CDs May 2020 (2)


STEPHEN FARR, Organ of StadtKirche, Waltershausen, Germany
RESONUS RES10259  79’02

Unlike some ‘complete’ recordings these sublime chorale settings make for a beautiful programme in their own right. As performed on this organ in Stephen Farr’s continuing project to record the organ works of Bach they make for delightful listening.


RESONUS RES10256  72’32

This CD presents a balanced programme of works for soloists and orchestra by a composer whose music always sounds fresh and exciting without straying too far from the melodic. A good overview and an entertaining listen.


RESONUS RES10263  61’23

The Coronavirus pandemic may have put paid to the outdoor celebrations but here we have a wonderful disc that commemorates the setting out for the New World of the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower 400 years ago. These sacred and secular works are taken from books that travelled on the voyage, mostly vocal but with the occasional instrumental piece including music by Dowland, Campion & Richard Allison. A delightful disc with some very interesting settings.


HYPERION CDA68326 69’29

A disc of music by this still relatively unknown composer from the Spanish Baroque is a very welcome addition. The main work is complimented by a number of other liturgical settings. Included before the Mass is Hortus conclusus by Rodrigo de Ceballos which gives its name to the setting. De Profundis present seem very at home with this music.


HYPERION CDA68301 64’45

The classic Anglican cathedral sound is presented well in this CD from Westminster Abbey. Parry’s substantial Songs of Farewell fills the 2nd half but the lesser known and shorter works that lead up to them are equally enjoyable. Together they make for a very satisfying sequence. Recorded not in the Abbey, but at All Hallows, Gospel Oak. Choir, soloists and organist all produce a beautiful blended sound.


DAVID HILL, conductor
HYPERION CDA68294 71’32

I didn’t know this work. Rather than being part of the Anglican choral tradition this is a large scale concert work for choir, soloists and orchestra, written originally for the Three Choirs Festival at Worcester. After a few initial performances It was not revisited until the composer’s 90th birthday but remains The booklet makes for interesting reading, referring to the near loss of the manuscript when the composer’s bag was stolen from a train! This work deserves to be better known. A lovely bonus track is Michael: A Fanfare setting – a lovely arrangement, originally by the composer, of his well-loved hymn tune for All my hope on God is founded. Choir and orchestra are in good voice.


HYPERION CDA68328  56’59

I highly recommend this CD of choral music from a Latvian composer who is not yet 30. At times ethereal and relaxing and at other times experimental and more challenging there is great variety and some enthralling performances. The choir of young voices is put through its paces, with demands including some unusual vocal effects as part of the highly disciplined but arresting sound. Unusual texts sit alongside traditional ones. The two longer works here are a setting of O lux beata Trinitas  and When (text from Romeo & Juliet).


HYPERION CDA68285 64’06

Another beautiful choral disc with interesting programming. Much of the music here is based around the service of Compline which marks the end of the day. Alongside classic English settings by Tallis, Tye & Byrd are contemporary compositions of traditional and contemporary texts. Composers include Joanna Marsh, Veljo Tormis and Owain Park himself. The exquisite blend of The Gesualdo Six enables the music to breathe and soar.


WIDOR – ORGAN SYMPHONIES 1 (Nos. 1 & 2, Op 13)
WOLFGANG RUBSAM, Skinner organ of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago
NAXOS 8.574161 84’01
WIDOR – ORGAN SYMPHONIES 2 (Nos. 3 & 4, Op 13)
WOLFGANG RUBSAM, Skinner organ of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago
NAXOS 8.574195 78’03

The Naxos Organ Encyclopedia Series is already an impressive achievement with a range of repertoire, well known and less familiar. It is surprising that it is only now that these works have been recorded as part of the project. It is good to have them presented in sequential order in this format with a substantial and interesting American organ being put through its paces by Mr Rubsam. The 2nd disc includes an original  movement from the 2nd Symphony that was subsequently replaced – fascinating to compare the two.


NAXOS 8.573854 61’38

Here we have a lovely collection of the earliest surviving repertoire for lute duo, some of it also for voice. This is a very enjoyable programme and an opportunity to hear fine performances of music few are likely to be familiar with.


DYNAMIC CDS7860 69’03

Here is another release of unusual repertoire. Veracini lived in Florence from late 17th until the early 18th. This music for violin and chamber group has been recorded and released in its entirety for the first time.


