CDs July 2021 (2)

DIFFUSION
VERONA QUARTET
AZICA RECORDS ACD-71339

This beautifully packaged CD is described as “An album celebrating cross-cultural connection and migration through the music of Janacek, Szymanowski & Ravel”. Whilst containing some fine recordings of music each standing well in its own right the concept of the album is a very worthy and timely one. Music has always been a clear signpost for our connectivity throughout the world, celebrating difference and in turn influencing and developing new styles. There are three String Quartets featured here: Janacek’s No 2 “Intimate Letters”, Szymanowski’s No 2 and Ravel’s F major. Fine performances from this well-travelled and experienced Quartet who champion this repertoire.

DIALOGO
JOHN-HENRY CRAWFORD, cello
VICTOR SANTIAGO ASUNCION, piano
ORCHID CLASSICS ORC100166 62’27

The accompanying booklet makes for interesting reading, shedding some light on the background of the three pieces that make up this disk. John-Henry Crawford gives some wonderful performances together with Victor Santiago Asuncion exploring the concept of dialogue. Beginning with Brahms’ Sonata for piano and cello No 2 in F major the programme then moves on to Ligeti’s Sonata for Solo Cello and finally to the Sonata for Cello & Piano in D minor by Shostakovich.

INVISIBLE CITIES – CHORAL & ELECTRONIC MUSIC BY MARCO GALVANI
SANSARA
TOM HERRING, director
RESONUS RES10280 54’47

This fusion of choral and electronic timbres makes for compelling listening. Taking familiar Latin liturgical texts including Lamentations and Ubi caritas and treating them in this blended way is very successful. Galvani’s music opens us up to new possibilities whilst still remaining rooted in the traditional. More!

FERNANDO LOPES-GRACA – SONGS & FOLK SONGS 2
SUSANA GASPAR, soprano, RICARDO PANELA, baritone
NUNO VIEIRA DE ALMEIDA, piano
NAXOS 8.579082 65’04

Prolific twentieth century Portuguese composer Fernando Lopes-Graca has created some arresting and sympathetic settings of texts, crossing folk and contemporary art music forms. Included here alongside Portuguese poetry are Greek, Czech and Slovak texts in sensitive performances from pianist and singers.

ALBERT KETELBEY – A DREAM PICTURE
ROSEMARY TUCK, piano
NAXOS 8.574299 80’39

There have been many recent recordings of Ketelbey’s orchestral music which seems to be enjoying a renaissance. There has been less attention given to his piano music, which is what many of us grew up with. Only one of his really popular pieces, In a Monastery Garden, is included here. Incredibly, considering how popular Ketelbey’s music once was, the remaining twenty four pieces are premiere recordings! For me, that makes this an almost essential disk for anyone interested in early 20th Century British light music. Rosemary Tuck gives a lovely recital of descriptive movements including A Dream Picture which gives the title to this release and Oh! Look at the rabbits! (from A Woodland Story). I like that as a title…

JOHN PHILIP SOUSA – MUSIC FOR WIND BAND 21
ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE WIND ORCHESTRA, director KEITH BRION
NAXOS 8.559863 66’05

More unfamiliar music from a very popular composer in this 21st volume which is part of the American Classics stream from Naxos. Comprising Selections from Chris & the Wonderful Lamp (a re-telling of Aladdin), Sisterhood of the States and Showing off Before Company these pieces make a welcome addition to Sousa’s popular march repertoire. The latter item was apparently featured as an opening to matinee concerts and incorporates a number of familiar tunes. Good fun!

JOAN TOWER – STRIKE ZONES
EVELYN GLENNIE, percussion, BLAIR McMILLEN, piano
ALBAN SYMPHONY, DAVID ALAN MILLER, conductor
NAXOS 8.559902 53’16

Another American Classics release features the music of contemporary composer Joan Tower. These fabulous premiere recordings give a good representation of the range of music Tower has been producing over recent years. It is particularly good to hear performances from Evelyn Glennie as one of a cast of top rate musicians here. The earliest work, Strike Zones, dates from 2001 and the latest, Small from 2016. Both these feature percussion. Still/Rapids combines piano and orchestra with the final piece, Ivory & Ebony being a test piece for an international piano competition.

JORIS ROELOFS – ROPE DANCE: Light-footed music for all and none
BRAM VAN SAMBEEK, bassoon, JORIS ROELOFS, bass clarinet & clarinet
BRAM DE LOOZE, piano, CLEMENS VAN DER FEEN, double bass, MARTIJN VINK, drums
BIS BIS-2453 52’06

This is a fascinating production. Striking artwork is used alongside an interesting background essay which explains the influence of Nietzche’s philosophy behind this music. The instrumentalists give tight, often highly rhythmic performances and create a very distinctive soundworld in what is essentially interesting and entertaining music from the Dutch composer and performer.

JOHANN PACHELBEL – ORGAN WORKS VOLUME 1
MATTHEW OWENS, Frobenius organ of The Queen’s College, Oxford
RESONUS RES10285 71’03

Matthew Owens gives fine performances of this staple (but often not very well known) baroque organ repertoire. Organist and instrument are well suited to this music in the first volume of what promises to be another well executed series from Resonus. A number of Chorale Preludes and Partitas sit alongside Prelude in D minor, Fugue in D minor and Toccata in F major.

