DVDs/CDs March 2021 (1)

Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Concentus Musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt
UNITEL 803804

Over the years I have greatly admired much that Nikolaus Harnoncourt has done and was looking forward to this new release. Unfortunately I can’t recommend it. In 2019 Harnoncourt mounted semi-staged / concert versions of the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas at the Teater an der Wien within a month. The focus is essentially on the scores and in particular on the authentic presentation of the recitatives. This may be academically interesting but Figaro is a work of passion, revolution and upheaval. It comes across as bloodless, often at remarkably slow speeds, and can’t seem to make up its mind how the narrative is to be conveyed to the audience, either in the theatre or via the recording. Most of the singers are at music stands, reading from scores – but not all. The Count wanders round as if he is another production all together, and minor parts sing for themselves. Watching, I was never clear what I was supposed to be engaging with. Was his essentially a lecture in early music practise, or was it a slightly overblown concert performance? Eventually I gave up as I found it irritating. That so many superb musicians and singers should have been involved to such an unsatisfactory end was very sad.


Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia
Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini, Riccardo Frizza

Andrea Bernard creates a dark and violent modern world which is highly convincing for this disturbing work. Splendidly played and sung throughout it captures the vigour of Hugo’s play which underpins the narrative as well as he archly romantic musical lines Donizetti spins for our delight.


Weber: Der Freischutz
Insula Orchestra, Laurence Equileby
ERATO 0190295109547

This is an interesting approach to the work. We are given a CD with all the music, excellently sung and played, and perfectly enjoyable just as it is. The DVD does not cover the whole work, but does include some of the dialogue. It also gives us an insight into the wonders of the production. I still find it difficult to accept that the slow motion scenes and flying are real and not CGI. But they are and as such are gloriously effective. It is not clear why there was not a straight DVD of the whole as it would surely have been highly effective and convincing. More like this please.


Dvorak: Spirit of Bohemia
Fine Arts Quartet, Anna Gribajcevic, viola, Jens Peter Maintz, cello, Stephen Simonian, piano
NAXOS 8.574205

We have the string quartet No4 in E minor, the string sextet in A major and the polonaise in A major, all warmly engaging. The string sextet is very much ahead of its time, foreshadowing modernism when set alongside the more romantic sextet. The polonaise exploits the introspection the composer found in his homeland.


Faure: works for violin and piano
Jane Gordon, violin, Jan Rautio, Piano

The Berceuse Op16 may be familiar but the Sonatas Nos 1 & 2 are certainly not among the composers more obvious, output but they are certainly worth our time to explore. This lovingly crafted performance brings out the deep romanticism of the scores as well as the sense of innovation. Jane Gordon and Jan Rautio play on original instruments and their two decades of experience working together is certainly captured in the nuances of this fine recording. The recording also includes the Andante Op75 and the Romance Op28.


Songs of Travel: Trombone Travels 2
Matthew Gee, trombone; Christopher Glynn, piano
NAXOS 8.579080

Some ideas must seem good in the pub and often that is as long as they last. Arranging Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Stanford for trombone and piano does have some merits – the muted sounds often work very well – but much of the time one is left thinking why? When the originals are so good, what do these arrangements add? Unfortunately the answer is, very little. It is is nice thought but maybe it should have ended at that point.


Saint-Saens: Music for Wind Ensemble
Band of the RAF College, Jun Markl
NAXOS 8.574234

Saint-Saens’ orchestration is so good in the first place that these arrangements need no excuse. They work extremely well and are hugely enjoyable, with music from Samson et Dalila, Suite algerienne and even the Lion from the Carnival of the Animals.



CDs DVDs February 2021 (1)

Gluck: Alceste
Bavarian State Opera, Antonello Manacorda
UNITEL 756804

Gluck used dance as an integral part of his staging but this version goes even further and includes dancers throughout, often to the point where the singer is static and only the dancers are moving. While the narrative of Alceste is certainly limited, the dancers add a parallel rather than a supportive element. Interesting, but not always convincing.


Shakespeare: Timon of Athens
Kathryn Hunter, RSC, Stratford upon Avon

We saw this production in Stratford in 2019 and thoroughly enjoyed it. I am not totally convinced by the whole scale indulgence in diversity but there is certainly no problem with Kathryn Hunter as Timon. The timeless setting and the fine emotional reality of the narrative make for a compelling production by Simon Godwin. With so much classical theatre around which I am afraid I regard as dubious, this is a refreshing approach which really works.


Beethoven; Piano Concertos 1 & 2
Igor Levit, Xiaohan Wang, piano; Kolner Kammerorchester, Helmuth Muller-Bruhl
NAXOS 8.551447

It is not often one has different soloists for the major works being recorded but the use of two soloists here goes back to the Kolner Kammerorchester’s policy of working with a range of young soloists to promote the best. As such we have two perfectly pleasing recordings of the Beethoven concerti but little more focus than that.


Mahler: Das Klagende Lied
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Michael Gielen
ORFEO C 210021

This is a live recording from 1990 and very fine it is. Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied is surprisingly little performed when set alongside the symphonies yet it really deserves a place with them if only for the magnificence of the orchestration and melodic creativity. Good to have this available.


Vaughan Williams: Symphony No 5; Scenes from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins

As one who feels that Vaughan Williams’ Pilgrims Progress is greatly undervalued, it is a pleasure to find these scenes at least linked with an equally fine recording of the Fifth Symphony. Martyn Brabbins has always been a sensitive conductor of Vaughan Williams and proves to be so again here.


Respighi: Concerto All’antica; Ancient Aires and Dances 1-3
Davide Alogna, violin, Chamber Orchestra of New York, Salvatore di Vittorio
NAXOS 8.573901

The Concerto All’antica is almost certainly unknown compared with the familiar Ancient Airs and Dances but it is an immensely appealing work, very much in the same vein. The score was only printed in a critical edition in 2019 and so is here recorded for the first time. It is good to have it available.


