CDs/DVDs March 2018 (1)

Bach: Mass in B minor
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Stephen Layton


There is a lightness, a sense of joy, which pervades this new recording even in its most serious moments. The Sanctus in particular floats with seemingly effortless ease, mirroring the outpouring of excitement at Et resurrexit in the Creed. When this is added to the fine line up of soloists, including Iestyn Davies mellifluous counter-tenor (listen to the meltingly beautiful Agnus Dei) and the crisp direction of Stephen Layton, the whole is highly recommended.


Brahms: Three Violin Sonatas
Tasmin Little, violin; Piers Lane, piano


When one realises the long association Brahms had with a number of great violinists it is strange that so little music was composed especially for them. These three sonatas – Op78 dating from 1878 and the other two Op100 and Op108 dating from a decade later – are all that survive for piano and violin though they more than make up for any lack of number with the quality of the compositions themselves which are here given exemplary performances.


Handel’s last Prima Donna
Ruby Hughes, soprano, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Laurence Cummings


The purity of Ruby Hughes voice makes an ideal vehicle for this collection which reflects the repertoire of Giulia Frasi, the soprano in all of Handel’s late works. She is movingly effective in the two arias from Theodora and the lament from Jephtha. The real bonus, however, is the inclusion of arias by Philip Hayes, John Christopher Smith and Thomas Arne which demonstrate the quality of composition being provided by Handel’s rivals at the same time. She is accompanied throughout by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the sensitive baton of Laurence Cummings.


Haydn: String Quartets Op64
Doric String Quartet


A bargain here as the two cds include all six quartets of Op64. They were written at a pivotal point in Haydn’s career as he made his first visit to London. Moreover, not only were they printed for sale and therefore performance by amateur players at home, but were, most unusually, included in some of Salomon’s London concerts, thus giving them public as well as private airing. The Doric String Quartet have already brought us fine recordings of Op20 and Op76 – to which these new cds of Op64 are equally welcome.


Beethoven: Violin Sonatas
Chloe Hanslip, violin, Danny Driver, piano
No1 in D major Op12/1; No3 in E flat major op12/3; No6 in A major Op30/1; No8 in G major Op30/3
Vol 1  Rubicon RCD 1010
No4 in A minor Op23; No5 in F major Op24 Spring; No7 in C minor Op30/2
Vol 2  Rubicon RCD 1011


The complete Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano were recorded live in Southampton’s Turner Sims Concert Hall in concerts given across 2017. The first two releases are listed above and benefit from the immediacy and rapport of a live performance, particularly important with these early works by the composer which benefit from the intimacy of a live response. Chloe Hanslip and Danny Driver obviously know the works well and bring love and enthusiasm to their performances throughout.


Tchaikovsky: Pique Dame
Dutch National Opera, Royal Concertgebouw, Maris Jansons
UNITEL 743908


Stefan Herheim’s production is built around the final days of Tchaikovsky’s life with the composer himself on stage almost the whole time and playing Prince Yeletsky. It is impressively carried through once one has accepted that there is nothing naturalistic on stage. Many moments are vividly impressive, not least Hermann’s anguish following the death of the countess, when the whole stage dissolves into a rage matching his own and the vast chandelier swings like an enormous Botafumeiro.

A strong cast are led by Misha Didyk as Hermann, Svetlana Aksenova as Liza and Alexey Markov as Count Tomsky. Mariss Jansons conducted with fire and brings an unexpected edge to the production as a whole.


CDs February 2018

(with apologies for lateness as the Editor has been on holiday!)

JS Bach: St John Passion
Bach Choir and Orchestra Mainz, Ralf Otto
NAXOS 8.573817-18

Lent normally brings a number of interesting new Bach issues and this certainly has a great deal to commend it. It draws on the final 1749 revision, but incorporates many of the additional items from 1725 later removed. As such it goes for the best of both worlds yet flows with a simple grace.

Ralf Otto’s tempi are brisk and workmanlike, his choral forces lean and precise. Evangelist Georg Poplutz and Jesus Yorck Felix Speer are excellent but the smaller parts are obviously drawn from the choir and don’t command quite the same weight. However this is not a problem for a recording which holds its own in comparison to far more expensive versions.

Guitar Music of Venezuela
Nirse Gonzalez, guitar
NAXOS 8.573631

The works here were all entirely new to me but none the less enticing and I will certainly return to the recording to get to know them better. Gentle dances by Carlos Silva and Evancia Castellanos sit comfortably alongside contemporary composers Pedro Mauricio Gonzalez and Federico Ruiz. Well worth an indulgence given the price.

Clarinet Fantasies
Nadia Wilson, clarinet, Martin Butler, piano

This recording is built around Martin Butler’s own Barlow Dale pieces which have lived an interesting if somewhat chequered history, re-emerging recently when Nadia Wilson realised she had been aware of them when Martin Butler himself assumed they had fallen out of both performance and interest. They are lively pieces depicting the cats who are the protagonists of his aunt’s book Barlow Dale.  As such they are enchanting and make a fine central feature for slightly more serious pieces by Bax, Horovitz and Ireland – though I have to admit I enjoyed the Butler settings the best!

Dag Wiren: orchestral works
Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Rumon Gamba

Dag Wiren tends to be remembered for a tiny handful of pieces today and it is therefore too easy to overlook his larger output. This cd brings together the third symphony, Serenade Op11, Divertimento Op29 and the Sinfonietta Op7A. The Serenade is the earliest work, dating from 1937 with the Divertimento completed in 1957. If the Serenade is deliberately light in both texture and atmosphere then the other works take on a more serious tone, though they are always mellifluously easy on the ear.

Granados – works for piano
Xiayin Wang, piano

This is an entirely romantic recording with a great deal to indulge and enjoy. Very much a Catalan, Granados seems to exploit the romanticism of his environment and lure this into both the scores themselves and Xiayin Wang’s fine playing.

