All 2017 CD Reviews

Ernst Krenek – Complete Piano Concertos, Volume 1 – Mikhail Korzhev/English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods [Toccata Classics]
March 2017 |  Ernst Krenek, the Viennese composer (1900-91), is on a roll at the moment: Hyperion has issued an imposing song-cycle (link below) and Toccata Classics comes up with this first volume of his Piano Concertos. ... Piano Concerto No.2 (1937) – first-performed in Amsterdam with Krenek as soloist, Bruno Walter conducting – is rather more severe, clearly aligned to Schoenberg’s twelve-note system, deftly utilised, organised and angular, and the result would pass in places for Webern. 
Rossini’s La donna del Lago – Katia Ricciarelli, Lucia Valentini-Terrani, Dalmacio González, Dano Raffanti, Samuel Ramey; conducted by Maurizio Pollini [Sony Classical]
March 2017 |  Here’s a welcome release! This recording of Rossini’s most romantic and in some senses pastoral opera, La donna del Lago, was recorded in tandem with some celebrated performances at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, then a relatively new event. It is also a rare foray into conducting by pianist Maurizio Pollini. ... There are two superb singers in the cast. Lucia Valentini-Terrani was the Rossini mezzo-soprano of her generation. ... The other great is Samuel Ramey; every utterance makes one revel in the beauty of his voice and his fine technique. ... Katia Ricciarelli is much admired for her Donizetti and Bellini interpretations and later in Puccini and Verdi. ... With Juan Diego Flórez, Kenneth Tarver, Lawrence Brownlee, John Osborn and Michael Spyres (to name but a few) we live in an age of superb Rossini tenors. In the early-1980s this was less true. 
Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron – Hans Herbert Fiedler & Helmut Krebs; conducted by Hans Rosbaud [Sony Classical]
March 2017 |  Eighty-two years after it was left in abeyance and fifty-seven after the initial hearing of its torso, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron remains an ambivalent, even problematic concept not merely for its incompleteness. For all that, the composition as it stands encompasses one-hundred minutes of Schoenberg at his most combative and provocative... ... Hans Rosbaud was a formidable exponent of modern music; his reputation resting on concert performances rather than his handful of studio recordings. Among these latter, most significant is this first commercial outing for Moses und Aron... ... In vocal terms, matters are hardly less consistent. Hans Herbert Fiedler evinces the requisite gravity and thoughtfulness for the exacting Sprechstimme of Moses... ... Helmut Krebs has no less eloquence and poise as Aron, though without quite the vocal agility which makes Philip Langridge (for Georg Solti on Decca) still the most captivating exponent of this cruelly exacting role. 
Morton Gould: The Complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra Recordings [RCA Red Seal]
March 2017 |  Few musicians of his generation enjoyed such a varied career as Morton Gould (1913-1996), his activity over a range of genres taking in classical and crossover pieces (rapping and tap-dancing not excepted) as well as a lengthy association with RCA Red Seal as saw numerous releases with ‘his’ orchestra that set the standard by which such collaborations were judged. 
Wigmore Hall Live – Schubert Lieder – Benjamin Appl & Graham Johnson
March 2017 |  He may have performed every nook and corner of the songbook and recorded it all for Hyperion, but Graham Johnson hasn’t yet finished with Schubert. The pianist has been lured back to the composer by the youthful, full-toned baritone of Benjamin Appl for a disc that’s packed with out-of-the-way gems plus a few favourites. ... Recorded live at Wigmore Hall... 
Vasily Petrenko conducts Elgar’s Second Symphony [Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Onyx]
March 2017 |  Elgar’s Second is on a roll. From Berlin to Singapore the score seems to be taking its place, finally, as one of the pillars of late romanticism. ... Vasily Petrenko has conducted fine, even remarkable live accounts of both Elgar Symphonies with several orchestras yet neither of his Onyx recordings does justice to his distinctive vision. ... The highest profile of the recent ‘revisionist’ contenders, Daniel Barenboim, is certainly closer to the ‘authentic’ lick of the composer himself...  
