BARRY FORSHAW'S CD CHOICE
Barry Forshaw's pick of the latest classical CDs
DVOR�K SLAVONIC DANCES
Iv�n Fischer/Budapest Festival Orchestra
The ever-dependable Iv�n Fischer takes an unorthodox approach to these much-loved pieces: more relaxed, less kinetic than most performances, but crammed full of charm and persuasion. The aural virtues of the Channel Classics surround sound SACD are, as usual, non-pareil.
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BACH: COMPLETE KEYBOARD WORKS
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Angela Hewitt's universally acclaimed recordings of Bach on the piano have become the gold standard - gone is the stuffy orthodoxy of the thinking that took only harpsichord performances seriously in this glorious music. The series has sold nearly 400,000 copies (since Hewitt's recording of the Inventions first appeared in 1994). Now that the pianist's complete solo Bach recordings are available as a highly collectable boxed set of 15 CDs at a special price, there will be those who may even find themselves replacing their handful of individual CDs.
WALTON: THE SYMPHONIES
Owain Arwel Hughes/Orchestre National de Lille,
Andre Previn's recording of Walton's First Symphony may be the absolute locus classicus for the work, but the pre-digital sound quality is showing its age, and these new readings of both Walton symphonies from Owain Arwel Hughes has immense presence in typically impressive BIS SACD sound. If this performance of No. 1 is less electric than Previn's, it nevertheless boasts total command, and Hughes' recording of the Second is, at a stroke, the definitive setting down of the work.
SUK: RIPENING/SYMPHONY NO. 1
Jiri Belohavek/BBC Symphony Orchestra
There is danger that one will tire of praising Chandos for its exploration of the less-familiar byways of the repertoire... but not yet. This is quite the most coruscating reading of Suk's orchestral masterpiece Ripening that one is likely to hear - with a forensically detailed recording that matches the exemplary performance. If the First Symphony is not as high on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, the best possible case is made for it here by Jiri Belohavek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
BARTOK: THE SIX STRING QUARTETS
Mikrokosmos String Quartet
The ongoing series of new Bartok Hungaroton recordings in the Super Audio CD medium continues with these dynamic readings of the works which (along with the quartets of Shostakovich) are the cornerstone of the twentieth century quartet repertoire. Nigh-definitive performances abound - and, what's more, they are blessedly free of the leader's sharp intake of breath at the beginning of each phrase that disfigures so many quartet recordings. Hungaroton also have a massively exciting reading of Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta from Zoltan Kocsis, the best since Solti's fiery first Decca reading (never issued on CD).
Valery Gergiev, Soloists/London Symphony Orchestra
The first recording of Parsifal on SACD, and this is a performance of immense drama to match the faithfully rendered sound. Valery Gergiev's audible vocal contributions are a small caveat in a very strongly cast version of Wagner's masterpiece, with the conductor maintaining an implacable through-line in the trajectory of the drama.
KARLOWICZ: ETERNAL SONGS/VIOLIN CONCERTO
Agata Szymczewska/Jerzy Maksymiuk/Sinfonai Varsovia
From a company that has produced some highly collectable works from the Polish repertoire in astonishingly detailed SACD sound comes perhaps their most considerable achievement: Karlowicz's ripe and luminous masterpieces given highly sympathetic readings. Karlowicz appears to be finally emerging from the shadow of his better-known contemporaries - this disc will, hopefully, hasten the process.
DEBUSSY: LE MARTYRE DE SAINT S:BASTIEN/ KHAMMA, ETC. L:GENDE DANS:E
Jun M�rkl/Orchestre National de Lyon
The fourth volume in Naxos's acclaimed sequence of Debussy's orchestral music showcases lesser-known pieces drawn from three of his theatrical ventures and from one of his Prix de Rome entries. The prelude, fanfares and four symphonic fragments from Le Martyre de Saint S�bastien were adapted for concert performance from Debussy's incidental music for Gabriele D'Annunzio's then-outrageous mystery play. Not top-drawer Debussy, perhaps, but all the music is full of interest for the composer's admirers.
BADINGS: SYMPHONIES NOS. 3, 10 & 14 "SYMPHONISCHES TRIPTYCHON"
David Porcelijn/Jan�cek Philharmonic Orchestra
The members of the Jan�cek Philharmonic Orchestra are strong advocates for this unfamiliar music, with a recording of great range and nuance, delivered in CPO's usual fashion.
BEETHOVEN: PIANO CONCERTO NO.5 & CHORAL FANTASIA
Ronald Brautigam /Norrk�ping Symphony Orchestra
For this last instalment of his magnificent survey of Beethoven's works for piano and orchestra, Brautigam tackles the titan of the composer's concerto output, the Fifth Piano Concerto, coupled on this disc with the Choral Fantasia. Ronald Brautigam, the Norrk�ping Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Parrott are in exemplary form - a true apotheosis of a wonderful sequence of discs.
HOLBROOKE SYMPHONY NO.4 IN B MINOR/CELLO CONCERTO/THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM/PANDORA
George Vass/ Raphael Wallfisch/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Dutton Epoch's championing of intriguing lesser known English music continues with this disc of Holbrooke's orchestral music, sought after by enthusiasts for many years. Recording honours are divided between the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, with cellist Raphael Wallfisch excelling in the inventive Cello Concerto, while the Fourth Symphony, more elusive, is persuasively played. Perhaps the real find of the disc is the gloriously macabre tone poem The Pit and the Pendulum, after Poe. All are world premiere recordings.