Telemann: Melodious Canons & Fantasias
Elysium Ensemble

The Elysium Ensemble is here represented by Greg Dikmans, flute, and Lucinda Moon, violin, in a series of very finely performed chamber pieces for flute and violin. If anything it is all almost too intimate. The recording, while having a slight warmth to it, could easily be in a large front room and as such it makes these pleasantly domestic if not actually personal in their impact. It is as if the musicians are playing just for us – which is probably what Telemann intended. It is entirely convincing.

Brahms: Complete works for piano
Barry Douglas

The six cds which make up this set were recorded between 2012 and 2016, being released complete now for the first time. It is impossible within the scope of so brief a review to do justice to the set as a whole – let us simply say that I was delighted to be able to review it and indulge myself in such fine playing and such captivating performances. Nothing singled out here – there is far too much to choose from. If you did not get the individual recordings when first released this is your chance to catch up – and you won’t regret it.

CDs January 2018

Percy Grainger: Complete Music for Wind Band 1
Royal Norwegian Navy Band, Bjarte Engeset
NAXOS 8.573679

A most unusual collection with more promised to follow. Grainger’s arrangements are often idiosyncratic with hand bells and Hammond organs to the fore – but always used to fine effect. Alongside many of his own compositions come arrangements of other composers’ works. Most interesting is the orchestration of Franck’s Second Chorale – normally an organ piece but here given a far wider range of texture and tone. This is a fascinating dive into unfamiliar territory and I look forward to further volumes.

Debussy: Piano Music Vo.V
Michael Korstick
SWR 19044CD

While this new cd includes some familiar pieces – L’isle joyeuse, Masque- it is most noteworthy for the two sets of Etudes. Late works, Debussy deliberately leaves much to the performer with little indication of fingering or pedalling. Michael Korstick brings a clarity and often a severity to the pieces which seems very forward-looking and is immensely pleasing in impact.

The notes with this cd include information on the piano version of Jeux which is available for download.

From Baroque to Fado
Os Musicos do Tejo, Marcos Magalhaes
NAXOS 8.573875

This proved to be an unexpected pleasure as much for the high quality of performance throughout as well as the wide range of music included. Few of us will be aware of the range of Portuguese music and so the twenty tracks on the cd offer a valuable insight into the range of music which came out of the country over the last three hundred years. The Fado items are a delight, sitting comfortably alongside composed works by eighteenth century composers Palomino and da Silva Leite, and living composers Carlos Goncalves and Pedro Ayres Magalhaes. Most of the tracks may be short but the balance between them means that the programme flows without any uncomfortable jumps.

Beethoven, Hiller & Schubert
Mozart Piano Trios
Rautio Piano Trio

The Rautio Piano Trio have a growing reputation which is amply demonstrated by these two cds even if the cellist is not consistent. The Mozart cd uses original instruments and a fortepiano to create a warm ambience throughout though there is no lack of intensity of attack where needed, and real sense of enthusiasm for the scores.

The more recent cd includes the premiere recording of Ferdinand Hiller’s Piano Trio No 6 in C minor Op186, which unusually has five movements including a central notturno which links it to Beethoven’s Ghost Trio and Schubert’s Notturno D897. This is intelligent programming as it brings a fine, if unknown, work to our attention alongside familiar works which stand strong comparision with other recordings. We can look forward to further recordings from the Rautio Piano Trio given the large range of music available to them and the relatively small number of current recordings.

Elgar: Falstaff; orchestral songs
Roderick Williams, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Davis

It is the song recordings – with the ever reliable Roderick Williams – which make this a valuable new cd. While The King’s Way and the brief Kindly do not smoke may only be of passing interest, the Op59 & 60 cycles are far more important and could sit comfortably alongside the more familiar Sea Songs. Added to this are two movements from the incidental music to Grania and Diarmid and a complete performance of Falstaff. Andrew Davis draws the best from these scores, even where they are not necessarily first rank, and the whole makes for a fine programme.

Fieri Consort
Fieri Records

This is a debut release produced by John Rutter on its own Fieri Records label. It includes recent settings by Ben Rowarth alongside those by Monteverdi and Luca Marenzio. The Fieri Consort use the complex harmonies of both the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries to challenge the ear as well as draw comparisons between the emotional impact of the two approaches despite the large disparity in time.

J G Janitsch; Rediscoveries from the Sara Levy Collection
Tempesta di Mare Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, Gwyn Roberts

Johann Gottlieb Janitsch (1708-62) was little more than a name in the record of composers whose works had been lost until the remarkable reappearance in 2001 of the Sara Levy collection in Kiev in 1999, which was subsequently returned to Germany. Sara Levy was a fine musician in her own right and great-aunt to the Mendelssohns. The collection includes about 90 works by Janitsch, about thiry of which were previously unknown. All of this would be an excellent reason to welcome the new recording which proves to be a delight if conventional in both style and approach. The cd has four sonatas for chamber forces and an overture grosso written for two orchestras.

Copland: Orchestral works 3
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, John Wilson

This recording brings together a range of works which illustrate Copland’s adaptability. An Outdoor Overture was written for the High School of Music and Art, New York, in 1938 as a result of a commission to work with students. The lack of concert halls with organs (to say nothing of the difficulties organists had dealing with the time lag between the conductor’s beat and the note sounding) meant that the First Symphony had to be rescored to leave out the organ itself – the latter version being recorded here. The Dance Symphony is a much darker work than the title may imply, being an arrangement of music intended for a Gothic ballet. The BBC Philharmonic under John Wilson give spirited interpretations of these less familiar scores.

JS Bach; Musikalisches Opfer
Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki
BIS 2151

This is an enjoyable new recording based around the various sections of the Musical Offering and a set of Canons taken from the ground bass of the Goldberg Variations. The Canons are all very brief and could seem like little more than academic exercises to test just how far Bach could go with this experimentation. Needless to say they are far more musically alive than this, and might benefit from being played by a single instrument or ensemble rather than the regular change of instrumentation.


CDs December 2017 – 1


Forget opera – think Rat Pack – but then think opera when it comes to quality of voices and an ability to sing convincingly in a range of languages. Add to this a dynamic ability to belt popular numbers with enthusiasm but sing reflective songs with pathos. The Journey brings together a very diverse range of music from West Side Story to O Sole Mio taking in a generous collection along the way.

