July 2018 CD Reviews

August 2018 CD Reviews
Come to Me in My Dreams – Sarah Connolly & Joseph Middleton [Chandos]
July, 2018 |  Recorded in collaboration with Sarah Connolly’s alma mater, this luminous recital celebrates a clutch of composers with whom the distinguished mezzo-soprano shares RCM connections. With the exception of Mark-Anthony Turnage, whose Stevie Smith setting, ‘Farewell’, was written especially for this recital, the chronology is quite narrow: only sixty-five years separate the births of Hubert Parry (1848) and Benjamin Britten (1913), with the remaining thirteen composers represented born between those extremes. 
Benjamin Zander discusses and conducts Beethoven’s Choral Symphony – Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra [Brattle Media]
July, 2018 |  According to Benjamin Zander, the performance tradition which has obtained with respect to that cornerstone of the orchestral repertoire, Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony, has been essentially wrong, and that is attributable to the failure by conductors to observe Beethoven’s metronome markings. His discussion of the issues involved and his reasoning for adopting a literal interpretation of those indications (essentially, nothing less than instructions in Zander’s eyes) are expounded in a lengthy discussion on this release’s two supplementary discs. 
Günter Wand conducts Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies [NDR; RCA Red Seal]
July, 2018 |  Günter Wand (1912-2002) is in the German tradition – in a commentary written sixty-seven years ago I read that he was a great conductor of Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner. It seems nothing has changed and his approach to these symphonic works is all the more convincing because he eschews those well-worn interpretative conventions which many of his contemporaries imposed. Above all, having once set a tempo he remains with it. In general, his chosen speeds seem exactly suitable. He is not among those who hold firmly to Beethoven’s often surprisingly fast metronome marks, only very occasionally taking that view, although when he does it is to thrilling effect. 
Haydn’s Opus 64 – Doric String Quartet [Chandos]
July, 2018 |  Several of Haydn’s sets of String Quartets find him in transition from one phase to another but in the case of Opus 64 from 1790 the change is particularly abrupt, from works written essentially for private performance to those composed with public presentation in mind. We think of these six Quartets as among those intended for the rather nefarious violinist, merchant and pirate publisher Johann Tost, but by the time we get to the two great masterpieces at the end, ‘The Lark’ and the E-flat, Tost has largely moved out of the picture – although he receives the dedication – and the London violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon has swum into view. ... The Doric String Quartet musicians are similar halfway-house players. They use modern fiddles but have a set of Classical bows made by Luis Emilio Rodriguez Carrington. I suddenly started hearing a lot of senza vibrato when I reached 5 and 6 – there may well be some in earlier Quartets but for reasons which will become apparent, I do not really want to listen to them again! 
Handel’s finest arias for base voice ii – Christopher Purves with Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen [Hyperion]
July, 2018 |  Having collaborated on a previous release for Hyperion of Handel arias for bass ("base"), Christopher Purves and Jonathan Cohen have joined forces again (with the ensemble Arcangelo) for another, similarly eclectic, compilation. As well as arias for operatic tyrants and patriarchal figures from the Biblical oratorios, and the early Italian Cantata ‘Nell’africane selve’ (1708, whose first aria provides the basic theme for that of one the chosen extracts from Esther, making a subtle musical connection in this programme), there is also featured an aria by Nicola Porpora. ... He is also effective at evoking quiet authority and control as the Biblical figures Haman, Abner, Gobrias and Caleb in the oratorios Esther, Athalia, Belshazzar and Joshua respectively 
Handel’s Acis and Galatea – Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn with Allan Clayton & Lucy Crowe [Chandos Chaconne]
July, 2018 |  The tercentenary this year of Acis and Galatea (often described as a “Pastoral opera in two Acts”) has elicited a flurry of interest in this charming masque – perhaps Handel’s most ravishing score. Aside from staged productions by the London Handel Festival and English National Opera, comes this equally vivid interpretation with the handful of roles well-characterised, and the score enlivened by the crisp and spirited rhythmic articulation by Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company. 
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays Haydn Piano Sonatas, Volume 7 [Chandos]
July, 2018 |  Joseph Haydn and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet: all-round geniuses. Special listening abounds in Volume Seven of Bavouzet’s Chandos series devoted to this wonderful and innovative composer’s keyboard Sonatas, each movement bringing a feast of design and invention, surprises galore... 
Grace Davidson sings Handel & Vivaldi [Academy of Ancient Music & Joseph Crouch; Signum Classics]
July, 2018 |  Even though the Lutheran, German-born, and later Anglicised Handel honed his compositional genius in Italy and presented various musical faces during his career, his achievement as a composer of Latin Roman Catholic vocal music remains little appreciated, with the exception of the choral Dixit Dominus. Like that work, two of the settings featured on this release originate from the young man’s time in Rome... ... Grace Davidson’s performances tend to adopt the latter manner with her quiet, intensely focused timbre and intonation emphasising the music’s inwardness. ... Davidson’s singing perhaps comes into its own for Vivaldi’s celebrated Motet... 
Peter Oundjian conducts Vaughan Williams [Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Chandos]
July, 2018 |  Occasionally, even know-all critics have to eat their words, or – more elegantly put – revise their opinions in the light of later experiences, as I have found with this wonderful Chandos release of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, containing the finest account of the vastly underrated Piano Concerto in its original version. ... These Toronto performances are consistently fine, and it is impossible to pick one above the other, for which one must praise Peter Oundjian’s deep understanding of this music. ... Finally – and perhaps most remarkably of all – Louis Lortie’s account of the Piano Concerto has, frankly, astounded me. 
Sebastián de Vivanco – Missa Assumpsit Jesus – De Profundis/Robert Hollingworth [Hyperion]
July, 2018 |  Founded in 2011, De Profundis is a Cambridge-based male-voice ensemble. This Hyperion recording under Robert Hollingworth (one of the group’s peripatetic conductors) focuses on Sebastián de Vivanco... 
Smetana’s Festive Symphony & Dances from The Bartered Bride – Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Darrell Ang [Naxos]
July, 2018 |  Smetana composed his E-major Symphony between 1853 and 1854 to commemorate the wedding of Emperor Franz Joseph; he named it ‘Triumphal’ Symphony. The work ends with an exultant reference to the ‘Emperor’s Hymn’. When Haydn wrote the latter, the Emperor was pleased... ... Darrell Ang drives through the music at a swift pace to give a sense of optimism. 
LSO Live – Simon Rattle conducts Bruckner's Symphony 8 & Messiaen’s Couleurs [DVD & Blu-ray]
July, 2018 |  Reversing the order of the concert of which this release is the record (in DVD and Blu-ray formats), Messiaen’s Couleurs de la Cité Céleste is now rather relegated to an exotic afterthought, following the mighty utterance of Bruckner’s final completed Symphony. Although these composers shared a devout adherence to the Roman Catholic Church, and consciously expressed their religious experiences in their work, which diverges markedly from the linear and developmental manner of much other Western music, their respective styles are considerably different from each other. ... Sir Simon Rattle approaches Couleurs rather more idiomatically and with greater understanding than the Bruckner. 
Violin Sonatas by Miaskovsky, Shebalin & Nechaev – Sasha Rozhdestvensky & Viktoria Postnikova [First Hand Records]
July, 2018 |  This enterprising and rewarding release features three Soviet Violin Sonatas that have a lot in common, not least that each is well-worth getting to know... ... ...there can be nothing but praise for the performances by Sasha Rozhdestvensky and Viktoria Postnikova (mother and son, linked by the recently late Gennadi Rozhdestvensky), played with conviction, technical ability and evident rapport... 

 

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