WORDS ADORNED
THE CROSSING, conductor DONALD NALLY
AL-BUSTAN TAKHT, music director HANNA KHOURY
DALAL ABU AMNEH, soloist
NAVONA RECORDS NV6356

This is a very interesting release. The Crossing choir is dedicated to performing and promoting new music which pushes the boundaries of choral writing. Collaboration with composers and other performers is a key aspect of their work. Here are two immersive performances of new works setting Andalusian poetry. Kareem Roustom‘s Embroidered Verses & Kinan Abou-afach’s Of Nights and Solace are joined together with a traditional setting by Muhammad ‘abad al-Rahim al-Maslub Lamma Bada Yatathana (‘When he appeared’).

DOUBLE ECHO – NEW GUITAR CONCERTOS FROM THE AMERICAS
DAVID TANENBAUM, guitar
NEW CENTURY CHAMBER ORCHESTRA, conductor AARON JAY KERNIS
ADDITIONAL MUSICIANS conducted by THOMAS DERTHICK
NAXOS 8.574298 56’46

The works here were commissioned by the soloist David Tannenbaum, much of it written by Aaron Jay Kernis, who also conducts for some of the recordings. Alongside his Concierto de ‘Dance Hits’ are the shorter Lullaby and Soliloquoy. The other substantial work here is the typically infectious Double Concerto for Guitar and Bandoneon ‘Hommage a Liege’ by Astor Piazzolla. The CD also features Pequeno concierto by Roberto Sierra. Lively and entertaining.

MARK ANDRE – MINIATUREN / HIMMELFAHRT/ WOHER…WOHIN
MUSICA VIVA #37
ARDITTI QUARTET
STEPHAN HEUBERGER, organ of St Ludwig, Munchen
SYMPHONIEORCHESTER DES BAYERISCHEN RUNDFUNKS, conductor MATTHIAS PINTSCHER
BR KLASSIK MUSICA VIVA #37 66’56

Mark Andre’s music definitely falls into the more experimental/avant garde camp. Pushing the boundaries of sound production on all of the instruments is a large part of the compositional process. Contrasting extremes of duration and dynamics are also to be found on this CD with the opening Miniaturen comprising 12 short movements for string quartet followed by Himmelfart for organ, a single movement work lasting nearly 20 minutes. The final Woher…Wohin (Where from…Where to?) is for orchestra. The music draws on ideas of the inner being, transcendence and divinity. An immersive experience throughout.

RICHARD DUBUGNON – KLAVERIANA / CHAMBER SYMPHONIES
NORIKO OGAWA
MUSIKKOLLEGIUM WINTERTHUR, conductor THOMAS ZEHETMAIR
BIS BIS-2229 64’18

Although 2 of the works here by Swiss composer Richard Dubugnon are Chamber Symphonies this is all music on a grand scale. Much of it is very exciting with exburenat rhythmic passages contrasting with gentler moments. As the title would imply Klavierana has a prominent piano part (here played by Noriko Ogawa) alongside the orchestra, together with a part for Celesta. Fine performances of this fresh repertoire.

SP

CDs JULY 2021 (1)

FRANZ SCHREKER – DER FERNE KLANG
JENNIFER HOLLOWAY, IAN KOZIARA
CHOR DER OPERA FRANKFURT, TILMAN MICHAEL
FRANKFURTER OPERN-UND MUSEUMSORCHESTER, SEBASTIAN WEIGLE
OEHMS OC980 (3 CDs) 2’17”

Austrian composer Franz Schreker may not be a particularly familiar name but the release now of the recording of this opera, first performed in 1912 and recently revived points to the reassessment and rediscovery of his work. He has left a number of orchestral pieces as well as a few smaller scale works. It is in the field of opera, though, that he has probably made the more significant contribution. Der Ferne Klang (The Distant Sound) was regularly performed for nearly 2 decades before Schreker’s music was proscribed by the Nazi regime. Well presented here, with each of the three Acts occupying one disk, together with full libretto this is worth exploring.

PRESTEIGNE PREMIERES – NEW MUSIC FOR STRING ORCHESTRA
VARIOUS ARTISTES
PRESTEIGNE FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA, GEORGE VASS, conductor
RESONUS RES10279 80’37

This is a lovely collection of new music, all written for the Presteigne Festival and all premiere recordings played by the Festival’s resident orchestra. All linked by the strings there is still much variety with songs and works with different soloists including saxophone and flute. A set of Variations on ‘Lovely Joan’ opens the CD with eight composers each providing a variation. Two works are by Hugh Wood together with two other standalone works by Martin Butler and Joe Duddell.

JESPER KOCH – CHOIRBOOK
DANISH NATIONAL VOCAL ENSEMBLE. FLEMMING WINDEKILDE, conductor
DACAPO 6.220627 51’09

31 settings of often very short poems by Frank Kjorup make up this work for acapella choir. Arranged in seven chapters this is an extended “meditation on nature”. Drawn really for the first time to write for the voice the composer has created a beautiful reflective work which speaks of beauty and simplicity. A world premier recording.

