A Spectacular Glagolitic Mass

JANÁČEK: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 3: GLAGOLITIC MASS / ADAGIO FOR ORCHESTRA / ZDRÁVAS MARIA [AVE MARIA] / OTČE NÁŠ [OUR FATHER], Soloists,Choirs, Bergen Philharmonic / Edward Gardner/ CHANDOS SACD CHSA 5165 The first two volumes of Janáček’s orchestral works for Chandos from Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra were spectacularly successful both in terms of performance and sonics. Gardner brilliantly demonstrated his command of Janáček’s unique sound world and his ability to elicit idiomatic performances from his Bergen players. To this end he was aided by the efforts of the Chandos recording team who achieved matchless sound quality in the Grieghallen, Bergen. It is pleasing to report that in all respects Volume 3 matches or possibly even exceeds the exemplary standard of the previous two issues. Though the main work on this latest volume is the much recorded ‘Glagolitic Mass’ the disc also includes three valuable and rarely heard fill-ups that devotees of the composer will definitely wish to acquire, especially when performed as splendidly as here. Continue reading

Tasmin Little’s Beethoven and other new discs

BeethovenBEETHOVEN: COMPLETE VIOLIN SONATAS, Tasmin Little (Violin) / Martin Roscoe (Piano) CHANDOS (3) There have been several distinguished integral sets of the Beethoven violin sonatas over the years, but Tasmin Little’s project is distinguished by an unforced authority which (combined with her innate musicality) have produced a very competitive issue. What’s more, the contribution by the pianist Martin Roscoe represents a genuine collaborative agenda on the part of the artists here; these are not violin sonatas with piano accompaniment but a perfectly balanced musical marriage in which the two partners operate on almost symbiotic level with immensely pleasing results, complementing her complete set of Schubert’s violin sonatas with Piers Lane [CHAN 10850(2)]. In all, Beethoven wrote ten sonatas for piano and violin, and seems not to have entertained ideas for other works in this genre. All but one may be regarded as early works: only Op. 96, in G major, which was composed almost a decade after the last of the other nine, does not fall into this category. As a group, then, the violin sonatas do not offer a conspectus of Beethoven’s stylistic development such as we find in the string quartets, piano sonatas, symphonies, and even cello sonatas. But each work is a masterpiece in its own right, original, full of vitality, idiomatic for both the pianist and violinist who are equal-ranking participants in the ensemble, and executed with consummate compositional skill.

SCHUBERT ARR. MAHLER: DEATH AND THE MAIDEN; SHOSTAKOVICH ARR. BARSHAI: CHAMBER SYMPHONY IN C MINOR, LSO String Ensemble Roman Simovi/LSO Live SACD LSO 0786 While long celebrated for its remarkable brass section, the London Symphony Orchestra is rightly proud of its world-class string players, so it should come as no surprise that this coupling of two transcriptions for string orchestra of string quartets should be so accomplished. But in terms of these pieces, times have changed: there is now such a wide choice of recordings of these transcriptions – once rarities in the recorded repertoire – that it’s possible to pick and choose. And it is in that panoply of choice that the reviewer is presented with something of a quandary. Mahler’s arrangement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden has rarely been given such a muscular and emotional reading as it receives here, with the rich LSO string sound captured with fidelity in a forceful surround sound recording. But while the accompanying Shostakovich transcription is certainly estimable, there are now more dynamic readings available, such as that of Hradils on Praga Digitals SACD, which — while slower than the LSO set — finds more drama and impact in the music. Nevertheless, the new LSO Live disc is a tempting proposition if you’re attracted to this particular coupling.

BACH: VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Dunedin Consort, Cecilia Bernardini, John Butt/LINN SACD CKD519 No-one could claim that Bach’s imperishable violin concertos (in their various permutations) have enjoyed generous representation on disc, but this is a notably competitive issue, with the kind of bracing approach to authenticity that is now (uncontroversially) the norm. What would a violinist of David Oistrakh’s generation make of this? They would no doubt relish the impeccable playing, laced with appropriate gusto and finessed by John Butt’s customary fastidious attention to detail. A winner.

