All 2020 CD Reviews

O gemma clarissima – Music in Praise of St Catharine – The Choirs of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge/Edward Wickham [Resonus]
February 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★☆ In this fine disc of largely unfamiliar Renaissance choral music (although by some familiar composers) the two choirs of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, bring together compositions written in honour of their patron saint. Written around the time of the college’s foundation in 1473, or within the century after that, the repertoire comprises a sequence of Latin motets written by various composers around Europe. Six of them are preceded by plainchants (from the distinctive ‘Sarum’ corpus) which form the structural basis of those works. All but one of the chants are sung – with fluid, flexible ease – by the college’s separate girls’ choir, who also provide a lithe and luminous account of Gombert’s intriguing four-part ‘Virgo sancta Katherina’ for upper voices alone, with its rigorously imitative sections (almost a succession of canons) remaining agile and precise under Edward’s Wickham’s direction.… 
Handel’s Queens – Cuzzoni & Bordoni [Signum]
February 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★★ Don't be deceived by the title of this release – from several points of view it is a more enterprising project than yet another traversal of the careers of singers connected to a famous composer or repertoire – in this case two of the divas employed by Handel in the heyday of his first opera company in the 1720s. Around half of the items recorded are little-known extracts from operas by other composers in which those famously feisty sopranos, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, also took part – indeed no fewer than fourteen arias are claimed to be first recordings. … 
Between Heaven and Hell – Joseph Moog plays Franz Liszt [Onyx]
February 2020 (Peter Reed) |  ★★★★★ I first heard the 32-year-old German pianist Joseph Moog at a Chopin Society recital in November 2019 in Westminster Cathedral Hall, and it is an understatement to declare that I was swept away, not just by his wizardry but also by his musicianship – and a pianist who includes Fauré in their programme already has me on their side. That aside, it was Moog’s performance of Liszt’s B-minor Sonata that had me on the edge of my seat – it seemed that all the ley-lines of virtuosity and imagination were beaming the audience up into something outstanding. … 
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter from 1955 – Mahler, Wagner, Haydn & Brahms [ICA Classics]
February 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★★☆ Bruno Walter will be remembered for his close association with Gustav Mahler, whom he encountered first in 1894, and it was through the influence of the composer that at the age of nineteen Walter became conductor of the municipal opera in Breslau. Around this time he changed his name from Schlesinger to Walter – possibly because the theatre director preferred a non-Jewish name. Soon, he moved to Pressburg for an appointment, and then to Riga where he converted to Christianity – a sincere conversion which he enthusiastically retained to the end of his life. In 1900 he returned to Berlin, the town of his birth, where he became Royal Prussian Conductor at the Staatsoper, and, one year later, he also became assistant to Mahler at the Court Opera 
Yehudi Menuhin from 1956 playing Mozart's Violin Concertos with BBC Symphony Orchestra and London Mozart Players [ICA Classics]
February 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★★☆ Yehudi Menuhin performed these concertos live in the BBC studios during ten days in January 1956. He was then in his fortieth year and had long been regarded as a world-renowned musician. He had first appeared as a solo violinist, with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, at the age of seven. Six years later he was playing in Berlin with an orchestra under the direction of Bruno Walter. After moving to Paris, Menuhin then took instruction from Georges Enescu. It is notable that Menuhin’s Mozart performances are warm-toned and full of feeling, yet shaped in a classical manner; it may be that this style of playing is a reflection of a principle quoted to him by his tutor Enescu, who said: “however strong your emotional impulse may be, it should never destroy the basic pace nor twist the overall form of the piece from its architectural shape". … 
Bart Van Reyn conducts Joseph Haydn's 80th & 81st Symphonies, and Piano Concerto in D with Lucas Blondeel [Fuga Libera]
February 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★★☆ There have been some excellent performances of these two Symphonies, mostly on modern instruments. Ernst Märzendorfer and Antonio de Almeida provided thoughtful versions of No.80, but, perhaps, these distinguished conductors were superseded in this work by the little-known Prionnsías Ó Duinn. For No.81 there is the magnificent Antal Doráti version with the Bath Festival Orchestra – far superior to the interpretation in his Decca/Oiseau-Lyre set of all the Symphonies.… 
Mozart’s Apollo et Hyacinthus – Classical Opera/Ian Page with Laurence Zazzo, Sophie Bevan, Andrew Kennedy, Klara Ek & Christopher Ainslie [Signum]
January 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★☆ Apollo et Hyacinthus is little less than a miracle. The first of two operas which Mozart wrote at the age of 11 in 1767, it was already his second stage work, taking the broadest sense of that term, as he had already composed the sacred play Die Schudigkeit des ersten Gebots. … 
A Bohemian in London – Violin Sonatas by Gottfried Finger – Duo Dorado [Chandos Chaconne]
January 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★★ The baker's dozen of Sonatas featured here originate in a little known but richly rewarding manuscript held at the British Library. Not all 66 in that set are by Gottfried Finger (1655-1730) but those which are represent a fascinating body of work assembled in London by the Moravian-born musician, even if some of it was actually written before his arrival. On either side of their compilation came the two events for which Finger is perhaps best remembered today, In 1690 he had published the first set of solo sonatas to have appeared in England and which established his reputation as an influential composer. … 
The Soul of Fire – Age Juurikas plays Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albéniz, Igor Stravinsky, Frederico Mompou [Estonia Record Productions]]
January 2020 (Ateş Orga) |  ★★★★★ The Estonian pianist Age Juurikas caught my attention some years back. Video performances of Rachmaninov's D-flat Prelude, Tchaikovsky's October, and Albéniz's La Vega revealed an artist capturing resonantly old-world qualities of timing, emotion, nobility, tone and fantasy. Subsequently, I discovered her penchant for off-the-beaten-track concertos – Anton Rubinstein's Fourth (aspiring to grand heights) and the Rachmaninov G-minor (a work she sees as “dark and tender”), both with Neemi Järvi and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. Her seriousness of application and resources of power and delicacy, structural tension, poetic spirit, her refusal to stoop to the gallery, make for a compelling chemistry. You get what you see, no frills, just an occasional telling smile. … 
Vasily Petrenko conducts Richard Strauss – Don Quixote, Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel – a comparison of the CD with digital downloads
January 2020 (Rob Pennock) |  Sound: ★★★★☆ | Performance: ★★★☆☆ | Volume One of Petrenko’s Oslo cycle of Richard Strauss’s tone poems featured a rather bland performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra that went nowhere convincingly, and Ein Heldenleben, which was better, but hardly in the same class as John Barbirolli (BBC Legends), Thomas Beecham, Bernard Haitink (Philips) or Willem Mengelberg. So how does he fare in arguably Strauss’s three greatest orchestral works? 

 

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