All 2018 CD Reviews

Jonathan Plowright plays Josef Suk [Hyperion]
August 2018 |  In 1935 the Czechoslovaks lost Josef Suk in May and Otakar Ostrčil in August. We generalise and omit – but tragedy more than triumph, the mounting farewell of those dark European days, somehow crowd the mind. ... Jonathan Plowright's latest Hyperion release, a superlative album in all ways, lusciously played and recorded, reminds of a keenly attuned early obituary writer, Vladimír Helfert, who noted Josef Suk's “rich and spontaneous musical talent”, and lifelong affection for all things pastoral Bohemian. 
Kenneth Woods’s orchestration of Brahms’s Piano Quartet Opus 26 [English Symphony Orchestra; Nimbus Alliance]
August 2018 |  Kenneth Woods has orchestrated Brahms’s A-major Piano Quartet (in the booklet he goes into considered detail as to why) and, of course, he has a pertinent precedent in Schoenberg’s scoring of Opus 26’s immediate G-major predecessor, somewhat quirky in orchestral use (in relation to Brahms’s own examples in his Symphonies and Concertos) if colourful and likeable. 
Mark Elder conducts Wagner’s Das Rheingold [Hallé]
August 2018 |  Mark Elder and the Hallé’s latest instalment in Wagner’s Ring cycle is their recording of Das Rheingold. It’s a rather back-to-front project: Götterdämmerung was mounted first in 2009, Die Walküre followed in 2011, Rheingold in 2016 – all available on the Hallé’s label – and when Siegfried appears (already performed), the concert project will have turned in a must-have Ring. ... Rheingold is an action-packed opera, and Elder brings it to life so vividly that listeners will have no problems conjuring their own dream staging. 
Stephen Dodgson String Trios & Solo Pieces – Karolos [Naxos]
August 2018 |  The music of Londoner Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013) might be heard as mixing Classical elegance (and a reverence for Baroque music, as shared by Benjamin Britten) with some twentieth-century harmonic spice. ... It’s a neat programme, the Trios bookending pieces for each of the protagonists. Very well-played as the group Karolos, Harriet Mackenzie, Sarah-Jane Bradley and Graham Walker also shine individually... 
The Lily & the Rose – Binchois Consort/Andrew Kirkman [Hyperion]
August 2018 |  This Hyperion issue from the Binchois Consort brings together a cappella music from medieval England inspired by devotional texts mostly associated with the Virgin Mary, an on-going project that explores artistic parallels between polyphony and alabaster sculpture, a worthy idea. 
Sir Richard Rodney Bennett Orchestral Works Volume 2 – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/John Wilson, with Howard McGill in Concerto for Stan Getz [Chandos]
August 2018 |  Robert Simpson once wrote that “versatility in an artist can be a curse”, and one can see why on contemplating the career of Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012), a comprehensively gifted musician, arguably the most talented of all British twentieth-century composers... ... Bennett’s Second Symphony was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its 125th-Anniversary season (1967-68). The premiere, the first of five consecutive performances within a week, was conducted by Leonard Bernstein... ... The Concerto for Stan Getz requires different listening ears, as Judge Judy might say. ... It receives from Howard McGill a performance of consummate musicianship... 
Royal String Quartet plays James MacMillan [Hyperion]
August 2018 |  Written at roughly ten-year intervals from 1988 to 2007, Sir James MacMillan’s three String Quartets (to date) are finely crafted and rewarding works that combine intensity of expression with austere, craggy beauty. Their formidable demands are dispatched with astounding assurance by the Royal String Quartet. 
LSO Live – Valery Gergiev conducts Rachmaninov & Balakirev
August 2018 |  These concert recordings cover Valery Gergiev’s tenure as principal conductor of the LSO (January 2007 to February 2015). ... Rachmaninov – like Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, Mussorgsky, Stravinsky – is Gergiev's Russian bread-and-butter. 
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... 
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta – Orchestral music from Der Ring des Nibelungen [Naxos]
June 2018 |  Wagner’s Ring in orchestral guise, which works well from the Buffalo Philharmonic and JoAnn Falletta, not so much a set of the oft-termed “bleeding chunks”, rather a wholesome tone poem, a story to tell. ... From there to Walküre and, yes, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’... 
Edward Gardner conducts Edward Elgar – Symphony No.2 & Serenade for Strings [BBC Symphony Orchestra; Chandos]
June 2018 |  Previously I afforded a five-star welcome to Edward Gardner’s Chandos account of Elgar’s First Symphony; about the Second I am less certain. ... Suddenly the relationship changes, for the lamenting second movement brings a definite increase in emotional identity, the pacing broad, the sentiments hushed and deeply-felt, passions rising to the surface organically, a frisson created... 
Edward Elgar – Short Orchestral Works – David Lloyd-Jones conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra [Dutton Epoch]
June 2018 |  Many delights here covered by twenty-two miniatures, but you may be denied two of them (see final paragraph), although things sometimes come in three – the Bavarian Dances and Characteristic Pieces – the last-named including a grand Mazurka and a Gavotte (the latter's 'Introduction' recorded for the first time), Elgar with a full and international dance card. ... To complete a very recommendable release (though knock a star off if you feel cheated by the denial of the SACD-exclusive content), the informative booklet note is by David Lloyd-Jones himself. 
Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducts Brahms [WDR Sinfonieorchester; Profil]
June 2018 |  These performances recall those given by the great German orchestras in the twentieth-century of which WDR – then known as Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk – is one. There is breadth of tempo and fullness of timbre with rich woodwind chording and full-bodied strings giving the familiar ‘Brahms sound’. Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s interpretations are very much in line with this tradition... 
Marc-Antoine Charpentier – Leçons de ténèbres – Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen [Hyperion]
June 2018 |  This latest Hyperion release from Jonathan Cohen’s Arcangelo is of settings by Marc-Antoine Charpentier whose voluminous sacred works first drew favourable attention through William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. 
Joshua Bell plays Max Bruch – Scottish Fantasy & Violin Concerto No.1 – Academy of St Martin in the Fields [Sony Classical]
June 2018 |  Joshua Bell has been here before, recording Max Bruch’s G-minor Violin Concerto thirty years ago with this orchestra, Neville Marriner conducting. Now Bell is going it alone, violin bow sometimes acting as conductor’s baton, but essentially trusting the guys and gals of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields to be the most loyal of companions, which of course they are. 