Scott Ciscon, Paul Martin and Jem Sharples have a deservedly strong reputation and this is certainly born out in this recording. The arrangements are always apt with an intimacy often missing in popular recordings. I really liked their version La Mer, sung for most of the time in French, before the more familiar Somewhere beyond the sea.

If you are reading this before 16 Dec – then you can catch them at Opus Theatre in Hastings on that day. If they can fill the Royal Albert Hall, they can surely do the same closer to home.  A real Christmas treat!


James Lancelot, organ of Durham Cathedral

James Lancelot is perfectly at ease with music and instrument in this fine recording from Durham. Opening with Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C and including the Prelude & Fugue in A (BWV 536) the rest of the programme features less familiar settings of chorale material by Bach. These include the Kanonische Veranderungen on Von Himmel Hoch(BWV 769) and the lengthy Partite on Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutig (BWV 768). A pleasing programme.

Colin Walsh, organ of Lincoln Cathedral

A good pairing of familiar music makes this a welcome disc. The fact that this was recorded live at a performance in the cathedral adds something to this listening experience.

David Leigh, organ of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork

This very enjoyable CD pairs recordings of two symphonic works – Franck’s Grande piece symphonique with Lemare’s Symphony No 2 in D minor, Op 50. Both works suit this less familiar cathedral organ, rebuilt in 2013. Shorter 20th century works by Fernando Germani, Jonathtan T Horne & Eoghan Desmond make up the rest of the inventive programme splendidly performed by David Leigh.

Kevin Bowyer, organ of Glasgow University Memorial Chapel

I really enjoyed this very eclectic disc. Kevin Bowyer has amassed a wonderful assortment of unusual 20th Century pieces, many in a more light-hearted vein. Included are Martin Stacey’s Little Stanmore Suite (including the movement Ach, mein wig hast blown off!) & The Naughty Boy by Paul Fisher, inspired in part by Monty Python. There are two hymn/spiritual arrangements by Mons Leidvin Takle, The Lord Warden’s Rondo by one-time organist of St Mary’s Rye, Charles Proctor and a lovely arrangement of Bucolosi’s The Grasshoppers’ Dance. I was particularly pleased to find included here Nos 3 & 4 (!) of Peter Warlock’s Two Cod Pieces. Oh, and I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts!!
Who says that organists can’t let their hair down?

Choir of Salisbury Cathedral, director David Halls, organist John Challenger

This is a lovely recording of the Cathedral Choir singing contemporary and older service music. David Halls’ own Missa Festiva & Will Todd’s Shorter(Evening) Service are joined by a lengthy anthem by Howard Moody, In the hand of God. There are shorter works by Richard Shephard and Thomas Tallis, traditional Anglican chants for Psalms 82, 84 & 85, morning canticles by Purcell & two traditional hymns. This is a timely reminder of the quality and variety of choral worship being offered week by week.

Choir of Liverpool Cathedral, director David Poulter, organ Ian Tracey

This does what it says on the tin! Mostly very familiar hymns sung and accompanied brilliantly in the wonderful Liverpool (Anglican) setting.

Choir of Nottingham Cathedral, director Alex Patterson

Recordings by UK Catholic choirs are less numerous than their Anglican counterparts and this one is particularly welcome. It draws together a collection of music all of which gives particular focus to Mary and covers a range of periods and styles of composition. It is punctuated throughout by ancient chant and includes compositions by Byrd, Palestrina, Philips, Victoria and de Lassus alongside contemporary works from Britten, Tavener, Celia McDowall, Howard Skempton and Alex Patterson’s own Ave Maria. It is wonderful to have all this music collected here in commited performances by the Nottingham choir.

The Ebor Singers, Chelys Consort of Viols, conducted by Paul Gameson
RESONUS RES 10202 66’28

It is always good to see imaginative themed releases such as this fascinating CD, which is a follow up to a previous recording, Music for Troubled Times. As the sleeve notes point out the music reflects the style in which Charles I wished to continue to celebrate Christmas in contrast to the Puritans who sought to abolish any Christmas observance. Less familiar names such as William & Henry Lawes , George Jeffreys & John Jenkins sit alongside Byrd, Gibbons & Dering. The period instruments do much to transport us back to the time of the English Civil War.


The Queen’s Six
RESONUS RES 10204  72’01

This is the third releasefor Resonus by this ensemble. Polished performances are given throughout in this eclectic mix of old and new, sacred and secular songs for Christmas. Traditional carols sit alongside less familiar choral items including Tye’s Laudate nomen Domini  and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Out of your sleep. I am not usually keen on mixing in such secular items as Let it Snow and Jingle Bells but in the arrangements and performances here they seem to fit in well.

The Prince Regent’s Band
RESONUS RES 10201  77’02

Marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution this release is the first in a survey of late 19th & early 20th Century Russian brass chamber music. I have to admit that I found the music less interesting than I had hoped – but the performances and production are excellent. I can only hope that further releases will throw up music that sounds more revolutionary to my ear. I await them with interest.



DVDs / CDs November 17

Wagner: Die Walkure
Salzburg Easter Festival 2017
Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann
UNITEL 742808

Those of us who have been attending Wagner performances now for over half a century will recall Gunther Schneider-Siemssen’s massive settings from the 1960s – none more so that the Solti Ring Cycles at the Royal Opera House.

This new release is a strange hybrid. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Herbert von Karajan’s opening of the first Salzburg Easter Festival with Die Walkure they have recreated Schneider-Siemssen’s sets but then added in new costumes and a new production. The second and third acts work better as the world of the gods sits more comfortably within the vast ring. Not so the first act where Peter Seiffert’s finely sung Siegmund sits rolling a cigarette before calling out to his father, very much at odds with the heavily stylised setting, which has no doors or sense of the domestic about it, dampening the intimacy of the music.