French Duets
Paul Lewis & Steven Osborne

This is sheer indulgence and there is nothing wrong with that. Think of a lollypop and it is probably here – Faure’s Dolly, Debussy’s Petite Suite, Ravel’s Ma mere l’oye – plus a number more, all joyfully played with enthusiasm.

Vida Breve
Stephen Hough, piano

I caught Stephen Hough speaking with enthusiasm on radio recently about this new recording. It creates a fine over-arching programme opening with an austere reading of Bach/Busoni Chaconne and then moving through a number of works which gradually unfold in enthusiasm until they end gently with a rapturous meditation on Bach’s familiar Ave Maria, drawing on Bach and Busoni as well as Stephen Hough himself. A lovely disc.


I wonder as I wander
James Newby, baritone, Joseph Middleton, piano
BIS BIS 2475

These are essentially reflective songs by a wide range of composers, but all focussed on the ruminations of the singer, even when the texts are drawn from folk songs. James Newby manages to communicate his introspection at the same time as ensuring we are not somehow too far on the outside. A moving collection.

CDs for January 2021 (2)


CPO 555 305-2   57’35

This recording project aims to reclaim the work and music of Johann Kuhnau, predecessor of JS Bach at St Thomas’, Leipzig. It is clear from this volume that this composer’s music is well worth revisiting. Two large scale cantatas for Ascension bookend this programme – Ihr Himmel, jubiliert von oben and Lobet, ihr Himmel, den Herrn. Smaller scale works for a variety of forces are also included here including Bone Jesu, care Jesu for solo soprano, 2 violins and continuo. Laudate pueri dominum is scored for solo tenor and varied instruments including two violins tuned in the unusual scordatura fashion. These are lovely live performances of music and a composer that has largely been forgotten for too long.

HYPERION CDA68318  61’01

Guillaume de Machaut is a significant and influential composer from the 14th Century. However, much of his music is still not well-known. It is good, then, to have this new collection of largely secular music delivered expertly by the ever reliable Orlando Consort.

The title of the disc is derived from the longest piece included here, En demantant et lamentant – a lament for the ‘Lion of nobility’, thought to be King John II of France, captured by the English at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. A number of shorter pieces make up the rest of the programme. Full texts and background notes make for an interesting historical document as well as an enjoyable listening experience.

MUSICA POETICA, OLIVER JOHN RUTHVEN, conductor and chamber organ

Small, but beautifully formed, this first recording from Musica Poetica, runs to just under 45 minutes. Like the first CD in this month’s batch, the focus is on a composer who has links with JS Bach. The group have been exploring the music of Franz Tunder, organist at Lubeck and father-in-law of Buxtehude. He was influenced by Italian developments in music and may have been taught by Frescobaldi. He went on to develop his own distinct musical style. Alongside four of his vocal works, including  a setting of Ein’ feste Burg, are pieces by Frescobaldi and Buxtehude. A well balanced and finely executed recital.

HYPERION CDA68303  66’33

This is a very welcome release and items from it have already been featured several times on Radio 3. There are several recordings of some of Bowen’s (1884-1961) music already available but it is only relatively recently that his writing is being rediscovered and reassessed. This is a very good collection of pieces – Fragments from Hans Andersen, 12 Studies for piano and two Concert Studies. There is much to explore and enjoy here from an often overlooked British composer.

RESONUS RES10264 60’35

This is another debut release-this time for The Gould Piano Trio. Here are three relatively modern works with links to America. The two Piano Trios are by Amy Beach and Rebecca Clarke. Charles Ives’ music is his Trio for violin, cello and piano. These performances make for a very enjoyable CD.

HOLST-SINFONIA, KLAUS SIMON, conductor and piano
NAXOS 8.559682  73’24

Part of Naxos’ American Classics Series this is CD contains a very good selection of Steve Reich’s work. Arranged chronologically it shows something of the way in which the composer’s music has developed, from minimalism to more complex techniques and structures including the use of electronics and tape. The oldest work Music for Two or More Pianos dates from 1964 and this is a world premiere recording. Phasing and sampling feature alongside more conventional instrumentation and two of the works here, New York Counterpoint and City Life (1995) especially draw on urban influences. This is a very welcome and enjoyable release and could be an exciting introduction to music that crosses boundaries of categorisation.


CDs / DVDs January 2021 (1)

Weinberger: Fruhlingssturme
Komische Oper Berlin, Jordan de Souza

This is about as politically incorrect as one could hope to find today! The work was first performed in 1933 and concerns members of the Russian military headquarters in Chinese Manchuria. Needless to say in this Berlin production all the cast are German! The original production was closed down by the Nazis when the composer left for America. As with much operetta of the period there is a lot of dialogue and the score varies wildly from musical comedy (to say nothing of Hollywood style dance numbers) to operatic arias. It is certainly well sung and musically sound, though whether it has a place in the repertoire today is more questionable.


Stephan Elmas: Piano Concertos
Howard Shelley, piano, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Two concerti both in minor keys and both richly romantic. Elmas may have straddled the turn of the 20th century but his works are firmly embedded in the late nineteenth century romantic tradition of Schumann and Brahms. Worth investigating alongside the earlier 81 volumes!


John Adams: My Father knew Charles Ives; Harmonielehre
Nashville Symphony, Giancarlo Guerrero
NAXOS 8.559854

John Adams with a difference. Both of these works are an homage. My Father knew Charles Ives draws on Ives own techniques to create a suite which, while still obviously from Adams, includes the quirks and vulgarities which Ives relishes. Harmonielehre is an early work which explores a more romantic palette while maintaining a pulse of minimalism.


Schubert: Piano Trio No2; Arpeggione Sonata
Erich Hobarth, violin; Alexander Rudin Arpeggione / cello; Aapo Hakkinene, fortepiano
NAXOS 8.573884

How splendid to get the Arpeggione Sonata played on instruments for which it was written. There is a real sense of warm engagement throughout with the slightly ethereal sound of the arpeggione answering all of Schubert’s needs. The piano trio is equally engaging, making a most welcome release.


