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.

CDs for January 2021 (2)

 

JOHANN KUHNAU – COMPLETE SACRED WORKS VI
OPELLA MUSICA / CAMERATA LIPSIENSIS, GREGOR MEYER, conductor and organ
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.

MACHAUT – THE LION OF NOBILITY
THE ORLANDO CONSORT
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.

TUNDER APPRECIATED
MUSICA POETICA, OLIVER JOHN RUTHVEN, conductor and chamber organ
VETERUM MUSICA VM020 44’18

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.

YORK BOWEN- FRAGMENTS FROM HANS ANDERSEN & STUDIES
NICOLAS NAMORADZE, piano
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.

CLARKE-IVES-BEACH PIANO TRIOS
GOULD PIANO TRIO
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.

STEVE REICH – EIGHT LINES; CITY LIFE
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.

SP

CDs / DVDs January 2021 (1)

Weinberger: Fruhlingssturme
Komische Oper Berlin, Jordan de Souza
NAXOS NBD0122V

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
HYPERION CDA 68319

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
NAXOS NBD0121V
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
BR KLASSIK 900522

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
APARTE AP244

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
www.opusanglicanum.org

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.

MANTYJARVI – CHORAL MUSIC
CHOIR OF TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE, Stephen Layton, conductor
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.

 

ANTON BRUCKNER – THE SYMPHONIES VOL. 0
HANSJORG ALBRECHT, Bruckner organ, Stiftkirche St Florian, Linz
OEHMS CLASSICS OC476. 62’32

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.

 

WIDOR – ORGAN SYMPHONIES 4
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
BRIDGE 9545

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.