Stephen Hough’s Dream Album [Hyperion]
June 2018 |  Whether, in titular terms, this is the Album that Stephen Hough has always wanted to make or it’s Hyperion’s way of telling us it is his finest recording to date (plenty of self-made competition though, such as a recent Debussy disc) is a fancy on my part... ... There are numerous Hough transcriptions and originals here, including (in the first camp) versions of ‘Das alte Lied’ and ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ (the latter indelibly associated with Kathleen Ferrier), some balletic Minkus, ‘Moscow Nights’ (Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen did a re-titled version of this, striking the Midnight hour)... ... Another couple of releases like this and Hough will have his own version of Your Hundred Best Tunes. 
Chamber Music by Ernö Dohnányi – The Nash Ensemble [Hyperion]
June 2018 |  Ernö Dohnányi (aka Ernst von Dohnányi, 1877-1960, grandfather to Christoph von) was born in the Hungarian town of Pozsony and enjoyed a notable career as a pianist and a conductor, and also as an administrator, including of Hungarian Radio and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. The music on this Nash Ensemble release from Hyperion is very engaging and eminently well-crafted. 
Wiener Symphoniker – Philippe Jordan conducts Beethoven’s Fourth & Fifth Symphonies
June 2018 |  Greater fire is evident in these performances than in Philippe Jordan’s recent versions of Beethoven’s Symphonies 1 and 3. There is still the modern tendency toward faster tempos but not slavish adherence to the metronome marks that Beethoven added some time after composing his first eight Symphonies. ... The opening of Beethoven 5 grabs the attention – it took until the mid-twentieth-century before Erich Kleiber showed on a recording how this movement should be driven with uncompromising fury with none of the romantic emphases that were so often foisted upon it. 
Andrew Manze conducts Berlioz & Weber – Harold in Italy with Lawrence Power, Invitation to the Dance [Bergen Philharmonic; Hyperion]
June 2018 |  With Harold in Italy, Berlioz effected a quiet revolution in synthesising the abstract, generic forms of the Symphony and the Concerto, in the service of dramatising a work of literature (Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage) to create something like an extended tone poem. ... Lawrence Power sustains the solo part with apt reserve... ... Andrew Manze directs the Bergen Philharmonic in an account which could have more impulsive drama and drive...  
Grażyna Bacewicz – Piano Quintets, Quartets for Violins and for Cellos – Silesian Quartet & Friends [Chandos]
June 2018 |  One of the great violinist-composers, Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-69) also played the piano, making her a formidably-equipped creative artist. She was born in Łódź to a Lithuanian father and Polish mother, who brought up their sons as Lithuanian and their daughters as Polish. Her father was the conductor Vincas Bacevičius and her brothers, Vytautas and Kęstutis Bacevičius, were respectively composer and pianist. 
Barry Douglas – Schubert Works for Solo Piano, Volume 3 – Sonata D958 & Moments musicaux [Chandos]
June 2018 |  There's nothing to say about this release. Conversely everything. Barry Douglas is one of history's grand Schubertians, his artistry and sensitivity yielding fabled glories at every turn. ... The six Moments musicaux – what a private, prophetic collection of pieces, capsules of landscape, reflection and spirit, ruminations of the hour... 
Ginastera – Orchestral Works 3 – Piano Concerto No.1, Variaciones concertantes, Concierto argentino – Xiayin Wang/BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena [Chandos]
June 2018 |  Juanjo Mena continues his traversal through the orchestral works of Alberto Ginastera (1916-83) with this collection of three concertante pieces... ... Coming near the outset of the composer’s most radical phase, the First Piano Concerto (1961) has also proved among his most durable works... ... Xiayin Wang has the measure of its methodical virtuosity... ... ...before the final ‘Toccata concertata’, as made (in)famous by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, erupts with furious resolve. 
Peter Oundjian conducts John Adams – Absolute Jest, Naive and Sentimental Music – Doric String Quartet & Royal Scottish National Orchestra [Chandos]
June 2018 |  Not presumably by accident the appearance of this release coincides with the conductor’s final concerts as RSNO music director. John Adams is a composer Peter Oundjian has championed extensively during his tenure... ... Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Absolute Jest (2011, revised 2012) tends to emphasise that... ... The Doric String Quartet and Oundjian’s team throw caution to the winds... ... Next Oundjian offers the more familiar Naive and Sentimental Music (1997-98), dedicated to Esa-Pekka Salonen... 
Telemann – The Concerti-en-suite – Tempesta di Mare & Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra [Chandos Chaconne]
May 2018 |  Conveniently gathered together here – apparently for the first time – are three works which Telemann did not consciously regard as a set or as connected with each other, as their different structures and scorings testify. ... Sometimes more dynamic contrast could have been instilled between and within movements, but the strength of Tempesta di Mare’s interpretations lies in the ability to bring out rhythmic emphases. 
Claudio Abbado conducts Mozart – Haffner, Linz, Paris, Posthorn Serenade, C-minor Mass [Berliner Philharmoniker; Sony Classical]
May 2018 |  Claudio Abbado presents music of the Classical period with proper respect for the style of the time. Typical of the adjustments required to achieve this are the use of fewer than the Berlin Philharmonic’s full body of strings... ... There are many Mozart Symphonies including trumpets where the timpani parts have not survived and there have been reconstructions of them by Karl Haas, Christopher Hogwood and others. The discovery of the previously-lost timpani part for Symphony 28 should now draw musicians’ attention to the problem and the irritating habit of playing these works without drums may be a thing of the past. 
Jiyoon Lee plays Violin Concertos by Korngold and Nielsen [Odense Symphony Orchestra/Kristiina Poska; Orchid Classics]
May 2018 |  Having taken joint first prize at the 2016 Carl Nielsen Violin Competition, it is appropriate that Jiyoon Lee (from South Korea) should include music by the eponymous Dane for her debut recording. She is very impressive... ... Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto is getting out quite a lot these days... 
Four Pieces, Four Pianos – Alexander Melnikov plays Schubert, Chopin, Liszt & Stravinsky [Harmonia Mundi]
May 2018 |  Challenging audiences, journeying unexpected roads, curating marathon projects others never think about is something Alexander Melnikov is rather adept at. This album highlights the Romantic piano from wooden beast to cast-iron monster – a venture he's been touring this season. 
Guillaume de Machaut – Fortune’s Child – The Orlando Consort [Hyperion]
May 2018 |  Guillaume de Machaut’s pre-eminence during his lifetime (c.1300-1377) was built upon his exceptional gifts as a poet and song-writer. In all their variety of invention the fourteen settings on this release, the fifth of the Orlando Consort’s survey of Machaut for Hyperion, encompass the miseries and ecstasies of love as depicted on Fortune’s wheel... 