Beethoven: Leonore (1805)
Opera Lafayette, Ryan Brown
Beethoven: Fidelio (1806)
Vienna Philharmonic, Manfred Honeck
UNITEL 803304

Beethoven worked on his only opera for many years, honing it and refining its emotional impact. One of the simplest comparisons across these versions is the way the composer shortens, tightens the musical lines, removing anything that amounts to ornament for its own sake and concentrating on the dramatic impact. The Opera Lafayette production of the early Leonore by Oriol Tomas is blessedly uncomplicated, allowing the characterisation to blossom easily and for those of us who know the final version well, to note the differences.

It is very well sung by a young cast and intelligently staged.

The Vienna Fidelio is as far removed from this as one could dream. The setting is a vast double open staircase which fills the whole stage twisting above the heads of the cast like a roller coaster. It is very impressive but not particularly effective when the essence of the opera is about incarceration. As before, the singing is fine throughout and the conducting by Manfred Honeck excellently controlled and shaped.

Vienna had hoped – Beethoven’s anniversary year – to stage all three versions of Fidelio but because of the pandemic only this 1806 version was eventually filmed. Good to have it but it would have been so much better to have had all three!


Elgar: From the Bavarian Highlands
Bavarian Radio Choir, Howard Arman

These bring back happy memories as I learned a number of these songs when I first went to grammar school and sang in the school choir. Happily here they are sung in English and are beautifully phrased and crafted. There are a few lesser known works in the collection but I particularly enjoyed the final two – Weary Wind of the West and The Prince of Sleep.


Sousa: Music for Wind Band 20
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Wind Orchestra, Keith Brion
NAXOS 8.559850

This is a wonderful series and this latest release brings us a range of Sousa’s own arrangements of popular music specifically for his own band. It draws on music hall songs as well as arrangements from El Capitan and Good-Bye. The musicians are obviously enjoying themselves playing it and this communicates with ease.


Salieri: Armida
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset

Salieri has had a bad press ever since Amadeus which is a pity as he was a fine composer in his own right. This new recording of his 1771 opera not only contains a great deal of very fine music but demonstrates the composer’s stylistic movement. If the opening act is distinctly Gluck-like in its rather formal, if beautifully moulded, melodic lines, the second act has a far more relaxed Mozartian feel. Though it is a long work it is well worth indulging in its extensive creativity, and Les Talons Lyriques have done another great job in bringing it to our attention.


CDs / DVDs December 2020

Mediaeval Carols
Opus Anglicanum, Zeb Soanes, narrator

There are two cds here. The first is the full sequence of readings and early carols, which could be used as an act of worship or meditation and the second is just the musical items. A clever idea and one which works well. Zeb Soanes is a familiar voice from the BBC and sits comfortably alongside the reflective tones of the singers. A different but very engaging offering for Christmas.

HYPERION CDA68266   70’54

This is a lovely marriage of choir, location and composer as one of the two more substantial works here is the Trinity Service dating from 2019. The other longer work is Stuttgarter Psalmen (2009). A few other shorter works complete this recording of contemporary sacred choral music. The Finnish composer describes his music as ‘not tonal, but largely consonance-driven’. There is much here to explore and enjoy.


HANSJORG ALBRECHT, Bruckner organ, Stiftkirche St Florian, Linz

The transcribing of orchestral music for the organ is not a new concept. Through the Town Hall tradition here in the UK, many people were able to hear music played live that would otherwise have been denied them at a time when the repertoire of the local orchestra was limited or concerts off limits to people of a certain class and recordings were few and far between. In churches, at the opening and close of worship, and in concerts, transcriptions allow a wider range of music to be imported into a setting that would otherwise be more limited. I have no problem with transcriptions in either case but do wonder about the value of complex transcriptions of lengthy orchestral works. This question is raised in the booklet notes which explain that this is the first volume in a series that will present transcriptions of Bruckner’s symphonies, together with 10 new compositions by contemporary composers to sit alongside them. Bruckner’s love of the organ, his legendary lost improvisations and the relatively scarce amount of compositions for the organ are all reasons given for this cycle which aims to help to promote an understanding of Bruckner’s affinity and understanding of the organ. So, whilst not be a recording I would usually choose to listen to for pleasure there may well be much for us all to learn from this project.


CHRISTIAN VON BLOHN, Organ of St Joseph’s Church, Sankt Ingbert, Germany
NAXOS 8.574207.  81’31

These symphonies – which were written for the organ! – continue this particular series within the ever expanding Organ Encyclopaedia catalogue. Here we have the 1901 version of Symphony No 8 in B major coupled with the shorter Symphonie romaine. Both are sympathetically presented on this suitably comprehensive romantic instrument which was restored in 2007 following a fire.


George Schumann: piano works
Michael van Krucker, piano
CPO 555 304-2

George Schumann came from a very musical family and he was a professional church organist at the age of twelve. Though he composed a wide range of works, these beautiful pieces for piano – Sechs Fantasien, Stimmungsbilder, Drei Stucke Op1 & Drei Stucke Op3 – are early and demonstrate his established ability both as a performer and composer. Yet again it is a delight to be introduced not only to a composer who is little known today but to one who we really do need to know better.


Mauro Giuliani: Le Rossiniane
Goran Krivokapic, guitar
NAXOS 8.574272

Mauro Giulani was a gifted guitarist of the early nineteenth century and composed a large range of works for the instrument. These six Rossiniana skilfully draw on melodies from Rossini’s operas as the basis for the individual movements. However these are not simple improvisations in the way that Liszt approaches Rossini or Bellini. Giulani takes a number of themes in each movement so that the outcome is a new work rather than a variant on the original. Highly effective and splendidly played here by Goran Krivokapic.


