November 2018 CD Reviews

December 2018 CD Reviews
Heinz Holliger conducts Schubert – Symphony 9 & Die Zauberharfe [Basel Chamber Orchestra; Sony Classical]
November, 2018 |  The detail in this performance of the Overture to Die Zauberharfe (aka Rosamunde, D797) is revelatory. ... Heinz Holliger gives a lively reading of this tuneful work adding one or two delightful rhythmic emphases. ... Schubert’s ‘Great C-major’ Symphony (labelled here as No.8) is composed in the symphonic form of the period; its contours resemble those of a late Haydn Symphony but it is a great deal longer. 
A Walk with Ivor Gurney – Tenebrae/Nigel Short, Aurora Orchestra, Sarah Connolly, Simon Callow [Signum Classics]
November, 2018 |  Centred on the Cotswold poet-composer Ivor Gurney, this release offers powerful evocations of time and place, a wealth of delights. Judith Bingham’s eponymous piece (2013) poignantly interleaves passages from Gurney’s poems with memorial inscriptions on Roman tombs in Gloucestershire. Sarah Connolly responds marvellously to Bingham’s theatrical instincts... ... Nigel Short fashions greater momentum for the Tallis Fantasia (so inspirational for Howells and Gurney who attended its 1910 premiere), coaxing unforced grandeur and something ageless from the string-players. 
John Wilson conducts Copland Orchestral Works 4 – Symphony 3, Connotations [BBC Philharmonic; Chandos]
November, 2018 |  Just when we think we know what to expect from John Wilson, his conducting of Porgy and Bess at ENO (October-November just gone) proved long-breathed rather than insistently authentic, the score quite heavily cut. In the latest instalment of his Copland sequence for Chandos, the mix is different again. Bernstein-inspired edits in the main works are opened out... 
Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos, Volume 1 – Concertos 1, 2 & 4 – Louis Lortie/BBC Philharmonic/Edward Gardner [Chandos]
November, 2018 |  Time was when it was just the Bach-to-Offenbach of Saint-Säens's Piano Concertos, the G-minor Second, which people knew. Who cared that, post-war, the Record Guide rubbished its Finale as “stupid and perfunctory”. Everyone adored it, every season the great pianists paid tribute. ... Between them Louis Lortie and Edward Gardner have what it takes. Rhythmically sprung, the First Concerto (1858) is a triumph, steering an unfettered course between fantasy, energy and civilised debate – part Symphony, part Tone-poem, part Concerto. The introductory horn calls, open and muted in alternation, come straight out of the opera house... 
Leslie Howard – Liszt – New Discoveries Volume 4: Rêves et fantaisies [Hyperion]
November, 2018 |  Leslie Howard's Liszt edition – a monumental feat of perseverance, of which the present release, Rêves et fantaisies, is the hundredth release – began to hit our shelves in the late-eighties. ... The nineteen tracks here, “believed to be first recordings”, span Liszt's working life from Paris 1829 to Budapest 1885. The longest, by far, is the first, “parenthetically” the original late-1840s casting of the C-sharp minor First Hungarian Rhapsody but conceived on a broader, more indulgent scale... 
JoAnn Falletta conducts Franz Schreker [Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra; Naxos]
November, 2018 |  Another winner from JoAnn Falletta, not this time roaming her Buffalo home, but persuading the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra to conclusively restore the credentials of Austrian composer and conductor Franz Schreker... ... The Birthday of the Infanta (1923) is a “theatrical pantomime [that] adapts Oscar Wilde’s tragic tale of an ugly dwarf who dies of a broken heart”, not that you’d guess it from the often-charming music... 
Haydn’s Opus 64 – The London Haydn Quartet [Hyperion]
November, 2018 |  The London Haydn Quartet is conscious of period style, gut-strung instruments are played without vibrato, the lower pitch used at the time these works were first performed is adopted and all sonata-form movements are given both repeats. In Potton Hall the definition of the instruments is admirable, and great clarity is afforded the inner parts of the music. Haydn usually had his Quartets published in groups of six and Opus 64 was sent for publication by Johann Tost... 
First Hand Records – Early Stereo Recordings 1 – Strauss/Del Mar, Saint-Saëns/Tortelier, Brahms/Wolf
November, 2018 |  This fascinating release opens with thirty seconds of “Recording alert buzzer and orchestra tuning” – I’ll leave those two with you – and is followed by a brilliant account of Till Eulenspiegel conducted by Richard Strauss authority Norman Del Mar... ... The delightful Saint-Saëns that follows is just as enjoyable as a reading, Paul Tortelier in vibrant, seductive and rich-toned form... ... And it’s Mayer who is responsible for the Brahms, sounding fine, although the first movement remains in mono, but widens for the remaining two (first release, of course). Producer and stereo engineer are not known (the mono tape is credited to Neville Boyling). The long-lived Hungarian violinist Endre Wolf (1913-2011) may be less-familiar – if so, Tully Potter’s booklet note will be of informative assistance about him... 
Mozart Piano Concertos & Quintet, K450-K452 – Jean-Efflam Bavouzet/Manchester Camerata/Gábor Takács-Nagy [Chandos]