Ginastera – Orchestral Works 2 – Panambí & Piano Concerto No.2 – Xiayin Wang/BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena [Chandos]
March 2017 |  Chandos’s survey of Alberto Ginastera’s orchestral music continues with this stark if effective juxtaposition of works separated by thirty-five years... ... Not that Panambí (completed in 1937) is a derivative or jejune piece. Completed when Ginastera was a student in Buenos Aires, its subtitle implies a conceptual link to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé such as is made manifest by the sophisticated impressionism evident in much of this score. ... By the time of his Second Piano Concerto (1972), Ginastera was well into his most forward-looking phase that fused a highly personal take on serial technique with an equally individual approach to rhythm and sonority. ... Not least when the pianist is so evidently attuned to this music as Xiayin Wang... 
Doric String Quartet plays Schubert – D703 Quartettsatz & D887 G-major [Chandos]
March 2017 |  The Quartettsatz is only one movement but it contains the qualities of greatness evident in all of Schubert’s late works. The Doric Quartet is always deeply expressive and also gives sufficient impulse to propel the music firmly while still sensitively caressing every phrase. ... The Doric musicians’ interpretation of the G-major Quartet brings out the best of the players and the shaping of the immense opening movement is superb. 
Muzio Clementi – Four Symphonies – Mozarteumorchester Salzburg/Ivor Bolton [Sony Classical]
March 2017 |  Apart from one appalling mistake by Sony, this is a brilliant issue of music that, for no defendable reason, is never heard in the concert hall, but which every self-respecting music-lover should hear. Muzio Clementi was a vastly more original and imaginative composer than many people realise... ... Indeed, we simply don’t know when they were written, nor do we know how many Symphonies Clementi composed... ... It has fallen to the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg – and a very gifted British conductor – to give us this exceptional release. ... The subtitle of the Third Symphony, ‘The Great National’, refers to the use of the British National Anthem, but some listeners may feel the opening three notes allude to the ringing of familiar bell changes – better-known to Clementi’s contemporaries than us. 
James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater conducted by Harry Christophers [Coro]
March 2017 |  This is the first recording of Sir James MacMillan’s setting of the Stabat Mater... ... Stabat Mater is preceded by eponymous Plainsong, and MacMillan is said by Harry Christophers to be amongst “a trio of truly great composers of sacred music, the other two being Tomás Luis de Victoria and Francis Poulenc.” Whether one agrees or not with this list – which omits Tallis, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Bruckner, et al (Bach was Lutheran) – there is no doubting the belief which has gone into the preparation of the public performances – and this recording – of MacMillan’s score. 
Concertos by Howard Shore: Ruin and Memory for Lang Lang, and Mythic Gardens for Sophie Shao [Sony Classical]
March 2017 |  The Canadian composer Howard Shore (born 1946) is best-known for his successful film music, having written scores for over eighty films. As a consequence, and certainly on the evidence of these two Concertos, his concert music has a directness of utterance... ... Ruin and Memory was composed for Lang Lang, who gives a wholly fine account of the solo part, quite well recorded at the world premiere in Beijing. ... The Mythic Gardens Cello Concerto is more sombre. 
Flute Concertos by Mozart and Nielsen – Juliette Bausor/Royal Northern Sinfonia/Jaime Martín [Signum]
February 2017 |  This recording represents something of a homecoming for Juliette Bausor, principal flautist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Previously she was with the Northern Sinfonia, and additionally it is very suitable that she should co-operate with Jaime Martín who is also a flautist. ... The Mozart may be considered as highly superior entertainment music to which Carl Nielsen’s Concerto is a perfect foil. ... The dedicatee was the distinguished Holger Gilbert-Jespersen and the joke would at once have made its mark with his companions... 
Andrew Davis conducts Vaughan Williams’s Job and Ninth Symphony [Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Chandos]
February 2017 |  Job (1930) is one of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s 24-carat masterpieces, and in recorded terms, I have no doubt that Sir Adrian Boult’s fourth and final version (with the LSO, for EMI) is definitive. Andrew Davis, vastly experienced as a conductor of this composer, is every bit as idiomatic as the score’s dedicatee and finds the Bergen Philharmonic in virtuoso and sensitive form. ... Vaughan Williams’s Ninth Symphony (1957) was underestimated at its premiere, and possibly remains so... ... The second movement, with contemplative flugelhorn and militaristic rhythms, and perhaps linked to a literary source, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, continues the opposites to be found in this music... 