DVORAK: OVERTURES, Prague Philharmonia, Jakub Hrůša/PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 532 Those collecting the Dvorak overtures in the SACD medium have been obliged to adopt a piecemeal approach in recent years, sometimes buying not particularly distinguished versions of one of the Dvorak symphonies in order to obtain a surround sound recording of one of the overtures (it has to be admitted that the SACD medium has this acquisitive effect on its consumers); but now (courtesy of PENTATONE), we’re presented with a particular coupling which is unique to the medium, and even if there are perhaps more vibrant performances of some of the pieces here, this makes the disc rather cherishable – particularly with the glowing sound according to the orchestra by the engineers. For a large part, thanks to the effort of Johannes Brahms, who introduced him to his publisher Simrock, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák developed into a composer with an international reputation. Don’t we all know his Slavonic Dances, his Symphonies or his chamber music, such as the Dumky Trio or the American string quartet? This album reveals some of the more hidden treasures of Dvořák’s repertoire, namely his overtures, of which he wrote no less than thirteen. In the booklet to the album they are described as follows: All five overtures on this recording are richly and vividly scored, employing palettes of instruments broader on average than those found in Dvořák’s mature symphonies and sometimes calling for special effects. For their orchestral colour but also their rich expression of poetic content, as well as their purely musical invention and structural mastery, these overtures constitute gems of special brilliance in the treasury of Dvořák’s compositional bequest. The PKF – Prague Philharmonia recorded this album in January 2015 at the Forum Karlin in Prague under the baton of their 2009-2015 Music Director and Chief Conductor Jakub Hrůša.

WEINBERG: ORCHESTRAL MUSIC, VOLUME TWO: SIX BALLET SCENES, OP. 113; SYMPHONY NO. 22, OP. 154, Siberian Symphony Orchestra, Dmitry Vasilyev/TOCCATA TOCC0313 At the accelerating rate at which the music of Weinberg is being issued on disc, it’s only a matter of time before his formidable corpus of symphonies is fully available. This recording pairs a mature orchestral work, the Six Ballet Scenes, Op. 113 (1973), to which Weinberg gave the subtitle ‘Choreographic Symphony’, with the last symphony he composed, No. 22, leaving it in a piano score which has been orchestrated by Kirill Umansky. Performances are serviceable.

MARTINŮ: SUITES NOS 1 AND 2 FROM ŠPALÍČEK, RHAPSODY-CONCERTO FOR VIOLA AND ORCHESTRA*, Mikhail Zemtsov (Viola)* / Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi/CHANDOS CHAN 10885 A personal note here. As someone who has been collecting Martinu’s uneven but fascinating body of work over the years, there has been one holy grail, Špalíček, previously only available in a Supraphon performance with scrawny mono sound. But now we can finally hear the piece with all the nuances of orchestration that were previously only hinted at. This album with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and its artistic director, Neeme Järvi, features two mature works by Martinů, recorded in the splendid acoustic of the Estonia Concert Hall in Tallinn. One of the most wide-ranging composers of music for the stage, Martinů was also enthusiastic about the theatrical possibilities of including new media in his operas. Špalíček in many ways belongs to this experimental tendency. Although it was published and billed at its first performance as a ballet, it might best be described as an opera-ballet, as alongside the many dances there are extensive roles for chorus as well as tenor, soprano, and bass soloists. Martinů described the work on his manuscript as deriving from folk games, customs, and fairytales. The lyrical Rhapsody-Concerto was written in 1952, at a time when Martinů was fighting homesickness and depression, worsened by the political situation in his native Czechoslovakia. The work is a marked move toward a more romantic sound world. The soloist here is Mikhail Zemtsov, principal violist of the Reside ntie Orchestra The Hague since 2001 and a prize winner at the first International Viola Competition (Vienna) and the Elisa Meyer String Competition (Hamburg). The exploration by Järvi and the ENSO of hidden gems from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has proved highly successful, their recent recording of works by Suchoň (CHAN 10849) awarded the Choc de Classica

SHOSTAKOVICH, ARR. BARSHAI: CHAMBER SYMPHONIES OP. 73A & 83A AND EAST EUROPEAN FOLK TUNES, The re:orchestra, Roberto Beltrán-Zavala BIS 2227 There was a time when recordings of the Barshai transcriptions for string orchestra of the Shostakovich quartets were few and far between, but lately, they are finding their way onto disc in bountiful profusion, as this latest disc demonstrates (and see above). If the present set is not quite the most persuasive available of these pieces, it remains highly competitive with string playing of considerable distinction. The two ‘Chamber Symphonies’ recorded here are in fact Shostakovich’s Third and Fourth String Quartets, Opp. 73 and 83, and were composed in 1946 and 1949 respectively, during the aftermath of World War II and the onset of Stalin’s terror. The disc is part of a project called ‘Essential Music’ initiated by the re:orchestra, a young and vibrant ensemble based in Rotterdam. Together with artistic director, the Mexican-Dutch conductor Roberto Beltrán-Zavala, the ensemble regularly undertakes multidisciplinary projects. Less successfully on the present disc Vasile Nedea has arranged a Russian klezmer dance, a group of folk melodies from Transylvania and Muntenia, and two Romanian dances: Turceasca and Hora de la Goicea. (Also note also a commendable rival set: SHOSTAKOVICH: CHAMBER SYMPHONIES IN C MAJOR, OP. 49A ‘EINE KLEINE SYMPHONIE’ IN C MINOR, OP. 110A IN D MAJOR, OP. 83A ARRANGED BY RUDOLF BARSHAI, Kiev Soloists, Dmitry Yablonsky, Naxos 8.573466)