Thankfully Thielemann and his orchestra are in magnificent form and the end of act one thrills, as to many other key moments. Anja Kampe is an engaging Brunnhilde and a fine foil for the slippery Wotan of Vitalij Kowaljow. Christa Mayer’s Fricka has more to do in this production than is often the case and is only too happy to see Siegmund killed.

In the end, the compromise works, though it might have been even more interesting to have reconstructed and original production as an entity rather than in part.


Wagner: Siegfried
Hon Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden
NAXOS 8.660413-16

This is proving to be the finest Ring cycle currently available and I can’t wait for next year’s Gotterdammerung. It is excellently sung throughout and Jaap van Zweden’s conducting is light and flexible – just what the score needs and all too often fails to get. There are many magnificent moments. I particularly enjoyed Falk Struckmann’s Fafner, who hints at the lumbering stupidity of the giant even as he roars out his contempt for Siegfried. Matthias Goerne adds the Wanderer to his earlier Wotan, with a world-weary edge which is most convincing. Valentina Farcas is a sprightly woodbird and both dwarves are incisive and nasty. At the heart of the work, Simon O’Neill brings authority to the title role as well as flexibility to the musical line which always pleases. For this recording to be available on a bargain priced label makes it all the more worth snapping up.


Lehar: Schon ist die Welt
Munchner Rundfunkorchester, Ulf Schirmer
CPO 777055-2

This was the last major work from Lehar and the most operatic. The second act is effectively through-composed, a fact which did not go down too well with some of his followers who preferred a more conventional operetta format. There are some lovely melodies however and more to enjoy here than might at first seem obvious. It is certainly worth a second hearing.

The only minor flaw is that the dual casting means you need to have an idea of the story line to ensure you know which character you are supposed to be listening to at any one time!


Silver Voice
Katherine Bryan, flute, Orchestra of Opera North, Bramwell Tovey

While there is much to enjoy here and some very fine playing I am unsure just who the audience are for this recording of operatic arias arranged for flute. The tunes range from Gershwin to Mozart and are all instantly recognisable, but am I simply being snobbish to suggest that if I wanted operatic arias I’d rather have them sung rather than played here as what comes close to background music rather than a cd I would deliberately sit down to enjoy.


Debussy: Preludes Book 1 & 2
Angela Brownridge, piano

A full recording this, with both books of Preludes plus L’Isle joyeuse. What impresses is the range and delicacy which Angela Brownridge brings to the recording, meaning that we can indulge individual pieces but equally experience the books as a whole, moving from one emotional encapsulation to another. She seems to create links with ease, enticing us even when the content is complex and challenging.

A fine recording with hopefully many more to follow.


Arturo Benedetti
ORFEO C 943171B

This recording dates from 7 August 1965 and was recorded live at the Salzburg Festival. Arturo Benedetti is at the height of his career at this time, and here performs Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne aus Partita BWV1004 and Beethoven’s Sonata No3 in C major Op2 No3. The quality of the recording is not an issue, and the quality of the playing radiates throughout. it may now seem a dated approach to the scores, in terms of what we have come to expect from current pianists, but the magnificence of the sound is never in doubt.


Shostakovich: The Gadfly – complete original film score
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Mark Fitz-Gerald
NAXOS 8.573747

The Gadfly is best remembered today for the longer arrangement of Youth though the score as reconstructed here has a good deal of music which is equally impressive. It also draws on the full orchestral resources Shostakovich required for the film – including church bells, organ, guitars and mandolin – which are absent from the normal orchestral suite. There is also an added bonus in the inclusion of The Song of the Counterplan from the score of that name.


Mahler: Symphony No 5
Bayerischen Rundfunk symphonieorchester, Mariss Jansons

Maris Jansons finds the joy inherent in this score and brings it out time after time, lurking even in more sombre moments. The familiar Adagio has a warmth to it which carries us easily into the romp of the finale.  As with his other Mahler cds, this benefits from being a live recording with the added sense of atmosphere and tension.

‘Aqua’ – Arta Arnicane

‘Aqua’ – Arta Arnicane
(Solo Musica label on Sony Music)

The planet looks likely to need artistes like Arta Arnicane. The Latvian pianist’s ingenuity and imagination combined again to create an enriching and rewarding songlike programme by her piano-cello DUO Arnicans at their International Interview Concert at Worthing in November 2017. But few places in Britain have yet tasted her appealHer new CD album ‘Aqua’ is a beautiful piece of work. Do not be surprised at its class. The disc, the music, the booklet, the personally-written narrating booklet accompaniment, the guest photography, the packaging, indicate that Arnicane promises a future flow of contributions to the wellbeing of her listeners.

‘Aqua’ amounts to a sort of soul hydrotherapy. We know of the physical and spiritually therapeutic effects of water, and here she presents a 16-item sequence of solo piano music designed to seep inside ourselves. Our majority-water composition as human beings subliminally determines our  affinity and receptiveness to that – and if science has yet to research this process, Arta Arnicane here issues their prompt.

Scientists now confirm the imminent increased water domination of our existence: the oceans are on their way upwards to meet us. Indeed, prescient on this album is Waterfall of P?rse, which portrays an actual waterfall lost to the rising level of the river Daugava. It is one of seven pieces by Latvian composers, some actually acquaintances of Arnicane, and who on ‘Aqua’ are rubbing shoulders with music’s already established master water painters.

Latvia gave us Mikhail Baryshnikov, Mischa Maisky, Mariss Kansons, Andris Nelsons, Gidon Kremer. Like all these, who were born in the winter by the Baltic Sea, at the mouth of the Daugava, Arnicane hails from Riga. I have named only male compatriots. But Mirga Gražintye-Tyla from neighbouring Lithuania has lately broken through the glass door of recognition and now chief-conducts Birmingham’s famous orchestra.

No Latvian woman has hit full international musical consciousness outside opera. But Arnicane could emerge from that shade with her own angle on great music. In ‘Aqua’, she creates both an alluring and invigorating ambience, and a refreshing and rejuvenating listening experience. Relaxation comes in the knowledge that, heard end-to-end, ‘Aqua’ has taken the hearer to a new plane of perception and understanding – even repose.