Rossini: Matilde di Shabran
Gorecki Chamber Choir, Passionart Orchestra, Jose Miguel Perez-Sierra
NAXOS 8.660492-94

The problem with genius is that even on off days they are better than the rest. Matilde di Shabran – in this edition from Rome in 1821 – is a perfectly respectable piece which I guess, with an outstanding cast at a summer festival, might get by quite well. Unfortunately none of the soloists here has the heroic flair Rossini calls for and so we are left imagining what it might be like rather than sitting back and enjoying it. A pity – there is much good music here but it really needs a better vehicle.


A B Marx: Mose
GewandhausChor, Camerata Lipsiensis, Gregor Meyer
CPO 555 145-2

It is not often you come across a work which is a real surprise but Marx’ Mose is certainly that. Robert Schumann may have hated it but Wagner loved it and put it alongside Mozart and Bach in terms of scores he had by him at all times. It may not be as dynamic as Elijah but it is certainly as good if not better than St Paul and a real find. It is also, thankfully, very well sung and played here in a performance under Gregor Meyer which maintains interest throughout. Let us hope someone takes it up once choral societies get back into the swing of things next year.


Brahms: The last piano pieces
Victor Rosenbaum, piano

Three Intermezzi Op117; Six Piano Pieces Op118; Four Piano Pieces Op119

Victor Rosenbaum brings great sensitivity and a real sense of calm to these beautifully crafted late works. Almost too intimate at times, they speak directly to us – a welcome moment of peace in the present circumstances.


British Music for Strings 1
Sudwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim, Douglas Bostock
CPO 555 382-2

Three substantial works here – Parry’s An English Suite; Elgar’s Organ Sonata Op28 arranged for string orchestra by Hans Kunstovny and Gordon Jacob’s A symphony for strings. Of these the Parry and Elgar are fairly familiar if not heard as often as they might deserve. The Gordon Jacob piece is more acerbic, written in 1943, and bearing the hallmarks of a composer grappling with conflicting musical styles. Good also to hear a German ensemble playing essentially English works.

CDs/DVDs November 2020 (2)

Wagner: Lohengrin
Staatsoper Stuttgart, Cornelius Meister

Recent productions of Lohengrin have tended to be either dull and traditional or wildly over the top. This is thankfully the exception. Arpad Schilling’s finely nuanced approach is utterly convincing and yet unlike anything one is likely to have encountered before. He ditches the super-natural. Lohengrin simply appears at the right time out of the chorus rather than magically arriving by swan. The chorus, all highly individualised, are closer to the Bartered Bride than the regimented forces we have become used to from Bayreuth. It adds a whole new level to the work. Telramund – a nasty older man in Martin Gantner’s interpretation – is clearly disliked by the crowd and they need a hero to take him on. ‘Lohengrin’ is pushed forward to do the job. Does he actually believe what he is saying or is it all an illusion? In the final Grail narration it is as if he feels compelled to tell them but is unsure he believes it himself. It is gripping and convincing throughout – even if the unexpected ending stretches us somewhat out of our comfort zone.

To all of this can be added some of the finest, and often most lyrical, singing I have heard in a long time. Michael Konig is a splendid Lohengrin, as far removed from the conventional hero as one could imagine yet warmly convincing. Goran Jurik’s Heinrich is a somewhat jumped up local politician who keeps bringing God into the conversation, much to the annoyance of the chorus. Simone Schneider is a reluctant, almost other-worldly Elsa, quite unlike the quick witted Ortrud of Okka von der Damerau.

Above all, Cornelius Meister’s gentle coaxing of the orchestra is masterful, creating some of the most lush and romantic sounds I can recall for some time.

This may challenge your pre-conceptions but I can’t recommend it too highly.

Casta Diva
Vanessa Benelli Mosell, piano
DECCA 4855290

Piano arrangements of familiar opera pieces were popular with 19th century composers, none more so than Liszt who has four separate arrangements here. Alongside these sit lesser known but engaging versions drawn from Rossini, Bellini and even Puccini. The most unexpected is surely from Busoni. His Turandots Frauengemach is based on Greensleeves!  Vanessa Benelli Mosell brings a lightness of touch to her genuine virtuosity which is consistently pleasing.

Christoph Graupner: Bassoon Cantatas
Sergio Azzolini, bassoon, Kirchheimer BachConsort, Florian Heyerick
CPO 555 353-2

There are rarities and then there is the totally unexpected. The bassoon rarely gets into the limelight (I should know – I played bassoon while at school) but here it is the guiding light behind six beautifully crafted cantatas. Without making it into a solo instrument, Graupner gently draws attention to the many strengths of the instrument and the lyrical beauty of its musical lines when it is allowed to show them. A rarity – but one worth exploring.

Beethoven transformed Vol 2
Boxwood & Brass

These are hugely enjoyable and the arrangements work remarkably well. The music for Egmont is skilfully reworked so that the incidental pieces fit comfortably into the end of the overture itself. If the anonymous arrangement of the Pathetique is not quite as good, the rendition of the Seventh Symphony certainly is, with the dance rhythms and sense of joy evident throughout.

Brahms: chamber music
Frank Gemmill, horn, Danile Grimwood, piano, Marquise Gilmore, violin
BIS 2478

The CD opens with a transcription of the Scherzo in C minor, followed by an arrangement of the cello sonata Op38 for horn and piano. Only the final E flat major trio is actually for the three instruments, but realistically the arrangements are so well crafted that one would not know unless one had a sound knowledge of the originals. Warmly convincing throughout.

Jacob Heringman, lute and vihuela

I had not come across a vihuela before. It is a 15th century Spanish instrument, shaped like a guitar but strung like a lute. Realistically, unless you were a real aficionado I doubt you would know the difference simply by listening, but this is a very pleasing release. All the short works are Marian motets by Josquin des Prez arranged by Jacob Heringman for lute and vihuela. They work remarkably well and nothing in their quietly contemplative way seems forced or out of order. A lovely disc to meditate to.

