Formidable New Releases from Linn

Linn have a great start to 2016 with some striking new releases. From Trevor Pinnock’s “Journey” surveying 200 years of harpsichord music, Magnificat’s “Scattered Ashes” and Markku Luolajan-Mikkola’s (of Phantasm) compelling take on the Bach violin sonatas and partitas on baroque cello.Journey is a unique harpsichord recital by Trevor Pinnock which charts two incredible musical journeys four hundred years apart. Inspired by the travels of Antonio Cabezón, the sixteenth century organist and composer, Pinnock’s programme weaves a path not only through Cabezón’s life but also through his own enviable career. In celebration of his seventieth birthday, Pinnock has chosen a personal selection of works that evoke vivid memories from different stages of his life. Magnificat’s 25th anniversary recording, Scattered Ashes, features contrasting and parallel works of great passion inspired by the meditations of the infamous Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola.These Latin settings by eight great vocal composers of the 16th century display a variety of scoring, textures and harmonic language that is mirrored in their intensity and attention to detail. Continue reading

Straussian Scores from Tadlow

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GOLDSMITH: THE BLUE MAX AND OTHER SCORES/EPIC HOLLYWOOD: THE MUSIC OF MIKLOS RÓZSA, City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus/Nic Raine/Tadlow 020 & Tadlow 021 Thankfully, distant are the days when recordings of large-scale orchestral film scores were at the mercy of record companies whose intermittent issues barely did service to music — and what was issued sometimes ran to little more than half an hour, such were the limitations of the long-playing record (not to mention the parsimoniousness of record companies). But now the music of Hollywood is something of a new golden age — at least when the company involved is the ambitious Tadlow Music, under the purview of producer James Fitzpatrick. This ambitious company has lovingly represented the scores of such composers as Bernard Herrmann, lovingly reproduced in vivid sound. These two latest issues continue the exemplary work of the company, and are also salutary reminders that with the exception of modern talents such as Michael Giacchino, there are very few current composers who can rival the two remarkable musicians recorded here, Jerry Goldsmith and Miklos Rózsa. Those who admire the work of Goldsmith tend to be of the view that the composer’s magnum opus was The Blue Max, here recording in its totality with a dynamic sound picture that does full justice to the composer’s tonal palette (although Goldsmith himself claimed to be an aficionado of Alban Berg, the templates for this WWII drama are the tone poems of Richard Strauss); other scores on this generous two-disc set include the composer’s superb music for such films as The Sand Pebbles and The Chairman. The Miklos Rózsa two-disc set is another winner. Despite splendid efforts from such contemporary rivals as Dimitri Tiomkin, Rózsa’s Hungarian-influenced scores were the definitive musical incarnations of the Hollywood epic, and the concert we are presented with here includes much of Rózsa’s best work in that vein, from the exhilarating overture to El Cid to his groundbreaking score for the massive Ben Hur. Apart from the generous playing times of these discs, the icing on the cake is the sheer panache of the orchestral playing by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the ever-reliable Nic Raine, the conductor who, more than any other contemporary musician, has the full measure of these scores. If you possess the original soundtrack recordings of much of this music, you may not find yourself parting with these, even though Raine and his musicians give the originals more than a run for their money. But those seeking modern recordings of these dramatic, colourful scores need not hesitate, even though the astonishing surround sound (on Blu-Ray audio) of Tadlow’s recent Bernard Hermann ‘Obsession’ disc has been abandoned for ordinary stereo sound.