Yan Pascal Tortelier conducts Albert Roussel – Suite in F, Pour un fête de printemps, Évocations [BBC Philharmonic; Chandos]
May 2018 |  Yan Pascal Tortelier belatedly follows-up his disc of Roussel ballets (CHAN 9494) with this selection of orchestral works – presented in reverse order to survey the composer’s output as though from the wrong end of a telescope, of which one suspects he would have approved. 
Dejan Lazić – The London Connection – Beethoven, Clementi, Cramer [Onyx]
May 2018 |  Beethoven himself made this piano arrangement of his Violin Concerto quite soon after the premiere of the original. ... Recordings by Olli Mustonen (very expressive) and Howard Shelley (convincingly straightforward) have indicated a slight revival of interest lately. It is no surprise that Dejan Lazić should also promote the work... ... The couplings represent imaginative programming – it was Muzio Clementi that commissioned Beethoven to re-score his Violin Concerto. ... German-born Johann Baptist Cramer lived in London for a great part of his life and he too manufactured pianos. A contemporary of Beethoven if living much longer... 
Thomas Tallis’s Votive Antiphons – The Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood [Hyperion]
May 2018 |  Just as you thought The Cardinall’s Musick Tallis series was complete, Hyperion has come up with a compilation of all the composer’s Votive Antiphon settings... 
Min-Jung Kym plays Beethoven & Mendelssohn – with Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Clemens Schuldt [Signum Classics]
May 2018 |  The opening solo of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto gives food for thought. Min-Jung Kym phrases it exquisitely... ... Mendelssohn’s early works are not given the attention they deserve. 
Marc-André Hamelin plays Schubert – Piano Sonata D960 & Impromptus D935 [Hyperion]
May 2018 |  There is a sense of Last Rites about Marc-André Hamelin’s account of Schubert’s ultimate Piano Sonata. 
Federico Colli plays Domenico Scarlatti – Sonatas, Volume 1 [Chandos]
May 2018 |  Whether Federico Colli is destined to record all 555 Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti for Chandos is unclear, but “Vol. 1” is encouraging of more to come. This is amazing music, so imaginative, so emotionally varied, and Colli does his chosen sixteen examples proud. 
The Romantic Piano Concerto – 75: Piers Lane plays Ferdinand Ries [The Orchestra Now/Leon Botstein; Hyperion]
May 2018 |  Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) has been described as Beethoven’s “right-hand man” – friend, pupil and secretary – and during his relatively short life (dead aged fifty-three) he was recognised as a concert pianist of renown (he was a teacher of the instrument); he was also a prolific composer... ... This Hyperion selection of Ries’s music for piano and orchestra is very enjoyable and reveals much skill in compositional terms. ... Piers Lane is musically and technically superb... 
Munich Philharmonic – Sergiu Celibidache conducts Death and Transfiguration, Brigitte Fassbaender sings Kindertotenlieder [Münchner Philharmoniker Archive]
April 2018 |  One of the very greatest of conductors, Sergiu Celibidache (1912-96) led the Munich Philharmonic from 1979 until his death. ... Brigitte Fassbaender was another distinguished musician prepared to pool resources with the Romanian master, to mellow fruitfulness in the case of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. ... As for Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, this expansive (thirty-minute) performance is thrilling and spine-tingling... 
Pavel Kolesnikov plays Louis Couperin [Hyperion]
April 2018 |  2018 may be the anniversary year of the most famous member of the Couperin dynasty, François (born 1668), but his uncle Louis (c.1626-1661) receives deserved attention on this revelatory release from Pavel Kolesnikov. The format and structure of his programme is, itself, an inspired achievement as the Bauyn Manuscript (assembled after 1676) drawn upon simply consists of a large number of dances and other items for the harpsichord, and not only by Couperin. 
Michael Collins plays Crusell’s Clarinet Concertos [Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Chandos]
April 2018 |  Bernhard Henrik Crusell (1775-1838) was a notable clarinettist, best remembered by his compositions for that instrument although until relatively recently only the Concertante (for clarinet and bassoon) and his Grand Concerto attracted any great attention. ... Crusell’s orchestration is similar to that of his close contemporary Beethoven, but the three Clarinet Concertos differ in mood; Michael Collins successfully adapts his style to the requirements of each. 
Yevgeny Sudbin plays Rachmaninov – Piano Concertos 2 & 3 – BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo [BIS]
April 2018 |  No shortage of recordings of these battle-scarred warhorses – spanning nine decades or so and including the composer’s own accounts (two of the C-minor Concerto) – but between them Yevgeny Sudbin and Sakari Oramo offer medication and resuscitation. 
Karl Böhm conducts Le nozze di Figaro, Royal Festival Hall 1954 [ICA Classics]
April 2018 |  As far as this Karl Böhm-conducted Figaro is concerned, at the start of the Overture the sound initially feels somewhat boxy and congested... ... Figaro is sung by Erich Kunz, highly characterful, his singing sappy and the delivery of the text full of nuance, clarity and charm. As the Count we have a voice far bigger and bass-centric than one ever hears today. Paul Schöffler was famous for Wagner and Strauss roles. ... Susanna is Irmgard Seefried. ... The creamy-voiced Lisa della Casa is a gorgeous Countess... 
Murray Perahia plays Beethoven – Hammerklavier & Moonlight Sonatas [Deutsche Grammophon]
April 2018 |  Murray Perahia opens the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata serenely and softly (well he does if you go to track five, otherwise the unassuming listener gets the bold opening of the ‘Hammerklavier’, a fortissimo shock)... 
Andrew Davis conducts Arthur Bliss – The Beatitudes [BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra; Chandos]
April 2018 |  The consecration of the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962, replacing the fifteenth-century building destroyed during World War Two, was marked by the commissioning and premieres of works from three of Britain’s leading composers – Michael Tippett’s opera King Priam, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem and Arthur Bliss’s The Beatitudes. ... What has been needed for some time is a new recording, and this Chandos release is of such quality... ... This latter point is due in no small to Andrew Davis’s grasp of the whole, which is admirable. 
The Gesualdo Six – English Motets [Hyperion]
April 2018 |  Founded in 2014 by Owain Park, The Gesualdo Six are young male singers largely drawn from Oxbridge College choirs. This impressive debut recording is a compilation of English Renaissance polyphony from Dunstable to Tomkins via Byrd and Tallis. ... Hyperion has found a superb ensemble... 
