Barry Forshaw’s CD Choice
Barry Forshaw’s pick of the latest classical CDs
WAGNER: TRANSCRIPTIONS, VOLUME 4, ARR. HENK DE VLIEGER:
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Neeme J�rvi/Chandos
Those of us without precious objections to hearing Wagner’s resplendent orchestral music sans voices are in for a treat with this latest volume in a shamelessly enjoyable series, recorded (as ever) in Chandos’ astonishingly detailed surround sound. Neeme J�rvi conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in this fourth album of their Wagner series, this time featuring a persuasive symphonic arrangement by the Dutch composer and percussionist Henk de Vlieger of Wagner’s comic opera, Die Meistersinger von N�rnberg.
Berliner Philharmoniker, Simon Rattle/EMI
Simon Rattle recorded the celebrated (if controversial) Sch�nberg orchestration of the Brahms Piano Quartet No.1 early in his career, but this new version is measurably more impressive, with the matchless sound of the Berliner Philharmoniker relishing every nuance of this posthumous collaboration between two composers. Everything on this superlative CD is sheer aural delight (Sch�nberg in ingratiating mode), in detailed and analytical sound (though the disc is only available in this country in stereo; other territories get the luxury of the Super audio CD version).
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Howard Shelley, piano/Hyperion
It seems a million years ago that Andre Previn complained to the compilers of the Grove Dictionary of Music that the entry on Rachmaninov had not been changed from the sniffy dismissal of the composer that had held sway for so many years. The Russian master is now, of course, recognized as one of the great composers, and his piano music is central to the repertoire. Few performers have such a command of the Rachmaninov idiom as Howard Shelley.
Rachmaninov’s �tudes-tableaux are an encapsulation of the emotional range of the composer, and Shelley delivers performances that are both powerful and poetic.
GRIEG COMPLETE SYMPHONIC WORKS VOL. I & 2
WDR Sinfonieorchester K�ln, Eivind Aadland/Audite
Certain composers have enjoyed considerable representation in the Super audio CD medium, while others are neglected. Edvard Grieg has, until now, been in the latter category, but that omission is comprehensively taken care of with this splendidly successful new initiative. Edvard Grieg was keen to grant Norway its own voice within European concert repertoire, and his greatest contribution was via symphonic works, to be released by Audite in a
5-volume complete recording with Eivind Aadland and the WDR Symphony Orchestra. The first two SACDs showcase Grieg’s principal compositions: his four Symphonic Dances of 1898, and his two suites from the incidental music to Henrik Ibsen’s drama Peer Gynt. Performances and sound are exemplary.
MALCOLM ARNOLD’S CELLO CONCERTO, SYMPHONY FOR STRINGS
Raphael Wallfisch, Northern Chamber Orchestra/Manchester Sinfonia, Nicholas Ward Richard Howarth/Naxos
When influential BBC thinking held more sway than it does today, accessible modern composers such as Malcolm Arnold were famously sidelined in favour of more fashionable serial/twelve tone fare, but the reputation of one of Britain’s most remarkable talents has enjoyed a considerable renaissance in recent years -- and fortunately, Arnold (whose career was compromised by his personal problems) lived long enough to see his star rise once again. This strong neglected piece appears on this disc with Arnold’s Symphony for Strings and the Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet. The soloists are joined by the Northern Chamber Orchestra, the Manchester Sinfonia and conductors Nicholas Ward and Richard Howarth. Not vintage Arnold, but admirers will relish this.
ARMENIAN RHAPSODY: ARAM KHACHATURIAN: CONCERTO-RHAPSODY, ETC.
Alexander Chaushian, cello, Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, Eduard Topchjan/BIS
The jury may still be out on the ultimate achievement of Armenia’s most celebrated composer, Aram Khachaturian, but there is no gainsaying the instant visceral appeal of his colourful, ebullient music. Along with the splendid Khachaturian Rhapsody, we are here given Suren Zakarian’s Monograph for cello and chamber orchestra and Vache Sharafyan’s Suite for Cello and Orchestra.
MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 3
Bamberger Symphoniker, Jonathan Nott/Tudor Super Audio CD
MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 9
London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev/LSO Live Super Audio CD
To say that we are spoiled for choice when it comes to major Mahler symphony cycles in the SACD format simply does not do justice to the situation. Here are two more highly impressive entries, by conductors with very different approaches to these masterpieces of the repertoire. Both recordings are already beginning to enjoy considerable critical acclaim, and it’s hard to argue with the resounding praise that both are enjoying. As usual, both conductors (and their engineers) utilise to the full the immense power of the surround sound medium -- but then we would expect no less, would we?
WEINBERG: WEINBERG EDITION VOL.1 – SYMPHONY NO.6, SINFONIETTA NO.1
Wiener Sangerknaben, Wiener Symphoniker, Fedoseyev, Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg, Korsten/Neos Super Audio CD
How times change! There was a time when the work of the composer Weinberg was hard to find and concealed beneath the non-Semitic nom de plume ‘Vainberg’. Now we have two very welcome surveys of the composer’s music from different companies, both of them doing considerable justice to this talented contemporary of Shostakovich (whose patronage Weinberg enjoyed -- even do the extent of possibly saving his life. Neos is inaugurating a series of Weinberg CDs/SACDs. All of the works, including symphonies, solo concertos, chamber music and his Requiem were performed at the Bregenz Festival in 2010 and recorded, so are available for this edition. The Weinberg Edition Vol.2 includes the Symphony No.17 “Memory”.
LAMBERT: SUMMER’S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT/THE RIO GRANDE
English Northern Philharmonia, David Lloyd-Jones/Hyperion
Regarding the famously self-destructive Lambert family, it is encouraging to see the colourful and attractive music of Constant Lambert enjoying something of a renaissance. This lengthy piece does not, perhaps, reveal all its secrets at first hearing, but among the less rewarding music, it has passages as winning as anything the composer wrote. Primarily a well-respected music critic and conductor and composer of ballets, Constant Lambert wrote relatively few choral works, and Summer’s Last Will and Testament is a sizable cantata of considerable emotional heft.
WAGNER: DER FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER
Dohmen, Merbeth, Salminen, Rundfunkchor & Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Marek Janowski/Pentatone
This is the first recording in the Super audio medium of Wagner’s operatic masterpiece, and (though not ideally cast) augurs well for the series which is to follow. Pentatone are beginning a new complete Wagner cycle comprising all Wagner’s 10 major operas, all recorded over a period of 4 years in the Philharmonie in Berlin and all use the same forces of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester and Chor. Conducted by Marek Janowski and performed by a top line up of soloists, this is a memorable recording achievement.
RICHARD STRAUSS: OPERATIC DANCES, SUITES AND INTERLUDES - SALOME, DER ROSENKAVALIER, DAPHNE, INTERMEZZO
Joanna Cole soprano, Sydney, Symphony Orchestra/ABC CLASSICS
This is by no means the first collection of the orchestral music from Strauss’s operas, and is perhaps more fragmented than most. But the performances are more than serviceable, and invoke the composer’s master of orchestration with great sympathy.
DELIUS: VIOLIN CONCERTO; DOUBLE CONCERTO; CELLO CONCERTO
Tasmin Little, Paul Watkins, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Davis/Chandos Super Audio CD
Even the most dedicated admirer of Delius might be advised to avoid playing all three works recorded here in succession -- it was not, in any case, the composer’s intention that they should be so encountered, and the restricted emotional palette that he traded in is best enjoyed in small measures. That being said, it’s hard to imagine more persuasive advocates for this often beautiful music than the sensitive performance here. These three major concertos by Delius involving solo string instruments are here collected on the same disc for the first time. The Violin Concerto, Double Concerto, and Cello Concerto are performed by Chandos artists strongly associated with British repertoire.
THE LAST ROSE
Laura Wright, John Rutter et al (arrangers)/Decca
Sometimes a singer at the very start their career can demonstrate formidable interpretive gifts (as well as sheer beauty of sound) and give notice of an important talent. Famously (in this country) Janet Baker represented that phenomenon, and if Laura Wright does not scale those stellar heights, she is still an artist of great promise, as this well chosen recital proves. Wright’s debut solo album ‘The Last Rose’ features new arrangements of British Folk Songs with the 21 year-old celebrating these traditional songs of the past. The album includes favourites from across the British Isles including ‘Blow The Wind Southerly’, ‘Scarborough Fair’, ‘Skye Boat Song’, ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’, ‘Lavender’s Blue’ and the title track ‘The Last Rose of Summer’.