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain/Edward Gardner – Also sprach Zarathustra & The Planets [Chandos]
February 2017 |  Two stellar performances that together just fit one disc, which rightly starts with the earthy rumbles of Also sprach Zarathustra... ... Edward Gardner’s conducting of Strauss’s Nietzsche-inspired symphonic poem is impressively flowing and direct while still being flexible and also alive to small details; in return the members of the National Youth Orchestra play with confidence, poise and bravura... ... However, it’s The Planets that takes the bouquets, captured in sound, as ‘Mars’ announces immediately, which is that bit more tangible – indeed the war-mongering is hurled at the listener – Gardner not driving the music but ensuring tension-packed and increasing danger; the full force of the outsized NYO is uncompromising. 
Elbphilharmonie Hamburg: The First Recording – Thomas Hengelbrock conducts NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester in Brahms’s Symphonies 3 & 4 [Sony Classical]
February 2017 |  The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester is formerly the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, originally conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt from 1945 and, later, by Günter Wand, Christoph Eschenbach and Christoph von Dohnányi. The new name dates from 2016 and stems from the ensemble’s residence – the spectacular new Elbphilharmonie. ... Although the disc’s packaging is labelled Brahms Symphonies 3 & 4 (presented in reverse order), the first music to be heard is two long-held chords that do not belong to either work. “Thomas Hengelbrock has opted for a world-first in this release” and includes four bars that Brahms composed to commence his Fourth Symphony but he didn’t include them in the published score – they have been recorded previously by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Riccardo Chailly as an appendix within their Decca Brahms cycle. 
Bernard van Dieren’s Chinese Symphony [Lyrita]
February 2017 |  Time was when the music of Bernard van Dieren (1887-1936) was more discussed than heard, then hardly discussed at all, yet there is no better way into his output than the ‘Chinese’ Symphony. .... Dutch-born Van Dieren resided in London from 1909, but travelled widely prior to the First World War; attending the 1912 premieres of both Busoni’s Die Brautwahl and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. He seems not to have attended the Munich debut of Das Lied von der Erde a year before, though he must have been aware of Hans Bethge’s anthology Die Chinesische Flöte prior to the London premiere of the Mahler in 1913 as he had already embarked on his own settings. 
Humphrey Searle Orchestral Works [Lyrita]
February 2017 |  Both the 30th-anniversary of his death and, more to the point, the centenary of his birth passed without any consequence. Humphrey Searle (1915-82) deserves better... ... After the notable disaster that was the premiere of his Fourth Symphony (1962), the relative success of the Fifth (1964) might partly have been a recognition of its less fragmented nature. Inscribed to the memory of Webern (with whom Searle studied in Vienna during 1937 and 1938) and conceived as an overview of his life... This last performance also serves as a reminder of the numerous British premieres undertaken by Louis Frémaux and the CBSO under the auspices of the Feeney Trust. Nor are the other accounts slacking conviction; testament to the interpretative acumen of Messrs Pritchard, Leonard and Foster. 
Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride – Carol Vaness, Thomas Allen, Giorgio Surian, Gösta Winbergh; La Scala Milan conducted by Riccardo Muti [Sony Classical]
February 2017 |  Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) was Gluck’s penultimate opera, written in Paris and premiered there... ... ...which looks back to the directness of diction which the French operatic tradition had prized since Lully and Rameau, and lays the foundations for the even greater symphonic structures in operas by Mozart, Weber and, eventually, Wagner. ... Riccardo Muti captures the essence of both worlds... 
Handel’s Serse / Xerxes – Carolyn Watkinson, Paul Esswood, Ortrun Wenkel – La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire [Sony Classical]
February 2017 |  This re-issue provides a welcome opportunity to reappraise one of the milestone recordings in the history of Handel opera. ... Jean-Claude Malgoire’s interpretation is alert and well-sprung... ... That aside, Malgoire’s cast is distinguished and creditable, led by Carolyn Watkinson’s assured Serse. ... There is a slightly brittle wobble in Paul Esswood’s singing as Serse’s brother Arsamene, and there are times when he projects more confidently... ... More-recent recordings offer greater drama and vivacity, such as William Christie’s with Les Arts Florissants (Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role) or the Early Opera Company under Christian Curnyn... 
Haydn String Quartets – Opuses 54 & 55 – The London Haydn Quartet [Hyperion]
January 2017 |  All the requirements of ‘period’ performance are here: The London Haydn Quartet uses gut-strung instruments and plays at lower pitch as used in the late-eighteenth century. There is a keen sense of structure, for example: observation of all repeats including both sections of sonata movements and the use of long grace-notes rather than short ones (appoggiaturas rather than acciaccaturas). This is backed up by the use of Longman & Broderip’s scores of 1789. There is much expressiveness in these interpretations... ... Opus 55/2 is probably the most-performed of this set – maybe because of the legend that Haydn, when shaving, complained of the bluntness of his razor saying: "I would give my best quartet for a good razor" and he was working on this composition at the time. 
