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
OPUS ARTE OA 1242

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
RUBICON RCD 1006

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
CHANDOS CHSA 5185

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
CHANDOS CHAN 10958

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
HYPERION CDA 68151

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
HYPERION CDA 68187

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
DYNAMIC 37769

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)

SIR CHARLES VILLIERS STANFORD – COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS VOL 5
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.

SIGFRID KARG-ELERT – COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS VOL 14
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.

RAINBOW TOCCATAS
Paul Ayres, Organ of St Barnabas, Ealing, London
PRIORY PRCD 1159 

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!

AN EAST RIDING TREASURE
Robert Poyser,  restored organ of Beverley Minster
PRIORY PRCD 1181 

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.

THE FORGOTTEN GEM
Francesca Massey, organ of King’s Lynn Minster
PRORY PRCD 1178

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.

THE ENGLISH ORPHEUS – CHORAL & INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC BY HENRY PURCELL
Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Orpheus Britannicus, Director – Andrew Arthur
PRIORY PRCD 1182

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.

MUSIC FOR TROUBLED TIMES – THE ENGLISH CIVIL WAR & SIEGE OF YORK
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.

CONCERTO – WORKS FOR ONE & TWO HARPSICHORDS
Guillermo Brachetta with Menno van Delft, harpsichords
RESONUS RES10189

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.

DANCES, ELEGIES & EPITAPHS – THE MUSIC OF PETER FRIBBINS
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.

THOMAS HYDE  – THAT MAN STEPHEN WARD
Damian Thantrey, baritone
Nova Music Ensemble,  conductor -George Vass
RESONUS RES 10197

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.

BRAZILIAN LANDSCAPES
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.

MUSICA D’ORGANO NELLA SARDEGNA DELL’OTTOCENTO
(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 SING VICTORIA
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.

FLUX – ORIGINAL WORKS FOR SAXOPHONE QUARTET
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.

DIMITAR NENOV – PIANO CONCERTO/ BALLADE FOR PIANO & ORCHESTRA
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.

STANFORD PRELUDES
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.

SUITES & FANTASIES
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.

SP

 

DVDs/CDs July 2017

Donizeti: Rosmonda d’Inghilterra
Donizetti Opera, Sebastiano Rolli
DYNAMIC 37757

This is a revised edition of the score based on primary sources, of a work which has five substantial solo parts which require technical finesse as well as stamina. The story is loosely based on Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his affair with Rosmonda. After what appears to be a fairly conventional approach to the narrative it has a totally unexpected ending. Leonora (Eleanor) stabs Rosmonda to death and the chorus say Oh Dear­ –just that; no final chorus, no lingering death aria. Just Oh Dear and down curtain. It is a real shock even today and must have been outrageous at the time. It may also account for the lack of enthusiasm for the work which, from all other points of view, is finely structured and gives the soloists a lot to do.

The two women – Jessica Pratt as Rosmonda and Eva Mei as Leonora – are splendid, though the two male protagonist are certainly powerful in approach. Sebastiano Rolli conducts from memory and brings spirited accompaniment from the pit. The production is often couched in stygian darkness and the chorus seem as lost as the audience as to what they are supposed to be doing. However, this should not put you off as the work has real merits.

Faure; Music for Cello and Piano
Andreas Brantelid, cello; Bengt Forsberg, piano
BIS 2220

This cd mixes the familiar with the lesser known to good effect. All of the eleven pieces have real worth, and include the Sonata No2 and the original arrangement of the Romance for cello and harmonium. An engaging disc.

Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty; The Nutcracker; Swan Lake
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi
CHANDOS CHSA 5204(5)

These recordings were issued separately but are very welcome as a complete set. Not only are the scores complete in themselves but Neeme Jarvi brings an entirely orchestral approach to them so that we hear concert music rather than ballet scores. While I expect some might find the tempi somewhat difficult to accept in terms of the dance, it makes for very exciting listening.

Busoni: Orchestral works
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi
CHANDOS CHAN 241-57

This is a reissue of recordings made in 2002 and 2005. Though Busoni’s orchestral works are not very familiar this dual set makes a good case for their inclusion in more orchestral programmes, particularly the shorter pieces which would sit well as openers. John Bradbury also makes a good case for the Clarinet Concerto of 1918.

Verdi: Don Carlo
Teatro Regio di Parma, Daniel Oren
DYNAMIC 37776

This recording was made in October 2016, the production directed by Cesare Lievi. It is remarkably straight-forward – not to say traditional – in its use of sets and costumes and will therefore appeal to those who like to simply be able to relax and enjoy the drama as it unfolds, without having to worry about why the cast are doing strange things. It is equally well sung throughout and Daniel Oren in the pit holds his forces together with skill.

