Exuberant Ibert from Chandos

IBERT: OUVERTURE DE FETE; ESCALES; BACCHANALE; DIVERTISSEMENT; HOMMAGE A MOZART; FEERIQUE; SARABANDE POUR DULCINÉE; PARIS, SUITE SYMPHONIQUE POUR ORCHESTRE, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Neeme Järvi/Chandos CHSA 5168  This new survey from Chandos of the instantly appealing and inventive orchestral music of Jacques Ibert (1890-1962), delivered here in high resolution multichannel sound, will be welcomed by those who have enjoyed Neeme Järvi’s four previous companion discs for this label of works by Massenet, Chabrier, Offenbach and Saint-Säens. On this vividly recorded SACD, Järvi and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande perform a varied selection of eight of the composer’s works written between 1922 to 1956, some of which are rarely heard in the concert hall. Continue reading

The Russians and others: New CDs & SACDs


TCHAIKOVSKY & GRIEG: PIANO CONCERTOS, Dennis Kozhukin, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Vassily Sinaisky/PentaTone PTC 518 6566  In the modern age, certain performances have gone beyond the status of recording classics to become nigh-definitive statements on the works involved, against which all subsequent recordings have to be measured. (A classic example of this is Andre Previn’s earlier RCA recording of Walton’s First Symphony – few subsequent performances were able to match it, not even the conductor’s own underpowered later reading.) Similarly, Martha Argerich’s celebrated DG account of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto has seen off most subsequent rivals in this repertoire, and its sheer élan still makes it a prime contender today. So how does this latest rival from PentaTone compare? It almost goes without saying that in one respect at least, the newcomer scores over its predecessors in the sheer quality of recorded sound, so wide-ranging and nuanced is the PentaTone recording. But such sound issues – while important – must be matched by performance of similar quality, and while Kozhukin may not quite match Argerich’s authority in this most overplayed of warhorses, it is a remarkably persuasive performance. What’s more,  combined with such an exemplary recording, the disc is sure to tempt many listeners – particularly when coupled (as here) with a dramatic reading of another warhorse, the Grieg Concerto. Leaving aside gradations in performances, if you are after these two works in the best modern sound, you need not hesitate. But hang onto that Argerich disc.

OVERTURES FROM THE BRITISH ISLES, VOL. 2: Sir Hubert Parry, Sir Alexander, John Ansell, Dame Ethel, Roger Quilter, John Foulds, Eric Coates, Sir William Walton, Walter Leigh, York Bowen BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Rumon Gamba/CHANDOS CHAN 10898  Familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt, but much as the enthusiast may love playing Ein Heldenleben or Petrushka for the umpteenth time, they sometimes feel the need for some unfamiliar repertoire – and the resulting frisson is precisely what Chandos are providing with this series of British pieces which (the Walton apart) have largely slipped from the repertoire (if they ever held a position in the first place). Rumon Gamba and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales supply a welcome second volume in their excavation of neglected overtures from the British Isles. As Gamba observed: ‘All the overtures on this disc belong to the period between 1890 and 1945. In this present selection, however, we see perhaps even more clearly the evolution of musical style, and in particular the use of harmony, in the armoury of the British composer.’

BURGESS: Mr W.S. – Ballet Suite for Orchestra, Marche pour une revolution, Mr Burgess’s Almanack, Brown University Orchestra, Paul Phillips/NAXOS 8.573472  This writer was once contracted to give a talk at the Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester, and wandering around the campus somewhat lost, I suddenly heard some slightly acerbic music issuing from a doorway – and realised that I had found the Burgess Foundation. Anthony Burgess, celebrated author of A Clockwork Orange, memorably filmed by Stanley Kubrick, once said, “I wish people would think of me as a musician who writes novels, instead of a novelist who writes music on the side.” Initially thwarted in his desire for a professional musical career, Burgess returned to composition in the mid-1970s, writing prolifically in many genres. Essentially, the music is largely of academic interest – Burgess is a far more distinctive novelist than composer – but perhaps deserves investigation. His music is mostly tonal but sometimes dissonant, a hybrid of Holst and Hindemith. Mr W.S. is an imaginative evocation of the Elizabethan era while Mr Burgess’s Almanack is a variegated work of ingenuity and charm with a nod towards modernism. This is the first recording of Burgess’s orchestral music.

