CDs/DVDs June 2020

Bach: Cello Suites
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
CMAJOR 754408

Yo-Y o Ma was performing live at night in the open air theatre of Herodes Atticus in Athens last summer. I love the cello suites. They sit alongside the Art of Fugue as the greatest of all musical creations – and I know that is sticking my neck out – but this glorious performance seems to justify my faith. He brings a lifetime of experience and sensitivity to the works, maintaining their intimacy even within this vast arena, and not a note is out of place. If you don’t know the suites well just listen to the third which is so full of life and joy. A recording to treasure.


Puccini: Turandot
Teatro Real, Madrid, Nicola Luisotti

I suspect that director Robert Wilson has a marmite effect on most of us. You either love his approach or find it totally incomprehensible. The costumes here may be oriental but the total lack of any humanity means that any emotional impact can only ever come from the score. Fortunately the singers are strong and the conducting excellent. But yet, but yet, the singers line up and face the audience across the front of the stage, drifting position occasionally, but refusing to make any human contact with anyone else on stage and never, ever, making eye-contact. At the end, once Calaf has revealed his name, he disappears and Turandot is left isolated downstage while the chorus emote in silhouette behind her. Needless to say Liu dies standing up and nobody comes anywhere near her when she is being forced to speak. It is all very odd.

Landi: La Morte d’Orfeo
Dutch National Opera, Les Talents Lyriques, Christophe Rousset
NAXOS  2.110661

Stefano Landi is not a name even regular opera buffs are likely to have encountered on the stage yet this work, dating from 1619, is certainly worthy to set alongside the more popular works of Monteverdi and Cavalli. The opera takes up the story of Orpheus from the point Monteverdi leaves it and follows the composer through his various trials before his grizzly death and translation into a demi-god. The modern dress production by Pierre Audi is visually impressive and flows with ease, using a small cast, many of whom play a number of different parts. The orchestration is wonderfully effective in the hands of Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset.

Beethoven: Ruins of Athens
Czech Philharmonic Choir of Bruno, Cappella Aquileia, Marcus Bosch
CPO 777 634-2

This is an unusual collection of Beethoven’s choral settings, with the full score and spoken dialogue for the Ruins of Athens, together with Calm sea and prosperous voyage and the even rarer Opferlied. This latter work had occupied the composer for many years having started on it in 1794 and revised it continually until 1825. A useful addition.

Schubert: String Quintet, String Trio
Aviv Quartet, Amit Peled, cello
NAXOS 8.573891

Where chamber music is concerned Schubert’s Quintet is as good as it gets and is here given a ravishingly beautiful recording. The Adagio is immaculate in its sensitivity and detail. A treasure!

Mahan Esfahani – harpsichord

Anyone who thinks of the harpsichord as relegated to early music or continuo really needs to engage with this new recording. Mahan Esfahani is a champion of contemporary writing for the instrument and the new cd has works by five modern composers, three of whom are still living. The works often include electronic tracks and effects as well as the demanding solo parts. It is challenging, certainly, but richly rewarding.

Dvorak: Symphony No 6
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Pietari Inkinen
SWR 19093CD

A fine recording of the symphony with the added bonus of three rare Dvorak overtures – Selma sedlak, Vanda and Hussiten. All of them worth a listen and beautifully crafted here.


William Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony
Ulysses Kay: Fantasy Variations; Umbrian Scene
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Arthur Fagen
NAXOS 8.559870

Dawson’s symphony was written in 1931 and first performed under Leopold Stokowski in 1934. It is a richly romantic work which was well received at the time but has since aroused far less interest. Of the two works here it is certainly the more interesting as Kay’s Fantasy sounds pleasant but conventional both in structure and tonal interest.


2ND Chopin Festival Hamburg 2019
Live recordings from last summer
NAXOS 8.579068

There are two ways of approaching this fine recording. Musically it covers a wide range of familiar Chopin pieces, all beautifully played, and the sense of a live event is very real. More importantly for those interested in what Chopin may have sounded like in his own, and subsequent, periods, the recording involves a wide range of historical instruments, as well as modern ones, to allow us to compare pieces alongside each other. It is highly impressive and one realises quickly just how much different a particular instrument makes to the impact of the piece. An unexpected delight on both levels.

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