Thomas Dausgaard conducts Brahms – Symphony 2, Haydn Variations [Swedish Chamber Orchestra; BIS]
April 2018 |  Thomas Dausgaard is rather impatient and restless with the first movement of the Symphony; all over in seventeen minutes including the exposition repeat. The lean timbres of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra may aid clarity... 
Handel’s Last Prima Donna: Giulia Frasi in London – Ruby Hughes/OAE/Laurence Cummings [Chandos Chaconne]
April 2018 |  Handel’s singers are a favourite subject for this pattern, so it is surprising, perhaps, that the soprano Giulia Frasi has not been given much attention on record before, as she created the roles in some of the composer’s last and greatest music-dramas. ... That accurately describes the quality of Ruby Hughes’s interpretations, certainly in the slower, more-reflective extracts, which comprise the music Handel wrote for his final, long-suffering, but virtuous heroines – Susanna, Theodora, Iphis (in Jephtha), and the Queen of Sheba. 
Krystian Zimerman plays Schubert – Piano Sonatas D959 & D960 [Deutsche Grammophon]
April 2018 |  A snug fit albeit with never the suggestion of tempos being adjusted to accommodate these large-scale Piano Sonatas (Schubert’s penultimate and ultimate) on a single disc... ... Krystian Zimerman opens D959 boldly... ... Zimerman’s approach to the first movement of D960 may be felt to lack serenity... 
Sir Thomas Beecham & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra [ICA Classics]
April 2018 |  The timpani, though rather booming, are balanced better than in Thomas Beecham’s later studio recordings of Haydn where they are unnaturally mild: unrepresentative of Beecham who, during performances, would shout “come on” to the timpanist! ... At the RFH in 1956 Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture sounds clear but with rather gritty strings that are not always precise and even some woodwind entries are questionable. There follow two Mozart Symphonies... ... The RFH Flying Dutchman Overture makes a good impact and the bright recording wears its sixty-three years well, a performance by the youthful seventy-six-year-old conductor that is full of fire and vigour – an unlikely but successful prelude to the 1956 account of Liszt’s Faust Symphony...  
Edward Gardner conducts William Walton – Sonata for String Orchestra, Partita, and James Ehnes plays the Viola Concerto [Chandos]
April 2018 |  Too fast! That’s an observation I could make several times here. As welcome as William Walton’s music always is, these performances, however skilled and however produced and recorded to the highest standards, don’t quite hit the spot... ... Edward Gardner drives the outer movements of the latter beyond their limit and although the BBC Symphony Orchestra retains its composure, the music’s details need greater space... ... It’s a similar story in the Viola Concerto (1929, composed for Lionel Tertis, who rejected the score, and so the premiere was saved by Paul Hindemith), here using the 1961 revision... ... In any case I find James Ehnes somewhat outside of the outer movements’ emotions... 
Jacqueline du Pré, Mstislav Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya, Jean Martinon, Carlo Maria Giulini – 1962 [ICA Classics]
April 2018 |  The latest (April) batch of the “Itter Broadcast Collection” series from ICA Classics includes Karl Böhm conducting The Marriage of Figaro in 1954 and a four-CD Beecham collection (reviews of both pending). And this, Jacqueline du Pré’s first public outing with Schumann’s Cello Concerto coupled with a further example of Mstislav Rostropovich playing Dvořák’s. ... Rostropovich made several studio recordings of the Dvořák, from Talich to Ozawa via Boult and Karajan, and indeed Carlo Maria Giulini, his partner here during the 1962 Edinburgh Festival... 
Elliott Carter Late Works [Ondine]
April 2018 |  Elliott Carter, a New Yorker born in 1908 and who died there in 2012, developed a very distinctive style, from vintage American (Holiday Overture, for example) to what might be termed modernist-European (he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger) while retaining descriptive vistas associated with his country. ... To Ondine ... proceedings begin with the seventeen-minute Interventions (2007, piano and orchestra, written for Daniel Barenboim, as pianist, and the Boston Symphony and James Levine). 
Brian Ferneyhough La Terre est un Homme [NMC]
April 2018 |  A few particular works in the contemporary classical canon are known more by their reputation than by the actuality of performance or recording. Until the present decade, Brian Ferneyhough’s La Terre est un Homme would have sat high on any list of such cult works. ... La Terre apparently was not performed again until February 2011 when the BBC revived it, along with Plötzlichkeit, both works performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the indefatigable Martyn Brabbins. 
Mark Bebbington plays Piano Concertos by Grieg and Delius [Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Jan Latham-Koenig; Somm]
March 2018 |  This Good Friday release includes Grieg’s evergreen Piano Concerto (first heard in 1869) given a fresh and rewarding performance, with discretion, affection and character by Mark Bebbington and accompanied with sympathy and detail by the RPO and Jan Latham-Koenig... ... Delius’s twenty-five-minute Piano Concerto doesn’t get out much, which is a shame... 
Joseph Tong – Sibelius Piano Works, Volume 2 [Quartz]
March 2018 |  The second volume of Joseph Tong’s very welcome survey of Sibelius’s extensive piano music opens with the familiar ‘Valse triste’, part of his incidental music for Kuolema and, dare one say it, more convincing in the composer’s transcription than his orchestral scoring... ... The Opus 97 Bagatelles all have their appeal, not least the scintillating ‘Kleiner Walzer’ – Sibelius on the dance floor – and the equally entertaining ‘Humoristischer Marsch’, which is countered by the elusive ‘Impromptu’. The Opus 103 set is contemporaneous with the great Seventh Symphony... 
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta – Kodály – Galánta, Concerto, Peacock, Marosszék [Naxos]
March 2018 |  It’s fair to say that the name of Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) is alive and well, if by only a handful of works, principally the orchestral Suite from Háry János and Dances from Galánta... ... So, a warm welcome to the latest single-composer Naxos release from JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic, opening handsomely with Galántai táncok... ... The other pieces were high-profile commissions: Concerto for Orchestra for Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony’s fiftieth anniversary, and the Peacock Variations for the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra and Willem Mengelberg... 
Tasmin Little & Piers Lane play Brahms’s Three Violin Sonatas [Chandos]
March 2018 |  While noting the Scherzo that Brahms contributed to the collaborative FAE Sonata is not included – a pity, not because there is room but because it’s a good piece, and is often a makeweight in such programmes (live or recorded) – the well-established team of Tasmin Little and Piers Lane make vibrant music with Brahms’s three Violin Sonatas... 