SCHMIDT: SYMPHONY NO.4/INTERMEZZO FROM NOTRE DAME
Stefan Blunier/Beethoven Orchester Bonn
Sumptuous late romantic classics, delivered with a steady but mesmerising grasp of the music's architecture. The Notre Dame Intermezzo is a particularly choice piece.
LANGGAARD: MUSIC OF THE SPHERES/THE TIME OF THE END/FROM THE DEEP
Thomas Dausgaard/Soloists/Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Concert Choir
Typical of Langgaard, Music of the Spheres is a composition dense and involved in texture, but always lucid in intent. The piece calls for a sizable orchestra, organ and choir, a supporting (distant) orchestra including a soprano voice, and a further piano on which the strings are played directly rather than via the keys. The proselytising of Dausgaard and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra for the composer has been maintained with the UK premiere of Music of the Spheres at the Proms.
CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: SHAKESPEARE OVERTURES VOL. 1
Andrew Penny/West Australian Symphony Orchestra
What a discovery! Castelnuovo-Tedesco is best known for his beguiling guitar concerto, but here's concrete proof that his achievement stretched further. Shakespeare was a continuing interest for Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In addition to two operas and numerous settings of songs and sonnets, he wrote 11 Shakespeare Overtures, several of which here receive their first ever recordings. Full of colourful orchestrations, these are genuinely cherishable pieces. Roll on Volume Two!
CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO: PIANO CONCERTO NO.2
Pietro Massa/Allesandro Crudele/Berliner Symphoniker
More Castelnuovo-Tedesco; an exhilarating performance of his colourful second piano concerto, here granted the most telling possible case from Pietro Massa and Allesandro Crudele.
REVISIONS: DEBUSSY: SUITE POUR VIOLONCELLE ET ORCHESTRE/RAVEL: DEUX M:LODIES H:BRA�QUES, ETC.
G�bor Tak�cs-Nagy/Tapiola Sinfonietta
Isserlis is one the most significant cellists of the day, celebrated for his ingenuity and innovation in quirky programming - as with this charming SACD. It features four works for cello and orchestra all arranged at Isserlis's request, and each of them by the arranger of his choice. The result has a unity of tone colour that demands listening in small measures, but is quite enchanting.
AHO: PIANO CONCERTO NO.2/SYMPHONY NO.13, 'SYMPHONIC CHARACTERIZATIONS'
Osmo V�nsk�/Antti Siirala/Lahti Symphony Orchestra /
The prolific Kalevi Aho is a significant contemporary composers of orchestral music. BIS have already issued twelve of the symphonies, which have been gleaning such praise as 'music of such graphic impact and visually arresting imagery'. The 13th Symphony was written for the fifth anniversary of the Sibelius Hall in Lahti in 2003, and is tailored to that hall - but works convincingly in the living room. Subtitled 'Symphonic Characterizations', the work is in two long movements. The Second Piano Concerto, for piano and string orchestra. was written for the Finnish pianist Antti Siirala who here makes the best possible case for the pieces.
JOHN FOULDS: KELTIC OVERTURE/KELTIC SUITE/SICILIAN AUBADE, ETC.
Ronald Corp/BBC Concert Orchestra
More pioneering recordings by the BBC Concert Orchestra (under the intelligent direction of Ronald Corp) in excavating interesting material by John Foulds; the result here is an intriguing voyage into the lighter material by this composer - once neglected, now moving into the light again. There are three substantial orchestral suites as well as the charming oriental nocturne An Arabian Night, a short tone poem The Isles of Greece and the winning Sicilian Aubade.
Antoni Wit, Soloists/Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
This is Penderecki in accessible mode, as opposed to his more knotty pieces. The Credo is a large scale, colourfully scored setting of the Catholic profession of faith, utilising traditional tonality juxtaposed with passages of choral speech. Under the direction of Antoni Wit, the best case is made for the music.
ARTHUR BUTTERWORTH: SYMPHONY NO.5, OP.115, THREE NOCTURNES: 'NORTHERN SUMMER NIGHTS', ETC.
Arthur Butterworth/Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Arthur Butterworth's recording for Dutton Epoch of his Fourth Symphony was a revelation, and that success is finessed with the composer's direction of the RSNO in his dramatic Fifth Symphony. Coupled with several of his shorter orchestral works (Three Nocturnes, Coruscations, The Quiet Tarn, The Green Wind and Gigues), this is music of poetry and colour, composed over an almost fifty-year span. As with Vaughan Williams, Sibelius is the �minence grise here.
Not for every taste perhaps, but for those attuned to this gentle, atmospheric music, a CD of great charm and elegance.
100 GREATEST WESTERN THEMES: TAKE 2
The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
The six CDs of 100 Greatest Western Themes Take 2 is a delight, the sixth release in Silva Screen's '100' series. This bargain set takes in the finest of nearly 70 years of Western music from both the cinema and TV screen, showcasing music from many of the greatest screen composers, including Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, Dimitri Tiomkin, Maurice Jarre and many more.