ONDINE ODE 1352-2  53’33

The bulk of this CD returns us to much more familiar ground with this setting of the Vigil, first performed in a concert setting. Four other short works that follow are far less familiar and make for an interesting conclusion. They include A Jurists’ Song, written for the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Imperial School of Jurisprudence in St Petersburg, where the composer had studied.







DVDs/ CDs May 2020

Wagner: Der Fliegende Hollander
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Fabio Luisi
UNITEL 753808

This production by Paul Curran took me back almost half a century to Wieland Wagner’s production which we saw in Bayreuth. Here the sea is the real protagonist and the video projections by Otto Driscoll give a dramatic impact Wieland could only dream of. If the acting is not quite up to the impact of the settings – singers tend to look to the conductor at key moments rather than at each other – then the singing is not in doubt, with Marjorie Owens’ Senata as fine as one could wish for today. The ages of the cast are a little odd as well. This may not matter within a large opera house but close up the Dutchman (finely and ruggedly sung by Thomas Gazheli) looks old enough to be Senta’s grandfather, Bernhard Berchtold as Erik could be her father and only the Steerman (a wonderful naturalistic performance from Timothy Oliver) looks to be her age. The chorus are splendid and don’t over play their hand while the exposed pit makes Wagner’s orchestration all the more thrilling. A pity it is in the three act version as it would have worked well as a single act given the dramatic impact.

Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet
Ural Opera Ballet, Ekaterinburg, Pavel Klinichev

I have got so used to Kenneth Macmillan’s splendid version for the Royal Ballet that it comes as something of a shock to engage with an approach which is so vibrant and yet so different. The Ural Opera Ballet bring a sense of youth and vitality, together with Vyacheslav Samadurov’s fluid and yet always virile choreography, creating a world which is totally convincing. One never feels the dance is simply padding or marking the time before the next dramatic moment. Characterisation is very strong with Igor Bulytsyn a rumbustious Mercutio alongside Alexandr Merkushev’s boyishly naïve Romeo and Ekaterina Sapagova’s Juliet just on the cusp of womanhood. This, together with fine playing under Pavel Klinichev, makes for a most effective and moving interpretation.

JS Bach: The Toccatas
Masaaki Suzuki, harpsichord
BIS 2221

We are more familiar with Masaaki Susuki as the director of the Bach Collegium, Japan, but this is one of a number of recordings of solo music he has issued. It may seem strange to label it The Toccatas when there are potentially so many collections which could be given this title. All the more so as the seven works recorded were not necessarily designed as a collection by the composer himself. However they certainly work well together and the order of the performance has been decided by Masaaki Suzuki, opening with the G minor BWV915 and concluding with the F sharp minor BWV910. These are fine performances, with a clarity and precision, but without any lack of humanity in the playing.

Elgar and Beach Piano Quintets
Takacs Quartet, Garrick Ohlsson, piano

An interesting combination, the Elgar more familiar and immediate, and Amy Beach’s almost unknown. Yet they sit very comfortably alongside each other and in any concert programme would seem perfectly appropriate. Both are in minor keys and introspective in tone and approach, though always engaging.

Shostakovich: Violin Concertos
Alina Ibragimova, violin; State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia, Vladimir Jurowski

David Oistrakh, for whom the first concerto was written, asked the composer to redraft the opening of the final movement to allow him some slight respite after the rigours of the cadenza. Alina Ibragimova choses here to give us the original version, and splendidly so. One can sense why Oistrakh asked for the rewrite but the original is certainly convincing and it is good to have it available.

Bassoon Concertos
Bram van Sambeek, bassoon; Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Alexei Ogrintchouk
BIS 2467

A charming combination. The Mozart and Weber concerti are very familiar but I had never come across Edouard Du Puy though his composition sits snuggly between his more famous brethren. Bram van Sambeek brings a lightness of touch and gentle humour to the solo part which makes this a very attractive disc.

Max Reger: Clarinet Quintet, String Sextet
Thorsten Johanns, clarinet; Diogenes Quartet; Roland Glassl, viola; Wen-Sinn Yang, cello
CPO 555 340-2

I have known Reger best from his organ compositions, so this opened new doors for me. The String Sextet reminded me of late Richard Strauss in its mellow romanticism and the Clarinet Quintet has a freshness of touch which is engaging.