Bruckner: Symphony No 3
Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann
UNITEL 740808

This series is proving to be very impressive and is maintaining its impact as Christian Thielemann moves back to the Third Symphony. With glowing wind and mastery of long, unfolding passages may I respectfully suggest you listen to this with the volume turned up to the gain the impact you would in the concert hall. This is not a DVD for a portable system!

Mahler: Symphony No9
BR KLASSIK 900151
Beethoven: Symphony No9
BR KLASSIK 900156
Bayerischen Rundfunk, Mariss Jansons

These are both fine recordings and both come from live performances. The Mahler was recorded last October in Gasteig and the Beethoven is a reissue of a performance given in the Vatican in 2007. The Roman acoustic is quite resonant though it does not fudge the sound as much I had suspected it might. The Gasteig performance is alive with detail and Mariss Jansons’ familiar sensitivity to line. Both warmly recommended.

Haydn: Quartets Op 20 4-6
Chiaroscuro Quartet
BIS 2168

The Sun Quartets are among the most challenging to performers if not to listeners – who simply lap up their beauty. The notes give a detailed analysis of this complexity and take us through the deeply introspective nature of much of the writing. This is finely mirrored in the playing of the Chiaroscuro Quartet and make the recording well worth revisiting.

Brahms: Sonatas for cello & piano Opp 38 & 99
Schumann: Funf Stucke im Volkston
Robin Michael, cello; Daniel Tong, piano
RESONUS RES10188

I wish I could feel more enthusiastic about this recording. It is certainly well played and I enjoyed some of the Schumann pieces, but the Brahms seems to me to be worth but a little dull. A pity given the obvious delight the performers have in the scores.

 

CDs June 2017

JUDITH BINGHAM – ORGAN WORKS
Stephen Farr, organs of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, St Albans Cathedral & Trinity College, Cambridge
RESONUS RES10191 (2 CDs) 69’13 & 53’49
This bumper collection of recent works by Judith Bingham is a very welcome addition to Resonus’ catalogue and should help to make these works more widely known and appreciated. The composer uses a range of starting points and influences to construct music on a variety of themes – from the liturgical (Missa brevis ‘Vidantes Stellam’) to precious stones (The Everlasting Crown– the longest work here) and botany (The Linnaeus Garden) – an organ duet. The final work included here is Tableaux Vivants for harpsichord. The scope of these works as well as the fine playing from Stephen Farr on a variety of instruments makes this a very useful and enjoyable collection.

 

POLYPHONIA IN EXCELSIS – Sacred music by CLAUDIO DALL’ALBERO
Choir of Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge, David Skinner (director)
Jim Cooper, Laurence Carden & Stephen Farr, organists
RESONUS RES10190  72’39

This very enjoyable CD brings together a number of works by the contemporary composer Claudio Dall’ Albero in excellent performances. Two pieces were written specifically for the Sydney Sussex Choir. The organ solo Trittico di Cantabrigia was composed for this recording with each movement performed by a different organist. These works link the generations who have sung of their faith, drawing on earlier forms of music, such as the Missa ‘De Angelis’. A very good introduction the sound world of this composer.

HAYDN – PIANO SONATAS, Vol 6
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano
CHANDOS CHAN 10942 83’26

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet gives excellent accounts of these sonatas in this latest volume in the series from Chandos. The works are Sonatas No 11, 34-36 & 43 in B flat, D, A flat, C & E flat.

Conradin Kreutzer: Septet Op62; Trio Op43
Himmelpfortgrund, Tobias Koch, fortepiano
CPO 555067-2

Not a composer who comes immediately to mind for the early part of the nineteenth century but for lovers of chamber music of the period this is a delight. Himmelpfortgrund are an original instruments group who manage to combine an authenticity of musical line to an immediacy which makes the score truly alive. There is a real sense of domestic panache to the Septet and a compelling intimacy to the Trio.

CPE Bach: Complete works for keyboard and violin
Duo Belder Kimura
RESONUS RES 10192

The two CDs cover seven sonatas plus a Fantasia and an Arioso with Variations. If the works are all rather similar in nature, there is enough variation to keep one listening throughout, and the quality of the playing is never in doubt.

JS Bach; The Art of Fugue
Ensemble L’Arte della Fuga
OEHMS OC 1854

I am among those who regard The Art of Fugue as one of the pinnacles of artistic creativity. Unfortunately this new recording does little to help convince the un-enlightened. The extensive notes argue that the work can never be considered for the organ (for which it has always seemed to me eminently suited) and harpsichord presentation is too limited. They argue that the combination here – violin, viola, cello, double-bass and bassoon – is the ideal ensemble to fully do justice to the composition. I beg to differ. The solo bassoon simply sounds out of place and while the strings are adequate the sudden introduction of the bassoon upsets the balance. As such the ear is drawn to the unexpected balance rather than absorbing the work itself.

