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Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Barry Forshaw’s pick of the latest classical CD releases
NIELSEN: SYMPHONIES NO. 4 (‘INEXTINGUISHABLE’) & 5
London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis/LSO Live
Those of us (such as this reviewer) lucky enough to have been present at Colin Davis’ ongoing cycle with the LSO of the complete the symphonic works of Carl Nielsen at London’s Barbican have been impatient for this first SACD issue in the series. Both performances have the white hot intensity and total understanding of the music that is the signal characteristic of Davis in this glorious Indian summer of his career. The reading of the Inextinguishable is on a par with great performances of the past (such as the legendary recording by Herbert Von Karajan), but leaves its predecessors behind in the astonishingly dynamic surround sound recording it is accorded here. The dynamic Fifth is almost equally distinguished, and the recording here captures the intense excitement of the occasion. If the side drummer does not attempt to follow the composer’s instruction and actually ‘halt the progress of the orchestra’ (only the side drummers on the classic recordings by Horenstein and Jarvi have really followed that particular direction to its most determined level), most listeners will find that the cataclysmic sound produced here goes some considerable way to do justice to Nielsen’s directions. And if the previous encomiums aren’t enough to persuade you to go out and buy the disc, here is one more: somebody has finally persuaded the great conductor to (largely speaking) play down the noisy gasps, grunts and other unwelcome obbligati that have disfigured many of Davis’s recent (otherwise musically impeccable recordings). The final effect of listening to this disc is to instil keen anticipation for the forthcoming Davis Nielsen concerts -- and the subsequent LSO Live discs.
BRIAN SYMPHONIES NOS. 17 AND 32/IN MEMORIAM, etc.
RTE National Symphony Orchestra, Adrian Leaper/Naxos
More from the reissue programme of the Marco Polo recordings of the symphonies of Havergal Brian; the earlier disc of the massive Gothic was much heralded. This new CD sports the remarkable Symphony No. 17 (1960-61) and Brian’s final work, the dramatic Symphony No. 32 (1968, composed when Brian was 92). It’s a disc to shore up the passionate advocacy of Brian’s admirers – and they’re certainly a particularly passionate group.
EXOTIC DANCES FROM THE OPERA
Minnesota Orchestra/Eiji Oue/Reference Recordings
Reference Recordings’ new commitment to the SACD medium has borne impressive fruit with their award-winning issue Britten’s Orchestra, which has deservedly gleaned many plaudits. This rejigging of one of their earlier triumphs in newly minted SACD sound may not enjoy the same attention, but it is full of glorious and entertaining music from such composers as Richard Strauss, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov (along with some lesser-known names), and comes up as fresh as paint in the surround sound medium. One hopes that the company can be persuaded to do the same splendid revivifying work on their classic recordings of Respighi’s Belkis and Copland’s Third Symphony.
JÄRNEFELT: ORCHESTRAL WORKS: SYMPHONIC FANTASY/ SUITE IN E FLAT/SERENADE ETC.
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Jaakko Kuusisto (conductor & solo violin)/BIS
In the kind of exemplary sound stage that we have come to expect from BIS, here is some engaging and attractive music that makes for a beguiling package. No undiscovered masterpieces here, but civilised and elegantly orchestrated work from a composer who deserves more attention. Composed in Paris in 1893, Järnefelt’s Serenade boasts a French influence – notably that of his teacher Massenet. The real find here, though, is the Symphonic Fantasy, composed after a life-changing trip to Bayreuth, with pronounced Wagnerian fingerprints.
WELLESZ: WORKS FOR CHAMBER ORCHESTRA: PERSISCHES BALLETT/FOUR SONGS OF RETURN
Ensemble Kontrapunkte, Peter Keuschnig/Christine Whittlesey (soprano), Adrian Eröd (baritone)/Josef Hell (violin)/CPO
Some cherishable world premiere recordings here. On this intriguing new recording Wellesz’s earlier music (from the interwar period) is impressively characterised, with the one-act Persian Ballet from the 1920s a particular find.
MOZART: VIOLIN CONCERTOS/SINFONIA CONCERTANTE
Australian Chamber Orchestra/Richard Tognetti (violin/leader), Christopher Moore (viola)/BIS
The Australian Chamber Orchestra and their leader (and soloist) Richard Tognetti produce exhilarating results in this first of two discs on BIS of Mozart’s violin concertos. The fact that the strings have an unusual timbre (both soloist and orchestra utilise gut strings) produces exhilarating results, while the wind players use replicas of instruments from Mozart’s time.