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: FAIR CHILD OF BEAUTY, THE BRIDAL DAY; EPITHALAMION, John Hopkins, Philip Smith, Joyful Company of Singers, Britten Sinfonia, Alan Tongue, ALBION ALBCD025/026 As a listener who is content to have almost every note that Vaughan Williams wrote on my shelves (some juvenilia of the composer’s apart), I was certainly tempted by this latest issue from Albion Records, specialists in more arcane RVW. The lesser-known pieces by the composer, it has to be said, are hardly essential fare for any but hard-core Vaughan Williams enthusiasts, but the more adventurous should certainly give them a listen – provided, that is, they can accommodate the rather pedestrian spoken part included here, which very quickly outstays its welcome. The programme of works by Ralph Vaughan Williams comprises the Fair Child of Beauty, The Bridal Day, and Epithalamion. These performances are given by John Hopkins (speaker), baritone Philip Smith, the Joyful Company of Singers, the Britten Sinfonia, under the direction of Alan Tongue.

RESPIGHI: ANTICHE DANZE ED ARIE, SUITES 1-3; SUITE ‘GLI UCCELLI’, Muenchner Rundfunkorchester, Henry Raudales CPO 777233-2  Approaches to these pieces have varied over the years, but this new set, which combines the full orchestration Respighi accorded the pieces with a more crisply articulated period approach than the pieces customarily receive. This makes for a very tempting disc Ottorino Respighi’s Antiche danze ed arie, free arrangements of arias and dances from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, enables listeners to rediscover forgotten rhythms and tones. These works are complemented by his Gli Uccelli (‘The Birds’) suite.

NIELSEN; CHORAL WORKS, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Danish National Concert Choir, Danish National Girls’ Choir, Danish National Junior Choir, Danish National Children’s Choir, Michael Schønwandt, Phillip Faber, Susanne Wendt DA CAPO 8226112 The slightly monochromatic sound world provided by these pieces renders it more suitable for the Nielsen enthusiast than the general listener, but it’s hard to imagine that pieces given more persuasive advocacy. Carl Nielsen’s prolific output of around 300 songs come in many forms. In this collection we hear 25 choral versions of the most popular Nielsen songs, such as Den danske sang er en ung, blond pige as well as more rarely heard or unknown choral works.

FRANCIS CHAGRIN: SYMPHONIES NOS. 1 AND 2, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins,/Naxos 8.571371 Naxos continues its enterprising excavation of neglected composers with this intriguing new disc. If Chagrin does not turn out to be a hidden treasure, there are still rewards here. Francis Chagrin described himself as ‘Romanian by birth, British by nationality and cosmopolitan by inclination’. A student of Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger, Chagrin wrote prolifically for films but composed for most genres. The two symphonies are among his most important orchestral works. Both are dramatic, even passionate—not least in the beautiful slow movements—and full of contrasts, both within and between movements. Undeservedly neglected, they reveal Chagrin’s mastery of form and colour.

LEO WEINER: CSONGOR AND TÜNDE, OP. 10 (1959 VERSION)*, BALLAD FOR CLARINET AND ORCHESTRA, OP. 28**(VERSION FOR VIOLA AND ORCHESTRA), Máté Szűcs, Viola**, Jubilate Girls Choir* • Ferenc Sapszon Jr., Chorus-master*, Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV, Valéria Csányi NAXOS If you have a taste for colourful orchestral there in a vaguely Bartok/Kodaly idiom, look no further. Leo Weiner is not the equal of his more famous countryman, but has much to offer. For over half a century at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, Leo Weiner taught successive generations of Hungary’s leading musicians, and won his country’s highest awards. As a composer his career was comet-like in its early brilliance and his music marked by an imaginative use of colour, masterful instrumentation and lyrical emotion. He regarded Csongor and Tünde as his magnum opus and its incidental music was later to take independent form as a ballet, heard here in its final 1959 version. The impressionistic Ballad, Op. 28 for viola and orchestra derives from an earlier work for clarinet and piano.