Das Wohltemperierte Akkordeon
Mie Miki
BIS 2217

I have heard Bach on almost any combination of instruments (see above!) but had not previously heard him on the solo accordion. This cd draws on both books and, while convincingly played, still does not somehow quite ring true. Occasionally the sound is close to a harmonium, which I have sometimes heard in the past, but, much as I would like to encourage experimentation, this really does not convince.

CDs/DVDs May 2017

Ombre Amene
Gabriella di Laccio, soprano; James Akers, guitar
DRAMA MUSICA DRAMA 002

This is a fine combination of pieces which will be unknown to all but the most diligent of connoisseurs. Mauro Giuliani and Fernando Sor were writing at the turn of the nineteenth century and both are here represented by song settings and solo works for guitar. Sor’s Etude 17 is particularly pleasing but is only marginally ahead of the settings themselves. James Akers is a fine exponent of both the solo guitar items and the accompaniments.

Soprano Gabriella di Laccio is more of an acquired taste. She specialises in Baroque music, and her finely honed high soprano, with its rapid vibrato, often makes for edgy attack and a tension which is fully in keeping with the text even if it is not as mellifluous as we would expect from a more romantic approach.

First Drop
Ars Nova Copenhagen, Paul Hillier
CANTALOUPE MUSIC CA 21127

The CD opens with an unaccompanied setting of Rise up my love by Howard Skempton. It is a disarmingly welcoming introduction to a cd which ranges widely from the intensity of Gordon’s he saw a skull to a vocal arrangement of Steve Reich’s Clapping Music for voices – both superbly done. Alongside these are works by Terry Riley, David Lang and Kevin Volans.  Worth seeking out.

Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera
Royal Opera House, Claudio Abbado
OPUS ARTE OA 1236 D

This recording dates from 1975 but I doubt if there are any currently available to match its musical impact and beauty. The production by Otto Schenk may seem dated – how often do we get sets and costumes close to those imagined by the composer? – but it still works well and if only for Placido Domingo the work is well work adding to your collection.

Rachmaninov: Rare Piano Transcriptions
Julia Severus, piano
NAXOS 8.573468

These are fascinating items. Rachmaninov was responsible for transcribing his own works – as well as laying down many of them for player pianos where we can hear the composer himself performing his own works. Here we have twenty-two pieces, plus the longer Suite in D minor which only came to light a few years ago. Julia Severus is a convincing soloist with real romantic flair.

Strauss in St Petersburg
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi
CHANDOS CHAN 10937

There are so many Strauss recordings to choose from, how is a new one to make an impact? Well this does, simply by bringing together works performed while Johann II was in St Petersburg. This includes a single work by Olga Smirnitskaya – Erste Liebe – if only to show that Russian composers were very aware of the Viennese influence! A fine disc and one which had an innate sense of Straussian rhythm without pulling it all over the place – as too many do these days.

Maestro Corelli’s Violins
Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage
CHACONNE CHAN 0818

Six concerti by six different contemporaries of Corelli , all giving a strong indication of the wealth of music still to be discovered from the early eighteenth century. Beautifully played and worth the indulgence even if you think you know the period well already.

Bruckner: Symphony No2
Mozarteumorchester, Ivor Bolton
OEHMS OC 447

This is a live recording from Salzburg made in October 2015. Bruckner regularly revised his symphonies and the second exists in at least four versions. This is the earliest, and longest, and as such represents the composer’s own approach to the work before any critics had had any influence over him. Far more rarely heard than the later symphonies, it is still a splendid work in its own right and the recording brings us the immediacy and impact of the composer’s creative genius.

Schubert: String Quartet in G major; String Quartet in C minor Quartettsatz
Doric String Quartet
CHANDOS CHAN 10931

The recording opens with the more familiar Quartettsatz in a muscular, exciting reading. The lesser known Op post 161 has an altogether different level of intensity, very much post-Beethoven in its architecture and dynamics. It is also one of the longest when given its proper length as it is here. This is a fine twin to the earlier release of the quartets based on Rosamunde and Death and the Maiden.

In the stream of life; songs by Sibelius
Gerald Finley, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner
CHANDOS CHAN CHSA 5178

There are so many good things on this cd it is difficult to know where to start. Pohjola’s Daughter and The Oceanides are familiar but given exemplary performances. Alongside these we have the premiere recording of In the stream of life, challenging in its immediacy and even today unexpected in its intensity. With this come seven less familiar song settings and the Op42 Romance. Edward Gardner has produced some very memorable recordings with the Bergen Phil but this has to be one of the best.

Guitarra Mia; Tangos by Gardel and Piazzolla
Franz Halasz, guitar
BIS 2165

Not only does this bring the music of Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla to a wider audience, with beautifully phrased performances throughout, but it leads us – for those like myself with little background in the Tango – to extensive video clips from the films Gardel made in the 1930s. Both well worth investigating.