A Bag of Bagatelles: Beethoven and Birtwistle
Nicolas Hodges, piano

This is a fascinating combination though I can see not necessarily to everyone’s taste. Nicolas Hodges has chosen three works by Beethoven that stretch the formats they inhabit. The Op77 Fantasy can seem shapeless and indeterminate, but put alongside the fluidity of Birtwistle’s Variations from the Golden Mountain it seems a mirror of good design. The final two pieces are gently tongue in cheek. Beethoven’s brief Allegretto woo 61 leads us into Birtwistle’s Dance of the Metro-gnome – a piece for children which requires a strict metronome beat throughout and presumably a very enlightened piano teacher!

Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty
Ballet Company and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Felix Korobov
CMAJOR 756104

This is so comfortably traditional it is almost a kitsch cliché. The sets and costumes by Franca Squarciapino are sumptuous and so detailed they work well in close up. The choreography is a revival of Rudolf Nureyev’s production first seen in 1966, which we saw at the ROH at the time. It now has strong Marmite qualities. As a set of dances it works well and the solo dancers impress, but don’t look for subtlety of character or narrative. This is a Christmas entertainment – just sit back and enjoy.



CDs DVDs November 2020 (1)

Andre Messager: Fortunio
Choeur les Elements, Orchestre des Champs-Elysees, Louis Langree

Another rarity and Messager is hardly well known let alone his comic operas. While this has some lovely music in it, the story line is very slight and possibly a little too risky today. That said, it is well sung and the narrative moves at a good pace.

STEPHEN FARR, Rieger organ of St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
RESONUS RES10266 56’50

To begin this selection here is a collection of wonderful performances of a range of solo organ works by James MacMillan. Many moods and colours are evoked in this programme and it makes for very enjoyable listening. The works included here date from 1983 until last year and include three pieces written as wedding gifts. Opening with the rhythmic

Kenga e Krushqve, based on an Albanian wedding song and closing with the vibrant Toccata there are further jubilant moments alongside more reflective passages in this well balanced disc.


RESONUS RES10268 54’29

A lovely fresh sequence of seasonal music is presented here with real clarity by the chapel choir and girls choir of St Catherine’s. The blend of contemporary settings with plainchant gives a great sense of balance and also of the continuing tradition of devotional choral music. There are a number of premiere recordings included. Full texts and translations are to be found in the accompanying booklet.


CUPERTINOS, Luis Toscano, Director
HYPERION CDA68306 70’16

Duarte Lobo  (c1565-1646) is regarded as one of the finest composers from the ‘Golden Age” of Portuguese polyphony. Although obviously rooted in a particular time and place, this music also possesses something of a timeless universality. Here are beautiful renditions of motets and a premier recording of Christmas Responsories alongside the two main works Missa Sancta Maria and Missa Elisabeth Zachariae. Extensive notes and texts are provided in this excellent production.


CHRISTIAN VON BLOHN, organ of St Joseph’s Church, Sankt Ingbert, Germany
NAXOS 8.574206 79’34

Naxos’ extensive Organ Encyclopedia series continues to expand with volume 3 of Widor’s organ symphonies played by Christian von Blohn on this recently restored late romantic instrument. The decision to record here not using a Cavaille-Coll instrument is a welcome one as surely this music should be allowed to travel further afield. These two substantial works both push Widor’s writing in new directions. They are Symphony No 7 in A minor, Op 42 No 3 & the ever popular Symphonie Gothique, Op 70.



NAXOS 8.574085. 70’30

This CD contains some very exciting sounds. All of the music here was new to me and I was very impressed by the whole programme. The two most substantial pieces here are the Sonata for violin & piano No2 “Mount Ida”, a very recent work, from 2019, and Violin Concerto “1001 nights in the Harem” from 2007. The composer, who often draws on his Turkish roots, produces some very pleasing music which combines tradition with modernity, retaining melody and a sense of progression but still with much that surprises.


BRIDGE 9542  70’43

This CD really moves me. It is the debut album from an American singer who has taken on many musical theatre roles to great acclaim. Here he shows how at home and accomplished he is with a very different repertoire. A Lad’s Love takes its title from a song by John Ireland included here. The songs, many from the first half of the 20th Century, explore various aspects of love – young, unrequited, forbidden…and the horror and devastation of war and loss. There is so much here that needs to be heard and understood. Giebler’s sensitive delivery, together with supportive accompaniment from Steven McGhee and the contributions of the other musicians make for a very impressive listening experience. The whole production is superb.


Anton Rubinstein: String Quartets Op 47 No 1&3
Reinhold Quartet
CPO 777 709-2

These are lovely pieces, deeply felt but not over worked and here given highly committed performances by the Reinhold Quartet.

Humperdinck: Music for the Stage
Malmo Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Dario Salvi
NAXOS 8.574177

Though a great lover of Hansel and Gretel I was not prepared for just how good these incidental scores really are. It shows that Humperdinck was far more than a one work wonder and is surely overlooked among the large number of turn of the century composers who were able to turn out such highly melodic scores. The one real rarity here is the suite arranged from Das Wunder – the first full-colour silent film, made in 1912. A real find.


Gershwin: Concerto in F
Kevin Cole, piano, National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic, David Alan Miller
NAXOS 8.559875

This is an eclectic collection of twentieth century American music centred on Gershwin’s piano concerto. John Harbinson’s Remembering Gatsby  is a foxtrot for orchestra evoking 1920s dance bands, while Walter Piston’s Symphony No5 draws on twelve-tone techniques while maintaining a sense of joy and optimism.


Twentieth Century Foxtrots – 2
Gottlieb Wallisch, piano

Twenty nine items by sixteen composers and a wonderful range of foxtrots, not all of which you could easily dance to but all of which are certainly worth the time to listen attentively. A lovely disc.



CDs October 2020

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
Hofkapelle & Kammerchor Stuttgart, Frieder Bernius
NAXOS NBD 0116V Blu-ray

Frieder Bernius is an idiosyncratic not to say meticulous conductor who prepares his musicians in a way few others I have come across would dare to do. He marks up the scores of each musician and singer individually and even rehearses with individual members of the choir. Internal balance and even the way each vowel is pronounced is crucial to him. The recording comes in two sections. The first, a film by Uli Aumuller, follows this process of preparation, while the second is the recording itself.

