Strauss & Mahler from Pentatone

  1. STRAUSS: ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA, MAHLER: TOTENFEIER, RSO Berlin, Vladimir Jurowski Pentatone PTC5186 597 SACD Those familiar with his work with the London Philharmonic Orchestra will know that Vladimir Jurowski is one of the most exciting and gifted conductors of his generation, so his new appointment as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the RSO Berlin is a cause for celebration. The possibility of a really outstanding performance and recording of Strauss’s ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ in multi-channel sound from Pentatone was also an enticing prospect, but unfortunately my high expectations for this release were not met. The famous opening ‘Einleitung’ should be sonorous and immediately arresting, but here it makes little impact. The timpani sound boomy and cavernous while the Seifert organ – dubbed on from the St. Matthias Kirche, Berlin-Schöneberg – sounds unimpressive and decidedly lacking in weight in the lower frequencies. As the work proceeds Jurowski elicits some luscious string sounds from his fine orchestra and the fairly closely miked recording allows much detail in the orchestration to be heard. The fugal ‘Von der Wissenschaft’ section is especially clearly articulated by the double basses – not always the case, but again the lack of heft from the organ at the climax of this section is disappointing. ‘Das ‘Tanzlied’ benefits from the deft playing of concertmaster Rainer Walters and though at times Jurowski’s tempi seem a tad cautious, the build up to the final huge climax and the strokes of the midnight bell are impressively delivered. The concluding epilogue ‘Nachtwanderlied’ typifies Jurowski’s rather cerebral approach to this piece. ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’, though running continuously, has nine clearly defined sections, but Pentatone, in contrast to most of the available alternative versions on disc has unaccountably (and unhelpfully) allotted a single track to the whole work that lasts 32′ 53”. They did the same with their recent recording of Strauss’s ‘Ein Heldenleben’, another regrettable decision. Jurowski and his orchestra seem much more involved with their account of Mahler’s early symphonic poem ‘Totenfeier’ that the composer re-worked as the opening movement of his second symphony. Here the playing is fiercely committed and makes a good case for occasional outings of this example of Mahler’s first thoughts. “The Symphonic Prelude in C minor,” attributed here to Mahler is a student work from 1876 that sounds very like early Bruckner. There is no trace of the original score, but a preliminary sketch for it, apparently made by one of Mahler’s student friends, is preserved at the Austrian National Library. The task of orchestrating the Prelude was undertaken (at the request of Peter Ruzicka the artistic director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra) by Albrecht Gürsching, the Hamburg composer and musicologist and it was first performed in March1981 by this orchestra conducted by Lawrence Foster. Subsequent research, however, has thrown doubt as to whether this piece is actually by Mahler and Henri de La Grange, a leading authority on the composer, has wisely expressed the view that: “Until such time as new evidence comes to light, it seems extremely unwise to ascribe this piece to Mahler”. The current general consensus seems to be that if not by Bruckner himself it is probably by one of the Bruckner adherents among Mahler’s fellow students. This short brooding piece is, to be honest, pretty unremarkable, but Jurowski’s expansive performance does it more justice than that heard on Neeme Järvi’s 1992 account for Chandos. Pentatone’s DSD recording is to the usual high house standard and, while perhaps not their finest, does not disappoint.

Continue reading

Chandos Completes Vaughan Williams Cycle on SACD

Classical CD Choice Disc of the Month: VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: SINFONIA ANTARTICA, ETC., Soloists / Bergen Philharmonic / Sir Andrew Davis/Chandos CHSA 5186  There have been several complete cycles of years of Vaughan Williams’ remarkable nine symphonies (beginning with the celebrated Adrian Boult accounts), but one particularly distinguished cycle (the first complete sequence in in surround sound) seemed to be benighted — that inaugurated by Chandos with the late conductor Richard Hickox. Before his death, Hickox committed some powerfully persuasive readings, notably a definitive reading of the original version of the London Symphony, and a blistering account of the muscular Fourth, but his VW sequence was not be completed because of his early death. However, Chandos wisely commissioned Andrew Davis to commit the missing symphonies to disc, and a recent strong recording of the Ninth (coupled with the ballet Job) is now followed by a very persuasive Sinfonia Antartica. Intensely atmosphere, bleak and dramatic by turn, this reading has a breathtaking climax in the landscape movement, in which the breaking of an ice floe is conveyed by a thunderous organ passage. In the surround sound medium, it almost goes without saying that this has never been better done. This long-awaited concluding entry in Chandos’s historic series of Vaughan Williams’s Symphonies sports an exceptional cast and a rare combination of repertoire. While the indefatigable piano duo Louis Lortie and Hélène Mercier tackle the virtuosic Double Piano Concerto, the baritone Roderick Williams OBE offers breathtaking interpretations of the rarely heard, yet passionate Four Last Songs.