I firmly recommend that your first listening is done without knowing all the titles, or the running order, nor having read the inside booklet. Failing that, not having them in front of you.

This greatly empowers the undulation of the programme’s trajectory and energy, and increases the listener’s feeling of discovery, for discoveries lie in wait. Approach ‘Aqua’ like a 1970s concept album heard in the dark.

Arnicane, to use circus billing, is already a virtuoso. But in’Aqua’ her prize gift to the hearer is not from the necessary servant dexterity and strength but the priority of the scenic depiction and the poetry. She wants you to shut your eyes and visualise, not to seek bedazzlement. And her instinct and innate sensitivity of planning leaves you with the final feeling of ‘and so to bed’. Magic is abroad and know also that this is a record you could give unhesitatingly to a child.

From our wealth of sea, lake, river, stream, brook and rain music, Arnicane draws on Berio, Debussy, Ravel, Liszt, Schubert, Chopin, Grieg  (people you’ve heard of) and Jazeps Vitols, Arvids Žilinskis, Janis Keptis, Pauls Damis and Romualds Jermaks – the important newcomers who make this record the treasured one it will become. Providing that you, I trust – like everyone else – are made of water.

Richard Amey

Details and special video:

DUO Arnicans’ self-titled CD of Chopin and Dohnanyi Sonatas, plus two other unexpected Chopin items is out on the same label.

CDs/DVDs October 2017

Peter Auty (tenor), Benjamin Bevan (Baritone), Richard May (cello), David Bednall (organ)
Wells Cathedral Choir, directed by Matthew Owens
RESONUS RES10198 69’56

As expected from Resonus this is a beautifully production. The recording has been timed to celebrate Joubert’s 90th birthday and showcases recent choral works, all of which have been premiered in Wells Cathedral. Together with the (unacc)Mass & the Passion is a setting of Locus Iste.

There is a numinous quality to these settings and throughout the choir and other musicians seem at ease with both music and text.  There are moments of intensity and drama as alongside more reflective moments. The passion (which incorporates the solo cello and organ) lets the drama unfold in the manner of traditional (eg Bach) Passions where the newly composed music  is interspersed with traditional hymns, giving an easy point of connection and participation for the congregation. An excellent birthday tribute to this prolific composer.

Robert Smith, viola da gamba
RESONUS RES10195 79’15

Having only recently been listening to some of Bach’s works for unaccompanied cello I was struck by the similarity to these works by his contemporary. Long known about, but the manuscript having only been rediscovered in 2015, this is a very welcome release. Sensitively interepreted by Robert Smith and recorded in a beautiful church acoustic this haunting music is to be recommended.

Kirsten Sollek (Mezzo), Richard Lippold (Bar), Frederick Teardo (organ), Myron Lutzke (cello)
St Thomas Choir of Men & Boys, Fifth Avenue, New York, conducted by John Scott
RESONUS RES10200 63’14

Here we have another  fine posthumously released recording of John Scott’s work at St Thomas’ Church, Fifth Avenue. The pairing of these two celebrated twentieth settings of the Requiem makes for a very satisfying CD. They are interspersed by one of Vaughan Williams settings of a more unusual text, Valiant-for-Truth, words of Bunyan from Pilgrim’s Progress.

Robert Quinney, Metzler organ of Trinity College, Cambridge
CORO  COR16157 77’31

This latest volume of Bach from Robert Quinney maintains the high standards of recording and excellent musicianship of the previous three releases. There is a good balance of material on this CD which culminates in the majestic Prelude & Fugue in E minor, BWV548. The other most substantial works are the Partita on Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutlig and Concerto in D minor BWV596 (after Vivaldi). A selection of chorale preludes and the Fantasia on Komm, Heiliger Geist complete the programme

Chopin: Volume 5
Louis Lortie, piano

This series is splendidly enjoyable and the programme of Mazurkas and Polonaise on this fifth disc is linked to the less familiar Allegro de concert Op46. The works all date from the mid-1830s and form a concise and telling collection. Where we have become to accept the Mazurka as quintessential Chopin it is hard to believe that, at the time, the dance form was virtually unknown to the wider west of Europe.

Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia Antartica; Concerto for two pianos; Four Last Songs
Louis Lortie & Helene Mercier, pianos, Roderick Williams, baritone, Mari Eriksmoen, soprano, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis

An interesting combination which draws together a fine performance of the familiar Sinfonia Antartica with two far rarer works. The Four Last Songs are brief pieces composed for voice and piano right at the end of the composer’s life. They are as far removed as one could imagine from Strauss’ opulent settings of the same name, being closer to Finzi in their limpid simplicity. They are given in an orchestrated version prepared by Anthony Payne. The concerto dates from 1931 but was arranged for two pianos in 1946 with the help of Joseph Cooper. Soloists are all strongly focused and the Bergen Philharmonic again responds sympathetically to Sir Andrew Davis’ conducting.

Two little words
Felicity Palmer, mezzo-soprano, Simon Lepper, piano

This recording forms a brief auto-biography of Dame Felicity Palmer’s life in song – as opposed to her lengthy career in opera – and many of the works are included for very personal reasons. I can’t think of many recordings which will include both Schubert and I’ll walk beside you yet the balance is perfect and the voice as wonderful as ever. She is accompanied by Simon Lepper who was to a large extent responsible for the resurgence of her career in lieder, and we can be very grateful to him for doing so.

Carl Millocker; Waltzes, Marches, Polkas
Nurnberger Symphoniker, Christian Simonis
CPO 555 004-2

For those of us who enjoy the comfortable wallow that so often comes with Viennese music this new cd is a delight. Most of the scores were unknown to me but seem instantly familiar within the genre. I particularly enjoyed the Polka Mazurka Melitta and the Polka snell Carnevalslauen,  but all thirteen pieces are thoroughly enjoyable.

Kenneth Macmillan; Three Ballet Masterpieces
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth & Martin Yates

This is a reissue of three of Macmillan’s finest creations for the Royal Ballet – Manon, Mayerling and Romeo & Juliet. As all are quite recent recordings – the earliest being only 2008 they are high quality productions and frequently give the viewer a better sense of the dance than can be experienced from many seats at Covent Garden. As such it is very welcome.