Given that there is such attention to detail and the use of original instruments is crucial, the only point at which I began to question the whole undertaking was the editing studio where they were able to nudge phrases, entries, even alter the character of a note to ensure it was exactly what the conductor wanted. This struck me as overkill for a performance which worked perfectly well without it. Live music sometimes has tiny mistakes  and is often the better for it.

RESONUS RES10265 72’33

This is a very rewarding disc, showcasing the diverse output of a composer I was unaware of. The CD consists of 7 sets of short song cycles, 25 songs in total, presented in clear recordings by male and female soloists with piano accompaniment. There is much variety in music and subject matter. Full texts and translations make this a recording to return to and listen in different ways. An interesting and welcome introduction to this project discusses the complexities of assessing the work of someone known to have at least been on friendly terms with Nazis. We need to have these discussions if we are to make sense of much of our artistic heritage and find ways to appreciate and enjoy what is good as well as not shying away from the darker aspects of the circumstances in which they were sometimes created.


NAXOS 8.573976.  79’26

Here are two new major works by Francis Pott in premiere recordings. The pairing makes for a very satisfying programme. At first light (2018) was commissioned as a memorial. It combines sung texts from a variety of sources – Christian and Jewish as well as words by Wendell Berry & Kahil Gilbran. Alongside the choir is the wordless but lyrical cello. Word (2012) was commissioned as part of the Merton Choirbook Project and is intended to “enable contemplation of the Gospel ‘s significance in our postmodern cultural epoch”. As in the previous CD the text of the booklet is well worth reading in order to more fully understand the thought behind the work. Texts here are from the prologue to John’s gospel together with poems by RS Thomas. The organ also plays a significant part.


CINQUECENTO Renaissance Vokal
HYPERION CDA68241 71’06

This disc presents Franco-Flemish music of the late 16th Century. The major work is complemented by the motet Rex Babylonis composed by Jacobus Vaet and published in 1568, from which Johannes de Cleve constructed his mass. Alongside this music are further shorter works by de Cleve. This recording gives a wonderful insight into the musical world of the chapels of the Habsburg chapels.


MARCO MOLASCHI, Angelo Amati organ(1843),
Chiesa di San Bassiano, Pizzighettone (Cremona)
TACTUS TC 800201 73’45

This is a very entertaining CD, perhaps not to everyone’s taste but featuring Marco Molaschi giving a very good account of Barbieri’s organ music. Writing during the 19th Century this music clearly reflects the influence of his interest in music for the theatre as well as for the church. The historic organ adds to the flavour of this recording.


TACTUS TC 900005 67’23

One of the many cultural tragedies of the rise of Nazism in the early 20th Century was the persecution of composers whose race or religion, ideas or philosophies did not fit with the leadership’s objectives. Restrictions and particular burdens were placed upon them. Works were suppressed and, in many cases, destroyed. Despite this, human resilience often triumphed, creativity flourished and many works were hidden, preserved and passed on. Releases such as this are to be encouraged and welcomed as a means of bringing this music to a wider audience and making the story of this human tragedy known. The orchestral music of the four composers represented here clearly show that this music was anything but degenerate.

SP 12/10/20


J S Bach; Goldberg Variations
Pavel Kolesnokov, piano

The Goldberg Variations work well on the piano and are here given a sympathetic and warm rendition by Pavel Kolesnikov.  The story behind the recording is as interesting as the disc itself. The work was not in the pianists repertoire until he was asked if he would perform it for a ballet version choreographed by Anne Teresa De Keersmacker – which needless to say he did. If this gives the rhythms an extra edge, we know why.


John Rutter: Anthems, Hymns & Gloria for Brass Band
Black Dyke Mills Band, Sheffield Philharmonic Choir, Nicholas Childs, Darius Battiwalla
NAXOS 8.574130

This is a very enjoyable arrangement of familiar works by John Rutter. The only dip comes with the Gloria which is an early work and does not have the spiritual and emotional integrity of the later hymns.


Piano Quintets by Frederic D’Erlanger and Thomas Dunhill
Goldner String Quartet, Piers Lane, piano

As so often with new releases, I knew nothing of either of these composers or their works before the cd arrived on my desk. The music is immediately engaging in a late romantic and at times comfortably English sense. Worth exploring.


Domenico Scarlatti: Complete Keyboard Sonatas Vol25
Pascal Pascaleff, piano
NAXOS 8.574146

Can you have too much of a good thing? Volume 25 of Scarlatti’s Keyboard Sonatas and there seems no end to the series. Engaging as the recording is, one would need to be a real enthusiast to differentiate between them. I assume there is a market here, if only for those who want complete sets of everything.


Sibelius: Kullervo
Minnesota Orchestra, YL Male Voice Choir, Lilli Paasikivi, Tommi Hakala, Osmo Vanska
BIS 2236

Having heard Osmo Vanska conduct Sibelius in Lahti some years ago during one of the Lahti Organ Festivals I was convinced then that he is one of our finest interpreters of the composer, and so it proves here. Drawing on Finnish singers and the Minnesota Orchestra this is a spirited recording made during live performances which helps to give is a strongly dramatic edge.


Franz Lehar: Cloclo
Lehar Festival Bad Ischl, Marius Burkert
CPO 777 708-2

Foer those of us besotted by The Merry Widow this recording has a lot going for it. Though relatively unknown, Cloclo has a generous amount of memorable melodies and Lehar seems deliberately to return to a lighter more engaging approach. A rarity but one which might be due for revival.


Shostakovich: Symphony No5
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jansons

This is part of an ongoing series and very welcome it is. After the disastrous reception given to Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk Shostakovich needed a success, and this was it. For all its dark corners the work is deliberately accessible and so it proves to be in Mariss Jansons finely honed approach.


