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.

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