NHK Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi – Richard Strauss Volume 1 – Don Juan & Ein Heldenleben [RCA Red Seal]
January 2017 |  The booklet includes an article by Paavo Järvi regarding this his first recording with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, the beginning of a Richard Strauss project with an orchestra particularly attuned to the German repertoire, he feels, thanks to time-honoured associations with Wolfgang Sawallisch, Horst Stein and Otmar Suitner. ... Don Juan is a good place to start... ...in the Kempe, Reiner and Szell moulds... ... Järvi is equally wholesome with Ein Heldenleben. 
Andrew Davis conducts Handel’s Messiah [Chandos]
January 2017 |  Handel’s Messiah isn’t just for Christmas (or Lent) but is a masterpiece that has endured across the generations since its 1742 premiere and survived intact the various performing traditions and arrangements to which it has been subjected. Sir Andrew Davis’s “New Concert Edition” of the oratorio sidesteps the ‘authentic’ practice of recent decades and reclaims the work for a ‘modern’ symphony orchestra and chorus in such a way as to revive, to some extent, the traditions of the 19th-century and earlier half of the 20th in filling out and extending Handel’s scoring. 
Piano Music of Jack Gallagher played by Frank Huang [Centaur]
January 2017 |  Having been impressed with Jack Gallagher’s Second Symphony, I can now report that his piano music is just as good. Gallagher (born Brooklyn in 1947) has the knack of communicating without making it obvious, drawing the listener into a lively and warm discourse, and vivid characterisations. ... The disc opens with the Piano Sonata (1973/2005), a three-movement work reminiscent of Hindemith (which is just fine with me), succinct, affirmative and very expressive music... ... Six Pieces for Kelly (1989) refers to the composer’s daughter, then aged eight; each one is evocative and includes a ‘Lullaby’, a ‘Folksong’ and a rollicking ‘Balkan Dance’. 
Kenneth Hesketh piano music, including Horae (pro clara), played by Clare Hammond [BIS]
January 2017 |  It’s a real pleasure to listen to Kenneth Hesketh’s piano music, played with such dedication by Clare Hammond, and superbly recorded, too. ... The big work here, albeit in twelve movements, is Horae (pro clara), completed in 2012 for Hammond, and with each section given alluring/intriguing Italian markings followed by in-English descriptions, such as “as fleet as the tiniest humming bird”... ... I shall also revisit with equal keenness both Notte Oscura and the Japanese Miniatures (all from 2002). The former is a transcription of an interlude from Hesketh’s Gogol-inspired opera, The Overcoat, chilly yet darkly beautiful... 
Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, and songs by Zemlinsky – Florian Boesch & Roger Vignoles [Hyperion]
January 2017 |  Although Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) embraced many musical styles and factions over the course of his lifetime, including jazz, his song-cycle Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen is a relatively early work (1929) expressed in a generally neo-Romantic musical language. ... Florian Boesch captures with a dry humour the satirical bent of a number of the Songs, particularly so in the quiet, almost deadpan delivery of some of them, such as in satirising the utilitarian interests of the tourist hordes who flock to the Alps in search of transient gratification... ... Roger Vignoles’s playing is marked by a more playful and lyrical impetus... 
Kirill Gerstein plays Liszt’s Transcendental Studies [Myrios Classics]
January 2017 |  2016 was a strong 'Russian' year for Liszt’s Transcendental Studies, with releases from Dinara Klinton and Daniil Trifonov. ... Liszt's final 1851 revision unfolds a tale of selection and metamorphosis, retention, rejection and recasting, tracing the legend of the double-escapement concert-grand from straight-strung wood frame to cross-strung iron waiting for 1853 and the Bechstein-Blüthner-Steinway power revolution... ... In the booklet note (an interview with Tom Service) Kirill Gerstein comments on what he sees (reasonably enough) to be the Austrian inheritance of the cycle – back to Haydn and Beethoven via Czerny... ... When he does holds back, the dividends are palpable – ‘Harmonies du soir’ and ‘Paysage’, for example, come off well, notwithstanding the unremitting fullness of their voicing. ‘Feux follets’ is crisply machined... 