Franck: Le Chasseur Maudit
RCS voices; Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Jean-Luc Tingaud
NAXOS 8.573955

This is Franck at his most Wagnerian which is not necessarily to all tastes though fine if you are happy to indulge in late romantic angst. Les Eolides is particularly atmospheric, but the whole is a tribute to Franck’s superb orchestrations.

Haydn: Ops 20 No 1, 4 & 6
Dudok Quartet, Amsterdam

This is the second cd covering Op20 and is as impressive as the first with its intelligence and humanity. Worth seeking out immediately.

CDs/DVDs April 2020 (2)

Purcell: King Arthur
Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, Rene Jacobs
NAXOS 2.110658

There are a number of very obvious difficulties with this production, the most immediate of which is the fact that it is far more play-with-music than opera. While Purcell’s score is very well sung and played under Rene Jacobs, the production itself updates the story to the 1940s with Arthur as an 8 year old indulging fantasies of his father who is a dead fighter-pilot. The musical numbers are sung in English but the play text is in German with subtitles. King Arthur has never been an easy work to stage – Dido is possibly the only stage work of Purcell which stages easily today – but this production, for all its occasional felicities, never quite comes off.

Verdi: Falstaff
Teatro Real, Madrid, Danielle Rustioni

This production, like a number of other recent stagings, moves the action into the 1950s and then carries through with conviction. The opening scene in a cramped café is brilliant in setting the seedy background for the whole work, bringing the realities of class clearly into focus at the same time as making sense of the sexual politics. Roberto de Candia is a fine and rascally Falstaff, and I particularly enjoyed Joel Prieto’s Fenton, but the whole cast work well as an ensemble and their enjoyment carries sympathetically.

Wagner: Die Walkure
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle

This was recorded live in Munich over a year ago but only just released. The previous Das Rheingold had assumed a fairly rapid release for the whole cycle, even if it was being built up over a number of years, but the rather lukewarm reception for that recording may lie behind the late release of the second part of the Ring. Rattle is not an obvious Wagnerian but the more romantic, lyrical score which imbues Walkure seems more to his taste and, with a very well balanced cast, this is certainly a much stronger argument for pursuing this Ring. Stuart Skelton is surely one of the finest Sigmund’s around at the moment, and the first act is very impressive.  Irene Theorin is a steely Brunnhilde and James Rutherford a youthful Wotan. In all, a splendid release and one which makes me look forward to the other two operas with enthusiasm.

Beethoven: the Piano Concertos
Stephen Hough, piano; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu

This is a pleasing set – a light, fresh approach to the concerti. I particularly enjoyed the Third and Fourth concerti which don’t get quite as much coverage as the Fifth. Stephen Hough is obviously enjoying himself and this comes across with ease.

Clara Schumann; Piano Trio, Fanny Mendelssohn, Piano Trio, String Quartet
The Nash Ensemble

Three works which prove to be highly contrasted. I particularly enjoyed Fanny Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio which is forthright, almost aggressive in its writing, and makes an immediate impact. If the Clara Schumann is more contemplative it is also lyrically uplifting. An impressive coupling.

Pergolesi: Stabat Mater
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset

This is an engaging disc with counter-tenor Christophe Rousset particularly impressive. In addition to the more familiar Stabat Mater we also have Nicola Porpora’s Salve Regina with Sandrine Piau as soloist and Leonardo Leo’s Beatus Vir.  A fine combination and all the more valuable for the rarer works.

DVDs/CDs April 2020 (1)

