CDs/DVDs August 2020

Puccini: Gianni Schicchi
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
DYNAMIC 57874  Blue-ray

I have to state that we have just bought a Blue-ray player for the first time and I am staggered how much difference it makes both in HD picture quality and sound. This production comes from Florence last summer and is hard driven and totally convincing throughout. There is nothing sentimental about Francesca Longari’s Lauretta or her approach to O mio babbino caro  while Dave Monaco’s praise of Florence is spine-tingling. Bruno de Simone is a Gianni Schicchi of the old school, beautifully sung and hard as nails, which works superbly. I can’t recommend this too highly.


Dvorak: Rusalka
Glyndebourne Festival Opera

We saw Rusalka at Glyndebourne when it first opened and loved it. While it is certainly a magical production there is a nasty, destructive edge just below the surface. Melly Still manages to balance the very real fantasy of swimming mermaids, complete with prehensile tails, with the darker side of fairy life. Sally Matthews is a convincing Rusalka who ultimately loses everything, while her prince Evan Leroy Johnson, has no power against the evil swirling around him. Key to this is Patricia Bardon’s knife toting Jezibaba. Robin Ticciati manages equally to tread the fine line between a score which can seem romantically over-indulgent and the darker recesses of the sub-conscience. Good to have this available.

Handel/Mozart: Der Messias
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski
Staged by Robert Wilson
UNITEL 803408

Once I have reminded myself that this is a Robert Wilson staging, everything slots into place. His totally idiosyncratic approach either works magnificently or it sends you screaming and running out of the room. I really enjoyed the Butterfly and Aida but hated the Turandot. But if he was waiting for the one work which would crown his brilliance so far this Messias is it. Staged using the Mozart version of Handel’s score, the music comes across swiftly and intelligently from all concerned. What is unexpected is the approach to the text. The work is sung in German, but the visual impact sweeps away any hints of Judeo-Christian spirituality  – or worse, the sort of sentimental religiosity of far too many Messiah’s I have sat through.

Image after image is breathtakingly beautiful, but please don’t ask questions. Why is the little girl dancing, why is the old man in fits of giggles, why is the tenor solo an aging song-and-dance man who winks at the audience when he leaves the stage? I have no idea – I only know it works.

Elena Tsallagova’s radiant singing of I know that my Redeemer Liveth is done from a gondola which slowly traverses the stage as she sings. There are many wonderful, mesmeric moments throughout the whole.

I was not expecting this and can’t recommend it too highly.

Donizetti: Don Pasquale
Wiener Staatsoper on tour, Hector Urbon
NAXOS 2.110659

In 1977 the Vienna State Opera took its company on tour. This charming production of Don Pasquale is sung in German and was recorded in the Volkshaus,  Murzzuschlag. It is a very small house compared with the main Opera in Vienna, but ideal for the intimacy of Donizetti’s comedy which comes across with crisp attention to details and much beautiful singing. Given that it is almost half a century old the quality of the recording is exceptionally impressive and needs no apologies.

Vaughan Williams: Symphony No 5
Finzi: Clarinet Concerto
Michael Collins, clarinet & conductor, Philharmonia Orchestra
BIS 2367

A wonderful combination of works which sit perfectly alongside each other. With Michael Collins both conductor and soloist in the Finzi Concerto there is a cohesion between the works which may be obvious intellectually but rarely comes across with such musical finesse. The symphony is superbly paced and the tone never really grows above the intimate, leading to the darker passages of concerto which are allowed to flower and work their poignant magic. Highly recommended.

Brahms; Cello Sonatas
Daniel Muller-Schott, cello; Francesco Piemontesi, piano
ORFEO C979201

There are three sonatas recorded here No1 in E minor Op38; D major sonata Op 78 and No2 in F major Op99. While enjoyable, these are highly serious works and need to be approached with a strong sense of their often hidden depths and beauties. Worth exploring and taking time to get to know.


Operatic Transcriptions
Marc-Andre Hamelin, piano

This is a highly entertaining collection of works – some by Liszt very familiar – but others by Sigismond Thalberg far less so. His Grande fantaisie sur des motifs to Don Pasquale is particularly appealing, with the melodies clearly recognisable, while the Fantaisie sur des themes de Moise is only unfamiliar because the opera itself is so rarely performed. Warmly recommended.

Busoni; Works for two pianos
Aldo Ciccolini, Aldo Orvieto and Marco Rapetti, pianos
NAXOS 8.574086

Busoni wrote a significant number of works for two pianos. They include arrangements of larger scale works by Mozart and  Schumann, with works by himself which often rely heavily stylistically on Bach.


Silvius Leopold Weiss; Works for Lute
Arranged for guitar Danijel Cerovic
NAXOS 8.574068

A delight; early lute music meticulously and lovingly arranged for guitar seemingly without any loss in the innate musicianship of the original. Mood changes impress by their subtlety and inner charm rather than any attempt to impress.


Oscar Straus: Piano Concerto
Oliver Triendi, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie, Ernst Theis
CPO 555 280-2

An odd coupling. The piano concert is conventional and to be honest very dull. The rest of the recording is exactly what one might expect of the composer of the Chocolate Soldier! The waltzes are charming but the Serenade has an unexpected beauty and lyricism which I really enjoyed.


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