Richard Strauss: Tanzsuite; Divertimento
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Jun Markl
NAXOS 8.574217

Two suites based on works by Couperin. Strauss was commissioned to write a ballet score for the Vienna State Opera in 1919 and these divertimenti are drawn from the full score. Charming and undemanding, they are finely played by the New Zealand forces under Jun Markl.


Malcom Arnold: The Dancing Master
BBC Concert Orchestra, John Andrews

Not a work I had come across before, the opera was written in 1952 for television but considered too sexually explicit and so never performed at the time. It is difficult to see quite why today, and the music comes across with freshness and spirit. The score ranges from the sentimental to the acerbic, and all the better for it.


John Tavener: No Longer Mourn For Me
Steven Isserlis, cello, Philharmonia Orchestra, Omer Meir Wellber

I found much of this hard going. The opening and closing pieces, arranged by Steven Isserlis for eight cellos are easily accessible and engaging but the three central works are far more challenging and may upset the balance of the arrangements in the outer movements.

CDs / DVDs / Blue-ray September 2020

Puccini: Suor Angelica
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Valerio Galli
DYNAMIC 57873 Blue-ray

This the third part of last year’s Florence production by Denis Krief, and certainly lives up to the promise of the splendid Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi. Unfortunately the opening is not very impressive. Though the stark setting works well, the large number of nuns, many of them not seeming to know what to do, look more like a G&S chorus than the sheltered but secretive body the music implies. However, once the narrative gets going it picks up very quickly. Maria Jose Siri is a totally convincing Angelica, a mixture of naivety and inner strength. Her scene with the icily vicious princess, wonderfully sung by Anna Maria Chiuri, is uncomfortably convincing. Left alone, Angelica is devastated by the news of the loss of her son, but realises, as he is in heaven so could she be. Her suicide quickly follows and for a moment she is torn by doubt that this might be a mortal sin but the final scenes seals this wonderfully. Where the ending can too often seem sentimental, here as she lies dying, a seven year old boy appears, unsmiling, but holding out his hand to her. She reaches out and the opera end. It is so simple yet so effective.

Juan Diego Florez: Mozart
Orchestra La Scintilla, Riccardo Minasi
C MAJOR 754904 Blue-ray

Juan Diego Florez gave this concert in the Cuvillies Theatre in Munich where the intimacy of the venue makes it seem like a concert for friends. Casually dressed, he needless to say sings an all Mozart programme magnificently. All the expected favourites are there, and the orchestra La Scintilla under Riccardo Minasi, playing original instruments, add a number of overtures to break up the arias. In most cases arias follow logically from the overture. The oddity is Figaro until one recalls there is not major tenor aria in Figaro. A highly enjoyable and often quite light-hearted occasion.


Henze:  Der Prinz von Homburg
Stuttgart Opera, Cornelius Meister
NAXOS NBD0115V Blue-ray

This 2019 production from Stuttgart, by Stephan Kimmig is in modern dress and uncomfortably relevant. With the rise of so many far-right groups, and the sense that law is something that can too easily be ignored if you have the power to do so, the parallels sit uncomfortably. That ostensibly it has a happy ending does not help the listener to reconcile himself with the reality of the world reflected in the opera as a whole. Cornelius Meister handles the large number of moods and changes of style in Henze’s score with skill and the large cast impress with their obvious understanding of a work which is rarely staged.

Beethoven: Variations
Angela Hewitt, piano

Is there anything Angela Hewitt can’t do? This is a fine collection of seven sets of variations by Beethoven ranging from the familiar sets on God save the King and Rule Britannia to Quant’e piu bello and Nel cor piu non mi sento neither of which I knew. If the more extended variations on Eroica form the heart of collections there is nothing either side to suggest the other works are lesser pieces.

Cesti: La Dori
Academia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone
CPO 555 309-2

Cesti’s opera La Dori was a huge success when first staged in 1657, and had been seen in over 30 productions by 1689. Cesti’s innovation to the art form was the introduction and gradual shaping of the aria. Where most early operas relied on recitative or arioso, Cesti introduces arias which we would recognise as such today. While historically interesting, does it make this 2019 staging worth listening to? Yes certainly, particularly if you are familiar with Monteverdi and Cavalli to give you a starting point. If nothing else the score is engaging throughout.

Emilie Mayer: Symphonies 1 & 2
NDR Radiophilharmonie, Leo McFall
CPO 555 293-2

I knew nothing about Emilie Mayer before I listened to this new recording of her first two symphonies and was really delighted by them. While certainly late romantic there is no obvious comparison with other composers of the period. I must admit to indulging in their warmth and the sense that this is a genuine and quite distinctive voice yet firmly within the romantic framework which is so familiar. If, like me, you know nothing of her, then do give this a try.

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier – Vol2
Steven Devine, harpsichord

One of the troubles with Bach is that it is almost impossible to make a bad recording. Occasionally artists turn out dull performances but even this is rare. Steven Devine’s new recording of the second part of the Wohltemperierte Klavier is certainly as impressive as his finely crafted and often technically suave first set, and beyond that it is difficult to know what to add. My only real problem, these days, is that I have quite a large number of fine recordings of the Wohltemperierte Klavier  and I never know which to choose!

Niels Gade: Chamber Works Vol5
Ensemble MidtVest
CPO 555 199-2

This latest collection includes the Fantasy Pieces Op 43 for clarinet and piano, the string quartet Op63 in D major and the string quintet Op8 in E minor. The Fantasy Pieces date from 1864 and are elegantly effective. The often revised Quartet Op63 is a more substantial work whereas the earlier Op8, dating from the composer’s time in Leipzig, shows the continuing influence on him of national romanticism.