Handel: Messiah ed. Goossens / Beecham
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Jonathan Griffith
Those of us of a certain age can recall a time when most Messiah’s were far closer to this full orchestral sound than the original instrument versions we have come to expect more recently. There really is a great deal to enjoy here particularly if you are prepared to indulge in the romanticised approach. The purists may not like it but I certainly did and the solo singing – minus any hint of ornamentation – is delightful, and tempi under Jonathan Griffith keep the pace moving smoothly. A welcome addition to the many recordings currently available – just sit back and enjoy the trombones and cymbal crashes.
Handel: works for viola da gamba and harpsichord
Ibrahim Aziz, viola da gamba; Masumi Yamamoto, harpsichord
FHR 91
This is not quite what it seems as much of the disc is given over to solo works for either gamba or harpsichord and two of the works are only attributed to Handel. That said most of the music here will be unfamiliar to all but the real enthusiast and therefore all the more welcome in expanding our knowledge of chamber music from Handel.
Cole Porter; A Celebration
Juliane Banse, soprano; Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Dorian Wilson
SWR 19091CD
A strange mixture here but quite entertaining. Concert overtures are mixed with songs from Julianne Banse. Her voice is not an obvious one for musicals, seeming at times to be over-operatic but the music itself comes over with style and panache.
Rachmaninoff: Complete works for piano duo
Genova and Dimitrov Piano Duo
CPO 555 326-2
This recording mixes works specifically for piano duo with arrangements by the composer of more familiar works for two pianos. The cd opens with the Prelude in C sharp minor and the second concludes with the Symphonic Dances Op45. But as is so often the case, it is the lesser known works which prove to be equally engaging, even the brief Romance in G or the Polka Italienne.
Sullivan: Haddon Hall, Cellier: Captain Billy, Ford: Mr Jericho
BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Singers, John Andrews
There was a time when the only way of hearing very rare works was thanks to the BBC and here we certainly have some rarities. While the G&S canon is over-familiar I doubt there will be many who know Sullivan’s Haddon Hall, written in 1892 to a libretto by Sydney Grundy. But preceding this is Mr Jericho by Ernest Ford and you could be forgiven for thinking this is also by Sullivan, so similar is the style and melodic structure. This, and Francois Cellier’s Captain Billy, was written as a short curtain raiser, like Sullivan’s own Cox and Box. The booklet notes that these are world premiere recordings of the Cellier and Ford, and the first professional recording of Haddon Hall. It is certainly good to have them.
Rachmaninoff: Victor Talking Machine Company Recordings
Sergei Rachmaninoff, piano – recorded 1922-24
NAXOS 8.111413
There are some fascinating items here. Not only do we hear the composer playing his own scores but can witness his approach to others, notably Chopin and Tchaikovsky. The recording also includes the second piano concerto, with two attempts at the first movement! Fascinating. My only slight caveat, as one who has a player piano, is that Rachmaninoff sounds far better playing on our piano than he does on 78s!

Schumann: Cello Concerto, Alfredo Piatti, Cello Concerto No2, Concertino for cello and orchestra
Josephine Knight, cello, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Martin Yates
Although slightly younger than Schumann, Piatti lived into the twentieth century, though the two works here are firmly within the mid-nineteenth century romantic school. I particularly enjoyed the Concertino written in the early 1860s and here receiving its world premiere recording. The Schumann may seem more familiar but this is the original version, again recorded for the first time, and as such a welcome addition to the otherwise large number of recordings of the familiar version. A strong performance throughout from soloist and orchestra.


CDs/DVDs March 2020 2

Fandango: music for solo guitar and string quartet
Johan Lofving, guitar; Consone Quartet

Most of this recording is given over to solo pieces from the late eighteenth / early nineteenth century with the addition of Boccherini’s unusual but appealing quintet. The recording demonstrates the range of guitar music at a time when it was popular as a classical instrument.

J S Bach: Orgelbuchlein
Stephen Farr, Trost organ, Waltershausen

The Trost organ dates from 1730 and is huge. While there is much to enjoy in the range of approach which Stephen Farr brings to the Orgelbuchlein I cannot help feeling that the works really sit more comfortably on a much smaller instrument. There is often an intimacy in the writing which is lost in the vast spaces of enormous church buildings. However this is highly subjective and I accept that there will be many very happy with both the sound produced and the quality of the playing.

Mahler: Symphony No 6
Essener Philharmoniker, Tomas Netopil

I found Tomas Netopil’s approach too introspective in the opening movement – a lack of fire where it normally overwhelms – but the slow movement works very well and the playing is splendid throughout. If you want a different approach, this may appeal.

Janacek: From the House of the Dead
Bavarian State Opera, Simone Young

While musically impressive this is somewhat difficult to follow on a tv screen. The production uses video clips and it is not always clear to what extent what we are watching is current, in the mind of the singer or a comment on the action. Not being able to see all the stage, which we would in the theatre, we can’t choose what to focus on. This said, the musical side is impressive with Peter Rose outstanding as Gorjancikov, but supported by a fine cast of singers who can act with intelligence.

Ferruccio Busoni: Violin Sonatas
Ingolf Turban, violin, Ilja Scheps, piano
CPO 555 213-2

I found this pleasant but not really engaging. The sort of pieces one might encounter at a lunchtime recital in an arts festival but unlikely to be something one returns to regularly. Useful to add to a larger collection.

