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 Full texts and background notes make for an interesting historical document as well as an enjoyable listening experience.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.