CON ARTE E MAESTRIA
MONTEVERDI STRING BAND IN FOCUS
OLIVER WEBBER, violin STEVEN DEVINE, organ & harpsichord
RESONUS RES10282 78’45

This CD (‘With art & mastery’) highlights a musical style from around 1600. The embellishment of simple melodies with virtuosic ornamentation was known as diminution. Here are a number of authentic works from that time – some of which were already treated in this way and some which have been embellished in the style for this recording. It is interesting to see this revival and extension of an ancient tradition.

SINGING SECRETS
VARIOUS ARTISTES
DACAPO 8.226585 67’51

This collection of works by Per Norgard is a very welcome release. Chamber music and vocal works written between 1953 and 2004 are featured here, many of them premiere recordings. The larger works here are Kvintet Op 1- Hommage a Marc Chagall, Libro per Nobuko: I Sonata- The Secret Melody and Cantica.

PENDERECKI – COMPLETE MUSIC FOR STRING QUARTET; STRING TRIO
TIPPETT QUARTET
NAXOS 8.574288 52’58

This is a lovely disc of this engaging music. Covering a period of 56 years Penderecki’s string writing is collected here in a disc recorded in the year he died. The extended String Quartet No 3 is subtitled ‘Leaves from an Unwritten Diary’. The 4th, final quartet returns to the length of the first two but this time has two short movements instead of the through-composed earlier works. The String Trio dates from 1990, revised 1991, and is also a longer work in two movements.

NATE WOOLEY – MUTUAL AID MUSIC
VARIOUS ARTISTES
PLEASURE OF THE TEXT RECORDS POTTR1309 (2 CDs)

It is well worth reading the accompanying booklet alongside listening to this recording. Seeking to develop a musical style that “lives outside the dialectic bubble of improvisation/composition” It also explores the idea of cooperation – mutual aid – in terms of relational working between performers and composer. There are obvious parallels with jazz and experimental/improvisational techniques. Listeners to this double CD can decide for themselves exactly where this music fits.

SP

CDs June 2021

ALEXANDER ZEMLINSKY ANNIVERSARY EDITION
VARIOUS PERFORMERS
CAPRICCIO C7360 (6 CDs) 6’37

If, like me, you know little of Zemlinsky’s music this is an excellent introduction to his output. Orchestral music, songs with piano or orchestra and opera are all to be found here. It is clear that much of Zemlinsky’s work incorporated the voice, even in some of his large scale orchestral work such as the opening Lyric Symphony, Op18 for soprano, baritone and orchestra. A progression can be heard in later compositions which, whilst not embracing stark serialism certainly display an interest in adventurous harmony and less traditional tonality, for instance in the String Quartet No.2, Op 15. Purists might wish for more opera to be included here but I found the final CD of opera highlights to be an enjoyable listen in its own right and at the same time perhaps providing a sampler for those who would wish to experience fuller versions of the five works included here.

MOZART – SONATAS FOR VIOLIN & PIANO, K301, 304-5 & 454
PETER HANSON, violin
ANDREW ARTHUR, fortepiano
RESONUS RES10281 79’07

A fine period instrument recording of these sonatas which are each dedicated to women who supported Mozart in his musical endeavours. The duo of Peter Hanson and Andrew Arthur work very well together in the performances here.

NIKOS SKALKOTTAS – DANCE OF THE WAVES
ATHENS STATE ORCHESTRA, STEFANOS TSIALIS, conductor
NAXOS 8.574182 73’01

Described as “the most popular work of Greek art music today” Skalkottas’ 36 Greek Dances is a lovely work. Lasting just over 25 minutes these short dances combine in a lovely sequence that is often light and playful but with contrasts throughout. The disk also includes excerpts form the folk ballet The Sea and a premiere recording of the Suite No 1 for large orchestra, a work dating, in its final form, from 1935. Very enjoyable and probably unfamiliar repertoire for many listeners.

BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC 1 – RICHARD ADDINSELL
BBC CONCERT ORCHESTRA
PHILLIP MARTIN, RODERICK ELMS, piano
KENNETH ALWYN, conductor
NAXOS 8.555229 68’16

I have long had an affection for what has become known as British Light Music. Although Naxos have released a number of recordings of the genre already this appears to be the first in a new series of single composer CDs. Richard Addinsell was a prolific composer for films, radio and of standalone music. All are represented here including reconstructions and arrangements by various musicians where the original manuscripts have been lost. As with much of this music there are memorable melodies and beautiful orchestrations. The CD sets out to prove that there is more to Addinsell than just Warsaw Concerto. Shades of this are to be heard in the new-to-me theme from A Tale of Two Cities which ends the collection. A very welcome and enjoyable production.

ETHEL SMYTH – STRING QUARTET/STRING QUINTET
MANNHEIMER STREICHQUARTETT
CPO 999 352-2 68’29

This is a lovely pairing of the String Quartet in E minor with the String Quintet in E major. These two works were published 30 years apart and consequently show development in Smyth’s compositional approach. In these recordings this music of a pioneer and innovator who bridges the 19th and 20th Centuries sounds fresh and invigorating. It pushes forward whilst at the same time remains firmly in the tradition of English string writing, with wider European influences.

CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH – THE SOLO KEYBOARD MUSIC VOL 40
KEYBOARD TRANSCRIPTIONS 1
MIKLOS SPANYI, harpsichord
BIS 2387 81’51

This monumental survey of the solo keyboard music of this son of JS reaches volume 40 with original keyboard transcriptions of orchestral works. Spirited performances from a performer who knows this repertoire very well include many shorter works alongside the Symphonies in E minor and D major and the Concerto in F major.