CDs/DVDs September 2017

Puccini: La Boheme
Teatro Regio Torino, Gianandrea Noseda
UNITEL 742608

Though the production has many strengths there are a number of nagging concerns. Modern dress is not one of them, but the huge stage often dwarfs the cast, who are lost within the plethora of windows at the back. The production itself makes little of the updating, and the Café Momus scene is remarkably conventional, the main worry being how these students managed to get into a restaurant which is so obviously up-market. Act three works the best, both visually and dramatically.

Of the singers, Kelebogile Besong’s Musetta and Massimo Cavalletti’s Marcello are the strongest both dramatically and vocally. Neither the Mimi nor Rudolfo are positive enough in the first act and are visually engulfed by the set. As above they are at their best in act three where they have space to move about and sing more freely. Gianandrea Noseda’s handling of the score is polished and well-paced.

Shakespeare: Cymbeline
RSC, Stratford upon Avon

Melly Still’s modern dress production was given at Stratford last year, where we were fortunate enough to see it live. The recording here does full justice to the impact of the production with Bethan Cullinane a quietly impressive Innogen and Marcus Griffiths a dangerous Cloten. In the course of the narrative it made little difference that Cymbeline himself was played by Gillian Bevan as a distinctly dangerous queen – if anything it added a certain frisson to a part which can too easily seem old and doddery. A fine addition to the growing number of splendid recordings from the RSC.

JS Bach: Keyboard concertos
Sonya Bach, piano, English Chamber Orchestra

This is a strange release if only because of the lack of information given with it. We know a great deal about Sonya Bach and her fine reputation, but there is virtually nothing about the works themselves or the approach to the recording. While she brings a bravura technique to the Bach arrangements, the style and sound are entirely modern and often fiercely aggressive. The instrument is not named but as the recordings were made in St John’s Smith Square one can assume it is their Steinway – not a particularly apt choice for Bach as this cd unfortunately demonstrates.

The Baroque Bohemians
Red Priest
RPR RP 014

This is a total and unique delight throughout. Don’t expect authenticity in the conventional sense, but do expect to be thrilled by the sheer daring of the approach. I doubt if you have heard Telemann, Byrd or Vivaldi like this before but the musicianship is superb and the panache of the approach drives all before it. As with all of the finest scores, they are still here for others to play and record in more conventional ways if that is what you desire. For me – I just wish more concerts had this level of life and enthusiasm.

Debussy: Jeux; Khamma; La Boite a Jououx
Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Lan Shui
BIS 2162

This is a most impressive recording. If the two major works here are less familiar that is because they were both completed or orchestrated by other hands. Not that there is any hint that this is not fully authentic Debussy, and one to which Lan Shui responds with immaculate sensitivity. Much of the scoring is remote and hushed, and Shui creates a distant shimmering sound which is both apt and captivating. Khamma is a brief ballet score whose narrative Debussy did not warm to but, needing the money, felt obliged to complete. Its introspective textures are finely spun and we don’t really need to worry about the story!

Dvorak: Piano Trios
The Tempest Trio
NAXOS 8.573723

Dvorak’s Piano Trio No 1 Op 21 was written in 1875 and revised in 1877, its lyrical qualities obvious from the start. By contrast the second quartet in G minor, composed in 1876 is more introvert and may reflect Dvorak’s personal tragic circumstances at the time. The Tempest Trio came together having previously had individual careers as soloists, and this recording follows the success of their first cd of Dvorak trios.

Szymanowski & Karlowicz violin concertos
Tasmin Little, violin, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner

Szymanowski’s first violin concerto from 1916 is written in a single movement and full of lightning changes of mood and texture. It is about as far away as one could imagine from his near contemporary, Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, whose concerto is richly romantic both in style and structure. The lyrical second movement is particularly impressive and it is strange that the work is not far more familiar given how close it seems to Bruch and Elgar. Szymanowski’s second violin concerto was one of his last major works to be completed and is dedicated to the violinist Paul Kochanski who had assisted in its creation. Fine performances of all three works from Tasmin Little. It would be good to hope we hear the Karlowicz now in repertory.

Mozart: Piano concertos and divertimenti
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano, Manchester Camerata, Gabor Takacs-Nagy

While the two concerti date from 1784 the Divertimenti are much earlier, dating from Mozart’s teenage years. Not that there is anything juvenile about them even if he was still very much under Leopold’s thumb at the time of their creation.

Sparkling performances throughout from Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and secure accompaniment from the Manchester Camerata.

Strauss: Oboe concerto; wind serenade
Alexei Ogrintchouk, Royal Concertgebouw wind players, Andris Nelsons
BIS 2163

While the oboe concerto will be very familiar it is the two other works which command attention here. The early Serenade in E flat major dates from 1881 when the composer was only seventeen, but the Sonatina comes from the same very late stable as the concerto. As such they make a fascinating and most acceptable coupling. Alexei Ogrintchouk’s approach is stylish and Andris Nelsons brings a mellifluous sensitivity to the wind players.

August DVDs/CDs 2017 (1)

Concert Favorites
Raymond Chenault, John-Paul Buzard organ in All Saints Episcopal Church, Atlanta, Georgia
GOTHIC G 49305-06

While very enjoyable, this double CD is not quite what one might expect. The Concert Favorites(sic) are those of the organist not necessarily the audience. As such this is a lively and often challenging collection opening with a brisk Toccata by Dutch composer Marius Monnikendam. Pieces by Guilmant and Jongen prove more familiar but there is a pleasing tendency to find modern works which are reflective rather than brash. One such is the fine Rorate Caeli by Jeanne Demessieux, a pupil of Dupre. The first cd concludes with the Salve Regina from Widor’s Second Symphony which allows Raymond Chenault to demonstrate the breadth of the organ’s registration.

