DEBUSSY: PRÉLUDES BOOK 1 & BOOK 1; L’ISLE JOYEUSE, Angela Brownridge, piano/ Challenge Classics SACD CC72727 One of the greatest virtues of the SACD medium has been its notable faithfulness in reproducing the full range of the sound of the piano, often making early keyboard discs – particularly those in the predigital medium – sound (retrospectively) a touch on the constricted side. And if ever the complete spectrum of the piano was required by one composer’s music, it is in the masterpieces of Debussy. Recorded in truly authoritative performances by the talented Angela Brownridge, this disc represents the third release from the pianist on Challenge Classics. She presents here some of the cornerstones of Debussy’s creative output. Hailed as a major star in classical music, Brownridge has been compared with such pianists as the legendary Solomon, Rachmaninov, Cherkassky, and Bolet. This Debussy disc represents the apogee of her achievement.
SHOSTAKOVICH: THE GADFLY† Complete Original Score for the 1955 Film, Reconstructed by Mark Fitz-Gerald
THE COUNTERPLAN (excerpts) Bachchor Mainz • Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Mark Fitz-Gerald/Naxos 8.573747 †WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING Most Shostakovich admirers will be familiar with the suite from his film score The Gadfly, and like most film music by the composer – at least that which has been widely recorded – it’s music with an intriguing mix of styles but with an emphasis on lighter, more accessible compositional techniques. Finally, however, we have a chance to hear the entire score. Given the best possible advocacy by the Bachchor Mainz and the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, under Mark Fitz-Gerald Set in mid-nineteenth-century Italy during a turbulent period of pre-Unifi cation political unrest, The Gadfl y drew from Shostakovich one of his most popular film scores, heard hitherto on record only in the version arranged and re-orchestrated by Levon Atovmian. This recording presents the full, original score for the first time, as closely as possible to Shostakovich’s original conception. Reconstructed by Mark Fitz-Gerald from the original manuscript and the Russian film soundtrack, it calls for a large orchestra including church bells, an organ, two guitars and a mandolin, all excluded from the Atovmian suite. The excerpts from The Counterplan, which marked the fifteenth anniversary of the 1917 Revolution, include the infectious hit-tune The Song of the Counterplan.
ELGAR: FALSTAFF, ETC., Roderick Williams, BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davis/Chandos CHSA 5188 SACD Given the amount of time that the surround sound medium has been with us, it’s hardly surprising that the bulk of the classic orchestral repertoire has found its way onto disc in this format, particularly the large-scale late 19th and early 20th century orchestral scores that clearly benefit so much from the extra dimensional sound. There have, however, been holdouts – strange omissions from the recorded repertoire — but they are gradually being filled. Take, for instance, Elgar’s masterpiece. Falstaff — which has now found its way onto disc and (one can say with some certainty) in a performance that does full justice to the composer’s orchestral mastery. Earlier readings by such conductors as Adrian Boult may have found a touch more nuance, but very few have the full-blooded swagger of this new reading. Sir Andrew Davis takes his multi-award-winning Elgar discography to the next level with this Falstaff, Elgar’s most accomplished and characteristic work, and several orchestral songs, with exemplary support from the BBC Philharmonic and Roderick Williams.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: A LONDON SYMPHONY & OTHER WORKS, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins/HYPERION CDA68190 If you’re confused by the variety of readings of Vaughan Williams’ ode to the metropolis, his great Second Symphony, in its various iterations, you are not alone. Many thought that the issue of which of the composer’s versions to listen to was solved with Richard Hickox’s groundbreaking interpretation of the piece which restored missing passages, but newer versions – such as this impressive performance – have muddied the waters further. Vaughan Williams’s London Symphony (the composer’s favourite of the nine) makes a rare appearance in its 1920 first publication. Three lesser-known works complete a highly desirable programme, while Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra understand how this music should be played like few others.
SCHUMANN:SYMPHONIES 1-4, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas/SFS Media SACD To say that the competition in recordings of the symphonies of Schumann is steep is to somewhat understate the case — recent performances have included the impressively detailed readings by Robin Ticciati. But it is hardly surprising that this set by Michael Tilson Thomas joins – at a stroke — the upper echelons of the pack. Recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall during the 2015-16 season, the album offers a nuanced approach that accentuates the lyrical and tender elements of the composer’s orchestral masterpieces. Released in a deluxe two-album hardbound SACD set, it includes an 88-page booklet with extended notes, photos, and an essay on performing Schumann by Michael Tilson Thomas. It is also available digitally for streaming and download in stereo, 5.1 surround, iTunes quality, and 24-bit/192kHz Studio Master.
BARTÓK: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, James Ehnes / Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Edward Gardner/Chandos CHSA 5189 SACD The recordings of the conductor Edward Gardner are unquestionably among the jewels in the Chandos Records diadem, and his prolific series of discs for the label are showing a welcome emphasis on striking 20th-century scores — such as this very attractive Bartok coupling. If earlier readings of these astonishing pieces are not quite unseated (Solti, Fischer), there is no denying Gardner’s achievement – particularly in the SACD sound accorded the conductor’s full-blooded interpretation. Four years after a highly successful Bartók recording with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Gardner here returns to the composer, with his Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and James Ehnes, for outstanding accounts of four major orchestral works.