Brahms: Songs of Loss and Betrayal
Simon Wallfisch, baritone; Edward Rushton, piano

These are highly personal pieces from Brahms, bringing an intimacy and intensity meant for almost domestic enjoyment, even when the text is challenging. The cd includes Lieder und Gesange von G F Daumer Op57; Funf Lieder Op105; Funf Lieder Op94 and Lieder und Gesange Op32.

Verdi; Nabucco
Teatro Regio di Parma, Francesco Ivan Ciampa

The approach is unconventional – seemingly set on board a vast container ship – but the modern costumes and sense of servitude is very well presented, and given the excellent singing throughout it is actually very moving despite any potential reservations about the setting. If you get a chance look at Va pensiero which is superb in its simplicity.

CDs/DVDs March 2020 – 1

J S Bach: Well-tempered Clavier Book II
Andras Schiff, piano
NAXOS 2.110654

This is the second half of the full recording from the 2018 Prom concerts and is as magnificent as the first. There is little to add at this point, but if you missed the live event, or the TV coverage, this is a must. No more to say!

Schumann: Symphonies 1 & 4 arranged for piano duet
Eckerle Piano Duo
NAXOS 8.572881

There seems to be a growing number of recordings of arrangements of large orchestral works and most of them, like this, are very pleasing. What we may miss from the warmth and range of the orchestral sound we gain in terms of clarity and intimacy, with frequent surprises of internal musical lines we had never noticed before but which are very obviously there in the original scores. Recalling that it was through piano arrangements in the nineteenth century that most music lovers first encountered larger orchestral works we are here experiencing what they did.

The Unknown Debussy
Nicolas Horvath, piano

There are some interesting pieces on this disc. I was especially drawn to the items from Le Martyre de San Sebastien and A Night in the House of Usher – the latter from his unfinished opera. There is also a complete reworking of No-ja-li and an early version of The Girl with the flaxen hair. All well worth hearing and here splendidly performed by Nicolas Horvath.

Giles Swayne: Stations of the Cross
Simon Nieminski, organ of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh

I was fortunate enough to be present at the inauguration of Matthew Copley’s new organ in St Mary’s Cathedral back in 2007 and it is very good to hear it here with such an important contemporary work recorded complete. Giles Swayne wrote his Stations of the Cross between 2004 and 2005. It is a demanding work, requiring keen concentration from both performer and listener but certainly repays the effort. The pain and reality of the events leading up to and during the crucifixion are conveyed in graphic detail, with only the thirteenth station when Jesus body is given to his mother showing any sign of acceptance. The final section is constructed as a full scale Prelude and Fugue, on a Bach like model but always clearly within the style and integrity of the earlier, freer movements. Matthew Copley’s organ responds admirably to the demands of the score which is played with great sensitivity by Simon Nieminski, until recently resident organist in the cathedral.

Treffpunkt Jazz
Dizzy Gillespie Quintet

These are live recordings made in Stuttgart and Frankfurt, in November 1961 and are as fresh and lively as if they were recorded yesterday. They range from a brash The Mooche to the gently reflective Willow weep for me with its lovely flute solo. The audiences are obviously relishing the occasions and this carries over with ease.

Josef Suk: Asrael Symphonie
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Jakub Hrusa

It is surprising that Suk is still so little known in Britain. Those of us who admire his work and see its importance, standing as it does between Dvorak and Martinu, will surely welcome this fine new recording of one of his major works – The Asrael Symphony. The orchestration is masterly and the composer’s control of structure over more than an hour of development is equally pleasing. If you don’t know the work or a wider range of Suk’s compositions, this is a good place to start.

Schumann: Piano Trios Vol 1
Kingsbacka Piano Trio
BIS 2437

Vol 1 implies this will be the start of a new series and very welcome it is. The cd includes the first and second Piano Trios plus the Fantasiestucke Op88. The works have an intimacy which reflects the first years of married life for the Schumanns, and hark back to an earlier musical era – the notes suggest Haydn rather than Schubert. Warmly recommended.

Beethoven: Violin concerto & romances
Lena Neudauer, violin, Cappella Aqileia, Marcus Bosch
CPO 777 559-2

What I enjoyed about this was the lightness of touch and sense of intimacy. Using smaller forces there is an immediacy which seems to spill over from the romances into the concerto itself which is far less bombastic than is often the case.