 

CDs / DVDs April 2017

Handel: Messiah
Bach Consort Wien, Ruben Dubrovsky
NAXOS 2.110387

Interesting for those of us so used to English singers performing an essentially English composition, to hear it in a German recording. The Bach Consort Wien draw on a very different background and yet come to surprisingly familiar conclusions. If the ornamentation in places is refreshingly different the main thrust of the work is entirely – and pleasingly – conservative. Soloists are secure, even where they are obviously not singing in their first language. Ruben Dubrovsky conducts with a clear ear for Baroque temperament and the whole is entirely pleasing.

Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera
Bayerische Staatsoper, Zubin Mehta
UNITEL 739408

This production, recorded a year ago, is set in the 1930s with a sense of inter-war decadence to it which proves convincing, enabling the disparate elements to gel in a convincing way. It is well sung throughout and was extremely well received when first seen in Vienna. It is so good these days that an unusual presentation can be released so soon after the original staging and while the singers are still very much with us for the performance to be still in the repertoire.

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Staatskapelle Weimar, Carl St Clair
ARTHAUS 109319

It almost seems unfair to try to comment on a complete recording of The Ring within a review page such as this. There is so much one could say of this fascinating and at times infuriating interpretation that one would hope for far more. However, to sum up, the approach which Michael Schulz takes is to include the gods far more frequently and to allow late 20th century iconographic to inhabit Wagner’s world. The Valkyries march on like the Von Trapp children, the final act of Valkyrie being set in a girls’ dorm. The gods in Rheingold are eminently human, with human needs and fallibilities. The strong pro-feminist line throughout finds its fulfilment at the end of Gotterdammerung when Brunnhilde walks off with her confidant, Grane, and leaves the, newly enfranchised, women to bask in the spring rain.

Much of this is splendidly accomplished. Das Rheingold is intimate and often compellingly naturalistic. If Die Walkure has a slightly weaker Wotan it does not inhibit an excellent overall performance, with a stunning visual climax. Siegfried is let down by a weak Wanderer, thought the staging as a whole is less effective here – no forging, no dragon, no fire.

Gotterdammerung works better, with Catherin Foster a fine Brunnhilde and Norbert Schmittberg equally secure as Siegfried. The staging works here, if only because it reflects what we had come to expect and never undervalues the score.

Carl St Clair is adept at keeping the long paragraphs of the score moving effortlessly and allowing the text to cut through with ease. Worth a look and possibly worth keeping if not quite up there with some of the finest we now have.

AMERICAN VOICES
St Thomas Choir of Men & Boys, Fifth Avenue, New York
John Scott, conductor
RESONUS RES10187   74’18

This recording features some now well-established sacred choral works by American composers including Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Copland’s In the beginning and Barber’s Agnus Dei. Alongside these are lesser known and more recent works by Randall Thompson, Nico Muhly, Daniel Castellanos & Ned Rorem, as well as an arrangement of Deep River by Gerre Hancock. The recording beautifully captures the choir in performances of conviction and emotion. A lovely production.

KODALY & DOHNANYI – Chamber Works for Strings
Simon Smith & Clare Hayes (violins), Paul Silverthorne (viola), Katherine Jenkinson (‘cello)
RESONUS RES 10181   70’19

This is a very welcome release of lesser known but significant works for strings from the first half of the twentieth century. The performances are fresh and polished. Two pieces are by Zoltan Kodaly – Duo for Violin & Cello, Op 7 and Serenade for 2 Violins & Viola, Op 1.Erno Dohnanyi’s Serenade for String Trio, Op 10 completes the CD.

LABYRINTH – Mozart, Ligeti & Bach
Dudok kwartet, Amsterdam
RESONUS RES 10180   55’24

More music for strings makes up this CD which presents a fascinating programme with music from different eras linked together by the theme of counterpoint and labyrinth. There is a shocking but delightful juxtaposition as Mozart’s String Quartet No 14 in G major leads into String Quartet No 2 by Ligeti which features the micropolyphonic structures which he pioneered. The recording ends with a return to what we may regard as more traditional music but which in themselves are boundary-pushing compositions: four Canons by the master of musical simplicity-in-complexity, JS Bach. Highly recommended listening.

TOCCATA: TOUCHED
Alex McCartney, theorbo
VETERUM MUSICA VM015

A sublime recital of works by G G Kapsberger (c1580 – 1651). Although complex music this is a very relaxing listening experience as Alex McCartney breathes life into this ancient and mostly forgotten music. A lovely production.

HANS LEO HASSLER – Orgelwerke (Suddeutsche Orgelmeister Vol 5)
Joseph Kelemen,
Freundt organ (1642), Stiftskirche, Klosterneuburg & Gunzer organ (1609), St Martin, Gabelbach
OEHMS CLASSICS OC658   79’51

This recording presents wonderfully authentic performances matching this music to near contemporary organs. The music is played with feeling and with great variety in registration. There is a good contrast of style and structure throughout the programme which includes an Orgelmesse, chorale preludes, introits, canons and ricercares. I am left wanting to listen to further volumes in this series.