The second disc opens with a bright reading of the Sortie en La Majeur by Dubois. The intensity of Langlais Incantation Pour un Jour Saint contrasts with the gentle sensitivity of Dupre’s Lamento.  It is worth noting here that the liner notes contain reproductions of a range of works of art which mirror the music – a worthwhile and thoughtful addition.

It is good to hear Cochereau’s Berceuse included before the final ecstatic Allegro Deciso from Dupre’s Evocation Poeme Symphonique.  The John-Paul Buzard organ rings well in the generous acoustic which is here recorded to allow the ambience of the building to speak.

A fine solo set and worth seeking out.

Cipriani Potter: Piano Concertos 2 & 4: Variazioni di bravura on a theme of Rossini
Howard Shelley, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

When one reads Cipriani Potter’s biography it is surprising that this appears to be the first recordings of these works. His influence on nineteenth century music through the RAM and his own promoted concerts should alone make his name more familiar, and the quality of the works recorded here is surely not in doubt.

The second piano concerto was completed in 1832. While very obviously a romantic work, the influence of Mozart and Beethoven are clear in the structure and clean lines. The delicacy of the Andante con motto is particularly impressive from Howard Shelley. The fourth concerto came three years later and concludes with an idiosyncratic Allegro which exemplifies the composer’s own voice lifting out of the earlier influences.

Cipriani Potter was an admirer of Rossini and the set of six variations are based on an aria from Ermione – the work listeners may have come across as its reuse in Mathilde di Shabran  is unlikely to have crossed their paths.

A delight to encounter the works and – given the large range of compositions by Cipriani Potter – let us hope others may be encouraged to explore his oeuvre more closely.


John Sheppard: Media Vita
Westminster Cathedral Choir, Martin Baker

It seems from the liner notes that one of the reasons John Sheppard was overlooked during the Tudor revival was that his dates were effectively unknown and that there was, therefore, nowhere to hang an anniversary! That such glorious scores should remain unknown seems unbelievable once they are encountered. The sensual slow unfolding of Media vita is captivating in its beauty, the polyphony rolling with gentle magnificence within the ample acoustic of All Hallows, Gospel Oak.

The Missa Cantate probably dates from the period of transfer between Mary and Elizabeth, and if the richness of the six-part scoring is not as overtly sensual as that of the Media vita it is equally compelling. Between these two major works comes Gaude Maria, with greater use of plainchant to progress the liturgy.

The balance of voices is exemplary and the recording is richly recommended.


Verdi: Il Trovatore
Macerata Opera Festival, Daniel Oren

The stage for the Macerata Festival is vast, making entrances difficult given the distance across the stage. In crane shots the orchestra looks somewhat lost sitting against the centre of the stage and leaving large areas in darkness to either side. Much of this may account for the way the production either focuses on individual singers, or adds in large amounts of extraneous detail to fill out the picture. Throughout the production we encounter the figure (ghost?) of Azucena’s mother being burnt at the stake, and a decaying child who wanders through, apparently her dead son.

Crowd scenes are well handled given the size and the musical impact is strong. Casting is secure with Piero Pretti an heroic Manrico and Enkelejda Shkosa a suitably wild Azucena. Probably worth returning to musically though the production itself would not really survive many viewings.


Puccini: Tosca
Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano
ARTHAUS 1099292

Dating from 2011, this is a film version of the opera by Benoit Jacquot and it is difficult to work out quite who the expected audience are. Shots move between the recording studio and a large – very large –setting with an obviously added acoustic. Additionally there are live sheep in act three though no chorus in act one. The constant shifts are disconcerting. Just as we become immersed in the action – and some fine characterisation from Ruggero Raimondi’s Scarpia – we cut back to the studio, or library shots of Rome. As such it is difficult to get fully involved, which is a pity as the musical side of the production is excellent, with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna familiar, but none the less welcome, protagonists.


CDs July 2017 (2)

Daniel Cook, organ of Westminster Abbey
PRIORY PRCD 1174 79’53

This fascinating series concludes with another excellent recording from Daniel Cook. There is a wide variety of music in this volume including music based on hymn tunes (including Fantasia on Intercessor and Six Occasional Preludes), processional music (March from Becket and Procession music from Drake) as well as Romantic programme music (Three Idylls and Sketches for Piano & Violin in transcription by E S Roper). The five volumes of this set are a fine record of Stanford’s organ works.

Stefan Engels, Link/Gaida organ of Pauluskirche, Ulm, Germany
PRIORY PRCD 1135  70’49

This long-running series continues with two works. The first is a suite of seven movements with colourful titles, Seven Pastels from the Lake of Constance, Op 96. This is paired with the Sinfonie, Op 143. Each volume continues to build this extensive survey of Karg-Elert’s music and can also be enjoyed as a single recital.

Paul Ayres, Organ of St Barnabas, Ealing, London

This is a very welcome release. Paul Ayres plays a selection from his own  vast output in a highly entertaining, and, at times, intriguing programme. I have been familiar with some of the composer’s work for some time. Much of his music, as here, is based on familiar music from a range of sources and styles. Included here are his Variations on Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen and nine pieces based on Beatles songs, including Toccatina on Here comes the sun, Danse Macabre on Norwegian Wood and  Toccata on All you need is love. Also included are four movements from Suite for Eric and the piece which partly gives this CD its title, Fantasy –Sonata: Over the Rainbow. A welcome sideways-step for the organ repertoire!

Robert Poyser,  restored organ of Beverley Minster

Priory continue to release fine recordings of lesser known organs by organists who know how best to exploit the resources of each instrument , with very interesting programmes balancing the familiar and less familiar repertoire. The newly restored Beverley organ is in fine voice here under the control of Robert Poyser. Music by Bach, Guilmant and Howells is complimented by a lengthy Toccata by Domenico Zipoli and a less familiar piece by Lefebure-Wely, March in F. The mighty Sonata on the 94th Psalm by Reubke forms the centrepiece of this disk and it is rounded off by Three pieces by the 20th Century composer, Nicholas Cheveux.