CDs/DVDs February 2020 (2)

Sonoro, Michael Higgins, organ, Neil Ferris, conductor
RESONUS RES10251 70’29

This is a beautiful CD collecting a range of sacred choral music by this former Kings College, Cambridge Choral Scholar who has been active in a range of vocal musical activity for many years. Texts range from the Song of the Nuns of Chester and Robert Southwell’s The Burning Babe to Jesu, pro me perforates (a Latin translation of Toplady’s Rock of Ages) and Oscar Wilde’s version of Ave Maria. As with previous recordings from Sonoro sound quality and expression is superb.


The Choir of HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace
Rufus Frowde, organ, Carl Jackson, conductor
RESONUS RES10253 74’25

This collection sensitively presents a lovely selection of music by this former Gentleman of the Chapel Royal and Composer of the King’s Musick in an appropriate setting by a very appropriate choir. Alongside two sets of Preces & Responses and Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis there are verse-anthems, four part psalms and organ pieces.


Cinquecento Rennaisance Vokal
HYPERION CDA68284  72’11

This music has been with us for a long time and yet here it comes fresh out of the speakers. From Palestrina’s prolific and masterful work here are settings for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.


Yale Schola Cantorum and instrumentalists, David Hill, conductor
HYPERION CDA68315 71’13

The text of the accompanying booklet describes the working situation of Schutz as in some ways similar to that of JS Bach a century later. Alongside what is probably his most enduring and celebrated work there are also here shorter German and Latin Christmas settings including a (not just for Christmas!) Ave Maria and Magnificat.


Hanna Herfurtner, sop, Franziska Gottwald, alto, Georg Poplutz, tenor, Mauro Borgioni, bass
Kolner Akademie, Michael Alexander Willens
CPO 555 278-2 66’13

It is interesting that this repertoire follows on chronologically with the Protestant German repertoire of the CD above. This music is far less familiar by far and it is good to see this material presented in this way. A good addition to the recorded Christmas repertoire.


Michael Belotti, organ of St Walpurgis, Grossengottern
Christian Schmidt, organs of Klosterkirche, Rheinau & St Cyriakus, Duderstadt
James David Christie, organ of Crucis-Kirche, Erfut
CPO 777 558-2 (3 SACD) 189’34

This latest volume of the thorough exploration of the complete keyboard music of Pachelbel concentrates on liturgical organ music. The works here are divided over three disks each with a different organist and organ(s) and dividing them into works derived from Passion hymns, Psalms and Chorale partitas. Each historic organ is chosen to be appropriate to the particular material and the organists are clearly at home with their repertoire and setting. These discs can be played on a standard CD but are also in SACD format.

Simonetta Heger, harpsichord (Mascheroni, after Christian Vater, Hannover 1720)
DYNAMIC CDS7841 62’36

There seems to be a resurgence of interest in harpsichord music of late with many recordings of works only available in manuscript or in obscure printed editions being brought to the fore. As with many early keyboard composers there is much to entrance the ear in terms of tonality and rhythm as well as often virtuosic technique. Simonetta Heger does a good job here to introduce us to these 18 sonatas from a prolific but less remembered composer.


Ippolitov-Ivanov Piano Quartet
Naxos 8.574073  66’49

This was a very surprising disk. I was immediately drawn into this music so satisfyingly played by the Quartet. The Latvian & Lithuanian composers were both unknown to me. All the music dates from the turn of the last century. Peteris Vasks’ Piano Quartet (2001) balances beautifully the three separate descriptive pieces by Arvydas Malcys Blackthorn Eyes (1999-2004), Hyacinth of the Snowfields (2012) and Milky Way (2002-12) which arranged together here have the effect of another piano quartet.


Neave Trio
CHANDOS CHAN 20139 72’04

Three piano trios, chronologically sequenced, each composed by a female composer, whose names we thankfully now know and respect. Excellent music,  which deserves to be better known, expertly played. Whilst continuing to welcome such releases let us all hope and work for the time when it is no longer necessary to programme a CD by the gender of the composers in order to right a wrong that still persists.


Dame Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano, James Platt, bass
BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
CHANDOS CHSA 5242 76’58

Here are three contrasting works of Bliss’ later years. The two vocal pieces set Greek pastoral poetry and words from St John’s Gospel. The theme in question is Psalm 23, The Lord is my Shepherd. The programming of these three pieces makes for a satisfying experience, highlighting the inventiveness and flexibility of Bliss, still an underappreciated composer.