JOUBERT: SYMPHONY NO.2, ALWYN: PRELUDE ‘THE FAIRY FIDDLER’, MARTELLI: Symphony, Op.4
Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Martin Yates/ Dutton Epoch
And still Dutton Epoch continued to unearth grossly neglected gems in the field of British music! In fact the company’s diligent excavation work is proving so successful that even the most dedicated lover of British music might be feeling daunted by the sheer volume of forgotten (and excellent) pieces which are enjoying the kind of sprucing up the company is affording them. In 1970 John Joubert received a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society for a new orchestral work to be performed in their 1970-71 season, and composed a piece that would reflect the tensions brought about by the apartheid system of government in his native South Africa. Along with William Alwyn’s The Fairy Fiddler, this is striking fare, as is English composer Carlo Martelli’s memorable Symphony, Op.4.
GLI�RE: THE ORCHESTRAL COLLECTION
Peter Dixon, Richard Watkins, BBC Philharmonic, Sir Edward Downes, Vassily Sinaisky/Chandos
This highly attractive box set should be in the collection of everyone who has a taste for inventive and attractive Russian orchestral music, with all the remarkable scores composed by Gli�re to be found herein. If there is a caveat, it is the fact that the ingratiating The Red Pony ballet is represented only by its suite, but that hardly reduces the appeal of this collection (what’s more, the complete ballet is available in a good performance on the Naxos label which can be used to supplement the this set. Gli�re composed in the grand Russian romantic tradition, and this set represents is the most comprehensive survey of Gli�re’s music available.
RESPIGHI TRITTICO BOTTICELLIANO, 3 CORALI, PINI DI ROMA
Beethoven Orchester Bonn, cond. Blunier/MDG Super Audio CD
Apart from the fact that this is a rather curious coupling (we’re getting more and more used to complete collections of Respighi’s gloriously enjoyable Roman trilogy these days), these are nevertheless cherishable performances, particularly the beautifully pointed Trittico Botticelliano, although there are more dramatic readings of The Pines of Rome to be found in the SACD medium.
BRUCKNER SYMPHONY NO.1 IN C MINOR, FIRST VERSION 1865/66 (“LINZ” VERSION)
Hamburg Philharmonic, cond. Simone Young/Oehms Super Audio CD
Already, this authoritative performance in Simone Young’s welcome Bruckner cycle is gleaning enthusiastic reviews, and it’s not hard to see why. Apart from the carefully considered musical judgements made by the conductor, the wonderfully responsive surround sound does full justice to her original conception here. This release brings the first and key component of Simone Young and the Hamburg Philharmonic’s Bruckner cycle to a close. The aim has been to realise the symphonies of Bruckner in their original form.
SCHUBERT: SYMPHONY NO.9 IN C “THE GREAT”
Royal Flemish Philharmonic, cond. Herreweghe/Pentatone Super Audio CD
We are becoming spoiled for choice, in that of the classical repertory; evidence of that statement is proved by this latest solid and strong performance of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony from the always reliable Pentatone label.
DOWN BY THE SALLEY GARDENS:19TH & 20TH CENT. ENGLISH SONGS
Bejun Mehta, countertenor Julius Drake, piano/Harmonia Mundi
First of all, there is the shock. To hear this familiar material -- some of the great glories of the English songbook -- rendered by the countertenor voice may be difficult to accept for those used to readings in the tenor/baritone range. But few will deny that Bejun Mehta is an interpreter of great insight and intelligence, both qualities well to the fore here
This programme offers well-chosen cross-section of English song, ranging from Roger Quilter and early Vaughan Williams to the Purcell realisations by Britten and Tippett.
BRAHMS: PIANO CONCERTO NO.1 OP.15
Hardy Rittner, L’arte del mondo, Werner Ehrhardt/MDG
Not everyone will respond to the use of historical instruments here, but there is no denying that Hardy Rittner has made the best of case for recording this concerto in this fashion. The first Brahms piano concerto is a challenge for every pianist, and this is the first recording of the work on historical instruments. Hardy Rittner is joined by the l’arte del mondo orchestra under Werner Ehrardt.