Garrick Ohlsson plays piano music by Manuel de Falla [Hyperion]
March 2018 |  Expect Spanish sunshine, dry heat and languorous lyricism as Garrick Ohlsson guides us through piano music by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), transcriptions and originals. ... ...much of the music is familiar, taken from The Three-Cornered Hat and El amor brujo (Love, the magician) – the latter including ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ – and any thoughts that these arrangements, even though made by the composer, might lack for colour and vibrancy, are disarmed by Ohlsson’s wonderful artistry. 
Steve Reich’s Drumming – Colin Currie Group & Synergy Vocals [Colin Currie Records]
March 2018 |  With this flurry of Reichian activity after a relatively fallow few years, it is a good time for a new recording of Drumming, enabling a revisit to this magnum opus of Reich’s early years. ... In this debut release on Colin Currie Records (in association with LSO Live), Drumming is performed by Colin Currie Group... 
Sounds of Transformation – David Greilsammer [Sony Classical]
March 2018 |  On paper this is a cleverly designed programme, and a provocatively paradoxical one, in that by exploring the theme of transformation, it uses the apparently non-developmental form of a palindrome, centred on Ravel’s G-major Piano Concerto. David Greilsammer’s liner note make reference to Cervantes’s Don Quixote... 
Adam Laloum plays Brahms’s two Piano Concertos [Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Kazuki Yamada; Sony Classical]
March 2018 |  Winner of the 2009 Clara Haskil Competition, Adam Laloum studied with Michel Béroff at the Paris Conservatoire and Evgeni Koroliov in Hamburg. ... Physically involving no doubt in a concert but less than fully polished, Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto fares least well. There's lots of verve and youthful impetuosity, but by the end what's wanted is less high-gear driving force and more by way of longer-breathed paragraphs... 
George Li – Live at the Mariinsky [Warner Classics]
March 2018 |  Recently I was very impressed by George Li playing a Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto via a live webcast from Detroit, hence tracking down this Live at the Mariinsky release... ... ...and then it’s hair-letting-down time in the most-famous Hungarian Rhapsody, which Tom & Jerry cartoon to in "The Cat Concerto"... 
Brahms – The Four Symphonies – Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Robin Ticciati [Linn]
March 2018 |  It is not unknown for a chamber orchestra to perform Brahms’s Symphonies and this Scottish ensemble has previously recorded them with Charles Mackerras. ,,, Robin Ticciati does go along traditional lines by his relaxed treatment of the second subject although the exposition repeat (the only one he observes) moves on a little more at this point. ... The Allegro giocoso is delightfully vigorous, busy woodwinds are splendidly detailed and, as throughout the work, timpani have slightly greater presence than elsewhere. 
Schubert’s Winterreise – Florian Boesch & Roger Vignoles [Hyperion]
March 2018 |  This Hyperion release is the second recording that Florian Boesch has made of Schubert’s Winterreise (the first was six years ago with Malcolm Martineau for Onyx), here with his frequent collaborator Roger Vignoles. 
John Jenkins – Complete Four-Part Consort Music – Fretwork [Signum Classics]
March 2018 |  John Jenkins (1592-1678) is better known to viol-players and aficionados of repertoire for the instrument than to the general listener, but on the evidence of this Signum release he ought to be more highly regarded. His long life spanned the reign of Elizabeth I and the heyday of the Restoration regime... ... The members of Fretwork take all this in their stride with fluent and flexible readings of this contrasted music. 
London Philharmonic Orchestra – Aldo Ciccolini plays Piano Concertos by Mozart & Rachmaninov conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin [LPO own label]
March 2018 |  Ciccolini (1925-2015), the Naples-born French pianist, was in inimitable form on these two occasions, playing the music with personality and insight... ... And the LPO and Yannick Nézet-Séguin are sure-footed and sympathetic partners in the Rachmaninov... 
Stephen Layton conducts Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B-minor [Trinity College Choir & OAE; Hyperion]
March 2018 |  Grandeur, solemnity, intimacy and excitement are all handsomely conveyed in this magnificent version of Bach’s B-minor Mass and which bears favourable comparison with some of the very best. ... But, in its forty or so young voices from Trinity College, the luxury is having one of the finest collegiate choirs around and which, under Stephen Layton’s meticulous preparation, produces an exceptionally refined quality. 
Denis Matsuev plays Piano Concertos by Prokofiev & Rachmaninov conducted by Valery Gergiev [Mariinsky]
March 2018 |  Denis Matsuev and Valery Gergiev, frequent musical partners, close friends, have now released all the Rachmaninov Piano Concertos (and Paganini Rhapsody) on the Mariinsky label bar the Fourth. This version of the Second gets on with the job without being special... ... Prokofiev's killer G-minor Concerto, massive and challenging, plays directly to Matsuev's strengths. But what is welcome in this reading is that while he can pump iron like no tomorrow – the climax of the notorious cadenza (around half the length of the first movement), leading into the oceanic return of the orchestra, is palpably frightening... 
Martin Helmchen plays Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations [Alpha Classics]
March 2018 |  Martin Helmchen turns urbanely into Diabelli’s attractive Waltz... ... Throughout one is astonished at Beethoven’s magnanimous response to Diabelli's trifle, and in turn by Helmchen’s insight to Beethoven’s ingenuity. ... Especially wonderful are the slower numbers, a rapt stillness falls over them, transporting in effect, one might say Heaven-sent... 
The Romantic Piano Concerto – 74: Howard Shelley plays William Sterndale Bennett [BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Hyperion]
March 2018 |  Englishman William Sterndale Bennett (1816-75), born in Sheffield, was a prodigy who entered the Royal Academy of Music in London aged ten and he’d return there as a professor, his pupils including Hubert Parry and Arthur Sullivan. Bennett went from boy to man as a respected composer and a distinguished pianist, admired by Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann... ... ...there is no doubting Howard Shelley’s superbly stylish and dynamic playing... 
Choir of King’s College Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury – William Byrd Motets [King’s own label]
March 2018 |  The Motets of William Byrd form a remarkable compendium of Latin sacred music, all the more so for being the work of a dissident Catholic composer working in a staunchly Protestant environment. Dating from the second half of the sixteenth-century, a period of intense religious turmoil, the Motets were written for private use in clandestine Catholic households, and published in three collections during the reign of Elizabeth I (despite her official opposition) with two further compilations under James I. ... This King’s College survey is of nineteen Motets. 
LSO Live – Nikolaj Znaider plays Mozart Violin Concertos, K218 & K219
March 2018 |  Nikolaj Znaider’s accounts are broad and this is underlined because Henning Kraggerud’s recent recordings of these works for Naxos remain in the memory and are relatively swift. Mozart wrote no cadenzas and I assume that Znaider has composed his own – extensive but stylish. 