Pavel Kolesnikov plays Chopin’s Mazurkas [Hyperion]
January 2017 |  Pavel Kolesnikov, a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist whose teachers have ranged from the old Ginsburg/Soviet guard (Dorensky) to the elegantly Western European (Norma Fisher at the Royal College of Music, Pires in Brussels), is one of a crop of gifted young Russians currently based in London. 
Schumann Lieder – Frauenliebe und -leben & Dichterliebe – Alice Coote & Christian Blackshaw [Wigmore Hall Live]
January 2017 |  Alice Coote’s voice has a rich flavour nowadays... ... To compare Coote’s latest recorded account of Frauenliebe und -leben with the 2003 version on her debut disc for EMI is to understand how daring an artist she has become. ... If Coote is the psyche then Christian Blackshaw is the beating heart of the partnership. ... Although Dichterliebe tells a male tale, it is no more a man’s cycle than, say, Schubert’s Winterreise, which Coote has also recorded. She and Blackshaw chart a bleak trajectory through Heinrich Heine’s plunge into the poet-narrator’s emotional depths. 
Martyn Brabbins conducts Elgar – In the South & Enigma Variations, and other pieces [BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Hyperion]
January 2017 |  This outstanding Elgar release opens with a bracing account of In the South, Martyn Brabbins securing sweep and incisiveness... ... Brabbins’s spacious conducting of Enigma Variations is altogether special... ... ...‘Nimrod’ is deeply contemplative – the German word Innigkeit (“poignant intimacy of feeling”) seems apt, for the music sends shivers down the spine... ,,, What follows is intriguing, three pieces for narrator and orchestra written by Elgar during World War One, beginning with Carillon, incorporating a text by the Belgian writer Émile Cammaerts... 
Lucas Debargue live at Salle Cortot – Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, Grieg, Schubert [Sony Classical]
January 2017 |  Lucas Debargue (born 1990 in Paris) wowed critics and audience during the International Tchaikovsky Competition that was held in Moscow in 2015; the Jury was perhaps less impressed, awarding Debargue Fourth Prize. ... The opening of the Chopin is beautifully tender, the succeeding lines poetic, given with an attractive extemporisation, and Debargue goes on to increment impressively the music’s power and passion, and his clinical fingers come into their own in the coruscating coda. Following which Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz is curiously sedate initially and over-analysed... ... The big piece is Gaspard de la nuit. Its wonderfully played... 
Angela Hewitt plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations, 2015 [Hyperion]
January 2017 |  This is Angela Hewitt’s second recording (the first was in 1999, and both on Hyperion) of a work that she has lived with for years, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, “Aria mit verschiedenen Veränderungen” ... Her piano is a beautiful Fazioli instrument, which responds well to her brand of attack, colour and characterisation. ... Sixty years have passed since the famous Glenn Gould recording became a crucial spiritual soundtrack for many Bach lovers... 
The Royal Opera – Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci (Cav & Pag) – Aleksandrs Antonenko, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Dimitri Platanias, Carmen Giannattasio; directed by Damiano Michieletto; conducted by Antonio Pappano [Opus Arte DVD]
January 2017 |  This Opus Arte DVD of opera’s most-durable double-bill of ‘Cav and Pag’ is of well-received productions that are especially cohesive... ... Aleksandrs Antonenko is dramatically better suited to the jealous Canio than to the reckless and feckless Turiddu, but his singing has a thrilling ring and security throughout. Even better is Dimitri Platanias. ... Of the two leading ladies Carmen Giannattasio takes the honours as a put-upon, unhappy Nedda... ... Antonio Pappano, as ever singer-friendly and theatrically alert, provides sure-footed tempos and relishes the verismo idiom perfectly... 
Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne – Michael Fabiano, Ana Maria Martinez, Igor Golovatenko; directed by Mariame Clément; conducted by Enrique Mazzola [Opus Arte DVD]
January 2017 |  Glyndebourne Festival’s production of Donizetti’s Poliuto in Mariame Clément’s staging comes over rather better on DVD than it did in the theatre... ... The title role is sung by Michael Fabiano – a superb vocalist. ... Paolina is beautifully sung and affectingly portrayed by Ana Maria Martinez in a grandiose fashion and with an outstanding voice... ... The London Philharmonic and Glyndebourne Chorus make important contributions and Enrique Mazzola skilfully keeps the music flowing... 

 

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