BRUCKNER: QUINTET & QUARTET, FITZWILLIAM STRING QUARTET, Linn CKD402  Bruckner enthusiasts will be pleased to investigate this recording of his chamber music, particularly given that a new approach is taken to the music. This is the first recording to use gut strings (a special set from Dan Larsen in Minnesota was obtained specially for this recording) and original instruments at the correct pitch for the time. Having first tackled the Bruckner Quintet nearly forty years ago , the Fitzwilliam’s starting point was achieving the famous ‘Bruckner Sound’ as well as considering tempo, bow strokes, use of vibrato and portamento in the performance. With many great moments (such as the Adagio) the Quintet is guaranteed an exalted place in the hierarchy of chamber masterworks.

GRANADOS: ORCHESTRAL WORKS #1, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Pablo González/Naxos 8.573263 Many classical listeners will be familiar with Granados’ piano and guitar music, but it transpires that there is a wealth of orchestral music to be rediscovered – of which this disc is the very tempting first instalment. Although he is best known as the composer of some of the greatest masterpieces of Spanish piano music, the composer also wrote a much less well-known sequence of orchestral music. The cinematic Marcha de los vencidos evokes the painful trudging of ‘the defeated’ in an unspecified battle, while the incidental music for the play Torrijos demonstrates Granados’s talent for lyrical writing and his love of the stage. These works are performed by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under Pablo González he internationally renowned Wihan Quartet continue with their exploration of Czech repertoire for string quartet, released through their arrangement with Nimbus Alliance Records.

ERLAND VON KOCH: SYMPHONY NO. 3, OP. 38; SINFONIA SERIA, OP. 51; IMPULSI; NORDISKT CAPRICCIO, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Per Hammarström/BIS2169 This is a particular find. Erland Von Koch was a composer with a very individual grasp of orchestral colour and an unusually fragmentary (yet dynamic) approach to symphonic form that looks forwards rather than backwards. One of von Koch’s orchestral works that has maintained a tenuous hold on the repertoire is Nordiskt capriccio, which was inspired by a folk tune from Dalecarlia, and which forms the festive finale on the present disc. The compositions which precede it are less well known. They include Impulsi (the first part of a triptych later completed with the works Echi and Ritmi) whilst the two symphonies 3 and 4 appear for the first time on disc. In Symphony No. 3, influences from Bartók and Hindemith can be detected; composed in 1948, it is a work which in its thematic material contrasts defiance with lyricism and, finally, a feeling of release. Sinfonia seria, von Koch’s fourth work in the genre, followed a few years later, undergoing a final revision in 1962. As indicated by the title, the underlying mood of the work is grave and bittersweet.

DVOŘÁK: STRING QUARTET NO. 13 IN G MAJOR, B. 192 (OP.106); SUK: MEDITATION ON THE OLD CZECH CHORALE “ST. WENCESLAS” OP. 35; JANÁČEK: STRING QUARTET NO. 1, “KREUTZER SONATA”, Wihan Quartet / Nimbus Alliance NI 6322NI6322 Dvořák’s chamber music is well served on disc, as is the first Janáček quartet, but this is nevertheless a persuasively played coupling with a lesser-known piece by Suk as icing on the cake. Dvořák composed his opus 106 quartet in 1895 on his return to Prague after a three-year tenure as director of the National Conservatory in New York – this was a work that he completed prior to the final revision of his Op.34/Op.105 quartet. All are given readings here of clarity and colour, though there are more incisive performances of Janáček’s Kreutzer Quartet.

ATTERBERG: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 4: SYMPHONY NO. 3, OP.10 VÄSTKUSTBILDER / THREE NOCTURNES, OP. 35BIS / VITTORIOSO, OP. 58 Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra / Neeme Järvi/ CHAN 10894 Those collecting the new Atterberg sequence from Chandos will be purchasing this (and so they should – it’s splendid), but one nagging reservation must be expressed: earlier issues in this sequence had gloriously glowing surround sound of the kind that Chandos specialises in, so why has the company opted in this instance for two-channel stereo sound? It seems a very curious decision. The warm and tuneful music of Atterberg – one of Sweden’s leading composers in the twentieth century – meets the idiomatic spirit and commitment of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi, for volume four in this series. The third of his nine symphonies, featured here, is a set of three ‘West Coast Pictures’. These contrasted movements (‘Summer Haze’, ‘Storm’, and ‘Summer Night’) were inspired by the atmosphere and landscape of the archipelago on the Swedish west coast and written between 1914 and 1916. It achieved great popularity abroad and was in Germany even considered as among the finest symphonic works written so far that century. The Three Nocturnes are orchestral movements which Atterberg extracted from Fanal (The Beacon), his highly praised third opera, which received thirty performances between its premiere in 1934 and 1957 and is nowadays his most appreciated stage work. Vittorioso was originally composed as the fourth movement of the Seventh Symphony (Sinfonia romantica) and, like the Three Nocturnes, shares its themes with the opera Fanal; the coupling gives a taste of Volume 5, due for release next year.