BRAHMS PIANO SONATAS & RHAPSODIES
GARRICK OHLSSON, piano
HYPERION CDA68334 69’11

The 2 Rhapsodies, Op 79 have long been favourites of mine. Sitting neatly between the longer Piano Sonatas No 1 & 2 and shorter works I find the way these pieces have room to develop without overstaying their welcome very appealing. Both have characteristic melodies and the way they play with rhythm and harmony bring out the best of Brahms’ pianistic writing. Lovely performances throughout by Garrick Ohlsson.

VOYAGE OF A SEA-GOD:
The Bassoon leading a musical journey through the 20th Century
LAURENCE PERKINS, bassoon
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
WILLIAM GOODCHILD, conductor. MICHAEL HANCOCK, piano
CARDUCCI STRING QUARTET
HYPERION CDA68371/2 (2 CDs) 144’21

Both the title and the concept drew me to this release. From an early age I was intrigued by the sound of the bassoon (Ivor the Engine?) both by its sound and, later on when a classmate was a player, by its looks! I am afraid to say that despite this I knew none of the music on this splendid double CD collection. A roll-call of prolific 20th Century composers each provide a single piece, together making a wonderful compilation of diverse music linked by this most magical timbre. Longer works such as Arnold Bax’ Threnody and Scherzo, Richard Rodney Bennett’s Bassoon Sonata, Andrzej Panufnik’s Concerto for bassoon & small orchestra and Elizabeth Maconchy’s Concertino for bassoon & string orchestra sit alongside shorter works including the brilliantly titled Minuet:Grace for a fresh egg written for a friend at the end of the 2nd World War by Herbert Howells. There was one composer I did not know, Richard Henry Walthew, whose Introduction & Allegro opens the whole set. Expertly played, Laurence Perkins’ solos enable different moods and atmospheres to be conveyed ably supported throughout by the other musicians. The booklet adds some interesting background to the music and this chronological progression.

KORNGOLD – SONGS -2
BRITTA STALLMEISTER, soprano SIBYLLE FISCHER, mezzo-soprano
UWE SCHENKER-PRIMUS, baritone KLAUS SIMON, piano
NAXOS 8.573083 57’55

This second volume includes quite a variety of settings. The more serious Drei Gesange fur mittlere Singstimme und Klavier, Op 18 ventures into the realms of more experimental harmony and form. This contrasts with some of the other songs which are in lighter style more reminiscent of Musical Theatre. A very good collection.

MUSIC FROM THE PROMISED LAND – DUO MANTAR
JACOB REUVEN, mandolin ADAM LEVIN, guitar
NAXOS 8.573962 73’02

This is a very enjoyable compilation of contemporary music from Israel for the less usual combination of mandolin and guitar. Pieces include Yehezkel Braun’s Sonata for Mandolin & Guitar (2004) and Paul Ben-Haim’s 3 songs without words (dating from 1952 and arranged more recently). Includes a number of premiere recordings.

VITEZSLAVA KAPRALOVA – WAVING FAREWELL
NICHOLAS PHAN, tenor AMY I-LIN CHENG, piano
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN S O, KENNETH KIESLER, conductor
NAXOS 8.574144 58’57

It is a tragedy that Vitezslava Kapralova died so young. The music here is superb. Reaching only the age of 25 what more might she have gone on to achieve? The most substantial works here are Vojenska symfonieta (‘Military Sinfonietta’) and Piano Concerto in D minor, Op 7. Well worth investigating.

XIAOGANG YE – MOUNT E’MEI
WEI LU & DAN ZHU, violin SHENGNAN HU, percussion XIAOTANG TAN, piano
ROYAL SCOTTISH NATIONAL ORCHESTRA, GILBERT VARGA
DEUTSCHE STAATSPHILHARMONIE RHINELAND-PFALZ
STEFAN MALZEW & FRANK OLLU
NAXOS 8.579087 63’51

This very evocative music from one of China’s leading current composers makes for a very enjoyable listening experience. I am personally very drawn to the mixture of timbres , particularly the percussion. In the first and longest track from which the CD takes its name, also scored for violin and orchestra. Scent of Green Mango for piano and orchestra follows, together with Lamura Cuo for violin and orchestra and the string work The Silence of Mount Minshan. A very welcome addition to the Naxos range.

THE BEST OF ARNOLD – MALCOLM ARNOLD
VARIOUS ARTISTS
NAXOS 8.578360 76’30

Released to celebrate the centenary of Malcolm Arnold’s birth this collection is a very good introduction to his music with single movements from symphonies and concertos, the well-loved English Dances, Set 1 and the 3 Shanties and other shorter works. There is also a premiere recording of his Grand Fantasia from 1940. But to really be the ‘best’ doesn’t it need The Padstow Lifeboat?

SP

CDs May 2021 (2)

I WILL BUILD YOU A HOUSE
ANDREAS IHLEBAEK, piano
NXN 1004 50’ approx

An enjoyably relaxing sequence of melodic, expansive piano music from this contemporary Norwegian pianist/composer. Grouped into 3 sections, Come Summer, Preludes to Storm and Let me be Good, the music is at times gently hypnotic, with hints of Satie and contemporary film soundtracks. There is a lovely purity to this music. An interesting biographical note gives a hint at how these composition/performance pieces have helped him and others, especially as much of the music came about during the Covid pandemic.