MARCO ENRICO BOSSI- Complete Organ Works Vol 12
Andrea Macinanti, organ (with Giovanni Battista Fabris, violin & Elena Perera,’ cello)
Organ of Duomo di Thiene
TACTUS TC862790 (2CDs)   59’11 & 56’07

At first glance this recording seems an unnecessary volume in a series dedicated to the works of a single composer. However, on reading the notes and listening to the music I have come to see how important this volume is! Bossi championed the music of many of these ‘Old Masters’ and by doing so breathed new life into them, cherishing the musical structures and ideas from past generations but not being afraid to develop them further and incorporate his own ideas alongside them.  The CD is an enjoyable listening experience in its own right but the value lies more in helping others to appreciate how composers draw on the legacy left before them.

Borodin: Piano Quinter in C minor; Cello Sonata in B minor;
String Quartet No2 in D major
Goldner String Quartet, Piers Lane piano
HYPERION CDA 68166

A pleasure throughout, and even more so to have the rare cello sonata in addition to more familiar works. Hyperion have done it again – filling gaps in the market and proving their choice right!

Shostakovich: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; String Quartet No8 arr Giltburg
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Rhys Owens, trumpet, Vasily Petrenko
NAXOS 8.573666

Boris Giltburg is a most convincing soloist for the two Shostokovich piano concertos with a lively trumpet in the first concerto from Rhys Owens. The additional pleasure here is the arrangements of two string quartets for piano solo. We have two movements from the Op68 quartet – the Waltz and Allegro – and a complete performance of the String Quartet No 8. This later was made with the permission of the Shostakovich family and proves to be a darkly defined composition which is not out of place as a solo piece.

Johan Botha
ORFEO C 906 171 B

These recordings were made in Vienna between 1997 and 2014. Johan Botha was an heroic tenor, most at home in Wagner and Strauss, both of whom are represented here, plus a fine recording of Gott, welch Dunkel hier when he appeared as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio. He was seen most recently via the Met’s cinema links as Walter in Die Meistersinger which is reflected here in a live recording of the Prize Song. His untimely death last autumn robbed the opera world of a fine singer.

The excellency of hand: English viola da gamba duos
Robert Smith & Paolo Pandolfo
RESONUS RES10186

This cd is a delight throughout, bringing together 22 pieces of early music, most of which will be unknown to the majority of listeners. There are works by Christopher Simpson, John Jenkins, Simon Ives plus the gentle intervention of a single work by Robert Smith which is totally in keeping with the seventeenth century surroundings. The sheer grace and delight here speak for themselves – just hear it for yourself!

Medtner and Rachmaninov Piano Concerti
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Marc-Andre Hamelin, piano, Vladimir Jurowski
HYPERION CDA 68145

The Rachmaninov is of course very familiar and here equally well performed. The novelty is the Medtner which is far less well known and manages to keep its place surprisingly well alongside its more familiar partner. The two composers knew each other and Rachmaninov helped his younger friend who never had the same level of exposure or following. The differences are obvious even in the brief consideration of these two works. Medtner is a pianist and composes from the point of view of the soloist, while Rachmaninov’s ear is for the whole orchestra.

Max Bruch: String Quintets and String Octet
The Nash Ensemble
HYPERION CDA 68168

What is it about Octets that make them so satisfying? The great ones are out of this world and I have to include the Bruch Octet alongside them. Those who are besotted by the violin concerto – overplayed but never quite outstaying its welcome – will surely delight in this. When put alongside the two string quintets this it surely a most attractive recording.

Luigi Legnani: Works for Guitar
Raffaele Carpino, guitar
TACTUS TC 791201

I have to admit to knowing nothing of Luigi Legnani but these really are lovely works and so easy on the ear without ever being obviously populist. Working within the early part of the nineteenth century he was a friend of Rossini and both played and sang tenor as well as composing. He died almost forgotten in 1877 having composed 250 opus numbers plus a large number of unnumbered pieces, many of which are now lost. This recording should go a long way to restoring his name if only because it is a pleasure to listen to and beautifully crafted throughout.

Music for the 100 Years’ War
The Binchois Consort, Andrew Kirkman
HYPERION CDA 68170

This recording comes out of a collaboration between the Binchois Consort and the Castle Museum, Nottingham. The detailed notes include a wide range of photos of medieval alabaster carvings which reflect the music and life of the period. The notes are detailed and the translations are precise for each item. This alone makes it something of a rarity when notes can be skimped or often non-existent. To this one must note the fine recording itself and the close relationship between music, text and image. A very welcome recording of works by Alanus, Dunstable, Forest and Power plus anonymous items.

