Barry Forshaw’s CD Choice

Barry Forshaw’s pick of the latest classical CD releases

SMETANA: M� VLAST

Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra/Claus Peter Flor/BIS SACD

Those who require the most dynamic and wide reaching recordings in the classical music field are fully aware of the supremacy of the SACD medium, and many of the great orchestral showpieces have now appeared in the format. A notable omission was Smetana’s glorious M� Vlast, only available in two channel recordings heretofore. But that yawning gap is now resoundingly closed with this truly exemplary issue. The tone poems are here performed by Claus Peter Flor and the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in a recording as spectacular as that of their recording of Suk’s Asrael Symphony; the occasional imprecise ensemble is hardly a blemish on such a memorable recording.

WALTON: BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST/SYMPHONY NO. 1


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London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis/LSO Live SACD

This new SACD Belshazzar, in recording terms alone, is perhaps the definitive take. No other version matches Colin Davis in this glorious music for sheer impact, even though there have been more insightful baritone contributions than that of the more-than-serviceable Peter Coleman-Wright. Nevertheless, this instantly becomes the default version. The First Symphony starts so exhilaratingly (in the manner of the classic RCA account by Andre Previn) that it initially seems as if the same verdict should be delivered here, but Colin Davis finesses his dramatic reading with some characteristically distracting vocal obliggati. Nevertheless, a highly cherishable disc, continuing the great success of the LSO Live label.

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HOLST: ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOLUME 2: THE PLANETS/ JAPANESE SUITE/BENI MORA

Manchester Chamber Choir BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davis/Chandos SACD

There were those who feared that the death of Richard Hickox would terminate the very welcome Chandos series of recordings of Gustav Holst’s orchestral music. So it is particularly refreshing to report that the conductor Andrew Davis, another specialist in the realm of great English music (notably of Holst’s friend and colleague Vaughan Williams), has taken up the reins and produced quite the most spectacular recording that The Planets has ever received. Apart from the blazing achievement of Davis’s conducting, the SACD sound is nonpareil -- though a caveat should be registered; the performance of ‘Jupiter’ is somewhat straitlaced, and the conductor seems reluctant to give the glorious central tune its head. Nevertheless, Chandos’ series continues to prove the centrality of Holst’s music to this country’s musical achievement, and the rarities here, the Japanese Suite and Beni Mora, make this an unmissable disc, underpowered ‘Jupiter’ notwithstanding.

SCHUBERT: Symphonies 1-8

Bamberger Symphonker/Jonathan Nott/Tudor SACD

A welcome box of Jonathan Nott’s highly-thought-of series of Schubert recordings, which – apart from being performances of great authority and drama – is currently the only complete Schubert cycle available in stunning multi-channel SACD sound. Combining the most commendable elements of ‘authentic’ performances with the heft of modern orchestral sound, this is an estimable collection.

BRITTEN: PETER GRIMES

Soloists/Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Colin Davis/Decca

Benjamin Britten’s own recordings of his music were usually definitive -- but with one significant exception. In Britten’s greatest opera, Peter Grimes, the conductor Colin Davis reigned supreme, as this welcome reissue comprehensively proves. Similarly, the tenor Jon Vickers’ magisterial assumption of the title role easily eclipsed that of its creator, Peter Pears. This remains a magnificent set -- the best performance the opera is ever likely to have.

BACH: THE ART OF FUGUE

Diana Boyle, piano/Elective Solitude Recordings

This riveting, intelligently thought-through reading by the talented Diana Boyle includes the fourteen Contrapuncti and the Inversus sections of Contrapuncti 12 and 13, but not the optional Canons. Lover of Bach’s keyboard music will find it competitive.

RICHARD STRAUSS: ELEKTRA

Soloists/Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim/Teldec/Warner

With Deborah Polaski memorably incarnating the title role, this is a rough-hewn but powerful performance of Richard Strauss’ operatic masterpiece, with Waltraud Meier characterful as the dissolute Klytemnestra.

JAZZ NOCTURNE: AMERICAN CONCERTOS OF THE JAZZ AGE

Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra, Richard Rosenberg/Naxos

Those with a taste for the jazz-influenced orchestral music of George Gershwin will find this collection particularly piquant. It begins in winning mode with James Price Johnson’s Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody, which is a delightful find, followed by the rather slight but winning Suite for Banjo and Orchestra by Harry Reser, and Dana Suesse’s Jazz Nocturne: Concerto in Three Rhythms. Intriguingly, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, given a rather foursquare reading, is the least engaging item here; but the other pieces are well worth investigating.

BEETHOVEN: PIANO CONCERTOS 4 & 5 ‘EMPEROR’

Yevgeny Sudbin (piano), Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo V�nsk�/BIS SACD

Although a variety of Beethoven symphony cycles are being made available in the Super Audio CD format, the five piano concertos are only just catching up. But it was certainly worth waiting for this truly individual series, with Yevgeny Sudbin’s dramatically characterised readings of the fourth and fifth concertos instantly moving to the top of the list of recommendations. After the considerable acclaim for their cycle of Beethoven Symphonies on BIS, V�nsk� and the Minnesota Orchestra have matched their earlier achievement.