RADECKE: ORCHESTRAL WORKS: Overture: Shakespeare’s König Johann’, Op. 25; Symphony in F major, Op. 50; Nachtstück, Op. 55; Zwei Scherzi, Op. 52, Sinfonie Orchester Biel Solothurn, Kaspar Zehnder/CPO  Let’s be honest: there are no neglected masterpieces on offer here, but for those with a taste for more arcane fare, a certain adventurousness may pay dividends. Radecke was a composer whose significant and multifaceted oeuvre contributed significantly to music history in Berlin and Germany. With this release, his romantic music now celebrates its recording premiere on CPO.

WEINBERGER: Overture to a Chivalrous Play; Six Bohemian Songs and Dances; Passacaglia, Jörg Strodthoff, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Gerd Albrecht/Capriccio C5272  Did Jaromir Weinberger, marooned in the US, commit suicide after his failure to consolidate the success of his opera Schwanda the Bagpiper? Whatever the truth, this unusual disc is proof that the composer was more than a one-hit wonder, with some very attractive and colourful music on offer — and given persuasive advocacy.

ALBENIZ: ORCHESTRAL WORKS: Suite Española (arr. Frühbeck de Burgos) / Suite from The Magic Opal / Piano Concerto No. 1 Concierto fantástico / Rapsodia Española (orch. George Enescu), Martin Roscoe (Piano) / BBC Philharmonic / Juanjo Mena/CHANDOS 10897  The enterprising Chandos Spanish Music series (La Música de España, with the BBC Philharmonic and Juanjo Mena) has now embraced Isaac Albéniz, one of the most colourful of Spanish composers. The Suite Española looks forward to the influential great piano collection Iberia, composed two decades later, in which, as Debussy observed, Albéniz ‘put the best of himself’. Lively, energetic readings here, perhaps not matching those by Frühbeck de Burgos.

RAVEL: ORCHESTRATIONS, Orchestre National de Lyon, Leonard Slatkin/ NAXOS: 8573124  Few would dispute Maurice Ravel’s unmatched skill in orchestration, both in his own music and that of other composers. This disc is a prime sampling of the composers skill in that arena, with his command of colour evident both in his own works and in his arrangements of music by others. A further addition to the catalogue of Ravel recordings from Leonard Slatkin and the Orchestre National de Lyon, this disc includes his versions of Chabrier’s vibrant Menuet pompeux, Schumann’s colourful Carnaval and his late friend Debussy’s Sarabande et Danse. Ravel’s iconic orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition vividly depicts scenes ranging from the playful to the macabre

KHACHATURIAN: Symphony No. 2, ‘The Bell’, Lermontov Suite (excerpts), Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Dmitry Yablonsky/NAXOS 8.570436  There are not many versions of Khachaturian’s Symphony No. 2 in the catalogue, but in terms of giving this music the most dramatic possible reading, this new disc — while highly accomplished – does not unseat the rival reading by Tjeknavorian, still the most striking accorded to the piece. Besides his ever-popular ballet Spartacus (Suites Nos. 1–3 are on Naxos 8.550801), Khachaturian also wrote other stage music, including a splendid score for Boris Lavrenyov’s play about the great Russian author Mikhail Lermontov. The composer described his powerful Second Symphony, written during the final years of World War II, as ’a requiem of wrath, a requiem of protest against war and violence’. At crucial junctures, three tubular bells toll, giving the symphony its memorable subtitle.

RACHMANINOV: ALL-NIGHT VIGIL (VESPERS) London Symphony Orchestra and chorus, Simon Halsey/LSO Live SACD LSO 0781  Andre Previn, mentioned in connection with his Walton recording above, once pointed out with some passion that the unenthusiastic notice given to Rachmaninov in the Grove dictionary of music was severely out of date, given the composer’s re-evaluation as a major figure, and as someone fully of that opinion, I have listened over the years to the composer’s much-loved Vespers, trusting the scales will someday fall from my eyes (or ears) and I will be able to see why so many esteem this piece so highly. But just a few bars of it had me running back to the symphonies and the piano music. It is unquestionably a masterpiece, but the very restricted sound palette ultimately exhausts this listener’s interest. However, that’s my problem, and if you are among the Rachmaninov enthusiasts who love the work, it’s hard to imagine it given a better reading than that delivered by Halsey and his LSO forces.