Sakari Oramo conducts Florent Schmitt – Antony and Cleopatra & Symphony 2 [BBC Symphony Orchestra; Chandos]
February 2018 |  After all, this release is the second in a series Chandos has instigated of the music of Florent Schmitt – a composer virtually unknown outside of a few enclaves in France, so that when one considers the undoubted quality of Schmitt’s work, his continuing neglect is rather as if Ravel were only played by provincial or semi-professional orchestras in France and never at all in other countries. 
Oslo Kammerakademi plays Mozart – Serenades K375 & K388, La clemenza di Tito [Lawo Classics]
February 2018 |  In a very full acoustic Oslo Kammerakademi provides a blended sound although greater ‘presence’ from whichever individual instrument carries the melody would have helped. ... In Joseph Triebensee’s delightful arrangements of the Overture and some first-Act arias from La clemenza di Tito, horns are used to replace Mozart’s trumpet parts, so the addition of timpani is justified. It works very well and enriches the impressive sound. 
Kimiko Ishizaka plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s Art of Fugue [Open Goldberg Variations]
February 2018 |  Kimiko Ishizaka has already recorded J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Well-Tempered Clavier. Here she surmounts his other great compendium for the keyboard (on which Art of Fugue is usually interpreted, despite Bach’s non-specific score) and offers her own completion of the final ‘Fuga a 3 Soggetti’ which is handed down incomplete in the surviving manuscript. 
JoAnn Falletta conducts Berlioz’s Requiem in Virginia [Hampton Road Classics]
February 2018 |  Most collectors will be aware of the numerous recordings that JoAnn Falletta has made for the Naxos label, mostly with the Buffalo Philharmonic. She is also music director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, which was founded nigh on a century ago and which displays its excellent qualities in Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. It is a ground-breaking Requiem... 
Lisa Ueda & Daniele Rinaldo – Sonatas for Violin & Piano by Debussy, Janáček and Respighi [Heritage]
February 2018 |  This may seem an unusual programme in some ways but the three Sonatas are contemporaneous, dating from between 1914 and 1917. 
Aaron Copland conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker – music by Carter, Ives & Copland – with Karl Leister in Copland’s Clarinet Concerto [Testament]
February 2018 |  Something from the respective scrapbooks of Aaron Copland and the Berlin Philharmonic, a rare meeting, and possibly the only time they did. This Philharmonie concert opens in exuberant style, Elliott Carter’s Holiday Overture... ... In his own music Copland directs authoritative accounts. The Clarinet Concerto (written for Benny Goodman) is played lovingly by Karl Leister... ... The epic Third Symphony (composed for Koussevitzky and Boston, a “holy trinity” Third alongside those by Roy Harris and William Schuman) is valuable as a document... 
Bach Magnificats – Johann Sebastian, Johann Christian, Carl Philipp Emanuel – Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen [Hyperion]
February 2018 |  Although J. S. Bach’s Magnificat has been recorded many times it seems that until now nobody has thought to pair it with settings of the same Biblical text by his two most prominent musical sons. Where Johann Sebastian’s represents a peak of Baroque choral composition, those settings by Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian broadly demonstrate the two different stylistic paths that would follow after their father’s death. ... C. P. E.’s setting (1749/79) is by no means unknown, and it receives a rather more engaging and lively performance by Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo... 
Sonya Yoncheva – The Verdi Album [Sony Classical]
February 2018 |  Sonya Yoncheva has been making something of a splash, winning accolades for her intense dramatic skills as well as for her impressive vocal abilities. As heard live, the voice has amplitude and an alluring plangent and dark quality allied to a formidable technique. This recital for Sony presents some of the great arias from Verdi’s soprano lead-roles and should have been a great opportunity to display all the aforementioned qualities. 
Music by Franz Danzi – Piano and Cello Concertos – Nareh Arghamanyan, Aurélian Pascal, Howard Griffiths [Sony Classical]
February 2018 |  Franz Danzi (1763-1826) wrote music in various genres; only a limited amount of it is available although recording companies have paid some attention to his Wind Quintets. The chronology of his works is not entirely clear but we know that Danzi’s bold E-flat Piano Concerto, catalogued variously, was composed in 1799 for the wedding of his niece. ... Cool simplicity is the essence of the central Andante moderato, gently expounded by Nareh Arghamanyan. ... The Cello Concerto is a more-serious matter, composed ten years later for a larger orchestra which includes trombones... ... Again Danzi’s cadenza is unusual, beginning with a bold announcement of the main theme (indeed boldness is a feature of Aurélian Pascal’s playing) but is soon joined by the ensemble in forceful style. 
Johann Gottlieb Janitsch – Sonatas & Ouverture grosso – Rediscoveries from the Sara Levy collection [Tempesta di Mare & Philadelphia Baroque; Chandos Chaconne]
February 2018 |  Johann Gottlieb Janitsch (1708-c.1762/63) has been rather consigned to a footnote in musical history, perhaps overshadowed by such other musicians who worked alongside him in Berlin at the court of Frederick the Great as C. P. E. Bach or Johann Quantz. If Janitsch is known at all, it is for the collections of Sonatas and Quartets which he composed for the chamber concerts he regularly organised. ... The issue is rounded out with the G-major Ouverture grosso for double orchestra, pitting Tempesta di Mare against the larger Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra... ... ...this Chandos release offers a serene and readily available introduction to the composer... 
Riccardo Chailly conducts Stravinsky – including The Rite of Spring and the first recording of Funeral Song [Lucerne Festival Orchestra; Decca]
February 2018 |  The announcement during 2015 that Russian researchers had located a full set of orchestral parts for Stravinsky’s long-lost Opus Five, Funeral Song, was exciting news indeed. The work had been composed as a memorial to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov... ... Decca has made the first recording. The reverberant bass-heavy sound of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and the recording itself complements the work’s dense and voluptuous textures. ... Riccardo Chailly’s interpretation of The Rite never fails to play down the orgiastic element in favour of clarifying the rhythmic scansion of the music. 
LSO Live – Simon Rattle conducts Haydn – An Imaginary Orchestral Journey
February 2018 |  This is a cut above the ubiquitous “Best of...’ CDs sold in service stations and downmarket stores; in fact this collection of Haydn’s music has been carefully selected and placed in a comfortable sequence to give a useful, non-chronological survey of the composer’s oeuvre. ... The ’Representation of Chaos’ from The Creation makes an ideal start to Simon Rattle’s journey. 
