. The recording is particularly faithful in capturing every aspect of the individual strands of the music.

COPLAND: BILLY THE KID RODEO, ETC./BIS SACD 2164 With another Aaron Copland SACD disc imminent from Chandos covering very similar repertoire, it’s hard to say yet which company will best serve the American composer. Aficionados of Copland should be grateful for one fact: two separate recording companies are undertaking recordings of this exhilarating, idiomatic music in modern surround sound techniques. Until the Chandos appears, it’s safe to say that this performance — while lacking the final ounce of verve that Copland’s friend and advocate Leonard Bernstein brought to this music – is still immensely engaging; these scores have never sounded better. See also a more detailed review in Graham Williams Reviews, opposite.

PROKOFIEV; SYMPHONIES 4,6,7; PIANO CONCERTOS 4,5, Soloists, Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/Mariinsky SACD MARO577 While impressive recordings of some of this music has already appeared on SACD, this generously filled two-disc set plugs several key gaps in the medium — and in extremely idiomatic readings (as one would expect from Valery Gergiev). See also a more detailed review in Graham Williams Reviews, opposite.