DVDs / CDs March 2017

Donizetti: Roberto Devereux
Teatro Carlo Felice, Francesco Lanzillotta
DYNAMIC 37755

We have seen more of this opera recently than probably any time in the last century and it is a worthy partner to the more familiar Anna Bolena. The production is very dark – you may need a large screen and a darkened room to pick up some of the detail – but the music is well focussed throughout and Francesco Lanzillotta keeps his forces moving swiftly. Mariella Devia is a tight-lipped monarch attempting to maintain emotional control while the world falls apart around her. All the solo parts are well taken and the chorus creep about as if terrified of what might happen next.

Tango Under The Stars
Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel
MAJOR 739608

The combination of the expertise of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Latin enthusiasm of Gustavo Dudamel make for a glorious evening. If the audience are not quite what one might wish for in a concert hall, the outdoor Hollywood Bowl is able to absorb the extraneous noise and the applause between movements. The central work is the 2nd Guitar Concerto by Lalo Schifrin, with Angel Romero as soloist followed by four dances from Estancia by Ginastera.

For the final four pieces by Astor Piazzolla they are joined by Tango Buenos Aires who dance with a heighted intensity and highly sensuous movements which is totally captivating.

Vaughan Williams: Job; Symphony No 9
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis
CHANDOS CHAN 5180

Job, a Masque for Dancing is heard rather than seen these days, which is a pity for this is undeniably ballet music of the finest order. The combination of Job with the 9th Symphony is telling as their composition spans almost thirty years and yet the composer’s voice is immediately obvious in both. Not that Vaughan Williams had not developed over the period, so much as his own voice always shines through with immediacy. Sir Andrew Davis’ strengths as an interpreter of English music are well known and this is another excellent example of his insights and understanding.

Schubert; Works for solo piano Vol 2
Barry Douglas
CHANDOS CHAN10933

This may only be vol 2 but already this is obviously a very fine undertaking and we can look forward to the rest of the series. Here we have the Four Impromptus Op 90 and the A major Piano Sonata D959, all late works and showing Schubert at the peak of his powers, none more so than in the final movement of the Sonata which draws on earlier works yet spins a new sense of creativity which is wholly captivating.

Franz Krommer: Symphonies 1-3
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana, Howad Griffiths
CPO 555 099-2

Krommer has all but vanished from our concert halls. Though held by many in his lifetime to be valued as highly as Haydn he rapidly went out of fashion and disappeared from public performance by the end of the nineteenth century. This is one of the strange acts of fate which seem to fall on some composers for no obvious reason. These three symphonies would grace any early romantic programme and the composer’s voice is individual enough to make for a worthy place alongside more familiar composers. The difficulty, I suspect, is that the audience will not necessarily react as enthusiastically to a name on a concert list that they do not no. a pity for these are fine pieces.

William Boyce; Symphonies
Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner
CAPRICCIO C8006

Recorded in 1993, this is a welcome reissue of a very fine recording, full of life and energy.

Dutilleux; Symphony No 2 etc
Orchestre National de Lille, Darrell Ang
NAXOS 8.573596

Henri Dutilleux is still underrepresented in our concert halls and so this new cd goes some way towards offsetting that balance. The 2nd Symphony is extrovert in its attack and detail, with splendid tone colours. This is taken up again in the three movements of Timbres, espace, movement which was revised in 1991. The sixteen short movements of Mystere de l’instant give snatches if not outbursts of creativity, which are gone almost before they can impinge.

Beneath the Northern Star
The Orlando Consort
HYPERION CDA 68132

This is early polyphonic music stretching from the late thirteenth century to the early fifteenth. The Orlando Consort explore the way musical lines were elaborated and embellished within their liturgical settings. Early pieces are often anonymous, and even where composers are named we often know little of them except for the quality of the writing. The cd is both instructive and beautifully performed.

Brahms; complete solo piano music vol 4
Jonathan Plowright
BIS 2137

The two sets of Variations on a Theme of Paganini bookend this new collection and between them come compelling readings of the Op10 Ballades and Op119 Piano Pieces. Jonathan Plowright’s approach brings a chamber intimacy to the works which is always rewarding.

Sullivan; Songs
Mary Bevan, Ben Johnson, Ashley Riches with David Owen-Norris, piano
CHANDOS CHAN 10935(2)

I wish I could feel more enthusiastic about this collection but, though a few songs catch the ear, too many are worthy but dull. Sullivan may have hated the fact that his popularity stemmed from his work with Gilbert but there is little here to match anything from Yeomen of the Guard or Mikado.

British Tone Poems Vol 1
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ramon Gamba
CHANDOS 10939

It is surprising how much music by familiar names is still so little known. Here we have a fine collection of British tone poems none of which I can recall ever hearing live. Ivor Gurney’s A Gloucestershire Rhapsody is Elgarian in feel but none the worse for that. Frederick Austin’s Spring and William Alwyn’s Blackdown  most capture the imagination, while Henry Balfour Gardiner’s moving A Berkshire Idyll receives its premiere recording. With Vaughan William’s The Solent to conclude the recording this is a very valuable addition to our understanding of less familiar repertoire.