John Wilson conducts Copland Orchestral Works 3 – Symphonies [BBC Philharmonic; Chandos]
February 2018 |  John Wilson would seem embarked on a Copland series of remarkable thoroughness. ... Wilson eases us into the Symphony with a rarity in Copland’s more accessible vein. An Outdoor Overture was composed in 1938 expressly for children. This too sounds fine as long as you don’t put it alongside Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic... ... Equally successful is the performance of Dance Symphony (1929) derived from music from the unstaged ballet Grohg. 
Yale Schola Cantorum – David Hill conducts Palestrina’s Missa Confitebor tibi Domine [Hyperion]
February 2018 |  This Hyperion release from David Hill and Yale Schola Cantorum brings a very welcome opportunity to hear a Mass which has only been recorded once before. Palestrina’s Missa Confitebor tibi Domine (1572) is a real find, a glorious work and, in terms of soaring lines and gratifying polyphony, compares favourably with his much-loved Missa Papa Marcelli. 
Symphonic Psalms & Prayers – Nigel Short & Tenebrae, with BBC Symphony Orchestra [Signum]
February 2018 |  While this intriguing Judaeo-Christian programme may not fit too well on the shelves of old-style, repertoire-led collectors, it lives up to Tenebrae’s stated core values of “passion and precision”. ... Symphony of Psalms, which opens the anthology, seems less concerned with the first of those attributes, at least initially. ... Tricky in a different way, Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms is marginally less successful... 
San Francisco Symphony – Michael Tilson Thomas conducts Robert Schumann’s Symphonies [SFS Media]
January 2018 |  A number of recordings of Schumann’s Symphonies have featured orchestras matching the modest size of those used in the composer’s day. The use of a full ensemble adds stature to the music as Wolfgang Sawallisch has shown in his highly praised recording (Dresden and Philadelphia) but because Schumann’s orchestration has been criticised, a view is sometimes taken that smaller forces result in greater clarity. In an accompanying essay Michael Tilson Thomas concedes that performers sometimes “do something to make the music more transparent” but goes on to explain that his own approach includes moments when accompanying lines are reduced or a leading melody strengthened. 
Tasmin Little plays Violin Concertos by Szymanowski & Karłowicz – BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner [Chandos]
January 2018 |  Although it comes third in the programme, it seems right to start with the Violin Concerto by Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909), something of a rarity and, I would say, given the best performance. The composer is often lumped in with the Young Poland group, to which Karol Szymanowski belonged, but it would be fairer to say that Karłowicz was a Late Romantic... ... Believe it or not, this is Tasmin Little second recording of the Karłowicz... ... Little has been playing a certain amount of Szymanowski lately, and it was only a matter of time before she tackled the two Concertos on record. Both works were heavily influenced by the playing of the great violinist Paweł Kochański, a close friend of the composer and a fellow member of the Young Poland group, who provided the cadenzas. As most readers will remember, the Concertos are very different. ... I often find myself in disagreement with the Chandos recording ethos, which gives me the back of the orchestra in great detail while I have to search aurally for the strings. 
The Bad-Tempered Electronic Keyboard – Stephane Ginsburgh plays piano music by Anthony Burgess [Grand Piano]
January 2018 |  Although Earthly Powers remains Anthony Burgess’s masterpiece – a wonderful, wonderful novel of immense power and impact – closely followed by Any Old Iron and (a little way behind) The Kingdom of the Wicked, it is through A Clockwork Orange by which the vast majority of people remember him, not least by way of Stanley Kubrick’s unforgettable film version. ... As with his literary work, Burgess composed pretty much throughout his life, and although it appears he was very largely self-taught, he managed to create a wide range of music over more than forty-five years, including three Symphonies, a number of Concertos and other orchestral works, alongside chamber music and music for piano. Which brings us to this release... 
Edward Gardner & Bergen Philharmonic – Grieg – Music for Peer Gynt and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays the Piano Concerto
January 2018 |  It offers an excellent coupling, yet it is odd that the Bergen Philharmonic, of which Edvard Grieg himself was a conductor, did not give the premieres of either work. ... The Peer Gynt music is played complete in the most recent (1993) edition of the final version of 1902. It was originally composed in 1885 for Ibsen’s greatest play at the author’s request. ... Overall, whilst not entirely replacing versions by Beecham and Øivin Fjeldstad, Gardner must be considered a first choice for the complete Peer Gynt score, and in addition there is Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in the Piano Concerto. 
Christian Gerhaher & Gerold Huber – Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin [Sony Classical]
January 2018 |  Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber first recorded Die schöne Müllerin fifteen years ago. Gerhaher is now in his late-forties and, recorded with palpable intimacy by Sony Classical, has all the expressive and imaginative musicianship you could ever desire in Schubert. As he has done in recital, Gerhaher recites the poems from Wilhelm Müller’s cycle that Schubert didn’t set... 
Jiří Bělohlávek conducts the Czech Philharmonic in Smetana’s Má vlast [Decca]
January 2018 |  Jiří Bělohlávek passed away on May 31 last year at the age of seventy-one. It is appropriate that this memorial issue from Decca should commemorate his memory with Smetana’s cycle of symphonic poems, Má vlast (My Country), describing landmarks and events indigenous to Czechoslovakia and a perennial in the Czech Philharmonic’s calendar. 
Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic: The Tchaikovsky Project Volume 2 – Manfred Symphony [Decca]
January 2018 |  Put simply I don’t know a finer conductor today of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Manfred Symphony than Semyon Bychkov. ... With the Czech Philharmonic in wonderful form, superbly virtuosic and musically certain and sensitive, relishing some of Tchaikovsky’s most imaginative, descriptive and sophisticated orchestration, Bychkov certainly commands the power and passion of the music... 
Andrew Davis conducts Elgar – Falstaff – and Songs with Roderick Williams [BBC Philharmonic; Chandos]
January 2018 |  Commenting on Elgar’s Falstaff sixty-four years ago, the composer Robert Simpson wrote: “Falstaff is perhaps Elgar’s greatest work. Perfect in form, profound in character portrayal... ... On this Chandos release the BBC Philharmonic plays as one of the World’s great orchestras. Yet it is of course Sir Andrew Davis who commands this performance as being superior in every way to any I have heard or can imagine. ... It was a different world then, and it is fascinating to hear such imaginative settings. They are, to be honest, not invariably in the same class as those by Richard Strauss, but are well-worth-knowing, and Elgar’s knowledge of the human voice was sufficiently experienced to enable him to create rewarding and appropriate vocal lines for his chosen texts. ... Quite apart from the merits of such examples as ‘The Pipes of Pan’ and ‘Pleading’, there is Roderick Williams... 