Delectable Respighi from CPO & Other New SACDs reviewed by Graham Williams

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RESPIGHI: ANTICHE DANZE ED ARIE PER LIUTO; GLI UCCELLI, Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Henry Raudales/CPO 777 233-2 Henry Raudales, the conductor on this new disc of Respighi’s three suites of ‘Ancient Airs and Dances’ is best known as an exceptionally fine violin soloist, but since 2001 he has been the Concertmaster of the Munich Radio Orchestra which he here directs in vivid performances of Respighi’s delightful homage to the music of often long forgotten Italian and French composers from the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries. For much of his life Respighi had a keen interest in the Renaissance and Baroque music of his homeland and he edited for publication many works by, among others, Monteverdi and Frescobaldi at a time when their music was not well known. His discovery of collections of lute and keyboard pieces made by the Italian musicologist Oscar Chilesotti inspired the composition of the three suites of ‘Antiche Danze ed Arie’ or as they are usually called ‘Ancient Airs and Dances’ heard here. As one might expect from this master of orchestration these arrangements are full of ear-tickling sonorities and piquant orchestral colour that, though sounding undeniably sumptuous and romantically expressive, retain the charm and spirit of the original pieces. This is only the second recording of these suites to appear on multichannel SACD so it is particularly welcome. Those who know and enjoy these engaging compositions will probably be familiar with the first stereo recording of them from Antal Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica, a Mercury Living Presence recording made some 57 years ago still available on SACD – if you can find it at a sensible price – and sounding pretty remarkable for its age. Stereo only listeners will also find the 1979 recording by Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra also to be very recommendable. Perhaps the one unusual feature of this superbly recorded new version is that Raudales has brought some elements of current period practice to bear in his accounts of these suites (especially the third for strings only). Tempi, as one might expect, are very lively with crisp articulation, but the minimal string vibrato and occasionally choppy phrasing Raudales elicits from his players may for some listeners be considered unnecessary and perhaps a step too far in the interpretations of arrangements written between 1917 and 1932. That said, Raudales performances do bring an undeniable exuberance and bracing freshness to these enchanting pieces. The companion work on this disc is Respighi’s popular suite ‘Gli Uccelli’ (The Birds) and somewhat surprisingly the only other version of it available in multi-channel SACD is also to be found on the CPO label, though differently coupled. There is no doubt that both in terms of performance and recorded sound this new one is superior. The playing here has more verve and character than that from Marzio Conti and his Palermo Orchestra and the sound is more spacious. The CPO multi-channel recording, a co-production with Bayerischer Rundfunk made in their Munich Studio 1, is gorgeous – clean, transparent and possessing a pleasing ambience that enhances the playing of the many fine soloists in the Munich Radio Orchestra. This is an excellent addition to the catalogue of Respighi’s music on SACD and those seeking especially characterful accounts of these works in the finest modern sound need look no further.

COPLAND: SUITES FROM BILLY THE KID & APPALACHIAN SPRING; FOUR DANCE EPISODES FROM RODEO; FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN; EL SALÓN MÉXICO, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, John Wilson/CHANDOS CHSA 5164 SACD Hard on the heels of a recent Copland collection by Andrew Litton and the Colorado Symphony comes another recommendable one from John Wilson and the BBC Philharmonic, the first volume of a projected series of Copland orchestral works for Chandos. The programmes offered by Litton and Wilson are similar but not identical – ‘El Salón México’ being the single work common to both discs. The opening item on this SACD is Wilson’s imposing account of the celebrated ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ for brass and percussion. This was one of eighteen fanfares from various composers commissioned in 1942 by Eugene Goosens and the Cincinnati Symphony as, to quote Goosens, “…stirring and significant contributions to the war effort”. After the war Copland re-worked the piece and memorably incorporated it into the finale of his 3rd Symphony. Wilson’s delivery of the Fanfare is more measured than many performances on disc, but by adhering to the composer’s tempo marking ‘very deliberate’ the grandeur and nobility of the piece are allowed to emerge with striking effect. One can hardly fail to be impressed as the sounds of the incisive brass, bass drum and tam-tam strokes resonate thrillingly round the recording venue. The remaining four works on the disc do bring them into direct competition with the definitive Bernstein recording which for many remain hors concours in spite of its age. Wilson, however, brings the flair and panache familiar from his many performances of music from the stage and screen to these ever popular American classics with equal success. Thanks to his subtle use of rubato and the scintillating playing from individual members of the BBC Philharmonic, Wilson captures the humour of El Salón México to perfection, while every detail of Copland’s brilliant orchestration is sharply etched in the fine Chandos recording. The same is true of the three ballet suites which surely match the best available on disc. Choose any fast section in these pieces and you will find terrific vitality and rhythmic buoyancy in the playing; the final Hoe-Down from ‘Rodeo’ being just one example. But Wilson is also capable of relaxed tenderness when required, as in the atmospheric Prairie Night section of the ‘Billy the Kid’ suite and similar episodes in much of ‘Appalachian Spring’. By any standard this is an impressive achievement. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first surround sound SACD (24-bit / 96 kHz) that the BBC Philharmonic have recorded in the orchestra’s home at MediaCityUK, Salford, and for that reason alone it will be warmly welcomed. As someone quite familiar with the clean and bright acoustic of this venue I can confirm that engineer Stephen Rinker has done a marvellous job in capturing just the right amount of ambience of the studio, something that considerably enhances one’s enjoyment of these fine performances. It is to be hoped that future releases from this versatile orchestra will appear in multi-channel SACD rather than just stereo CD. On both musical and sonic grounds, a warm recommendation is warranted for this release.