BRITTEN AND HINDEMITH: VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Arabella Steinbacher, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and Vladimir Jurowski/PentaTone PTC 5186625 SACD  When so many couplings on classical music discs are devised almost by the numbers, one has to recognise real initiative – and that is precisely what happens with this very cherishable PentaTone disc coupling two 20th-century concerti that, we discover, perfectly complement each other in their combination of sinewy modern orchestral colouration and deep and profound feeling. All facets of both Britten and Hindemith’s concerti are explored in these readings which become nigh-definitive (without quite displacing earlier readings – differently coupled — in the SACD medium) Arabella Steinbacher excels in the lyrical, troubled and profound violin concertos of Britten and Hindemith; breathtaking virtuosity flows seamlessly with expansive lyrical passages and fiendish passagework. Britten’s haunting and mesmerising violin concerto is considered one of the 20th century’s finest. The three contrasting movements are replete with grand theatrical gestures, unabashed lyricism, and show-stopping pyrotechnics, the work closing with an austere passacaglia of other-worldly beauty and power.

MAHLER: SYMPHONY NUMBER EIGHT, Utah Symphony, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Thierry Fischer Reference Recordings SACD FR725  Music lovers of an earlier generation will remember the impact that Georg Solti’s recording of the Mahler 8 made in its day: a dynamic performance in what was (for its day) state-of-the-art sound. And if ever a piece was designed to test the limits of recorded music in a domestic setting, it is this gargantuan symphony. Since Solti’s groundbreaking discs, there have been a variety of recordings of the Eighth — from the indifferent to the spectacular — but Thierry Fischer’s Utah recording will take some beating, not just its remarkable sensitivity to the composer’s intentions (every nuance and facet is found, from the more restrained colouristic passages to the great swells of orchestral excitement), captured in a recording which does full justice to the immense sound picture. The fact of that recording is so technically impressive will, of course, will come as no surprise to those used to the company Reference Recordings, which for some considerable time has been among the world’s best in setting down performances in the finest surround sound the medium is capable of. Generally speaking, the Mormon Tabernacle choir have a precision which matches Fischer’s breadth of vision.

STRAVINSKY: THE RITE OF SPRING LIGETI BERG, WEBERN London Symphony Orchestra LSO Live LSO 3028 Blu-ray and DVD  This writer’s conversations with the conductor Simon Rattle some decades ago once centred on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which Rattle rightly regarded as a lodestone in any modern conductor’s repertoire. Even as a young man, Rattle was not daunted by the Mount Parnassus reputation of the piece, and has long been one of its most powerful advocates. But, not surprisingly this latest disc – finally, in the kind of SACD sound that does justice to his vision – becomes his finest reading yet of the piece. Rattle’s triumphant return to Britain and the London Symphony Orchestra continues to be marked with some remarkable new performances – in the case of this set one of the warhorses of then-modern repertoire with several pieces of hardly enjoying the attention that Stravinsky’s masterpiece has been accorded in the years. What is particularly welcome about this set is its highly attractive presentation of a Blu-ray audio and a DVD which give the perfect visual record of the concerts from which the pieces were drawn. And this particular aspect is an asset in the delightful performance of Ligeti’s eccentric piece for soprano and orchestra, Mysteries of the Macabre, in which soprano Barbara Hannigan struts onstage in a jailbait outfit with white cotton socks, blowing bubble gum; the erotic playfulness perfectly matches an approachable work. If The Rite of Spring is not among the most kinetic performances Rattle has given of the work, it is still remarkably impressive and captured in sound of great depth and impact.