J S Bach:
Cello Suites – arranged for solo piano
Eleonor Bindman, piano
Cello Suites –vol2 – arranged for guitar
Jeffrey McFadden, guitar
NAXOS 8.573626

There is certainly an interesting comparison here. I had thoroughly enjoyed Jeffrey McFadden’s own arrangements of the first three suites and these are certainly as good. Knowing the originals very well and having quite a number of different versions, these  arrangements for guitar seem to move away very little from the heart of the originals. I can listen with as much ease as I do to them and every so often pick up a nuance which I had missed when heard on the cello.

Eleonor Bindman’s arrangements for piano are very different. One is immediately aware that there is little connection between the sound world of the cello (which the intimacy of the guitar can match) and that of the piano. While there is nothing obviously wrong with transcribing for the piano, the outcome is of an entirely different oral world which either appeals or does not. Much as I appreciate the skill of the performance this is not how I prefer to listen to the Cello Suites. I am sure others will disagree. I underlying reality is that Bach’s genius is never compromised.


CDs/DVDs August 2020

Puccini: Gianni Schicchi
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
DYNAMIC 57874  Blue-ray

I have to state that we have just bought a Blue-ray player for the first time and I am staggered how much difference it makes both in HD picture quality and sound. This production comes from Florence last summer and is hard driven and totally convincing throughout. There is nothing sentimental about Francesca Longari’s Lauretta or her approach to O mio babbino caro  while Dave Monaco’s praise of Florence is spine-tingling. Bruno de Simone is a Gianni Schicchi of the old school, beautifully sung and hard as nails, which works superbly. I can’t recommend this too highly.


Dvorak: Rusalka
Glyndebourne Festival Opera

We saw Rusalka at Glyndebourne when it first opened and loved it. While it is certainly a magical production there is a nasty, destructive edge just below the surface. Melly Still manages to balance the very real fantasy of swimming mermaids, complete with prehensile tails, with the darker side of fairy life. Sally Matthews is a convincing Rusalka who ultimately loses everything, while her prince Evan Leroy Johnson, has no power against the evil swirling around him. Key to this is Patricia Bardon’s knife toting Jezibaba. Robin Ticciati manages equally to tread the fine line between a score which can seem romantically over-indulgent and the darker recesses of the sub-conscience. Good to have this available.

Handel/Mozart: Der Messias
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski
Staged by Robert Wilson
UNITEL 803408

Once I have reminded myself that this is a Robert Wilson staging, everything slots into place. His totally idiosyncratic approach either works magnificently or it sends you screaming and running out of the room. I really enjoyed the Butterfly and Aida but hated the Turandot. But if he was waiting for the one work which would crown his brilliance so far this Messias is it. Staged using the Mozart version of Handel’s score, the music comes across swiftly and intelligently from all concerned. What is unexpected is the approach to the text. The work is sung in German, but the visual impact sweeps away any hints of Judeo-Christian spirituality  – or worse, the sort of sentimental religiosity of far too many Messiah’s I have sat through.

Image after image is breathtakingly beautiful, but please don’t ask questions. Why is the little girl dancing, why is the old man in fits of giggles, why is the tenor solo an aging song-and-dance man who winks at the audience when he leaves the stage? I have no idea – I only know it works.

Elena Tsallagova’s radiant singing of I know that my Redeemer Liveth is done from a gondola which slowly traverses the stage as she sings. There are many wonderful, mesmeric moments throughout the whole.

I was not expecting this and can’t recommend it too highly.

Donizetti: Don Pasquale
Wiener Staatsoper on tour, Hector Urbon
NAXOS 2.110659

In 1977 the Vienna State Opera took its company on tour. This charming production of Don Pasquale is sung in German and was recorded in the Volkshaus,  Murzzuschlag. It is a very small house compared with the main Opera in Vienna, but ideal for the intimacy of Donizetti’s comedy which comes across with crisp attention to details and much beautiful singing. Given that it is almost half a century old the quality of the recording is exceptionally impressive and needs no apologies.

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No 5
Finzi: Clarinet Concerto
Michael Collins, clarinet & conductor, Philharmonia Orchestra
BIS 2367

A wonderful combination of works which sit perfectly alongside each other. With Michael Collins both conductor and soloist in the Finzi Concerto there is a cohesion between the works which may be obvious intellectually but rarely comes across with such musical finesse. The symphony is superbly paced and the tone never really grows above the intimate, leading to the darker passages of concerto which are allowed to flower and work their poignant magic. Highly recommended.

Brahms; Cello Sonatas
Daniel Muller-Schott, cello; Francesco Piemontesi, piano
ORFEO C979201

There are three sonatas recorded here No1 in E minor Op38; D major sonata Op 78 and No2 in F major Op99. While enjoyable, these are highly serious works and need to be approached with a strong sense of their often hidden depths and beauties. Worth exploring and taking time to get to know.


Operatic Transcriptions
Marc-Andre Hamelin, piano

This is a highly entertaining collection of works – some by Liszt very familiar – but others by Sigismond Thalberg far less so. His Grande fantaisie sur des motifs to Don Pasquale is particularly appealing, with the melodies clearly recognisable, while the Fantaisie sur des themes de Moise is only unfamiliar because the opera itself is so rarely performed. Warmly recommended.

Busoni; Works for two pianos
Aldo Ciccolini, Aldo Orvieto and Marco Rapetti, pianos
NAXOS 8.574086

Busoni wrote a significant number of works for two pianos. They include arrangements of larger scale works by Mozart and  Schumann, with works by himself which often rely heavily stylistically on Bach.


Silvius Leopold Weiss; Works for Lute
Arranged for guitar Danijel Cerovic
NAXOS 8.574068

A delight; early lute music meticulously and lovingly arranged for guitar seemingly without any loss in the innate musicianship of the original. Mood changes impress by their subtlety and inner charm rather than any attempt to impress.


Oscar Straus: Piano Concerto
Oliver Triendi, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Ernst Theis
CPO 555 280-2

An odd coupling. The piano concert is conventional and to be honest very dull. The rest of the recording is exactly what one might expect of the composer of the Chocolate Soldier! The waltzes are charming but the Serenade has an unexpected beauty and lyricism which I really enjoyed.