CDs/DVDs October 2018

Handel: Xerxes
Frankfurter Opern, Constantinos Carydis
UNITEL 747908
Vivaldi: Orlando Furioso
I Barocchisti, Diego Fasolis

Linking these two recordings is not as strange as it may at first appear. The two operas, by two of the finest operatic composers of the early eighteenth century could hardly be more contrasted in their presentation, even if their musical qualities are equally satisfying. Tilmann Kohler stages his Xerxes in modern dress with a continuous use of whole stage projections to highlight details of the action. There are immediate parallels to modern dictatorships and oppressive regimes which are clearly intended and the audience is invited to consider and respond to them. By total contrast, Fabio Ceresa’s presentation of OrlandoFurioso for the 43rd Festival della Valle d’Itria is wildly over the top with its Baroque bling and large numbers of extras to pad out the on stage image. While the music is never up-staged there is always something to look at for the potentially bored festival goer. Much of the time this works well but there are moments when one wishes the work had, for all the excitement of the score, been taken rather more seriously to allow emotions to breath and develop. Vivaldi is as fine a dramatist as Handel in creating his characters through the straight-jacket of opera seria and – as Garsington Opera has shown us – has a great deal to offer.

Finzi: Cello Concerto etc
Paul Watkins cello; Louis Lortie piano; BBCSO, Sir Andrew Davis

Gerald Finzi constantly revised his works and it is therefore no surprise to find that all four works here were significantly revised over time, but are all here recorded in their final form. The works as presented all date from the early 1950s and it is no doubt that, had Finzi lived, he would have continued to work on them. I particularly enjoyed the Nocturne Op7 which has what I can only call an English introspection, drawing on Elgar but always its own voice.

Music for Brass Septet: 6
NAXOS 8.573825

An all English programme with works by Finzi, Elgar, Parry and Walton, all given in exuberant and challenging style by the brass septet. Elgar’s Serenade for Strings might not seem an obvious choice but works well alongside Parry’s Songs of Farewell and the second of Finzi’s Three Anthems.

Berlioz: Grande Messe des Morts
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus, Edward Gardner

Recorded live in the Grieghallen, Bergen, in May this year, this is a tremendous recording with all the extrovert panache and at times near-vulgarity of Berlioz epic score. Edward Gardner creates very tight rhythms and strong dynamic changes to highlight the intensity of the writing throughout. Tenor soloist Bror Magnus Todenes is equally strongly focussed in the only solo vocal part. Of course the great Tuba Mirum does not have quite the impact on cd as in the concert hall, but reminds us of the thrill the work actually creates live. Though there are many versions available this new one has to come very close to the top, and is enthusiastically recommended if you do not already have a copy in your library.

Parry: Symphony No4
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rumon Gamba

The centenary of Parry’s death has been marked in a number of ways across the country and this cd includes works not previously recorded or in new editions by Jeremy Dibble. We have the original version of the Fourth Symphony. The work was so substantially revised by the composer that it is effectively a different work from the one with which we are more familiar. Its dark, brooding passages come as something of a shock to those who expect a more lyrical feel from Parry. Proserpine certainly brings this – a ballet score from 1912 with all the lightness the title implies. The listener could be forgiven for thinking they were hearing Elgar in Parry’s Suite Moderne so gently lyrical and melancholic is the unfolding line. Let us hope some of these works are taken up in live performance.

Chopin Cello Sonata; Schubert Arpeggione Sonata
Steven Isserlis cello; Denes Varjon piano

A fine recording which surrounds some very familiar works with some brief but none the less exhilarating extras. Steven Isserlis includes his own arrangement of Schubert’s Nacht und Traume and Chopin’s Nie ma czego trzeba. Possibly more interesting is the lengthy note on the problems of the editions available and the approach taken here. For many listeners this will make little difference to their appreciation but when one is aware of what is being crafted, the impact is all the more telling.

Music for Windy Instruments
The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble

Sounds from the Court of James I is the subtitle to this recording and it is exactly that – a collection of 25 pieces of cheerfully entertaining music from the early seventeenth century. The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year and they continue to delight with their bright, virile playing the sense that this music is anything but historic recreation. Long may it continue!

Vaughan Williams; A Sea Symphony
BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Martyn Brabbins

For a work on such a scale it is surprising that this new release gives no indication of where or when it was recorded. Often these are taken from live performances, given the large number of musicians involved and the time and effort needed to prepare the event. Notwithstanding, this is a fine reading from Martyn Brabbins, ably supported by the BBC forces and soloists Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth. The cd also includes the brief Darest thounow, O soul – an unexpected addition but worth hearing.

Winter Fragments: Chamber Music by Michael Berkeley
Berkeley Ensemble

There are five works recorded here of which the Clarinet Quintet is the most substantial. However, for listeners who are not over-familiar with Berkeley’s work the Sonnet for Orpheus perhaps gives the best insight into his individuality. The intense emotional impact is coupled with an astringency of line which denies any hint of indulgence or sentimentality. It is both moving and disturbing. From this point, the other works seem easier to approach and to explore.

Mendelssohn; String Quartets
Doric String Quartet

This is the first of what will presumably be a complete recording of Mendelssohn’s string quartets and hopefully include the other pieces for quartet which surround the six completed works. This cd covers the full range of the works, opening with Op12 in E flat major, moving through Op44No3 in the same key, written nine years later, to the final Op80 in F minor which explodes with the tensions arising in the composer’s final year. The playing is dynamically impressive throughout, very much in keeping with earlier recordings for Hyperion. We can look forward to the rest of the series.

Ruth Gipps: Symphonies 2 & 4
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rumon Gamba

Ruth Gipps has been all but forgotten and her work both as a composer and conductor overlooked. This new cd goes some way to restoring her reputation with the inclusion not only of two symphonies but also the early Knight in Armour which first brought her to prominence when it was played at the Last Night of the Proms in 1940. While he style reflects that of her tutors – in particular Vaughan Williams and Gordon Jacob, there is a distinct sense of individuality which is very appealing.

As she was born in Bexhill, perhaps we could do something locally to highlight her creative career?



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