CDs February 2017

CPE BACH – SOLO KEYBOARD MUSIC, Vol 32
Miklos Spanyi (Tangent piano)
BIS 2205 78’54

This massive survey of CPE Bach’s keyboard music continues with the remaining pieces from the “fur Kenner & Liebbaber” collections featured in Vol 31. That recording was made on a clavichord. Here Miklos Spanyi produces some delightfully light and characterful sounds from a Tangent piano, a variant of the Fortepiano. There is a satisfying symmetry to the programme which alternates between a Sonata and a Rondo, three of each in total. An enjoyable stand-alone disc as well as a welcome expansion of this series.

CARL CZERNY – ORGAN MUSIC
Ian Quinn(organ),  Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, USA
NAXOS 8.573425 75’11

For many of us the name of this composer brings back memories of early piano lessons with books of his studies. I was unaware that Czerny had also composed for the organ. This is an enjoyable and interesting collection consisting of a substantial Prelude & Fugue in A minor, and two sets of pieces – 20 Short Voluntaries for organ with obbligato pedal and 12 Introductory or Intermediate Voluntaries.
The style is typical of the 19th Century and some of the voluntaries were apparently intended for the English market.

JOHANN PACHELBEL – COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS II
Jurgen Essi, Michael Belotti, James David Christie (organs )
Stephanskirche, Simmern   &  Kilianskirche, Bedheim
CPO 777 557-2  (2CDs) 117’21

As is the case with so many composers there is a wealth of organ music from the pen of Johann Pachelbel that is rarely heard today. In this second volume of the complete organ works we have Christmas music from Das Kirchenjahr  together with Psalmlieder III. As well as being a useful reference resource this collection is very suited to listening to as a programme in its own right. There are intricate passages, beautiful sustained lines and delicate and colourful registrations to be found as well as full-blooded movements such as the opening Toccata. The mix of organists and organists gives added interest to this release.

JAKOB PRAETORIUS / PAUL SIEFERT– COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS
Friedhelm Flamme (organ)
St Laurentius-kirche, Langwarden & Martin-Luther-Kirche, Schonhagen
CPO 777 959-2 (2 CDs) 138’48

Although it gives no indication on the sleeve the booklet states that this is Vol 14 of Organ Works of the North German Baroque. So much of this vast period of organ composition stands to be rediscovered. Here we hear the 11 pieces that remain by Praetorius and 17 by Siefert. There is also an extended chorale prelude by Jakob Kortkamp. A particularly enjoyable performance is to eb found at track 6 on the 2nd CD,  Seifert’s Puer natusin Bethlehem – beginning with a particularly bombastic theme and followed by much more delicate registration. An interesting collection but maybe not one to be listened to in one sitting.

KENNETH LEIGHTON – COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS
Stephen Farr (organ), Chloe Hanslip (violin), Nicky Spence (tenor)
Organs of St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh, Symphony Hall, Birmingham & St Paul’s, Knightsbridge
RESONUS RES10178 (3 CDs) 78’31, 53’16, 76’19

This comprehensive production is a further sign of Resonus’ commitment to producing significant recordings of lesser known music. Whilst Kenneth Leighton’s name is known in some circles recordings of his music are not always easy to come by, and so this set of the complete organ works is a very welcome release. The Missa de Gloria is one of the more substantial works presented here, together with Prelude, Scherzo & Passacaglia and Et Ressurexit (Theme, Fantasy & Fugue). More melodic in nature are the opening Six Fantasies on Hymn Tunes, most based on familiar hymn repertoire. Possibly the best known of the shorter works is  Paean, a wonderfully celebratory burst. As well as all the solo organ compositions this set also includes These are the wonders, for organ and tenor and Fantasy on a chorale “Es ist genug”  for organ and violin – an interesting and seldom heard combination.  An extended set of Improvisations “De profundis” for solo harpsichord completes the final disc. Stephen Farr gives wonderful performances throughout. Once again a variety of organs adds interest to what is already a very valuable collection. Highly recommended.

O SING UNTO THE LORD – SACRED MUSIC BY HENRY PURCELL
St Thomas Choir of Men & Boys, Fifth Avenue, New York, USA
Concert Royal
John Scott (conductor)
RESONUS RES 10184 54’03
GABRIEL FAURE – REQUIEM
St Thomas Choir of Men & Boys, Fifth Avenue, New York, USA
Orchestra of St Luke’s
John Scott (conductor)
RESONUS RES 10174 58’14

These two CDs of more mainstream repertoire are also released by Resonus, continuing their output of fine recordings of the Choir of St Thomas, Fifth Avenue, under the leadership of the late John Scott. Both CDs make for repeated listening. The Faure CD also includes his other popular sacred works –  Messe Basse, Ave verum corpus, Tantum ergo and Cantique de Jean Racine.