OTTORINO RESPIGHI – WORKS FOR FLUTE & ORCHESTRA
ROBERTO FABBRICIANI, flute
ORCHESTRA SINFONICA ABRUZZESE, NICOLA PASZKOWSKI, conductor
TACTUS TC 871805 50’48

This collection of late romantic works includes two premiere recordings. The CD is bookended with two Suites with the two-movement Melodia & Valse Caressante and Serenata in between. Developments in his compositional style can be seen in the chronological progression from the earlier works here (early 20th Century) up to the final suite Gli Ucelli. As well as various influences from his native Italy, including baroque stylings, Gregorian chant and polyphony he was influenced by Russia and other European cultures.

MAX BRUCH PIANO WORKS
CHRISTOF KEYMER, piano
CPO 555 258-2 66’43

This collection of short descriptive pieces mostly arranged into themed collections shows a different side to the composer associated mostly with larger works for solo strings and orchestra. Bruch was an excellent pianist but did not regard his piano writing as particularly significant. He was drawn to folk melodies of many different sources. Two sets of Swedish Dances make up a sizeable portion of this CD. They can be seen in the same light as other national dances by Brahms and Dvorak. An interesting collection with amterial that will be unfamiliar to many.

RACHMANINOV – PIANO SONATA NO 2, PRELUDES OP 23 NOS 4-6, MOMENTS MUSICAUX
SONYA BACH, piano
RUBICON RCD1058 68’18

This is a lovely disc of Rachmaninov’s music. With sensitive and passionate performances throughout Sonya Bach is obviously very at home with this repertoire. Recommended!

EDUARD FRANCK – PIANO CONCERTOS 1 & 2
GEORG MICHAEL GRAU, piano
WURTTEMBERGISCHE PHILHARMONIE REUTLINGEN
FAWZI HAIMOR, conductor
CPO 555 320-2 74’57

These two piano concertos, in D minor and C major, date from the middle and latter half of the 19th Century. These romantic pieces were in part influenced by associations with Mendelssohn, Schumann and Sterndale Bennett. These performances give a very good introduction to the works of this particular Franck, if, like me you were unfamiliar with him and is enjoyable in its own right.

NORDIC RHAPSODY
JOHAN DALENE, violin
CHRISTIAN IHLE HADLAND, piano
BIS-2560

Produced in conjunction with Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme this is a lovely programme of music highlighting composers from the region. Although many of the composers are well known the music is not necessarily familiar. Music includes Nielsen’s Romance in D major, Grieg’s Violin Sonata No 1 in F major, as well as pieces by Sinding, Stenhammar, Sibelius and Rautavaara’s Notturno e danza.

SCOTT WOLLSCHLEGER – DARK DAYS
KARL LARSON, piano
NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR287 ’50 approx

This is a very rewarding disc of short contemporary pieces which play with colour, rhythm and harmony. Written between 2007 and 2020 this collection shows how the composer combines these elements together with the properties of the piano alongside his personal experience of synaesthesia. The music is expansive, often repetitive but with slight shifts and variations. The long term collaboration of composer and performer also adds to the overall effectiveness. I hope to hear more.

ROBERT GROSLOT – THE INTIMACY OF DISTANCE
CHARLOTTE WAJNBERG, soprano
BRUSSELS PHILHARMONIC, ROBERT GROSLOT, conductor
NAXOS 8.579100 55’45

Described as a “concerto for soprano and orchestra” The Intimacy of Distance sets a recent text concerned with life and distance. Alongside this are My Green Shade Forest and Trittico incantevole. The CD consists entirely of music written within the last six years and premiere recordings. A welcome addition to the catalogue of contemporary music.

WIDOR – ORGAN SYMPHONIES 5
CHRISTIAN VON BLOHN, organ of St Josef’s Church, Sankt Ingbert, Germany
NAXOS 8.574279 76’26

The Naxos survey of Widor’s organ works continues with volume 5 of the Organ Symphonies, the 3rd volume in the series recorded by organist Christian von Blohn. Interesting booklet notes highlight the fact that these works exist in different versions, necessitating decision making as to which version to record. This is again referenced by the inclusion between Symphony No 5 in F minor (which includes the famous Toccata) and Symphony No 6 in G minor of movement 4 of Symphony No 8 in B major, which was included in the 1887 edition but omitted later in 1901. Fine performances of substantial music.

JOHANN SIMON MAYR – MESSA DI GLORIA IN E MINOR & F MINOR
SIMON MAYR CHORUS
CONCERTO DE BASSUS, FRANZ HAUK, conductor
NAXOS 8.574203 80’09

World premiere recordings here of two different approaches to setting the mass. The first, lasting nearly an hour is on a much grander scale to the second which comes in at just over twenty minutes. The first incorporates intricate musical devices and showcases the development of Mayr’s (1763-1845) later writing. The pairing gives an opportunity to compare a single composer’s response with vastly differing outcomes from the same starting point. This music was once to be heard across Europe as a development of the traditional Italian school of composition. I am sure this CD will re-introduce his name to many.

