MENDELSSOHN: SYMPHONY NO. 2 (LOBESGESANG), John Eliot Gardiner/ LSO Live LSO0803 Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s riveting survey of Mendelssohn’s orchestral works with the London Symphony Orchestra (the 5 Symphonies, Overtures and the Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream) has yielded some of the most compelling releases on the LSO Live label in the past few years. It now reaches a triumphant conclusion with this magisterial account of the Symphony No. 2 (Lobesgesang) taken from two concerts at the Barbican given on 16th and 20th of October 2016. Presented as a two-disc package that includes not only a hybrid SACD (2.0 stereo and 5.1 multi-channel mixes) but also a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc (5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 24 bit / 192 kHz & 2.0 LPCM 24 bit / 192 kHz). The latter also contains downloadable digital files. With a Blu-ray player connected to a home network, users can access the player via a web browser and using the mShuttle technology provided, download the files from the Blu-ray disc to a home computer. The digital file formats provided on this disc are: Stereo files in DSD / 24 bit 96 kHZ FLAC / 16 bit 44.1 kHz and WAV 320 kbps MP3. Full texts in German and English are included in the liner notes. Each of the opening three movements of the orchestral Sinfonia that open the work are beautifully paced by Gardiner. The first marked ‘Maestoso con moto’ is celebratory but never over exuberant thanks to Gardiner’s careful shaping and firm control of the musical discourse. The second – a swift waltz – is played with a lightness and delicacy that typifies the excellence of the LSO players, while the conductor ensures that the moving and richly melodic ‘Adagio religioso’ that follows is free of any trace of saccharine sentimentality. Gardiner’s characteristic antiphonal seating of the violins (playing with little or no vibrato) adds to the overall clarity of the textures. The remaining two thirds of Mendelssohn’s Symphony-Cantata introduces the chorus and three soloists (two sopranos and a tenor). It is here that Gardiner has his trump card – the wonderful Monteverdi Choir – whose contribution is in all respects quite outstanding. The security of intonation, crisp attack and superb diction of this 44 strong chorus are always in evidence, whether in the ‘a capella’ first statement of the Lutheran chorale ‘Nun danket alle Gott’ (Tr.12) or the blazing final fugue (Tr. 15). There is little doubt that this committed choir is able to deliver with ease both the weight and power of a larger chorus and the clarity and accuracy of a smaller one. Gardiner is equally fortunate in his fine line-up of chosen soloists. The pure and silvery voices of Lucy Crowe and Jurgita Adamonyté blend beguilingly in the duet ‘Ich harrete des Herrn’ (Tr. 9) bringing an ethereal quality and sense of blissful repose to this enchanting devotional movement. The tenor Michael Spyres is particularly impressive; singing with great sensitivity and unforced tone. His excellent diction and feeling for the words allows him to express a wide range of emotions, while his voice has the necessary heft to make the repeated question ‘Hüter, ist die Nacht bald hin?’ (Tr. 10) a memorable moment of spine-tingling drama. The team from Classic Sound Ltd. have ensured that the recording (DSD 128fs) does full justice to the performance and those who have one or more of the four earlier issues will need little urging to acquire this splendid release. Sir John has confessed that he had never conducted this work before, which may be why his new found enthusiasm for it – clearly communicated to the ever responsive LSO – has yielded such a powerful and uplifting account of one Mendelssohn’s most striking and original compositions. Highly recommended.
WEINBERG: FLUTE CONCERTOS 1 & 2, TRIO FOR FLUTE, VIOLA & HARP, 12 MINIATURES FOR FLUTE & STRINGS, Antonina Styczeń, Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Sopot, Wojciech Rajski/Tacet 0232-4 For those seeking surround sound recordings realised with imagination and the utmost skill, Andreas Spreer’s TACET catalogue should be a first port of call. This is especially true when as here the music, though hardly well-known, is definitely worth investigating. The Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996) has achieved greater prominence in recent years, thanks partly to some excellent recordings of both his symphonies and concertante works that have revealed a prodigious talent previously overshadowed by the achievements of his friend and colleague Dmitri Shostakovich. On this latest TACET release we have a generous selection of Weinberg’s compositions for flute and orchestra – in addition to his Trio for flute, viola, and harp – that feature the talented flautist Antonina Styczeń and the excellent Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Sopot directed by Wojciech Rajski. The disc opens with Weinberg’s ‘Flute Concerto No. 1 Op.75’ written in 1961, a most attractive work scored for flute and string orchestra. It begins with a brilliant scherzo allowing the soloist here ample opportunity to demonstrate her excellent technique, while the contrasting slow movement that follows inhabits a darker world in which Weinberg uses the instrument’s lower register to telling effect. The ‘Flute Concerto No. 2 Op.148′ appeared 26 years later and though it uses a full orchestra the composer’s limpid orchestration ensures that the solo flute line is always audible. The character of the music is generally reflective and its overall seriousness is not diminished by the sudden appearance of extended quotations from two of the most well-known pieces from the flute repertoire – the Badinerie from Bach’s Suite No.2 in B minor and the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice – that appear in the finale. In both concertos Antonina Styczeń and her Polish colleagues ably convey the wistful melancholy and klezmer high spirits that frequently permeate Weinberg’s music. On this disc the two concertos are separated by Weinberg’s entertaining ’12 Miniatures Op.29 bis’. Written originally in 1945 for flute and piano, the composer transcribed the work for flute and chamber orchestra in 1983. A wide variety of moods in encapsulated in these brief miniatures as indicted by their titles – Arietta, Burleske, Capriccio, Nocturne, Walzer etc. and their concision ensures that the listener’s attention never wanders for a moment. As in the concertos Styczeń’s playing is a delight – alert, witty and ravishing as appropriate. For the ‘Trio for Flute,Viola and Harp op.127’ Antonina Styczeń is joined by Paweł Czarny (viola) and Zuzanna Federowicz (harp). The clean crystalline textures of this instrumental combination were famously explored by Debussy in his sonata for the same instruments and though Weinberg’s work is very different it does share the same ascetic quality and high craftsmanship. The sensitive performance from these artists leaves nothing unsaid. Collectors familiar with TACET’s Real Surround Sound recordings will be aware that they aim to use the whole acoustic space to provide a unique perspective on the music for the listener. On this beautifully recorded SACD one has the choice to listen in normal stereo (which incidentally sounds excellent) or ‘5.1 Real Surround Sound’. But it is the latter that truly enhances the musical experiences on offer. In the fulsome liner notes TACET provide diagrams of the instrumental layouts used for each work, thus enabling one to set front, centre and surround speaker sound levels to achieve the optimum results. This is certainly not a time consuming process and even in a work such as the Weinberg Trio, the benefits are audibly clear.If the two Weinberg Flute Concertos, with simply surround ambience, are your main requirement then the alternative Chandos recording is highly recommended, but for those willing to explore further than the aural illusion of a regular concert hall situation this TACET disc recorded in the fine acoustic of the Church Stella Maris, Sopot in 2016 will make a very good starting point.