Francesca Massey, organ of King’s Lynn Minster

The organ at King’s Lynn is a very important one. Although heavily rebuilt it contains twelve ranks of original Snetzler pipework which has been carefully preserved throughout the years. Francesca Massey gives a very enjoyable recital beginning appropriately with Whitlock’s Hymn-Prelude on King’s Lynn. Reger’s Sonata No 2 in D minor, Op 60 closes the disc and JS Bach’s lengthy Chorale Partita on Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutig is also included as well as Stanley’s Voluntary in D minor, Op 5 No 8. Shorter works by John Jordan, Litaize, Burney, Peter Racine Fricker and Nicolas de Grigny complete the varied programme. Extensive notes on the history and specification of the organ make for an absorbing read alongside the music.

Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Orpheus Britannicus, Director – Andrew Arthur

This is a lovely CD. A very well programmed sequence links anthems (including Rejoice in the Lord alway and O sing unto the Lord) with service music (Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis in G minor and Te Deum in D) and instrumental music – Voluntary in G for solo organ, Suite in G minor for solo harpsichord and Chacony in G minor. Delightful.

The Ebor Singers, Director – Paul Gameson
RESONUS RES10194 76’47

This is a very imaginative production, recorded in the Early Music Centre, York.  Based mostly around the ‘York’ Psalm settings by William Lawes the programme is designed to reflect music that may have been used in York Minster at the time of the Civil War and especially the Siege of York in 1644. There are also anthems by Byrd (O Lord, make thy servant Charles), John Hutchinson, William Child, John Wilson, George Jeffreys (How wretched are the state) and Matthew Locke (How doth the city sit solitary). As well as an athem by Thomas Tomkins there is also his Sad Pavan: for these distracted times played on the organ by David Pipe. A fascinating historical document as well as a wonderful listening experience.

Guillermo Brachetta with Menno van Delft, harpsichords

Fine performances here of JS Bach’s ‘Italian’ Concerto and Concerto a due Cembali in C major, WF Bach’s Concerto in G major and Concerto in A major by Graun.

Philip Graffin, violin, Christopher Hart, trumpet
Scottish National Orchestra, conductor – Robertas Servenikas
RESONUS RES 10193 57’10

I have to confess that Peter Fribbins is a new name to me. This CD would be an excellent introduction to the music of this British composer, born in 1969. Beginning with the unusual Capriccio: Abide with me, a world premiere recording, two other premieres are Concerto for violin & orchestra: Dances, Elegies & Epitaphs and Soliloquies for Trumpet & Strings. Also included is In Xanadu for Wind Quintet. The works here cover a period of over 25 years and draw on a variety of inspirations from hymns, the music of Purcell and the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Damian Thantrey, baritone
Nova Music Ensemble,  conductor -George Vass

Another contemporary music CD from Resonus sees the world premiere recording of this one-man opera based on the Profumo Affair, composed ten years ago.  This disc really drew me in with its variety of styles and sources including news reports which blend with the accompaniment of the small but effective ensemble. The vocal performance is a tour de force from Damian Thantrey, providing not only the voice of Stephen Ward but also of other characters including Chrissie, in falsetto! Musical styles range from the contemporary operatic to cabaret and popular styles. This troubled episode in such highly original treatment is enthralling and sympathetic.

Michala Petri, recorder, Marilyn Mazur, percussion, Daniel Murray, guitar
OUR RECORDINGS 6.220618 71’11

A light and enjoyable collection of music from a variety of Brazilian composers this CD seeks to demonstrate the links and interplay between the classical world (represented by Villa-Lobos) and the popular (represented by Jobim) to form a “third stream” of popular music with classical influences taken up by contemporary Brazilian composers. None of this music was known to me and I enjoyed this attempt to highlight a particular crossover movement, although at times I might have wished for a slightly more varied instrumentation to cover a whole CD.

(Organ Music in Nineteenth-Century Sardinia)
Francesca Ajossa, Organ by Piacentini-Battani, Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro, Cagliari
TACTUS TC 800007 58’06

A further survey of the historical organ repertoire of a particular region from Tactus. None of the composers are names that I recognise and it is always good to see recordings of “new” music. It would be interesting to know if this music is known to local people today.

Nordic Voices
CHANDOS CHSA 0402  55’40

This recording transports the listener to the haunting and deeply spiritual soundworld of the works for six voices by Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). A lovely release.

Ferio Saxophone Quartet
CHANDOS CHAN 10987 80’40

A very different sound here – the rather magical timbres that only saxophones can produce. It may be tempting to think that the sound of the saxophone is always angular and brash. It can be but it can also be subtler, gentler and more ethereal. Both can be heard on this CD which collects a number of interesting works in an entertaining programme. I only knew Pierne for organ and orchestral works but here we have the Introduction et variations sur une ronde populaire alongside Will Gregory’s Hoe Down, The Wordsworth Poems by Guillermo Lago (The most recent work, and a world premiere recording) and works by Singelee, Bozza and Hugo Reinhart.

Ivo Barbanov, piano, Royal Scottish National Orchestra – conductor, Emil Tabakov
HYPERION CDA68205 64’46

This is music that should be heard, not least for the fact that the composer suffered for his art and his unwillingness to associate with the communist movement, dying at the early age of 52. The Bulgarian was a prolific performer as well as a composer and here we have two pieces for piano and orchestra dating from the early twentieth century. Music to return to and a composer, like so many, who deserves to be more widely championed and remembered.

Sam Haywood, piano
HYPERION CDA68183  69’41

This is a lovely recording by pianist Sam Haywood of this wonderful music that should be better known. The pieces selected here have been arranged to create a balanced programme rather than being in numerical order. I do wonder though why we have only 38 preludes from the two sets of 24. It seems odd to be so near to a complete set to make that decision.

Joo Yeon Sir, violin, Irina Andrievsky, piano
RUBICON RCD 1003  77’40

This CD brings together five contrasting works spanning the end of the 19th to the early 21st Centuries. Sparkling performances by this duo showcase a range of emotions and styles. Programmed works are by Schnittke, Manuel de Falla, Britten and Milhaud, culminating with Igor Alexandrovich Frolov’s Concert Fantasy on themes from Porgy & Bess.