SP

CDs May 2021 (1)

JOAQUIN RODRIGO – GUITAR MUSIC 3
CELIL REFIK KAYA, guitar, MARIANNE GEDIGIAN, flute
NAXOS 8.574004 65’24

It is easy to forget that Rodrigo was a twentieth century composer as there is a timeless quality to much of his music. However, in listening to a disc like this it is possible to appreciate the variety and innovation in his writing. Beginning with the extended Elogio de la guitarra and ending with some of his final work Dos pequenas fantasias this is a collection of wonderful performances of this beautiful evocative music.

KAVANAGH PLAYS KAVANAGH
DALE KAVANAGH, guitar
NAXOS 8.551449 62’38

A lovely CD with a selection of varied works played by the Canadian composer demonstrates that the instrument still has a place in the contemporary ‘classical’ world.

MARCEL POOT – SYMPHONIES NOS 1-7
VARIOUS ORCHESTRAS
NAXOS 8.574292-93 (2 CDs) 2”21’26

Born at the very beginning of the 20th Century in Belgium, Marcel Poot combined classical structure with strong influences from Ravel, Stravinsky and jazz. This music feels fresh and exciting. None of the works are over-long and the whole set makes for very enjoyable listening. Five of the symphionies are first recordings.

JS BACH – SONATAS FOR VIOLA DA GAMBA AND HARPSICHORD
ROBERT SMITH, viola da gamba
FRANCESCO CORTI, harpsichord
RESONUS RES10278 62’51

This disc collects three of Bach’s late works, interspersing them with a Sonata by a contemporary, Christopher Schaffrath and a present day ‘reinvention’ of Purcell, Dido’s Torment, by Robert Smith which is said to combine influences from the 18th Century together with those of the heavy-metal band Metallica! It doesn’t feel at all out of place in this programme which is beautifully executed.

FRANCIS POULENC – AUBADE, LE BAL MASQUE, FLUTE SONATA, SEXTET
MARK BEBBINGTON, piano, RODERICK WILLIAMS, baritone, EMER McDONOUGH, flute
ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA, LAN LATHAM-KOENIG, conductor
RESONUS RES10276 67’53

Poulenc’s Flute Sonata is a very distinctive piece, well loved and often heard. It is good to have it placed here alongside less familiar works, all of which show life and colour in performances which show the brilliance of this music.

BRITISH MUSIC FOR STRINGS II – GRANVILLE BANTOCK & CHRISTOPHER WILSON
SUDWESTDEUTSCHES KAMMERORCHESTER PFORZHEIM
DOUGLAS BOSTOCK, conductor
CPO 555 395-2 76’47

When is British music not British music? When it features American popular songs! Granville Bantock’s Serenade for String Orchestra: In the Far West draws on two melodies of Stephen Foster. Alongside there is no doubt about the inclusion of Scenes from the Scottish Highlands together with Christopher Wilson’s Suite for String Orchestra. Despite my question about the title this is a very enjoyable programme and it is gratifying to hear this music presented with care by a European orchestra.

MAX DRISCHNER – SONNENHYMNUS – ORGAN WORKS
FRIEDHELM FLAMME, organ of Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche, Detmold
CPO 555 376-2 77’22

Thrilling sounds are the order of the day in much of this music. Larger organ works sit alongside extended chorale fantasies and shorter preludes, with the longest saved until the end, the piece from which the CD takes its name. There are clear links with composers who have gone before in the German tradition but Drischner is not limited by this. Friedhelm Flamme draws expertly on the symphonic resources of this organ in a programme that is well balanced and a great listening experience.

SP

DVDs/CDs April 2021 (2)

Wagner: Das Rheingold
Sofia Opera
DYNAMIC 57897

I am unsure how this actually got to the point of being sold. Who – if anyone – was responsible for quality control? The sound throughout is appalling, as if there was a single microphone somewhere close to the orchestra and singers voices effectively vanished as they moved further upstage. This would be bad enough if the production warranted it but the grotesque costumes and lack of any sense of intelligent direction make this a painful experience. Some of the singers do themselves some justice vocally but the concept is so amateur as to be laughable. Rhine maidens on trampolines and Loge arriving by flying boat give an indication of the stream of ideas which misfire throughout. I thought, after many recent eccentric approaches to the Ring that I had seen it all. It appears I had not.

 

Paganini: Works for violin and guitar
Roberto Noferini, violin; Donato D’Antonio, guitar
TACTUS TC 781607
Paganini was a showman and many of these pieces live up to that expectation, needing a virtuoso performer – which Roberto Noferini certainly seems to be able to bring to them. Most are light weight, charming and easy on the ear, but this still allows us to appreciate the dexterity and sheer professionalism of the playing.

 

Bruckner: Symphony No6
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jansons
BR KLASSIK 900190

This is another in the series of fine live recordings, made on this occasion in Munich in 2015. Bruckner’s Sixth is something of an exception within the composer’s opus being shorter and more compact than his usual approach. This may reflect his growing sense of security and recognition both as teacher and as composer. Though he did not live to hear the work performed complete he was very aware of its strengths and the admiration with which individual movements had been received.

