CDs/DVDs November 2018 (1)

Wagner: Gotterdammerung
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden
NAXOS 8.660428-31

I was really looking forward to this last part of the Hong Kong Ring Cycle and was certainly not disappointed. It builds on all the strengths of the earlier operas to give us a challenging, stimulating and highly charged account of the work. If, as in the previous parts, it has been Jaap van Zweden’s conducting that has so impressed, the continued felicity of the orchestra and the wonderful enthusiasm they bring to the score is unsurpassed. When this is added to a dramatic presentation – the work was recorded during live performances – from a well-balanced cast it cannot fail.

Gun-Brit Barkmin creates a Brunnhilde with a wide emotional range and all of the presence to ride the orchestra in act two and in the Immolation scene. If Daniel Brenna does not have quite this sense of authority, his Siegfried is heroic and personable. Shenyang is an unexpectedly intelligent Gunther and Eric Halfvarson’s Hagen the finest I have heard since Gottlob Frick. All of the smaller parts are strongly cast and I have no hesitation in saying that, taken as a whole, this has to be the finest Ring Cycle currently available if anyone is looking for the first time – and even if, like many of us, you have a number of cycles already, you will not be disappointed.


Haydn: Die Schopfung
Accentus, Insula orchestra, Laurence Equilbey
NAXOS 2.110581

Many productions these days use video as part of the design but this is the first I can recall which is so wonderfully – often breathtakingly – effective. The chorus use tablets throughout which form part of the design work as well as providing their scores. The soloists are closely lit from tiny leds attached to their costumes, while the stage as a whole is bathed in a constantly evolving reflection of the score. The explosion of light, the creation of the stars and planets, the appearance of plants and animals are all visually explored. When Adam and Eve appear they do so out of the water and are flown above us to drip, as if just born, before they eventually touch the ground.

I rarely find that I am gripped by new DVDs, and few stagings of oratorio have been as effective as this.

In addition the musical impact is secure and the acoustic works well – it was staged in a concert hall rather than an opera house – despite the constant movement. If you have doubted the concept of staging oratorio this might just change your mind.


Belle Epoque
Ludmila Berlinskaya and Arthur Ancelle, piano

Music from the end of the nineteenth century by Chaminade, Koechlin, Aubert, Hahn and Debussy. Surprisingly the most modern sounds come from the final works by Debussy. For the rest we are awash in late romanticism, and none the worse for that. Reynaldo Hahn’s Le seul amour is intensely beautiful, but surrounded by equally compelling pieces. A lovely disc.


Kalman: Kaiserin Josephin
Lehar Festival Bad Ischl, Marious Burkert
CPO 555 136-2

This late work – premiered in Zurich in 1936 – is a throwback to the early glories of Lehar and Kalman, without any sense of what might have happened within the musical world, or politically, in the meantime. That it has a lot of good music cannot hide the fact that it feels out of place, despite being well presented and strongly sung. As with previous presentations from Bad Ischl it is given in full with the spoken dialogue though without a full text which is a little difficult for none German speakers. A worthy issue but not one in the top bracket if one had a choice.


Elgar: The Music Makers; The Spirit of England
Sarah Connolly, Andrew Staples, BBCSSO, Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis draws our attention to The Spirit of England as an unnecessarily underrated work, and so it proves to be. In the company of the more familiar The Music Makers it certainly holds its own. Perhaps it was the fact that it was used so often during WWII and for remembrance days that many came to associate it only with those occasions, and as we have come to reassess the whole approach to remembrance the work fell out of fashion. However, at this anniversary of the end of WWI the setting seems not only very moving but an appropriate reminder of the complicated emotions which remembering can raise.

Andrew Staples sings all the solo parts in The Spirit of England with a touching English heroism while Sarah Connolly brings a melancholic warmth to the Music Makers.  A fine and apt recording.


The Passinge Mesures
Mahan Esfahani, harpsichord

A lovely collection of pieces for English virginals by Bull, Byrd, Farnaby, Gibbons, Inglot and Tomkins. Some will be familiar, most less so, but the enjoyment lies in the quality of the playing and the enthusiasm Mahan Esfahani brings to each piece. I particularly enjoyed Byrd’s The ninth pavian and galliarde, the Passinge mesures which gives the cd its title – but all are worth exploring.


Bach: Sonatas for Viola da gamba & harpsichord
Jean Guillou, organ and Alexander Knyazev, cello

This is very much a marmite recording. Bach wrote for viola da gamba and harpsichord. Here the three sonatas – BWV 1027/28/29 – are arranged for organ and cello. Added to that, Jean Guillou always brings an idiosyncratic approach to registration which means that the balance and registration is strange rather than simply challenging. There are times when it works well, but more often than not I found it uncomfortable and off-putting. I could see and hear what they were trying to do but was not convinced by it. Others will no doubt be more enthusiastic.


Revive: Baroque arrangements for Saxophone Quartet
Ferio Saxophone Quartet

If the previous disc had been marmite this could come into the same category. Purists may complain but I find Iain Farrington’s arrangements of Bach, Handel, Purcell, Byrd and Corelli captivating and hugely enjoyable. In many ways they are far enough away from any original instrumentation that they can be enjoyed in their own right. Listen to their playing of Sheep may safely graze as an example of what is on offer. I suspect you may be surprised at how enjoyable it is.


Haydn: String Quartets Op64
The London Haydn Quartet

All six quartets from Op64 are recorded here and this is the sixth collection of Haydn quartets in what has already proved itself to be a superb set of recordings. The lightness of touch and sense of intimacy imbues the recordings with real humanity. Op64 No5 The Lark may be more familiar, but it is given a joyfully relaxed reading which communicates its humour as well as its wonderful musicality.


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