GREGSON: CONCERTOS VOL. 3: TROMBONE CONCERTO/ CELLO CONCERTO/MUSIC FOR CHAMBER ORCHESTRA, ETC.
BBC Concert Orchestra/ Bramwell Tovey/Guy Johnston (cello)/Peter Moore (trombone)/Chandos
Gregson is something of a UK treasure; his approachable music now enjoys worldwide currency, and this third volume in the composer’s series of concerto recordings for Chandos is another attractive collection. A key piece on this disc is the Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra, played here by trombonist Peter Moore (at 12, winner of the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year in 2008). It’s an engaging piece, as is Gregson’s most recent commission, A Song for Chris, a concerto for cello and chamber orchestra for Manchester Camerata -- premiered at the 2007 Royal Northern College of Music. This is proving to be a highly collectable series.
SAWYERS: ORCHESTRAL WORKS
Grand Rapids Symphony/David Lockington/Nimbus Alliance
Had we but world enough and time... there might be an opportunity to rediscover all those lost and neglected composers that we really should be listening to... such as Philip Sawyers, who (on the evidence of this impressive disc) is a composer more than worth our attention. The idiom is 20th century, but accessible, and there is a genuine sense of drama and emotional heft to the music. If one has a caveat, it’s that the applause from these live concerts has been retained -- as the LSO Live recordings have demonstrated, such things can be neatly excised; applause is fine if one was present at the concert, but has less justification for repeated listenings at home. This is, however, a small point, and this welcome issue will have listeners eager to hear more music by this talented British composer.
The Classical Opera Company/Christopher Ainslie/Ian Page/Linn
Released to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Arne, The Classical Opera Company have put admirers of British opera in its debt with this first ever complete recording of Artaxerxes (which, incidentally, is also the first ever complete opera recording issued by the recording company Linn). Musical values here are nonpareil, and the singing is both intensely musical and full of acute psychological nuance (perhaps more than the music itself carries).
HANDEL: WATER MUSIC OVERTURE RODRIGO
Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Marc Minkowski/Naive
As in their early recordings of Haydn’s London Symphonies, Minkowski and his impressive forces here deliver commanding (and one might even say definitive) performances of these Handelian masterpieces, as full of subtlety and texture as they are of drama (note the satisfying rasp of the brass).
MALIPIERO: THE SYMPHONIES: NO. 5 SINFONIA DELLO ZODIAC; NO. 9 “DELL’AHIMÈ”; NO. 10 “ATROPO”
Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Antonio de Almeidaaxos/Naxos
The culmination of the series of Malipiero’s published symphonies, originally issued on Marco Polo, is perhaps slow to reveal its secrets, but more than rewards close attention. The contribution of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Antonio de Almeida has great gusto.
GARDNER: MUSIC FOR BRASS AND ORGAN
Cosmopolitan Brass/Paul Archibald/Stephen King/Toccata Classics
A winning programme from the prolific British composer John Gardner. Gardner has been astonishingly prolific, writing 249 pieces in his sixty-year career as composer, conductor and teacher. He turned 93 shortly before the release of this CD, which offers a selection of the music the composer has written for brass ensemble and organ, his instrument of choice since his days as an organ scholar at Oxford.
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BARTOK, LIGETI & KODALY
Gulbenkian Orchestra/Lawrence Foster/Pentatone
Colourful orchestration is the watchword for this tempting pot-pourri of Hungarian music, with the emphasis on pieces by Kodály and Bartók. A particular discovery is the Concert Românesc/Romanian Concerto by György Ligeti, a highly approachable piece which is worlds away from the knotty music that the composer is best known for. If the performance of Kodály’s Háry János is not as idiomatic as some, the bright, nuanced surround sound recording compensates for any caveats. A treasurable disc.
DESPLAT: THE KING’S SPEECH
Alexandre Desplat’s score for this much-acclaimed film may be subtle and allusive, but it’s given the best possible realisation here. The fill-ups consist of classical extracts utilised in the film.
BARTOK: VIOLIN CONCERTO/RHAPSODIES
HNPO/Barnabas Kelemen/Zoltan Kocsis/Hungaroton
An embarrassment of riches: after the splendid Pentatone SACD issue of both of Bartok’s violin concertos, here is another vivid performance of the first, coupled with delectable performances of the atmospheric Rhapsodies. As is customary with this exemplary series, top-notch recording quality is matched by performances of tremendous élan.