DEBUSSY: JEUX, KHAMMA, LA BOÎTE À JOUJOUX, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Lan Shui /BIS2162 SACD  A very welcome disc from the ever-reliable BIS label including three pieces by Debussy, which have not heretofore shared the same surround sound disc (although the late masterpiece Jeux has enjoyed an excellent SACD performance conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas in San Francisco). As in previous recordings of the music of Debussy, Lan Shui once again demonstrates that he has the full measure of the composer’s idiom – and the conductor might even be said to have finessed the pieces not orchestrated by the composer to make them sound impeccably Debussyian — a task aided considerably by the superb BIS sound. Debussy conceived three works as ballets, and they are gathered on this recording. All three were written between 1911–1913, during a period when the composer was under some financial pressure, and in the case of Khamma, Debussy himself admitted that ‘considerations of domestic finances’ contributed to him undertaking the commission for this ‘danced legend’. Having finished the piano score, Debussy asked Charles Koechlin to complete the orchestration under his supervision. He was more enthusiastic about a commission from the highly fashionable Ballets Russes, and did indeed complete Jeux himself, which Pierre Boulez regarded as one of the most prophetic works of the twentieth century. La Boîte à joujoux (‘The Toybox’) completes this collection.

FANTASY: SCHUMANN, CPE BACH, SCHUBERT, Danae Dorken, piano ARS 38150 SACD  A piquant choice of repertoire here: three pieces linked by being written in the ‘fantasy’idiom form, but providing some unusual bedfellows – when did you last hear a disc which featured keyboard music by both CPE Bach and Schubert? Danae Dorken’s performances are full of grace and authority, and the combination of the three pieces make for a most satisfying program.

PROKOFIEV: VIOLIN CONCERTO No. 2, etc., Roseanne Philippens, Sinfonieorchester St Gallen, Otto Tausk/Challenge Classic CCS39517  There seems to have been something of a fashion for recordings of the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto in recent years, but this is as striking and impassioned a rendition as one is likely to encounter, although it must be pointed out that it is in stereo sound only, not the surround sound to be heard among other recent readings. Roseanne Philippens has a sure grasp of Prokofiev’s colourful and distinctive writing, and one of the particular pleasures of the disc is her reading of the Violin Sonata in D major, folding in much impressive Russian feeling.

HAUSEGGER: BARBAROSSA (SYMPHONIC POEM); DREI HYMNEN AN DIE NACHT FOR BARITONE & ORCHESTRA, Hans Christoph Begemann, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, Antony Hermu/CPO 777666-2  Let’s be honest – who, a decade or so ago, would have been familiar with the music of Hausegger? The composer’s name was simply something we’d read in reference books, but the CPO label has demonstrated that this is a neglected composer whose music (largely speaking in the vein of Richard Strauss or Mahler) deserves investigation. This latest disc is another remarkable discovery: a major piece dusted off and given what appears to be a totally authoritative reading.

GRANADOS: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Pablo González/ NAXOS V8.503295 [3-CD boxed set]  This is a very attractive collection of music, little of which will be familiar to the listener. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Enrique Granados’s birth the three internationally admired volumes of his orchestral discs have been brought together. The set includes one of the greatest pieces in all Spanish music, the Intermezzo from Goyescas, as well as much that is exceptionally rare, such as an impressive symphonic poem.

RACHMANINOV: VIRTUOSO ARRANGEMENTS VOL. 2, Martin Jones, Nimbus NI5695  Those of us who love the piano music of Rachmaninov tend to have an inordinate affection for it – and we really want to hear every piece that the composer wrote for his own instrument, both major and minor. This second collection of less celebrated pieces shows that Rachmaninov’s commitment to piano music was total. However, significant (or otherwise) the piece, Martin Jones matches the composer’s own celebrated virtuosity on his instrument.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Dona Nobis Pacem, BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms, Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, soloists, Britten Sinfonia, Stephen Cleobury, Kings College KG 50021 SACD  It was an intriguing notion to put these two remarkable 20th-century masterpieces for chorus and soloists on the same disc, and it is particularly welcome to have Dona Nobis Pacem making its debut in the surround sound medium. These are strong and committed performances, but there are caveats. Never have the orchestral passages in the RVW piece sounded as impressive as on this Cleobury disc, but — uncharacteristically for this label – some of the recordings of the choral passages are lacking clarity and the text is less clear than on rival recordings. That being said, these are strong performances and fully merit the listener’s attention.

DANIEL JONES: SYMPHONIES 2 & 11, Bryden Thomson Lyrita SRCD364  Hardly major masterpieces, Daniel Jones’ symphonies are solidly composed, attractive music which are here given readings under the late Bryden Thomson which makes the best possible case for the works.

