CDs/DVDs September 2017

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

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

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

Shakespeare: Cymbeline
RSC, Stratford upon Avon

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

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

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

The Baroque Bohemians
Red Priest
RPR RP 014

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

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

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

Dvorak: Piano Trios
The Tempest Trio
NAXOS 8.573723

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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