ENGLISH HARPSICHORD WORKS, MMC112  Henry Purcell: Suite 5 in Henry Purcell: Suite 5 in C; Ground in C minor; William Byrd: The Carman’s Whistle; Henry Purcell: Prelude in A minor; John Blow: Suite in A minor; William Byrd: Hughe Ashton’s Grownde; Henry Purcell: Suite 3 in G; Chaconne in G minor; William Byrd: The Mayden’s Songe; William Croft: Suite 10 in E minor; Henry Purcell: A New Ground; William Byrd: Will Yow Walke the Woodes Soe Wylde; Henry Purcell: Suite 6 in D; John Blow: Ground in D minor; William Byrd: All in a Garden Greene, David Pollock, harpsichord/Music & Media Although this is music for the cognoscenti rather than the general listener, those prepared to accommodate themselves to the more restrictive aural palate here will find many rewards. Since “Parthenia” (1612/13), ‘the first musicke that ever was printed for the virginalls’, as its own title-page declares, a devotee had ready access to high-quality English harpsichord music. A steady stream of publications followed as the century progressed. At first the trend was to issue books containing music by various composers. Later, volumes dedicated to single composers appeared of which the earliest were the Choice Collection[s] by Purcell (1696) and Blow (1698). Aside from miscellaneous pieces, often arrangements of ‘ayres’ and ‘theatre tunes’, the Suite was the principal form, with its standard sequence of alman, coranto and saraband, often introduced by a prelude. Pollock’s aim with this CD was to offer a personal anthology of English harpsichord music

RUSSIAN DANCES: TCHAIKOVSKY SUITE FROM SWAN LAKE/GLAZUNOV TWO CONCERT WALTZES/SHOSTAKOVICH THE GOLDEN AGE/STRAVINSKY CIRCUS POLKA, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Kazuki Yamada/PENTATONE SACD PTC5186557 This is an enjoyable collection of bonbons delivered in the kind of splendid multichannel sound that listeners know is a PENTATONE speciality. Recorded at Victoria Hall in Geneva, Switzerland in July 2015, this album is another result of the fruitful relationship developed between the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and PENTATONE over the last decade. At this occasion the OSR is conducted by Japanese conductor Kazuki Yamada, who was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra in 2012 after a very successful European debut with them in 2010. Kazuki Yamada equally holds the position of Principal Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Conductor and Artistic Director Designate of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo and he regularly appears as guest conductor with many other leading orchestras, gleaning critical acclaim.

 

 

Yevgeny Scarlatti plays Scarlatti

With the 2005 release of his first recording for BIS Records, Yevgeny Sudbin was catapulted into the pages of the international music press. The disc was a Scarlatti recital that prompted reviewers worldwide to compare the then 24-year old pianist to Scarlatti experts such as Horowitz and Pletnev. It went on to receive a long list of distinctions, including a description in Gramophone as ‘among the finest, certainly most enjoyable of all Scarlatti recitals’. Since then, Sudbin and BIS have enjoyed a highly successful collaboration, resulting in numerous acclaimed recordings of both solo programmes and concertos. To celebrate the past 10 years, a new Scarlatti recording seemed the obvious choice – Sudbin was reunited with his long-term producer Marion Schwebel and in the silken acoustics of St George’s Bristol they recorded 18 sonatas further sonatas. This is a collection of striking variety, and through it all Sudbin guides us with authority and zeal. He vividly brings to life elements which his own insightful liner notes (attached) describe as ‘church bells and gunshots (K119), trumpets appearing on the horizon (K159), head-spinning dances (K425) but also a wonderful sense of humour (K125) – as well as scenes as melancholic, lean and desiccated as a sun-baked Mediterranean landscape (K99).’BIS have made a short video including scenes from these sessions, and comments from both performer and producer about the music itself, the recording process and the collaborative aspects behind it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cycsE-uHe7U