February 2019 | “It is our usual task”, Donald Francis Tovey wrote of annotators, “to act as counsel for the defence”, and whilst Mervyn Cooke’s booklet note for this second Chandos issue of orchestral music by the American maverick George Antheil (1900-59) is full of informative background detail, in terms of any kind of analysis of the works in question he is less forthcoming. ... Archipelago (1935) does, however (as Cooke rightly states) reveal not so much an influence as imitation of the Euro-Brazilian language of Milhaud’s Saudades do Brasil of fifteen years earlier. Nonetheless, such flattery as Antheil uncharacteristically bestowed on the Frenchman appears genuine – the result is a lovely six-minute score of immediate appeal, as – to a rather lesser degree – does the Hot-Time Dance. ... It is impossible to imagine more committed performances than those John Storgårds obtains from the BBC Philharmonic, or a finer recorded sound than Chandos consistently displays.
February 2019 | Just as there were the French clavecinistes in the high Baroque period of the late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-centuries so, around a century before that, there was the school of English virginalists. General listeners will very likely know of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, probably the most important source of keyboard repertoire from that time and place, but Mahan Esfahani also draws on other collections for this fascinating and wide-ranging exploration. For the most part, the composers featured here – such as Byrd, Gibbons, Farnaby, and Tomkins – are better-known for their sacred choral music, but that belies their considerable skills and virtuosity in writing for the keyboard instrument that in England was called – luridly as it might seem – the virginal, but which is simply no more or less than the harpsichord...
February 2019 | Anyone listening blind to this selection of chamber music by Englishman (and Baronet) Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918, Hubert his preferred forename) – of Jerusalem fame, the creator of five Symphonies, author of music books, and a professor at and then head of the Royal College of Music – you might think he was German, for there are strong kinships with the scores of Brahms (in particular), Mendelssohn and Schumann.
February 2019 | A fine start to February reviewing (available from the Eighth), even if the Tchaikovsky is a little subdued to begin with, more a warning from afar than establishing Fate’s dire summons, for Gianandrea Noseda is playing the long game with the first movement of the Fourth Symphony, giving it symphonic credence and building emotions by stealth. ... This admirably clear-sighted account is followed – following a decent pause – by a vividly characterised Pictures at an Exhibition, a long-familiar score that here receives a tiramisu reading, nothing glossed over yet with nothing that plays to the gallery either.
January 2019 | Last year it was Riccardo Muti, it’s Andris Nelsons in 2020; meanwhile Christian Thielemann got the vote to preside over the Vienna Philharmonic’s 2019 New Year’s Concert: a time-honoured affair. Once again Sony Classical has rushed-released the event for our pleasure...
January 2019 | Mark Elder has the measure of The Wand of Youth music – inimitable Elgar, thirteen pieces that contain his complex spirit – and the Hallé is superb in response, from tender to virtuosic with numerous other qualities in between.
January 2019 | Mendelssohn’s C-minor Symphony is somewhat neglected but Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s committed performance is full of vitality making the teenage composer seem remarkably mature. ... After an expansive reading of the introduction, Gardiner takes a bright view of the ‘Scottish’ Symphony’s Allegro un poco agitato. ... The ‘Italian’ Symphony always responds to swift speeds and the first movement is notably sunny as a result. ... The Goethe-inspired Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage is full of contrast between atmospheric gentleness and exciting power... ... Immediately following on this fourth and final disc, there comes a sensitively contoured reading of the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
January 2019 | Here is a unique and very welcome collection of Sonatinas for Violin and Piano, a genre often overlooked in our teeming world, with most of them (not necessarily the best) being by British composers. Perhaps the best-known is that by Lennox Berkeley... ... It receives a wonderful reading, admirably balanced, with Nicola Eimer coping superbly with the very tricky piano part. ... Gordon Crosse’s Sonatina (2010), written for Fenella Humphreys (indeed, inspired by her playing), follows the Sibelius well... ... This is an exceptionally well-planned issue, one which ought to find a place in the collection of any lover of music for violin and piano...
January 2019 | As with Nikolaj Znaider’s excellent recordings of Concertos K218 & K219 LSO Live employs the ideal system for transferring concert performances to disc. ... Although of a similar length to that of its companions, K216 is a more substantial work and is treated as such. I believe all the (uncredited) cadenzas to be Znaider’s own and those provided for this work are a little more serious. The opening Allegro includes many powerful chords and here Znaider’s violin mirrors the positive orchestral contribution...
January 2019 | There’s no shortage of material to add to an already huge discography of Renaissance polyphony. This seemingly disparate collection of Franco-Flemish and Iberian composers has been compiled by Peter Phillips (of the Tallis Scholars) in his capacity as honorary director of El León de Oro founded two decades ago in Asturias; this is its first recording for Hyperion.
January 2019 | Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir marked, in 2017, the 350th-anniversary of the birth of the composer after whom the ensemble is named with a pilgrimage around Europe and the USA promoting the cause of the three surviving operas – acknowledged as the first masterpieces of the genre. This release represents the record of a third of that project, in featuring Monteverdi’s penultimate stage-work, which conflates the same mythological impetus as his first-surviving, Orfeo, with the earthier, quotidian motivations of ordinary human characters in The Coronation of Poppea. ... After the idiomatic and well-characterised Prologue among the allegorical figures of Human Fragility, Fortune, and Love, Lucile Richardot’s Penelope sets the tone, with her steady opening lament which charts an assured way through her conflicted feelings at awaiting the return of Ulysses for ten years after the end of the Trojan War.