Scriabin’s Second Symphony & Piano Concerto – Oslo Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko and Kirill Gerstein [Lawo Classics]
January 2018 |  Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Concerto, from 1896, written when he was in his early-twenties, is his first work for orchestra, adding one to the piano he’d so far composed for; he was a concert-virtuoso on the instrument. ... Plenty of notes for the soloist to negotiate in the outer movements, mind, which Kirill Gerstein does with consummate ease as well as significant musicianship, the Oslo Philharmonic (sporting bewitching woodwind solos, clarinet especially) and Vasily Petrenko fully attuned to their guest’s dedicated and perceptive playing... 
Fieri Consort – Tears of a Lover [Fieri Records]
January 2018 |  The eight-voice Fieri Consort’s first recording is impressive, produced by John Rutter. Fieri (from the Latin fio, “to become”) was formed in 2012 – drawn originally from Genesis Sixteen – and is finely blended, musically intelligent and technically secure, and here continues its exploration of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian repertoire but, with an eye to an already-crowded market of Madrigals by Monteverdi and Marenzio, cannily introduces music by Ben Rowarth (born in 1992). 
Mozart’s Il sogno di Scipione – Classical Opera/Ian Page with Stuart Jackson, Klara Ek, Soraya Mafi, Krystian Adam, Robert Murray & Chiara Skerath [Signum]
January 2018 |  Il sogno di Scipione (1771-2), the sixteen-year-old Mozart’s seventh stage work (counting the sacred singspiel Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots), is really more of a serenata than a conventional opera, as it is an allegorical vision rather than a fully dramatic narrative. ... That proves no hindrance to Ian Page and Classical Opera... ... Aficionados will know Leopold Hager’s 1979 recording which later appeared in Philips’s Complete Mozart Edition (also featuring both version of Licenza’s aria). That boasts an impressive cast, including Peter Schreier, Lucia Popp, Edita Gruberova and Edith Mathis... 
Wiener Symphoniker – Philippe Jordan conducts Beethoven’s First and Eroica Symphonies
January 2018 |  A complete set of Beethoven’s Symphonies with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra is to be issued, released at intervals in time for the 2020 celebrations of the two-hundred-and-fiftieth-anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. They will be taken from Philippe Jordan’s concert performances during 2017. ... The ‘Eroica’ is given with well-judged pace even though the ‘Funeral March’ is swifter than usual. I returned to the earliest-ever Vienna Symphony Orchestra recording of this work, with Jascha Horenstein – big, uncompromising Beethoven... 
Stephen Hough plays Debussy [Hyperion]
January 2018 |  With this Stephen Hough Debussy recital Hyperion is competing with itself for it matches almost exactly a recent release from Steven Osborne. The good news (there’s no bad) is that both are a rich addition to this composer’s recorded catalogue. While Osborne plays Masques and ... D’un cahier d’esquisses, Hough offers La plus que lente in their place... ... There is no need for a blow-by-blow account of this release’s contents, for each of the seventeen tracks is a highlight – nevertheless the allure of ‘Pagodes’ (Estampes) and the sensitivity of ‘Hommage à Rameau’ (Images I) are transporting, while the friskiness of ‘Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum’ is a particular delight... 
Kirill Karabits conducts William Walton’s Two Symphonies [Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Onyx]
January 2018 |  Well done to Kirill Karabits for conducting William Walton’s music, here his masterly if very different two Symphonies, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in very responsive form, although the recording quality, for all its clarity and vividness, tends to be over-edgy and too bright, and the acoustic is rather reverberant... ... So, it says much for Karabits’s conception of the magnificent First Symphony – a stunning masterpiece – that it outdoes any sonic problems. ... Twenty-five years later, in 1960, when Walton’s Second Symphony was unveiled (he’d taken his time, the commission had arrived in 1957), some critics were taken aback that he had not emulated his epic First, and failed to allow that stylistically he had moved on (as Elliott Carter and Michael Tippett were also doing). 
Rachel Barton Pine plays Violin Concertos by Edward Elgar and Max Bruch – BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton [Avie]
January 2018 |  I did at first react scornfully to seeing another Bruch No.1 listed; it’s a splendid piece but simply programmed too often and easily. Then I listened: very impressive from Rachel Barton Pine and Andrew Litton. ... The Elgar is perhaps the greater prize, a flexible and expansive account (fifty-one minutes) if lacking nothing in direction. Litton is a sympathetic Elgarian, impulses and emphases finely judged... ... This release is “Dedicated to the memory of a musical hero and generous friend, Sir Neville Marriner”. 
The Leonore Piano Trio plays Johann Peter Pixis [Hyperion]
January 2018 |  Johann Peter Pixis (1788-1874) is sadly neglected nowadays; with the recent exception of Stephen Hough and Howard Shelley, few musicians have paid any attention to him although in his day he was greatly respected, particularly so in Paris where the Mannheim-born composer resided from 1825 to 1845. His style of composition indicates that his birth-date lay between those of Beethoven and Schubert but some of his fiery fast-moving piano sequences suggest Mendelssohn. ... The members of the Leonore Piano Trio rightly concentrate on the inherent optimism for the quieter melodies are too innocent to be sentimentalised and the straightforwardness of the reading makes for an ideal approach. 
Johannes Brahms – The Three Piano Trios – Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos & Yo-Yo Ma [Sony Classical]
January 2018 |  These are magnificent performances of Brahms’s three acknowledged Piano Trios which, as far as I am concerned, go straight to the top of the list. The architect of their supremacy is Emanuel Ax... ... The string-playing does not exude the same personality, although both Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma have the Brahms style at their fingertips. 
Martyn Brabbins conducts Michael Tippett – Symphonies 1 & 2 – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra [Hyperion]
January 2018 |  What a momentous way to start 2018, with the first release in a new Michael Tippett Symphony Cycle, courtesy of Hyperion and Martyn Brabbins... ... London-born Sir Michael Tippett (1905-98) is one of the great composers... ... ...a terrific place to start would be the Second Symphony (1957). ... The first movement, with its pounding Vivaldi-inspired bass line (supplemented by a piano) and ecstatically dancing violins is simply irresistible... ... If not his first such work, the Symphony that he was eventually able to assign as No.1 (completed in 1945) could only be by Tippett (and surely displaying his admiration for Bach, Beethoven and Hindemith, the latter composer far more esteemed then than he has become, sadly) – a first movement of vigour, rigour and confidence... 

 

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