KARAYEV: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Kirill Karabits/Chandos CHSA 5203  More neglected music, from a company that specialises in presenting new avenues for the more adventurous listener This set of idiomatically lyrical, rhythmic, and colourful pieces with the Bournemouth SO and its Chief Conductor, Kirill Karabits, who appears on Chandos for the first time, marks the start of a new series dedicated to lesser-known composers from former Soviet Union countries.

BORUP-JORENSEN: MARIN, Soloists, DNSO, Thomas Sondergard/ OUR Recordings, 21104 26   This curious package (containing both a DVD and a Super Audio CD) contains both an animated film and a portrait of the composer Axel Borup-Jorgensen. The music (unquestionably in avant-garde idiom) is written for a very disparate collection of instruments, which the composer utilises to the full. Not for every taste, but those of adventurous mien might find this a worthwhile investment.

BORENSTEIN: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, Irmina Trynkos / Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Ashkenazy/Chandos CHSA 5209 SACD  The dedication of the Chandos label to bringing unfamiliar and accessible classical music to disc is well known and celebrated among classical music listeners , and this latest issue continues that tradition. Conducting the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra and the promising young violinist Irmina Trynkos, Vladimir Ashkenazy marks his 80th birthday by bringing the orchestral music of Nimrod Borenstein, a long-time protégé, to SACD for the first time. I have to confess that despite the professionalism and colourful writing on offer here, I found it difficult to detect an individual character to the music. But if you share Ashkenazy’s enthusiasm for Borenstein, then it’s hard to imagine these pieces being better performed.

CHISHOLM: VIOLIN CONCERTO & DANCE SUITE, Matthew Trusler, Danny Driver, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins/Hyperion CDA68208  If you’d asked a lover of British music a couple of decades ago If they’d heard the work of Eric Chisholm, you would probably have received a blank stare. Fortunately, that egregious neglect is being remedied with a series of issues from different companies that demonstrate Chisholm was a highly individual talent — and certainly did not warrant his nigh-invisible status. The very characterful music on this disc may be may of some help in redressing the balance. A bracing excursion to the Indian subcontinent via the Scottish Highlands: the compelling force of Scottish modernism, with Matthew Trusler and Danny Driver are the committed soloists in the two large-scale concertante works.

Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, Rebecca CLARKE, Benjamin BRITTEN: Let Beauty Awake, Ellen Nisbeth, Bengt Forsberg/BIS 2182  Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel has been particularly lucky on disc, enjoying a variety of impeccable vocal performances. But even RVW admirers may not be prepared for this latest outing, in which certain songs in the cycle are intelligently transcribed for violin. The results are highly persuasive, without quite displacing the original, but remaining pleasing. Swedish violist Ellen Nisbeth, hailing from a family of Scottish origin, feels a particular affinity for the landscapes of Scotland, and for the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson. For her first recital disc Ellen Nisbeth has devised an all- British programme which includes her own transcriptions of selected songs from Songs of Travel – Ralph Vaughan Williams’s settings of poems by Stevenson. The songs intersperse the remainder of the programme, and one of them – Let Beauty Awake – has also lent its title to the entire disc. Together with the eminent pianist and chamber musician Bengt Forsberg, Nisbeth goes on to perform the impassioned Viola Sonata composed in 1919 by Rebecca Clarke, and Benjamin Britten’s Third Suite for Cello, transcribed for viola by Rebecca Clarke, and Benjamin Britten’s Third Suite for Cello, transcribed for viola by Ellen Nisbeth herself. This is a disc that will find a ready audience.

Richard RODGERS, George GERSHWIN, Frank LOESSER, Jerome KERN, Leonard BERNSTEIN, Mitch LEIGH  Glorious Quest Rodney Earl Clarke, Christopher Gould/STONE 5060192780758  A personal, caveat. Although the piano transcriptions by played by Christopher Gould here are as adroit as one could wish, those who love this glorious music will be missing the superb orchestral arrangements (usually by the Dean of Broadway orchestrators, Robert Russell Bennett), with which they are customarily arrayed. That said, however, this is still an attractive disc. Many music lovers would argue that the best work by the great Broadway composers such as Gershwin, Rodgers and Kern is a match for many more ‘respectable’ art songs, a premise that this collection comprehensively proves. Without quite shaking the customary sense that a popular non-trained singer might perhaps find the best in these pieces, this is a beautifully sung recital. Glorious Quest is the debut album from British baritone Rodney Earl Clarke.