January 2019 | Among British-originated Brahms piano cycles, Martin Jones (Nimbus, released 1992) and Barry Douglas (Chandos, 2012-16) have led the field, the former honest, thoughtful and musical if a little small and washy in tone, the latter bold with a fantastical edge. Like Douglas, Garrick Ohlsson is comfortably equal to the challenge, with a big-boned concept of the music and a willingness to open the piano throttle across the registers.
January 2019 | January 2019 is Sibelius Symphony month. I am much looking forward to Paavo Järvi’s complete cycle from Paris for Sony – and also publishing Ateş Orga’s review and Edward Clark’s interview with the conductor – and, meanwhile, Santtu-Matias Rouvali (a Finn in Sweden) begins a Symphony and Symphonic Poem survey (to include Kullervo?) from Gothenburg for Alpha.
January 2019 | Arthur Sullivan’s oratorio The Light of the World was premiered at the Birmingham Musical Festival on 27 August 1873. Sullivan conducted and the new work was met with an extremely enthusiastic reception. Favourable commentary was made by other composers such as Gounod and performers such as Clara Butt. The work remained popular for several decades. ... For John Andrews this is clearly a labour of some love.
January 2019 | This is an excellent set of the Bartók String Quartets, although it has two unusual characteristics which may be linked: the playing is very well upholstered – we normally hear a leaner, meaner sound in Bartók – and the interpretations are on the slow side. Usually the six Quartets fit easily on to two CDs, but the feat is accomplished here by having Disc Two run to eighty-three minutes. The slowness is not outrageous, especially if you compare the timings with those of the Hungarian Quartet; but turning to another favourite ensemble, the Keller Quartet, they are significantly slower. The Arcadia Quartet players tell us in a note that they all live in Transylvania. ... The Second Quartet of 1915-17 follows Bluebeard’s Castle and is on the cusp The Miraculous Mandarin – I far prefer the Quartet, which like some of Beethoven’s works summarises the composer’s progress so far and hints at things to come. Kodály saw the three movements as “A quiet life” / “Joy” / “Sorrow”. The Romanian musicians catch the strange quality of the Moderato, which partakes of both Schoenberg and Reger without crossing the divide between tonal and atonal.
January 2019 | Established in 2009 by Luís Toscano, Cupertinos has now released its debut recording. It’s a gratifying selection of devotional offerings from Portuguese Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650), a master of sacred choral polyphony.
January 2019 | Zubin Mehta was appointed Music Adviser to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969, becoming Music Director in 1981. He steps down this coming October. There's little that he hasn't done in his life. From his early days in Los Angeles he's always been the glamour boy on the block, with a cut-glass technique and unshakeable ideas. ... ...his old friend Pinchas Zukerman joining the party in Mumbai, along with Denis Matsuev from Russia. ... Bounding onto the platform, clapping audience and orchestra, Matsuev, in muscle and sweat mode, wrestles Tchaikovsky with devastating ferocity, sending the Steinway out of tune early into the introduction.
January 2019 | The three Cello Concertos come from different periods, ranging from Saint-Saëns’s familiar First of 1872 and Lalo’s of four years later – the first years of La Belle Époque – to Milhaud’s First of 1934 – the Great War and the Jazz Age having led to the latter period – but they are each wholly characteristic and share those clever Gallic styles which define the nationality of the composers. ... These works do not demand much intellectual insight on the part of the soloist, and therefore appeal greatly to gifted young instrumentalists, of whom the Korean Hee-Young Lim is certainly one; she gives very good performances...
January 2019 | It’s good to have Tchaikovsky’s ‘Little Russian’ and ‘Polish’ Symphonies coupled together, relative Cinderellas, certainly when compared to the ubiquitous Four to Six. Even better when these performances are so good, Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic doing these splendid pieces proud.
January 2019 | Some composers seem to have the dice loaded against them in the game of life, and so it was with the violist and composer Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979). ... Natalie Clein’s version is at least the third, following a horrible one by Raphael Wallfisch and another by Pamela Frame that I have not heard. The work is so bound up with the modern renaissance of the viola, it arises so naturally from the very soul of the viola, Clarke’s own instrument, that a cello is bound to make a very different impression. ... Sorry to keep harping on pachyderms, but here the elephant in the room is the great performance by Rostropovich and Britten (Decca). Good as they are, I think Clein and Hadland are outgunned.
January 2019 | It’s rather fascinating to listen to an ambitious Symphony – it lasts forty-five minutes here – and not find too much of interest, and then listen again in case anything was missed. Yet Ukrainian composer Boris Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968), a pupil of Glière and himself a teacher in Kiev for many years, and also of orchestration at the Moscow Conservatory, must have believed he was on to something with this the Third (1951) of his five Symphonies... ... Grazhyna (1955) was composed as a tribute to writer Adam Mickiewicz on the centenary of his death...