CDs/DVDs February 2020 (1)

Handel: Almira
Boston Early Music Festival
CPO 555 205-2

Lovely as this is I was surprised by just how long it is. This is presumably complete and runs to just over four hours. It is Handel’s earliest opera, dating from 1703, and while it reflects the style of earlier composers in Halle there is plenty of evidence here of the masterpieces which were to follow. A useful, and musically very satisfying, addition to the many versions of Handel operas now available.


The Early Horn
Ursula Paludan Monberg, horn; Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen

It is difficult at times to realise that the ability to play the natural horn is comparatively recent, compared with the normal valve instrument. I recall the first performance of the Basil Lamb edition of Messiah at the BBC studios where the trumpeter using a natural trumpet had to take breaks between sections as he had never played the instrument before. Today, with so many original instrument ensembles, it is easy to forget how fortunate we are. This new recording focuses on eighteenth century works for horn moving through Mozart and Haydn to works by Graun, Telemann and two anonymous pieces. All highly entertaining and engaging.


Beethoven: complete works for Cello and Piano
Robin Michael, cello; Daniel Tong, piano

Alongside the five sonatas are the three sets of variations, two drawn from Die Zauberflote and one from Judas Maccabeus. I found these more engaging though the range of the sonatas takes us from his very early years to the time his hearing was all but gone. The recording here is with original instruments making was both a warmer cello sound and more incisive early piano.


20th Century Foxtrots from Austria and Czechia
Gottlieb Wallisch, piano

This is a delight throughout and I particularly enjoyed Krauss-Elka’s dance version of themes from Tannhauser and the final excerpt from Schulhoff’s Groteske. That said the whole disc is thoroughly entertaining and uplifting.


Beethoven: Septet & Clarinet Trio
Berkeley Ensemble

The trio is the unusual piece here and the one which may attract particular attention. The unusual combination of clarinet, cello and piano dates from 1798 when the composer was well established in Vienna. The more familiar Septet is given a fine reading with great clarity throughout.


Bach: St Matthew Passion
Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki
BIS 2500

There is a great deal to enjoy here and the quality of musicianship is not in doubt but I feel that the whole does not hang together as well as the individual parts. Solo singing is excellent but the approach often seems over-precious, particularly where tempi are concerned. I wish there was a greater sense of emotional involvement with the score, one which would engage the listener rather than pointing up the magnificence of the writing at the expense of the narrative.


Malipiero: Symphony No6; Ritrovari; Serenata mattutina; Cinq studi
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana, Damian Iorio
NAXOS 8.574173

I have to admit that this is the first CD of Malipiero’s works I have come across and it is certainly engaging. The sixth symphony dates from 1947 and is easy to access on a first hearing even if unconventional in style. The Ritrovari are more complex as is the Seranata but the studies and short and engaging. Worth investigating.


Leoncavallo: I Pagliacci
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Valerio Galli

Oh dear. I hope this production worked better in the theatre than it does on DVD. The set is very messy and it is difficult to get any sense of place or atmosphere as a result of regular lighting changes and odd pieces of scaffolding which move around of their own volition. Some of the singing is good, with Angelo Villari’s Canio forceful and convincing, but the overlarge chorus, with an equally large number of children, often seem out of their depth and left to their own devices. As such there is no real sense of direction or purpose. A pity; it has the makings of a strong approach but needs somebody to knock it into shape.


Rossini: La Cenerentola
Teatro Opera of Rome, Alejo Perez
MAJOR 752408

This is fun. Don’t look too closely or ask why the chorus are all wind-up dolls, for the musical side is so strong and the characterisation so convincing that it carries you along with it. Alessandro Corbelli is superb as Don Magnifico and the young couple, Juan Francisco Gatell and Serena Malfi, make light weight of Rossini’s florid musical lines. Alejo Perez keeps his orchestra on their toes with a sparkling account of the score. What’s not to like?

CDs/DVDs January 2020 (2)

Bach: Well-tempered Clavier Book 1
Andras Schiff, piano
UNITEL 2.110653

Andras Schiff gave this concert as part of the BBC Proms in 2017. It is magnificent. His approach is reserved and precise, but never detached. He also sees the work as a whole, as if it has a logical structure throughout its nearly two hours of playing time. As such the concentration needed both from the performer and the audience is very demanding but worth the effort. Don’t dip in – listen to it straight through.

