CDs / DVDs January 2021 (1)

Weinberger: Fruhlingssturme
Komische Oper Berlin, Jordan de Souza

This is about as politically incorrect as one could hope to find today! The work was first performed in 1933 and concerns members of the Russian military headquarters in Chinese Manchuria. Needless to say in this Berlin production all the cast are German! The original production was closed down by the Nazis when the composer left for America. As with much operetta of the period there is a lot of dialogue and the score varies wildly from musical comedy (to say nothing of Hollywood style dance numbers) to operatic arias. It is certainly well sung and musically sound, though whether it has a place in the repertoire today is more questionable.


Stephan Elmas: Piano Concertos
Howard Shelley, piano, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Two concerti both in minor keys and both richly romantic. Elmas may have straddled the turn of the 20th century but his works are firmly embedded in the late nineteenth century romantic tradition of Schumann and Brahms. Worth investigating alongside the earlier 81 volumes!


John Adams: My Father knew Charles Ives; Harmonielehre
Nashville Symphony, Giancarlo Guerrero
NAXOS 8.559854

John Adams with a difference. Both of these works are an homage. My Father knew Charles Ives draws on Ives own techniques to create a suite which, while still obviously from Adams, includes the quirks and vulgarities which Ives relishes. Harmonielehre is an early work which explores a more romantic palette while maintaining a pulse of minimalism.


Schubert: Piano Trio No2; Arpeggione Sonata
Erich Hobarth, violin; Alexander Rudin Arpeggione / cello; Aapo Hakkinene, fortepiano
NAXOS 8.573884

How splendid to get the Arpeggione Sonata played on instruments for which it was written. There is a real sense of warm engagement throughout with the slightly ethereal sound of the arpeggione answering all of Schubert’s needs. The piano trio is equally engaging, making a most welcome release.


Beethoven: Leonore (1805)
Opera Lafayette, Ryan Brown
Beethoven: Fidelio (1806)
Vienna Philharmonic, Manfred Honeck
UNITEL 803304

Beethoven worked on his only opera for many years, honing it and refining its emotional impact. One of the simplest comparisons across these versions is the way the composer shortens, tightens the musical lines, removing anything that amounts to ornament for its own sake and concentrating on the dramatic impact. The Opera Lafayette production of the early Leonore by Oriol Tomas is blessedly uncomplicated, allowing the characterisation to blossom easily and for those of us who know the final version well, to note the differences.

It is very well sung by a young cast and intelligently staged.

The Vienna Fidelio is as far removed from this as one could dream. The setting is a vast double open staircase which fills the whole stage twisting above the heads of the cast like a roller coaster. It is very impressive but not particularly effective when the essence of the opera is about incarceration. As before, the singing is fine throughout and the conducting by Manfred Honeck excellently controlled and shaped.

Vienna had hoped – Beethoven’s anniversary year – to stage all three versions of Fidelio but because of the pandemic only this 1806 version was eventually filmed. Good to have it but it would have been so much better to have had all three!


Elgar: From the Bavarian Highlands
Bavarian Radio Choir, Howard Arman

These bring back happy memories as I learned a number of these songs when I first went to grammar school and sang in the school choir. Happily here they are sung in English and are beautifully phrased and crafted. There are a few lesser known works in the collection but I particularly enjoyed the final two – Weary Wind of the West and The Prince of Sleep.


Sousa: Music for Wind Band 20
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Wind Orchestra, Keith Brion
NAXOS 8.559850

This is a wonderful series and this latest release brings us a range of Sousa’s own arrangements of popular music specifically for his own band. It draws on music hall songs as well as arrangements from El Capitan and Good-Bye. The musicians are obviously enjoying themselves playing it and this communicates with ease.


Salieri: Armida
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset

Salieri has had a bad press ever since Amadeus which is a pity as he was a fine composer in his own right. This new recording of his 1771 opera not only contains a great deal of very fine music but demonstrates the composer’s stylistic movement. If the opening act is distinctly Gluck-like in its rather formal, if beautifully moulded, melodic lines, the second act has a far more relaxed Mozartian feel. Though it is a long work it is well worth indulging in its extensive creativity, and Les Talons Lyriques have done another great job in bringing it to our attention.


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