 

Haydn: Complete Keyboard Concertos
Melodie Zhao, piano; David Nebel, violin, Camerata Schweiz, Howard Griffiths
CPO 555 400-2

Something of a mammoth undertaking but a very convincing compilation even if most of us would not want to sit down and listen to nine concerti in succession. However, taken in bite size chunks this is an entertaining and convincing demonstration that Haydn seems incapable of ever being dull.

 

Sibelius: Violin Concerto & Humoresques
Nors S Josephson: Celestial Voyage
Fenella Humphreys, violin, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, George Vass

It is difficult to make a case for another recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto (unless possibly in its original version which I feel needs to be far better known) so I assume this is a good excuse to get Nors S Josephson’s Celestial Voyage on disc. The work was completed in 2019 and draws not only on his close understanding of Sibelius but his love of rock n’ roll and in particular Space Rock.

 

Stradella: Cantatas & Serenatas Vol1
Alessandro Stradella Consort, Estevan Velardi
DYNAMIC CDS 7893

These are premiere recordings of what promises to be an extensive series to cover the major works of Stradella, though one has to admit that very little is actually known about him. As an introduction these go a long way to introduce us to his individual style and emotional impact.

 

CDs April 2021 (1)

BYRD 1588: PSALMS, SONNETS & SONGS OF SADNESS & PIETIE
GRACE DAVIDSON, soprano, MARTHA McLORINAN, mezzo-soprano,
NICHOLAS TODD, tenor
ALAMIRE – FRETWORK – DAVID SKINNER
INVENTA RESONUS INV1006 78’20 (2 CDs)

This recording presents this 1588 publication from Byrd in its entirety over two discs. As such it is a fascinating insight into the variety of music collected together in one published volume. There is music for funerals and with other sacred themes as well as lighter secular songs expressing a range of emotions. Much care has gone into this production.

MUSIC FOR THE KING OF SCOTS 
INSIDE THE PLEASURE PALACE OF JAMES IV
THE BINCHOIS CONSORT
ANDREW KIRKMAN, conductor
HYPERION CDA68333 55’20

Judging from the subtitle to this CD I was expecting a lighthearted entertaining programme. This is a fine recording but it is not a lighthearted listen. The title refers to James IV’s residence, Lingithlow Palace, and the music is devotional, as may have been heard in the chapel there. On this occasion, as the chapel is now ruined, the decision was made to attempt to reconstruct the acoustic properties of the building. This process was part of a project funded by the Arts & Humantities Research Council, “Space, Place, Sound & Memory: Immersive experiences of the past”. By scans, 3D modelling and recording in an anechoic chamber this is as authentic as historic reconstruction gets. The main work is Missa Horrendo subdena rotarum machinamento (‘Catherine Wheel Mass’) Alongside this is a Magnificat from the Carver choirbook and three shorter pieces including the chant from which the mass takes its name. Fascinating.

A CLAUDE
BENEDETTO BOCCUZZI, piano
DIGRESSIONE MUSIC DCTT111 75’75

This CD weaves together music by Debussy, Crumb, Messiaen Takemitsu, and Diana Rotaru together with a short piece and arrangements of Debussy by the performer. There are clear links between many of the works and together they make for a very entertaining, original programme. There is much to discover here.

JOHANN WILHELM HERTEL – CELLO & ORGAN CONCERTOS
BETTINA MESSERSCHMIDT, cello
MERSEBURGER HOFMUSIK
MICHAEL SCHONHEIT, organ & director
CPO 555 203-2 63’35

Hertel was a prolific 18th century German composer and like other contemporaries of his was born into a family of composers. He was an accomplished performer on the violin and harpsichord. He became a court composer and wrote much sacred music as well as instrumental works such as those featured here. The CD comprises 2 Sinfonias, 2 Cello Sonatas and an Organ Sonata.

THE ORGAN TRADITION OF APULIA-NAPLES
FROM RENAISSANCE TO BAROQUE
MARGHERITA SCIDDURLO, organ
Chiesa di Saint’ Antonio, Santa Maria del Passo, Mola di Bari (1747)
TACTUS TC670004 52’37

Don’t be put off by the title! This recording may be a little ‘niche’ but it is exciting and well produced. Spanning the 16th to 18th centuries the music included here is often virtuosic and is brought to life brilliantly on this historic and appropriate instrument. Several pieces have not been previously recorded and I would suggest that, despite its age, to many listeners much of this music will be new.

SP

CDs March 2021 (2)

JOSQUIN DES PREZ – MOTETS & MASS MOVEMENTS
THE BRABANT ENSEMBLE, conductor Stephen Rice
HYPERION CDA68321 78’38
FRANCISCO GUERRERO – MAGNIFICAT, LAMENTATIONS & CANCIONES
EL LEON DE ORO, conductors Peter Phillips & Marco Antonio Garcia de Paz
HYPERION CDA68347 60’53

There is a very ‘easy’ feel to these two CDs of Renaissance choral music. The various lines flow with a calm legato, disguising the underlying complexity of composition, allowing the listener to be transported to a different time and place. In the first case France in 15th/early 16th Centuries and in the second, Spain of the mid to late 16th Century. The second CD carries additional interest and authenticity by including alongside Latin texts, a set of Cantiones y villanescas espirituales, written in Spanish and sung here by a Spanish choir.