The Young Beethoven: Piano Quartets of 1785
Meret Luthi, violin; Sonoko Asabuki, viola; Alexandre Foster, cello; Leonardo Miucci, piano

It is difficult to accept that Beethoven was only 15 when he wrote these splendid works. While they lean on earlier models they constantly surprise by a new idea, a new unexpected twist. As such they are more than a match for later compositions and a delight to have here. The third quartet produces a melodic line which would eventually reappear in the Eroica!


Philip Glass: Violin Concerto No2; Violin Sonata
Piotr Plawner, violin, Gerardo Vila, piano, Berner Kammerorchester, Philippe Bach
NAXOS 8.559865

The second violin concerto is based loosely on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons though the composer refuses to label the movements so it is left to us to guess. The work is structured around four orchestrally based movements and four solo songs for violin. It is highly effective and unusually emotional for Glass. The sonata is more conventional but happily extrovert.


Brahms: Five Sonatas for Violin and Piano Vol2
Ulf Wallin, violin; Roland Pontinen, piano
BIS BIS 2419

This second volume includes the Sonata in E flat major Op 120 No2, Sonata No 2 in A major Op100 and Sonata No3 in D minor Op108. All are attractive works, sensitively played and recorded, of which I found Op100 the most immediate though this is very much a matter of personal taste as all three works have a gentle intimacy which is very winning.


Auber: Le Cheval de Bronze
Vienna Radio Orchestra, Kurt Richter
ORFEO C 986 192

This is an Austrian radio recording from 1953 which holds up remarkably well. The comic opera is best known (possibly only known these days) for its overture which does turn up in concert programmes. However the work itself is unlikely to be revived as it falls into the category of early 19th century Chinese fairy tale, with all the potential cultural problems attached. As a fantasy, the music is often charming if light-weight. Only Stella’s aria in the third act comes anywhere near Rossini for character and musical interest. A rarity and good to have available if its appeal may be limited.

CDs/DVDs January 2020 (1)

Verdi: Rigoletto
Bregenzer Festspiele, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Enrique Mazzola
UNITEL 751608

This is a distinctly marmite experience. Set on the lakeside at Bregenz, the set is a huge clown’s head (big enough that the jaw is used as a balcony) and two huge articulated hands on either side. The cast are mainly dressed as circus characters and behave as such. The music itself is splendid but I found that the action constantly failed to live up to the intensity of the narrative or of Verdi’s magnificent score. Stephen Costello is a fine Duke and Vladimir Stoyanov a strongly focussed Rigoletto though he lacks sympathy. As a one off it was interesting but I’m not sure I would be drawn back to it.


The Romantic Piano Concerto: 80
Howard Shelley, piano, Sinfonieorchester St Gallen.

Hyperion seems to have a bottomless barrel of splendid yet totally unknown works. Here is another pair which are instantly appealing. August Dupont’s Piano Concerto No3 in F minor is a richly impressive work, not as dark toned as one might imagine from the minor key and one I will certainly return to. Peter Benoit’s Symphonic poem for piano and orchestra may not have quite the impact but is a substantial work in its own right and certainly maintained my attention throughout. Howard Shelley is a totally committed soloist and conductor throughout.


Vaughan Williams; Symphonies 3 & 4; Saraband Helen
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins

New recordings of familiar, but none the less welcome, symphonies in exemplary versions. But the real gem is the new realisation of the Saraband Helen which dates from 1913-14 but remained unpublished. For those of us who regard the Serenade to Music as one of the finest things Vaughan Williams ever wrote, Helen comes as something of a revelation as it easily sits alongside the more familiar choral work. Helen is set for tenor solo – David Butt Philip – based on a short verse, which is lovingly supported and orchestrated. The cd is more than worth it just of this final piece.


Litolff: Piano Trios; Serenade for violin and piano
Leonore Piano Trio

Surprisingly this is the first recording of the second piano trio and the serenade. Though they may not be masterpieces when judged against the finest, they are striking and most approachable works, ideal I would have thought for a chamber music series where you want to slip in something just a little different but one you know is sure to please your audience. The Leonore Piano Trio bring vitality and commitment to their playing which is a pleasure throughout.


Del Signor Graun
Ludovice Ensemble

The two cds bring us six sonatas for flute and harpsichord by Carl Heinrich and Johann Gottlieb Graun writing in the mid eighteenth century. I wish I could be a little more enthusiastic but the pieces come across as worthy rather than exciting. There is certainly nothing wrong with the playing but the scores themselves lack the excitement one might need for a live performance.