RIHM: LICHTES SPIEL, CURRIER: TIME MACHINES
Anne-Sophie Mutter, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Francis, Alan Gilbert/ Deutsche Grammophon
When most classical record companies are playing safe, it is encouraging to see repertoire as adventurous as this being placed on silver disc -- but no doubt the presence of Anne-Sophie Mutter, one of the world’s most bankable violinists, has ensured that these performances were recorded. Anne-Sophie Mutter is one of the classical world’s most acclaimed violinists, and here Deutsche Grammophon releases her world-premiere recordings of two new works written for her: Wolfgang Rihm’s Lichtes Spiel and Sebastian Currier’s Time Machines, recorded with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
THE CALLAS EFFECT
Maria Callas, Various Orchestras and Conductors
I was able to see Maria Callas at her last London performance, and although there was not a great deal of voice left, the sheer interpretive skill and charisma still took the breath away. For many people, she remains the definitive operatic soprano, and this is a welcome celebration of her skills. Maria Callas is the original – and ultimate -- opera and several decades after her death, Callas is not only the world’s bestselling soprano but also the EMI Classics’ label bestselling artist of all time. The Callas Effect is a deluxe set collecting 2 CDs of her most personal recordings, new documentary DVD featuring insights from friends and a lavishly illustrated 124-page hardcover book with an essay illuminating and honouring the essence of Callas.
BRUCH, WIENIAWSKI: VIOLIN CONCERTOS
Charlie Siem, London Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Gourlay/Warner Classics
Physically attractive young violinists seem to appear by the week, and enjoy a combination of audience acclaim and a certain critical sniffiness. But the reputation of Charlie Siem is based on the most solid of foundations as these immensely persuasive performances prove. It’s particularly good to see the neglected Wieniawski concerto given such a loving and well shaped rendering.
HERRMANN: MOBY DICK – A CANTATA; SINFONIETTA FOR STRINGS
Richard Edgar-Wilson, David Wilson-Johnson, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Michael Sch�nwandt/Chandos Super Audio CD
It is often forgotten that Alfred Hitchcock’s house composer (before the two creators ended their long collaboration in the most acrimonious of fashions) was both an advocate of 20th-century symphonic music in United States (where he influentially championed such composers Vaughan Williams), but apart from his music from the cinema -- widely recognized as among the finest in the field – Bernard Herrmann could boast several striking and dramatic pieces of serious music. Herrmann, born in New York in 1911 to Russian immigrants, is celebrated today as a composer of film music. Most notably he worked with Alfred Hitchcock on classic productions such as North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho, as well as on Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. But Herrmann always regarded himself as a serious composer who worked in film, and here we have his Moby Dick – A Cantata. Initially, Herrmann intended the work as an opera, but soon concluded that the stage was not an ideal medium – and created a purely orchestral work. The Sinfonietta was neglected until the early 1960s when Herrmann adopted it as a model for the latter half of his famous film score to Hitchcock’s Psycho, to encapsulate Norman Bates’s disturbed state of mind. This disc presents the premiere recording of the Sinfonietta in its original version.
RAVEL: COMPLETE MUSIC FOR VIOLIN & PIANO
Alina Ibragimova violin, C�dric Tiberghien piano/Hyperion
All the elusive Gallic charm of Ravel’s exquisite chamber music is caught in these evocative performances, even if some of the great recordings of his music from the past are not necessarily unseated. Maurice Ravel’s mature works for violin and piano are among the most exquisite in the repertoire and reflect a range of influences and musical styles from jazz to Impressionism.
THAT‘S ENTERTAINMENT: A CELEBRATION OF THE MGM FILM MUSICAL
The John Wilson Orchestra, John Wilson/EMI
With orchestral playing of immense panache, the enterprising John Wilson continues his welcome reinvention of the sumptuous American orchestral sound (with British players) of the classic musicals, with (once again) the matchless orchestrations of the late Conrad Salinger as the centrepiece of his celebration.
Also notable: the tangily Bartokian string quartets of Sandor Veress on Hungaroton; esoteric but intriguing.