LAJTHA: CAPRICCIO, OP. 39 – SUITE DE BALLET, Pécs Symphony Orchestra, Nicolás Pasquet/NAXOS 8.573649 Slowly but surely, the Naxos label has been reissuing the impressive series of discs of Lajtha’s neglected music which were originally available on the Marco Polo label. Now, finally, the reissue programme is complete, with one of the most attractive entries in the series. László Lajtha is recognised, along with Bartók, Kodály and Dohnányi, as one of the great Hungarian composers of the first half of the 20th century. He established his reputation as his country’s foremost symphonist but also showed a strong affinity for the stage, writing his one-act ballet Capriccio in 1944. Despite the darkness of the times the ballet is filled with light and set in the period around 1700, the age of Watteau. Taking commedia dell’arte as his model, Lajtha’s characterisation brims with wit and elegance.
BRAUNFELS: CARNIVAL OVERTURE, OP. 22; TWO HÖLDERLIN SONGS, OP. 27; SCOTTISH FANTASY, OP. 47; PRELUDE AND FUGUE, OP. 36, Barbara Buntrock, Paul Armin Edelmann, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Gregor Bühl/Capriccio C5308 To many listeners, the name of the composer Walter Braunfels will be unfamiliar, but his colourful late romantic/modern scores fully deserve the excavation they have been receiving lately. If this disc does not offer the revelations that earlier recordings have accorded us, it is still an attractive (if slight) collection.
MAHLER SYMPHONY NO. 8, Utah Symphony Orchestra, Thierry Fischer, Music Director, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Reference Recordings SACD FR 725 It will hardly come as a revelation to those who have been collecting earlier Reference Recordings discs of the great masterpieces of the orchestral repertoire that this new reading of Mahler’s monumental Eighth Symphony is so impressive. Apart from anything else, it takes rigorous, ambitious recording standards, such as those considered de rigueur by the company, to do justice to an all-encompassing, sprawling score such as this, and within a few bars – the opening peroration for organ, orchestra and chorus – it’s clear that both the musical and recording values are (as usual) firmly in place. The singing, too, is mostly nonpareil (counterintuitively, no trace of religiosity in the weighty Mormon Tabernacle Choir) and this is as impressive a reading of the Symphony of a Thousand as one is likely to find.
BRITISH VIOLIN CONCERTOS, Clare Howick, violin, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Grant Llewellyn/Naxos 8.573791 No undiscovered masterpieces here, but extremely professional music which features three major British concertos spanning 70 years. Kenneth Leighton’s Concerto is a work of tensile urgency, scored with great imagination, and the Concerto by Gordon Jacob contains at its heart a threnodic slow movement cast in long, moving paragraphs and accompanied by poetic effects. Written for (and premiered by) the soloist in this recording, Paul Patterson’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (‘Serenade’) is rich in high spirits; songlike, and exuberantly sparkling. Clare Howick performs these works with finesse, and is accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Grant Llewellyn
PROKOFIEV: SYMPHONIES 2 & 3, State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia, Vladimir Jurowksi/PentaTone PTC 518 6624 In the kind of impactful sound that we have come to expect from the PentaTone label, these are dramatic and energetic performances of the two symphonies that followed Prokofiev’s calling card Classical Symphony. The reliable Vladimir Jurowksi gives highly persuasive readings which almost rival (while not surpassing) the recent surround sound takes on the symphonies by Mariss Janson, and there is no questioning that they are serious contenders in their own right.
BRASS HERALDS: BACH HANDEL TELEMANN, German Brass Berlin Classics030 1005 BC For those listeners with a taste for the sound of burnished brass, this collection will be seventh heaven, with writing for brass instruments from three masters: Bach, Handel and Telemann, showcased in performances that are impeccably musical. Some may find the aural palette a touch restricted after a few tracks, but these two discs are not necessarily designed to be listened to in sequence; small samplings will give much pleasure.
BENNETT: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 1, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / John Wilson Chandos CHSA 5202
While the music here may not be to every taste (and it is certainly not as instantly ingratiating as the film music by the composer) this new series, devoted to the orchestral works of the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett is of note. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and its Associate Guest Conductor, John Wilson are recording for the first time together on Chandos, and the disc features the knotty Third Symphony. If the virtuosic Marimba Concerto outstays its welcome, it is tackled here with verve by the percussionist Colin Currie.
SCHUMANN: PIANO SONATA NO. 1 IN F SHARP MINOR, ETC. Adam Golka, piano/FHR 62 These are performances of poetry and sensitivity, with the reading of the piano sonata rivalling some of the great discs of the past. Adam Golka is joined by the soprano Lauren Eberwein, an artist of subtle skill, on An Anna II, and a particularly delicate reading is given of all the music here, which is perhaps not as familiar as it should be.