 

CECILIA McDOWALL – SACRED CHORAL MUSIC
CHOIR OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE, conductor Stephen Layton
ALEXANDER HAMILTON, organ
HYPERION CDA68251 69’56

Cecilia McDowall’s music here blends exciting contemporary harmony and soaring melodies with features that connect and return us to choral writing from the renaissance and medieval periods. Adoro, te devote is a case in. point with echoes of Allegri’s Miserere. Unaccompanied settings of Latin and English texts are sung here by the large cast choir augmented with soloists and small groups. The substantial solo organ O Antiphon Sequence played by Alexander Hamilton serves as a beautiful contrast before the choir concludes with The Lord is good.. Exquisite music and performances.

 

ALEXANDER CAMPKIN – CHORAL WORKS
VOX CHAMBER CHOIR, conductor David Crown
Colin Spinks, organ, Tristan Fry, tam-tam
NAXOS 8.574186 64’13

Alexander Campkin has established himself as one of a number of younger British composers writing choral music that is fresh and innovative. True Light (2011) and Missa Brevis (2009) are the two largest works here together with three other more recent pieces. To my ear there are times when the choir could do with a slightly tighter delivery but perhaps this is part of the intended effect of this music which is often ethereal and gently shifting. A very enjoyable disc.

 

AND THE SUN DARKENED – MUSIC FOR PASSIONTIDE
NEW YORK POLYPHONY
Geoffrey Williams, counter-tenor, Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor
Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone, Craig Phillips, bass
BIS SACD  BIS-2277 58’26

This is a beautifully programmed and produced CD. Taking settings of medieval devotional texts and earlier prayers much of this music dates from the 15th & 16th Centuries. Inserted among compositions by Loyset Compere, Josquin Desprez and others are two works by Andrew Smith (b. 1970) and Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962). Despite the obvious differences in harmonic structure these more modern works do not feel out of place and actually add to the sense of an ongoing tradition and a timelessness of devotion. The performances by New York Polyphony are first rate.

 

FRANCOIS COUPERIN – LES REGRETS OU L’ART DE LA MELANCOLIE
STEFANO LORENZETTI, harpsichord
DYNAMIC CDS7879 72’28

Fresh performances of this early 18th century keyboard repertoire are given here by Stefano Lorenzetti on a 1986 Tony Chinnery French harpsichord.

 

LA LA HO HO – 16TH CENTURY VIOL MUSIC FOR THE RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD
LINAROL CONSORT
INVENTA INV1005 67’26

This must be one of the most striking titles for a recording in recent years. Consisting of a recording of early 16th Century viol music from a new edition of a manuscript dating from around 1535. It was placed in the library of Jacob Fugger, a wealthy German merchant. The title of the CD is the name of one of the short works, this one by Heinrich Isaac. An intriguing disc.

 

RELATIONSHIPS – MUSIC FOR VIOLIN & PIANO
BY ELIZABETH MACONCHY, NICOLA LEFANU & GILES SWAYNE
MALU LIN, violin. GILES SWAYNE, piano
RESONUS RES10271 75’56

Another intriguing CD, this one is based around the family relationships of the composers whose music is featured here. There is great variety, from the opening reflective solo violin in Elisabeth Maconchy’s Violin Sonata to the more exuberant rhythmic violin and piano Duo by Giles Swayne. Other music by these two completes the disc alongside Nicola LeFanu’s Abstracts and a Frame.

 

LINDA CAITLIN SMITH – MEADOW
MIA COOPER, violin, JOACHIM ROEWER, viola, WILLIAM BUTT, cello
LOUTH CONTEMPORARY MUSIC

An intimate, unhurried, meditative experience, this is a very enjoyable CD. The composer’s notes state that the intention is to let the music speak for itself and not be too explained. Apart from saying that the music is built of short episodes no further hints of structure are given as the music plays in a single track. Details from www.louthcms.org

 

GIROLAMO FRESCOBALDI – UNPUBLISHED MUSIC FROM “CHIGI CODICES”
IVANA VALOTTI, organ of Basilica palatina di Santa Barbara, Mantova, Italy (1565)
TACTUS TC580609 71’23
CECILIA McDOWALL – ORGAN WORKS
WILLIAM FOX, organ of St John the Evangelist, Islington, London
LUCY HUMPHRIS, trumpet
NAXOS 8.579077 65’04

Two single composer organ recordings complete this selection. They could not be more contrasting and would serve as a very good illustration for those who still believe that all organ music sounds the same! A world premier recording of organ music by Frescobaldi (16th/17th Century) is a rare thing but as the subtitle makes clear this music was unpublished and so has remained relatively “off the radar”. This music requires dexterity from any player and thanks to organist and appropriate historical instrument we are transported back to Renaissance Italy.

The second CD complements the earlier mentioned CD of Cecilia McDowall’s choral music. Here we turn to her work for organ. Some of these also feature a part for trumpet. Again there is a real contrast within the programme here, from reflective slow moving passages to exciting rhythmic episodes. This is very definitely writing for the contemporary organ. Many of the works here are less than a decade old and a number are world premier recordings.

SP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
DYNAMIC 57849

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
RESONUS RES 10275

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
OPUSARTE OA 1311D

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
HYPERION CDA 68325

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
HYPERION CDA 68329

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
HYPERION CDA 68260

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.