LAJTHA: SYMPHONIES NOS. 8 AND 9, Pécs Symphony Orchestra,• Nicolás Pasquet/NAXOS  The welcome series of Marco Polo issues of Lajtha’s music on the Naxos label continues apace – and this is a particularly cherishable issue. Reflecting Hungary’s troubled times following the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, Lajtha’s last two symphonies are deeply emotional and dramatic works ranging from tragic intensity to optimism. Whereas the Eighth Symphony was aptly described by the composer’s wife as ‘a tragedy without consolation’, the emotional power and the melodic beauty of the Ninth Symphony evoke suffering, happiness and hope. A huge success at its 1963 Parisian premiere, the work was acclaimed by the critic Claude Rostand as ‘the one that convinced us that László Lajtha was truly one of the greatest symphonic composers of the 20th century.

WEINER: WEINER: SERENADE / TWO DIVERTIMENTOS, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra | Neeme Järvi/Chandos CHAN 10959  It appears that — after a fashion — Weiner’s time is coming. Neeme Järvi and his Estonian National Symphony Orchestra reveal here the delightful, witty Hungarian style of Leó Weiner by encapsulating the freshness and fluidity of engaging, yet too rarely performed Serenade and five Divertimentos.


RÓZSA: BEN HUR: THE COMPLETE SCORE City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Nic Raine

This Miklos Rózsa two-disc set is an indispensable acquisition for admirers of the composer. 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 this celebrated  score is considered by many aficionados to be Rózsa’s best work in that vein, full-blooded and passionate. 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. The original soundtrack recording of this music left much to be desired sonically, with boxy, thin sound – nothing like as rich as this state-of-the-art modern recoding. Rózsa admirers have had their prayers answered – although the composer’s own vivid Decca recording of extracts from the score should not be parted with.

RÓZSA: BEN HUR: THE COMPLETE SCORE City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Nic Raine


Filippo Gorini: Beethoven in London

Those lucky enough to have recently attended a private concert in London near the BBC will have been privileged to hear a rare display of nonpareil pianism from the young Italian pianist Filippo Gorini. With a sensitivity, maturity and sense of poetry that belied his youth, Gorini gave a recital including the Diabelli Variations that winkled out every nuance in Beethoven’s masterpiece with an attention to detail that recalled the masterly performances of the great Alfred Brendel. And this was no surprise to have heard Gorini’s recent record of the piece on Alpha Classics, sporting a performance that rivalled the older man’s reading. Neither would it surprise those who knew that after hearing Filippo’s performance of the Variations, Alfred Brendel invited Filippo to work with him, and they have since continued to work together regularly. The Diabelli Variations feature on Filippo’s debut disc, which has garnered much acclaim, including a Diapason d’Or Award and a stellar review on The Guardian.

Upcoming performances for Gorini include concertos in Korea, Germany, China, and prestigious recitals throughout Europe, including the Elphilharmonie Hamburg, the Brussels Flagey Piano Days Festival, and the Accademia Filarmonica di Trento. He will appear also in Australia and North America in 2019. In May 2017, Filippo received the Beethoven-Ring prize from the Citizens for Beethoven Association in Bonn. His previous competition achievements include first prize at the Neuhaus Competition in Moscow, and prize of the Young Euro Classics Festival in Berlin.

His concert appearances in Europe have drawn unanimous acclaim; in particular, his tour with the Klassische Philharmonie Bonn and his debut in Warsaw at the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival. He has performed on many prestigious stages such as the Konzerthaus Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Laeiszhalle Hamburg, Die Glocke Bremen, Società del Quartetto di Milano, Royal Academy of Music London, Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, Beethovenhaus Bonn, and Sale Apollinee at Teatro La Fenice. Alongside his solo career, Filippo continues to perform as a chamber musician: last year he performed at “Chamber Music Connects the World” in Kronberg, with Steven Isserlis.

After graduating from the Donizetti Conservatory in Bergamo, Filippo continues his studies with Alfred Brendel, Maria Grazia Bellocchio, and with Pavel Gililov at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. He is a scholarship recipient of the Lichtenstein Music Academy.