CDs / DVDs / Blue-ray September 2020

Puccini: Suor Angelica
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Valerio Galli
DYNAMIC 57873 Blue-ray

This the third part of last year’s Florence production by Denis Krief, and certainly lives up to the promise of the splendid Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi. Unfortunately the opening is not very impressive. Though the stark setting works well, the large number of nuns, many of them not seeming to know what to do, look more like a G&S chorus than the sheltered but secretive body the music implies. However, once the narrative gets going it picks up very quickly. Maria Jose Siri is a totally convincing Angelica, a mixture of naivety and inner strength. Her scene with the icily vicious princess, wonderfully sung by Anna Maria Chiuri, is uncomfortably convincing. Left alone, Angelica is devastated by the news of the loss of her son, but realises, as he is in heaven so could she be. Her suicide quickly follows and for a moment she is torn by doubt that this might be a mortal sin but the final scenes seals this wonderfully. Where the ending can too often seem sentimental, here as she lies dying, a seven year old boy appears, unsmiling, but holding out his hand to her. She reaches out and the opera end. It is so simple yet so effective.

Juan Diego Florez: Mozart
Orchestra La Scintilla, Riccardo Minasi
C MAJOR 754904 Blue-ray

Juan Diego Florez gave this concert in the Cuvillies Theatre in Munich where the intimacy of the venue makes it seem like a concert for friends. Casually dressed, he needless to say sings an all Mozart programme magnificently. All the expected favourites are there, and the orchestra La Scintilla under Riccardo Minasi, playing original instruments, add a number of overtures to break up the arias. In most cases arias follow logically from the overture. The oddity is Figaro until one recalls there is not major tenor aria in Figaro. A highly enjoyable and often quite light-hearted occasion.


Henze:  Der Prinz von Homburg
Stuttgart Opera, Cornelius Meister
NAXOS NBD0115V Blue-ray

This 2019 production from Stuttgart, by Stephan Kimmig is in modern dress and uncomfortably relevant. With the rise of so many far-right groups, and the sense that law is something that can too easily be ignored if you have the power to do so, the parallels sit uncomfortably. That ostensibly it has a happy ending does not help the listener to reconcile himself with the reality of the world reflected in the opera as a whole. Cornelius Meister handles the large number of moods and changes of style in Henze’s score with skill and the large cast impress with their obvious understanding of a work which is rarely staged.

Beethoven: Variations
Angela Hewitt, piano

Is there anything Angela Hewitt can’t do? This is a fine collection of seven sets of variations by Beethoven ranging from the familiar sets on God save the King and Rule Britannia to Quant’e piu bello and Nel cor piu non mi sento neither of which I knew. If the more extended variations on Eroica form the heart of collections there is nothing either side to suggest the other works are lesser pieces.

Cesti: La Dori
Academia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone
CPO 555 309-2

Cesti’s opera La Dori was a huge success when first staged in 1657, and had been seen in over 30 productions by 1689. Cesti’s innovation to the art form was the introduction and gradual shaping of the aria. Where most early operas relied on recitative or arioso, Cesti introduces arias which we would recognise as such today. While historically interesting, does it make this 2019 staging worth listening to? Yes certainly, particularly if you are familiar with Monteverdi and Cavalli to give you a starting point. If nothing else the score is engaging throughout.

Emilie Mayer: Symphonies 1 & 2
NDR Radiophilharmonie, Leo McFall
CPO 555 293-2

I knew nothing about Emilie Mayer before I listened to this new recording of her first two symphonies and was really delighted by them. While certainly late romantic there is no obvious comparison with other composers of the period. I must admit to indulging in their warmth and the sense that this is a genuine and quite distinctive voice yet firmly within the romantic framework which is so familiar. If, like me, you know nothing of her, then do give this a try.

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier – Vol2
Steven Devine, harpsichord

One of the troubles with Bach is that it is almost impossible to make a bad recording. Occasionally artists turn out dull performances but even this is rare. Steven Devine’s new recording of the second part of the Wohltemperierte Klavier is certainly as impressive as his finely crafted and often technically suave first set, and beyond that it is difficult to know what to add. My only real problem, these days, is that I have quite a large number of fine recordings of the Wohltemperierte Klavier  and I never know which to choose!

Niels Gade: Chamber Works Vol5
Ensemble MidtVest
CPO 555 199-2

This latest collection includes the Fantasy Pieces Op 43 for clarinet and piano, the string quartet Op63 in D major and the string quintet Op8 in E minor. The Fantasy Pieces date from 1864 and are elegantly effective. The often revised Quartet Op63 is a more substantial work whereas the earlier Op8, dating from the composer’s time in Leipzig, shows the continuing influence on him of national romanticism.

J S Bach:
Cello Suites – arranged for solo piano
Eleonor Bindman, piano
Cello Suites –vol2 – arranged for guitar
Jeffrey McFadden, guitar
NAXOS 8.573626

There is certainly an interesting comparison here. I had thoroughly enjoyed Jeffrey McFadden’s own arrangements of the first three suites and these are certainly as good. Knowing the originals very well and having quite a number of different versions, these  arrangements for guitar seem to move away very little from the heart of the originals. I can listen with as much ease as I do to them and every so often pick up a nuance which I had missed when heard on the cello.

Eleonor Bindman’s arrangements for piano are very different. One is immediately aware that there is little connection between the sound world of the cello (which the intimacy of the guitar can match) and that of the piano. While there is nothing obviously wrong with transcribing for the piano, the outcome is of an entirely different oral world which either appeals or does not. Much as I appreciate the skill of the performance this is not how I prefer to listen to the Cello Suites. I am sure others will disagree. I underlying reality is that Bach’s genius is never compromised.


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