CDs February 2018

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

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

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

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

Guitar Music of Venezuela
Nirse Gonzalez, guitar
NAXOS 8.573631

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

Clarinet Fantasies
Nadia Wilson, clarinet, Martin Butler, piano

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

Dag Wiren: orchestral works
Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Rumon Gamba

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

Granados – works for piano
Xiayin Wang, piano

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

Telemann: Melodious Canons & Fantasias
Elysium Ensemble

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

Brahms: Complete works for piano
Barry Douglas

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

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