DVORAK: OVERTURES: Nature, Life and Love (Příroda, Život a Láska), My Home (Můj Domov), Hussite (Husitská), Prague Philharmonia, Jakub Hrůša/PENTATONE PTC 5186532 The distinctive contribution from Jakub Hrůša and the PKF Prague Philharmonia to Johannes Moser’s recent account of the Dvorak and Lalo Cello concertos for PENTATONE made a most favourable impression. On this beautifully recorded SACD the orchestra is given the opportunity to show its mettle in a most welcome collection of five Dvorak Overtures again directed by the charismatic Jakub Hrůša. These splendid works often appear as fill-ups to recordings of Dvorak Symphonies so it is good to hear them presented together rather than as mere adjuncts to longer pieces. The programme opens with the cycle of three concert overtures that Dvorak composed under the collective title of ‘Nature, Life and Love’. These first appeared in 1891 but later they were separated by the composer and assigned the titles by which they are best known today – ‘In Nature’s Realm’, ‘Carnival’ and ‘Othello’ – and given individual opus numbers (Op.91, 92 and 93). All three overtures are linked thematically by the main theme of ‘In Nature’s Realm’ that is used in various guises in the other two. They are full of Dvorak’s typical abundant melodic richness and charm as well as passages of drama and driving energy that often recall his popular Slavonic dances. With their use of Czech folk songs and melodies, the two earlier overtures on this disc, ‘My Home’ Op. 62 and ‘Hussite’ Op. 67 , typify Dvorak’s lifelong patriotism. ‘My Home’ is the overture to the incidental music Dvorak composed to accompany the play’ Josef Kajetán Tyl’ by Frantisek Ferdinand Šamberk that depicts the life of the dramatist of the play’s title. Dvorak’s work incorporates the melody of a popular song ‘Where is my home?’ written by the composer Frantisek Skroup and a text by Tyl that quickly became very popular among Czechs and was accepted as their unofficial national anthem at a time when they were seeking to establish their own identity within the confines of Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a most attractive piece and orchestrated with the composer’ s usual mastery. The stirring ‘Hussite’ Overture of 1883 that completes this collection concerns the Czech religious reformer Jan Hus who was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415. In this work Dvorak marvellously combines the battle hymn of the Hussite warriors ‘ Ye Warriors of God’ – familiar from the two final sections of Smetana’s ‘Ma Vlast’ – and the ‘St. Wenceslas Chorale’ , to build a thrilling composition that moves from a sombre opening chorale through the sounds of battle to reach a magnificent peroration that symbolises the reconciliation of the warring factions. There have been many fine recording of these works on disc amongst which those by István Kertész and Rafael Kubelik from the 1960s and 70s are especially recommendable, though in terms of sound quality neither can match the vividness of this excellent PENTATONE version recorded in 5.0 multi-channel DSD. Jakub Hrůša’s performances of all five works are splendidly vital, stylish and beautifully shaped. If, perhaps, they occasionally lack a little of the dynamism and impetuosity of the two conductors mentioned above, this is more than compensated for by the obvious affection for this music shown by the players and their conductor. The idiomatic woodwind timbre of the PKF Prague Philharmonia, so reminiscent of Czech orchestras of the past, entrances the ear throughout – delightfully enhancing the Bohemian character of this wonderful music – while the crisp percussion and trenchant brass add to the rhythmic buoyancy of Hrůša’s beguiling performances. The Polyhymnia team (Job Maarse, producer, Erdo Groot, balance engineer / editing and Roger de Schot, recording engineer) have captured a warm and spacious sound with a rounded ambience in the fine acoustic of the Forum Karlin in Prague making this authentic Dvorak programme one that can be unreservedly recommended.