November, 2018 |  I guess K451 opens the programme because with its martial trumpet and drums it is more arresting than the courtly K450, and Gábor Takács-Nagy makes it vivid and dynamic, the Manchester Camerata incisive and lyrical, complemented by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s scintillating playing, brilliant and bravura, and perfectly balanced with the ideally captured reach-out-and-touch orchestra, all suggesting that the relatively new Stoller Hall (associated to Chetham’s School of Music) boasts an enviably impressive acoustic... 
Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts at Bergen International Festival [Chandos]
November, 2018 |  Few works for massed voices and orchestra are more comprehensively choral than the Requiem of Hector Berlioz. His ‘Great Mass of the Dead’ only admits a solo singer in one of its movements, the ‘Sanctus’, and even that is shared with the choirs. To do this mighty epic justice a company needs to field more than a just charismatic conductor and a virtuosic orchestra... ... This live recording is a rare misfire both for Chandos and for the normally sure-footed Edward Gardner. 
Berlioz – Les Troyens – Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres, Marie-Nicole Lemieux; conducted by John Nelson [Erato]
November, 2018 |  Berlioz’s Les Troyens has fared relatively well on disc since the first commercial recording, conducted by Colin Davis, released in 1969 by Philips. ... John Nelson’s version has all the benefits of being taped live, for there is strong immediacy and theatricality... ... Nelson and Erato have pulled off a real coup by assembling probably the most convincing francophone cast yet assembled. ... Spyres’s honeyed and lyrical timbre suits Énée the romantic lover well, yet he still sounds credibly heroic, the voice marvellously fluid and exciting, and blends well with Joyce DiDonato’s warm and buttery mezzo-soprano... 
The Passions of Vaughan Williams – John Bridcut’s film [DVD]
November, 2018 |  2008 is beginning to look like a turning point in Vaughan Williams reception history. Performance-wise there was Richard Hickox’s revival of The Pilgrim’s Progress, no more than semi-staged but the opera’s strongest showing to date (thanks in part to Roderick Williams’s sensational incarnation of the title role). Sir Andrew Davis directed a sell-out Prom on the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death. Two documentary features neatly complemented each other. Tony Palmer’s O Thou Transcendent: the Life of Ralph Vaughan Williams ran on Channel 4 at the start of the year. ... John Bridcut’s alternative portrait, originally shown on BBC4, is revived now for DVD with financial support from the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust. Its structure is almost entirely chronological, more narrowly and intimately focused on VW the man. ... Such musically engaged talking heads include Michael Kennedy, Anthony Payne, Robert Tear, Hugh Cobbe and Jill Balcon. 
Liya Petrova plays Violin Concertos by Prokofiev and Nielsen [Odense Symphony Orchestra/Kristiina Poska; Orchid Classics]
November, 2018 |  We have been here before – almost – Nielsen’s Violin Concerto, same orchestra, conductor and label, with Korngold exchanged for Prokofiev. It all ties in with the 2016 Carl Nielsen Violin Competition; thus Liya Petrova (joint first) entered the same Odense venue to record almost as soon as Jiyoon Lee had vacated it. And Petrova is nearly as successful in Nielsen’s wonderful Violin Concerto and similarly enjoys a positive collaboration with Kristiina Poska and her well-versed orchestra. 
Leif Ove Andsnes plays Chopin – Ballades & Nocturnes [Sony Classical]
November, 2018 |  Short-measure playing time, high-calibre musicianship from Leif Ove Andsnes as he links Chopin’s Four Ballades with three of the Nocturnes. Quality wins. 
Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem arranged by Iain Farrington – Yale Schola Cantorum/David Hill [Hyperion]
November, 2018 |  Apart from Brahms’s own arrangement of the orchestral element of his German Requiem for piano duet, there are many other versions – for chamber ensemble, for two pianos, for organ, for harmonium with and without piano, for brass band – and there is now Iain Farrington’s version for chamber ensemble (violin, viola, cello and double bass; flute, oboe and clarinet) and a crucial part for piano, played with great flair and insight on this Hyperion recording by Wei-Yi Yang. The eight players support the Yale Schola Cantorum’s choir of thirty-two... ... In general, David Hill’s tempos would suit a full choral and orchestral version (sixty-six minutes is the same as Klemperer’s celebrated Philharmonia recording) 
Wiener Symphoniker – Philippe Jordan conducts Beethoven’s Second & Seventh Symphonies
November, 2018 |  Philippe Jordan is very convincing in his choice of tempos... ... This performance does not seek to be weighty, but Beethoven’s strong effects are represented by being widely contrasted with the quieter moments. Despite admirable tempos for each movement, including a Toscanini-like rapid view of the Scherzo’s Trio on both appearances, I miss the essential element of grandeur in Symphony No.7. 

 

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