FRICKER: THE VISION OF JUDGEMENT OP. 29, SYMPHONY NO.5 FOR ORGAN & ORCHESTRA, OP. 74, Jane Manning, soprano • Robert Tear, tenor, Leeds Festival Chorus, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Charles Groves, Gillian Weir, organ, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis  This BBC Broadcast (1976) is live from the Festival Hall. first performance. The key work here is Fricker’s cataclysmic Symphony No. 5, premiered by organist Gillian Weir with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Colin Davis in the presence of the composer. It was featured at the Proms on 11th August 1976 with the organist Jennifer Bate and the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under John Pritchard. Terse and direct, the score offers some grand gestures in its lively outer sections. Fricker was among the first composers in Britain to be influenced by the music of Béla Bartók, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, assimilating aspects of their very different styles into a distinctive musical voice of his own.

DAWN TO DUST: Works by Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly, and Andrew Norman, The Utah Symphony, Thierry Fisacher/Reference SACD FR-719  Some unusual world premiere recordings here of pieces commissioned by the Utah Symphony. The level of invention is high in these works by leading composers Augusta Read Thomas, Nico Muhly, and Andrew Norman (percussionist Colin Currie performs on Andrew Norman’s “Switch.”) The Utah Symphony, celebrating its 75th anniversary in the 2015-16 season, is one of America’s major symphony orchestras and here delivers adventurous fare.

SHOSTAKOVICH, MATTHEWS: Piano Quintets, Villiers Quartet et al/Somm B01C5PTVTI  It’s a measure of David Matthews’ achievement that this recording of his cheerful piano quintet is able to sit neatly alongside Shostakovich’s masterpiece and more than hold its own. Matthews wrote his Piano Quintet in 2004 as an engagement present for his wife Jenifer, so in his view, its overall happy mood is appropriate. The composer notes in the CD: When I wrote a piano quartet in 1995 I called it A Song and Dance Sketchbook because I didn’t want to follow the classical formal scheme, but also to acknowledge that each of its six movements was either a song or a dance. In this Piano Quintet I chose to adhere, more or less, to the traditional scheme: four movements, with a scherzo and a slow movement in the middle. The song and dance element, however, remains just as predominant.’ Both works are authoritatively performed here.

RACHMANINOV: COMPLETE PIANO WORKS BY EARL WILD VOL. 2, Giovanni Doria Miglietta/Piano Classics  If you are an aficionado of the piano music of Rachmaninov and have every note of it, here is fare that will not necessarily be familiar. The second instalment of Rachmaninov’s complete piano Works by Earl Wild is a reminder that Wild (1915‐2010) was without doubt one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. His immense repertoire, his staggering virtuosity, his warmth and his charm deserve him the epithet legendary. Wild was a great improviser as well, and he frequently played his own fantasies in his concerts. Fortunately he transcribed these pieces, and his creative legacy contains a wealth of transcriptions, fantasies and paraphrases, as well as original piano works. This CD features the complete recording of Wild’s famous transcriptions of Rachmaninov songs.

TCHAIKOVSKY: SYMPHONY NO. 6 IN B MINOR, OP. 74, DVOŘÁK: RUSALKA FANTASY (arr. Honeck/Ille), Manfred Honeck, Pittsburgh Symphony/REFRENCE SACD FR-720  While there may be umpteen recordings (even in the surround sound medium) of the Tchaikovsky symphony on offer here, we are given a truly exemplary reading – and what makes Honeck’s disc particularly attractive is the companion piece, a sumptuous recording of orchestral passages from Dvorak’s Rusalka arranged in the form of a splendid suite by the conductor – and that alone makes this disc particularly attractive for enthusiasts. In the best possible audiophile sound, Reference gives us Tchaikovsky’s last (completed) symphony, of which the composer said: “I absolutely consider it to be the best, and in particular, the most sincere of all my creations. I love it as I have never loved any of my other musical offspring.”

Erik NORDGREN: The Bergman Suites Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra Adriano/Naxos 8573370   In his later films, Ingmar Bergman was to eschew conventional scores, other than the use of either Bach keyboard music or some very modest atonal writing; this disc is a reminder of an era when he utilised orchestral scores. Erik Nordgren, whose compositions include major concertos and chamber music, wrote seventeen film scores for Ingmar Bergman. The finest examples of their close collaboration can be heard on this recording. They include the symphonically proportioned Waiting Women, the suggestive and mysterious score for Wild Strawberries and the exceptional economy of The Face.

GILBERT & SULLIVAN: HMS PINAFORE, Soloists, Scottish Opera Richard Egarr, Lynne CKD522  This is a lively and ingratiating reading of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic masterpiece, ruled hors de combat for this listener by the ill-judged participation of Tim Brooke-Taylor as narrator; why anyone considered this notion would be something that would reward repeated listings is frankly beyond me. But if you don’t share this opinion, the opera is dispatched in energetic fashion.