LEIF SEGERSTAM SYMPHONIES NOS. 81, 162 & 181

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, (without conductor)/Ode

For those wishing to stretch beyond the standard repertoire, here is more colourful and imaginative music by an unfamiliar name -- unfamiliar, that is, as a composer. This new CD features the music of the acclaimed Finnish conductor Leif Segerstam who (it appears) is also an amazingly prolific composer. Featured are three one-movement symphonies that form a kind of “Bergen trilogy.”

BRIAN EASDALE: THE FILM MUSIC OF BRIAN EASDALE: BALLET FROM THE RED SHOES; ETC.

BBC National Chorus of Wales/BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Rumon Gamba/Chandos

Only now are the hidden achievements of Brian Easdale, one of this country’s most reliable film composers, being recognized, with his contribution to the films of Michael Powell finally seen as integral to the achievement of such classics as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus. Those scores and several others are given sympathetic and dramatic performances in Chandos’ essential film music series. Away from the cinema, Easdale’s output included most genres, from orchestral pieces, concertos and choral works, including a mass for the new Coventry Cathedral, to chamber compositions. But it is with his film music that his legacy rests. This colourful disc showcases Easdale’s career in film with great panache.

ECHOES OF TIME: SHOSTAKOVICH, KANCHELI, PART, RACHMANINOV

Lisa Batiashvili/ Symphonie orchester des bayerischen/Esa-Pekka Salonen/Deutsche Grammophon

Music of great power and beauty in this program (built, centrally,around Shostakovich’s first violin concerto) is rendered here with immense sensitivity by the violinist Lisa Batiashvili in performances that do the most comprehensive justice to this remarkable music. This is Batiashvili’s debut album for the DG label, and the violinist focuses her program on composers whose lives and work have been were forged in the political turmoil of the former Soviet Union. Batiashvilli herself travelled into German exile with her family during the upheaval in Georgia in 1991.The disc, brilliantly played, includes Shostakovich’s ‘Waltz from the Doll’s Dances’ and a transcription of Rachmaninov’s ‘Vocalise’, with the more substantial piece. Esa-Pekka Salonen draws wonderful playing from the Symphonie orchester des bayerischen.

Claude DEBUSSY: Orchestral Works 5

Orchestre National de Lyon, Jun M�rkl/Naxos

Certain composers who are immensely fecund in their output (Mozart, for example) ensure that admirers need never run short of music to revisit again and again. But others, with a relatively restricted body of work, provide admirers with less material. Debussy’s orchestral music is comparatively thin on the ground, so this welcome Naxos series of orchestrations by other hands of the composer’s music is proving very welcome, even though some of the performances are a touch under-characterised. Not so in the case of this fifth volume, which features such delights as La Bo�te � Joujoux (orchestrated by Debussy and Andr� Caplet) and the Six �pigraphes Antiques (orch. Ernest Ansermet). Not top-drawer Debussy, perhaps, but utterly charming,

HOLST: HUMBERT WOLFE SONGS, PART-SONGS, THE HYMN OF JESUS, SAVITRI, SEVEN PART-SONGS, CHORAL HYMNS FROM THE RIG VEDA

Various artist & conductors/Eloquence

These Decca recordings of lesser-known music by Holst make a very welcome re-appearance courtesy of Eloquence, and sound as impressive as when they were first recorded. An arrangement between Decca and Imogen Holst led to a series of pioneering recordings of her father’s music. They originally appeared on the Argo label and are now released as part of the Eloquence series. A highlight of the issue is a Peter Pears/Benjamin Britten recording of an atmospheric English song cycle never before available on CD, the twelve Humbert Wolfe settings, exquisitely sung as is the chamber opera Savitri, with the matchless Janet Baker in the title role.

WAGNER TRANSCRIPTIONS, VOLUME 3: TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, AN ORCHESTRAL PASSION, ETC.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme J�rvi/Chandos SACD

For those wishing to wallow in glorious, ripe orchestration, the continuing Chandos series of Wagner operas transformed into orchestral suites is an irresistible treat -- as is proved by this latest entry in the series. Neeme J�rvi once again conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in the third of four albums featuring Henk de Vlieger’s audacious arrangements of operas by Wagner. The Tristan suite is surprisingly brisk, but highly involving.

CHISHOLM: SYMPHONY NO. 2, ETC.

BBC Concert Orchestra /Martin Yates/Dutton

One is amazed – and grateful – that Dutton continues to have a capacity for reinvigorating forgotten gems of British music; and Chisholm’s Second Symphony is a sizable find; it is music of fire and energy.

NEWS

BIS Records have received a nomination in the Choral Music category for the 2011 BBC Music Magazine Awards. The acclaimed Swedish label received the nomination for its recording of J.S. Bach’s Motets performed by Bach Collegium Japan and their director Masaaki Suzuki. The BBC Music Magazine Awards are the only classical music awards in which the main categories are voted for by the public. The winners will be announced at the BBC Music Magazine Awards ceremony, held on Tuesday 12 April at Kings’ Place in London.

Reference Recordings have announced that “Prof.” KEITH O. JOHNSON and producer DAVID FROST have won a Grammy for their first release in Surround Sound. Winners were announced by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) at the 53rd Annual GRAMMY�Awards on Sunday, February 13, 2011, at Staples Center in Los Angeles. All nominations were for albums released from September 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010. This award is for the surround sound release.

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