MUSICA REALE, François Devienne: Quartets/ Channel Classics CC SSA 35415 I suspect that the name of François Devienne (1759-1803) will probably be as unfamiliar to most people as it was to me; unless, that is, they happen to be flautists or bassoonists. It was, therefore, a serendipitous discovery to find that the four works by this forgotten composer on this beautifully recorded SACD from Channel Classics were so instantly beguiling. Devienne was a gifted exponent of the flute and bassoon and, as well as a prolific composer, he was an eminent teacher at the Conservatoire de Paris in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His compositions included not only scores of pieces for diverse instrumental combinations, mostly involving wind instruments, but also a number of comic operas. Many details of his short life are quite vague – he died at the age of 43 in what was then the Charenton insane asylum near the centre of Paris, and having had the misfortune to be a French contemporary of Mozart, he quickly became a largely forgotten composer, though in the 1960s the distinguished flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal revived his flute concertos and recorded some of them for the Erato label. The Devienne Quartets featured on this disc are given under the auspices of ‘Musica Reale’. This is an initiative that is intended to celebrate the diversity of chamber music and bring it to a wider international audience through performances by the section principals plus other players from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a variety of collaborations. The pair of Devienne’s Flute ‘Quartets for flute and string trio’ (Op.66 Nos. 1 and 3) on this SACD were composed around 1794 and, unsurprisingly, emulate in style those by Mozart that appeared some seventeen years earlier. It may be a truism to say that Devienne does not possess quite the boundless imagination of Mozart or the wit of Haydn, but then who does? Both Quartets demonstrate the elegance of Devienne’s writing not only for the flute soloist, who naturally is given a virtuoso part, but also the three string players. One could not imagine performances better than these given here by Kersten McCall, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s principal flute and his three colleagues ( Junko Naito, violin, Benedikt Enzler, cello, Saeko Oguma, viola (in No.1) and Frederik Boits. viola (in No. 2) whose lively and polished playing shows Devienne’s engaging works in the best possible light. The Bassoon Quartets (Op.73 Nos. 1 and 3) date from around 1800 and, if anything, are even more winning than those for the flute. Here the consummate bassoonist is Gustavo Núñez, widely acknowledged to be one of the finest players of his generation. He is ably supported by Anna de Veij, violin and, as in the flute quartets, by Frederik Boits, viola, and Bendikt Enzler, cello. Devienne’s writing is fluent and winningly melodic throughout, but especially in the graceful slow movements of both quartets, whilst anyone needing to be convinced of the desirability of this disc should try the cheerful final Rondo of the first Quartet (Tr. 9) – quite irresistible in the hands of these superb performers. It need hardly be stated that the lambent warmth of Channel’s 5.0 DSD recording, made in the mellow acoustic of the Doopsgezinde Kerk, Deventer, (Spring of 2014), is outstanding for its clarity, perfect instrumental balance and tonal realism. In every respect this disc is a gem and can be unequivocally recommended.

1615: GABRIELI IN VENICE, His Majesty’s Sagbutts & Cornetts, The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury/ Kings College KGS0012 SACD Back in 1987 Stephen Cleobury, the choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble made a best selling LP recording of the music of Giovanni Gabrieli for the Argo label entitled ‘The Glory of Venice’ that was eventually reissued on CD some twenty years later. Now they return to the music of the Venetian master with an impressive new recording in state-of-the-art-sound. ‘1615: Gabrieli in Venice’ is the title of the sixth release on the King’s College Choir’s own label. The earlier issues have been marked by their notably eclectic choice of composers, but each has shown to advantage the magnificent acoustic of the King’s College Chapel. On this new release marking the 400th anniversary of the first posthumous publication in 1615 of this collection of Gabrieli’s works, the choir of King’s College, Cambridge is joined by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts directed by Jeremy West whose incisive brass playing, in addition to supporting the choir, does full justice to the three ‘Canzona’ that intersperse the vocal items. The varied selection of Venetian polychoral pieces taken from the ‘Symphoniae sacrae – liber secundus’ includes a new reconstruction of ‘Quem vidistis pastores’ by Hugh Keyte. Amongst the large-scale settings are the popular ‘In ecclesiis,’ that benefits not only from the firm singing of the choir but also that of the fine soloists, (treble Gabriel May, alto Patrick Dunachie and tenor Toby Ward tenor), and the ‘Magnificat'(a 14) for three choirs, one of Gabrieli’s many settings of this canticle. The diagram in the liner notes with this disc shows that the performers were arranged in two loosely semicircular groups with the Choir in two rows facing the brass group and balanced so the instrumental and voices are on equal terms. Stephen Cleobury directs and balances his forces with exemplary skill ensuring throughout that the solo voices are never overwhelmed by the brass and that the full splendour of the music is communicated to the listener. The package contains a multichannel hybrid SACD 5.1 and a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc that includes downloadable sound files and the ability to play the programme using the new Dolby Atmos surround sound technology which is said to be able to reproduce the acoustics of the chapel with unprecedented realism. Not having the appropriate decoder/amplification nor speaker arrangement to experience Dolby Atmos, I cannot vouch for this. I can, however, confirm that heard in 5.1 Dolby True HD on the Blu-ray disc, the sound is breathtaking in its ability to recreate the justly famous acoustic of the chapel in one’s listening room. The SACD disc is equally impressive but for one unfortunate problem. The rear left surround channel has virtually no output. Those listening to the SACD in surround should check this out as it is possibly a manufacturing fault. Authoritative notes by Iain Fenlon and full texts and translations are included in the accompanying 24-page booklet. The print, however, is so small that only those with 20/20 vision will be able to read them comfortably. In every way an inspiring release.