CLASSICAL VIENNA – Music for Guitar & Piano
James Akers (romantic guitar), Gary Branch (fortepiano)
RESONUS RES 10182 67’47

This is an interesting release from a historic angle – recreating the sound world of a bygone age combining the sounds of an 1826 fortepiano with guitar. This is one of the last recordings to be made at Finchcocks, now sadly no more. The programme is varied, including compositions by Mauro Giulani and Ferdinando carulli amongst others. The duo work well together and in fine solo performances. However, on a personal note, I’m just not that keen on the sound of the fortepiano. I am sure others will relish it.

SP

CDs/DVDs January 2017

Bruckner: Symphony No 4
UNITEL 732508
Bruckner: Symphony No 6
UNITEL 738208
Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann

This is proving to be an excellent series, and if, as promised, it goes on to include the even rarer early symphonies it will prove to be invaluable. If the Fourth is more conventional in approach, its tonal qualities and masterly construction of long paragraphs is continually rewarding. The Sixth is another matter. Very rarely heard live, its starkly different tonal palette compared with his other symphonies is all the more compelling. It is surely more than the fact that the composer had been on an extended holiday before he composed the work. There is an openness of texture and a lightness of touch we find nowhere else. Perhaps it is time some of our own orchestras explored its very eal riches.

 

Joseph Beer: Polnische Hochzeit
Gartnerplatz Chorus and Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ulf Schirmer
CPO 555 059-2

Anyone who enjoys Lehar will be immediately attracted to this operetta from a composer who spanned virtually the whole of the twentieth century. The Polish Wedding was first seen in 1937, shortly after Lehar’s final work Giuditta. The story line may be conventional but the music has an unexpected freshness and vitality, aided I am sure by the recently reworked orchestral parts. Worth investigating.

 

Music from a Higher Sphere
Mahler: Symphony No 8
Arranged for organ and chorus by David Briggs
PRO ORGANO CD 7276

I have enjoyed David Briggs earlier forays into Mahler, and felt the arrangement of the Fifth Symphony was particularly impressive. Here I am not so sure. The Eighth relies heavily on its choral setting, where the orchestra supports and enhances the vocal line. On this occasion the organ does not seem to adequately fill out Mahler’s intentions. The acoustic in the Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York, does not help, and for much of the recording both the voices and organ seem distant. This may be a good souvenir of the live performance but it does little to enthuse this listener.

 

J P Sousa: Music for Wind Band – 16
Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy, Keith Brion
NAXOS 8.559746

This is a joy to listen to throughout.  The longest section is a selection from the operetta The Charlatan alongside which are ten other pieces, all equally endearing. How Sousa was constantly able to turn out so much wonderful music is a mystery, and the longer this series continues the more pleased I shall be.

 

J S Bach; Cantatas
Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
HYPERION CDA 68111

Three Cantatas – BWV 170; BWV 54; BWV82 – together with the Sinfonias from BWV 52 and 174, make this a fine collection and one which shows off Iestyn Davies continuing strengths as a counter-tenor of rare quality. These cantatas were written for boy altos rather than counter-tenor, which only goes to show the quality of voices Bach had at his disposal. The final cantata, Ich habe genug is also the most familiar, but listeners may be surprised by the sinfonia from BWV 174 which is arranged from the Third Brandenburg Concerto.

 

Rostropovich Encores
Alban Gerhardt, cello, Markus Becker, piano
HYPERION CDA 68136

A collection of encores may not seem the most obvious to issue as a single cd but given that these were pieces used by Mstislav Rostropovich puts them into an altogether different class. Alongside familiar pieces by Debussy and Rachmaninov are a number of pieces by Prokofiev as well as some by Rostropovich himself. All of which makes for an unexpectedly pleasing recording.

 

Hymnus: Music for Organ by Carson Cooman
Erik Simmons, 1787 Holzhey organ, St Peter & St Paul, Weissenau, Germany
DIVINE ART DDA 25147  66:00

Carson Cooman is a prolific composer and an organist in his own right, though here his works are performed by Erik Simmons on the fine late baroque organ in St Peter & St Paul, Weissenau. The cd is made up of a large number of short pieces, many of which were written in memory of friends or to commemorate specific individuals. As such the whole has a highly reflective character which is none the worse for that. The opening Haec Aeterna is typical of the cd as a whole, being a meditative postlude built around the Old Hundreth. Many of the pieces are in a similar vein, using familiar hymn tunes as the basis for more elaborate, though normally brief, compositions.

There are a few exceptions. Three Enigmas are just that – short pieces which explore harmonics rather than procure any narrative structure. As if to prove that he can provide more exhilarating scores, the cd concludes with a rousing Rondo Festivo.

Many of these pieces would sit comfortably within either a liturgical or concert format, and details of compositions and scores can be found on www.carsoncooman.com