All 2019 CD Reviews

Angels – Choral Music by John Tavener – Winchester Cathedral Choir/Andrew Lumsden [Hyperion]
April 2019 |  This Hyperion release outlines the longstanding relationship between Winchester Cathedral Choir and Sir John Tavener (1944-2013) initiated by Martin Neary (author of the printed note, the booklet also including sung texts) who had commissioned a number of works during his tenure as Cathedral Organist (1972-1987). They have become central to the Choir’s repertoire, sung throughout the David Hill years (recorded for Virgin Classics) and now continued with Andrew Lumsden. 
Oslo Philharmonic & Vasily Petrenko – Richard Strauss’s Zarathustra & Heldenleben [LAWO Classics]
April 2019 |  A generous coupling, although neither work has individual tracks beyond the respective start-points, but this is seriously good and dynamic music-making, if with reservations. ... The opening of Zarathustra (as heisted by Kubrick for 2001) is grandly announced... ... Furthermore, the second reservation is that musically this is not the most symphonic of readings, Vasily Petrenko tending to indulge at times... ... Following thirty-four minutes of Zarathustra, Heldenleben (a youngish Strauss inventing his life as a Hero, if with many decades of creativity ahead of him) enters with barely a pause! 
Leonard Slatkin conducts Hector Berlioz – From Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Benedict, King Lear [Orchestre National de Lyon; Naxos]
April 2019 |  Quite why Naxos has delayed this title for so long is anyone’s guess (similarly a recent issue of Leonard Slatkin’s Aaron Copland coupling, also from 2014). ... Housekeeping aside, here are three plays from William Shakespeare’s quill that so inspired Hector Berlioz’s creativity – Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Beatrice and Benedict, okay, Benedick (the latter characters from Much Ado About Nothing)... ... Once past the vocal preliminaries, Berlioz becomes orchestra-centric for a lonely and sad Romeo, a party courtesy of the Capulets (Juliet’s brethren), a serene if burgeoning love episode and the remarkable ‘Queen Mab (Scherzo)’. All are handsomely brought off, Slatkin not so much conducting the music as communing with it... 
Kirill Karabits conducts Liszt – Mazeppa and Sardanapalo [Staatskapelle Weimar; Audite]
April 2019 |  This premiere recording present’s the first Act of Liszt’s Sardanapolo, based on a Byron play, in a realisation by David Trippett who has brilliantly orchestrated the surviving piano-vocal score that Liszt abandoned sometime in the early-1850s, never to return to it or any other operatic venture. 
Sir Richard Rodney Bennett Orchestral Works Volume 3 – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/John Wilson, with Sarah Connolly singing A History of the Thé Dansant [Chandos]
April 2019 |  Here is the third volume in Chandos’s series of Richard Rodney Bennett’s orchestral music, which fully maintains the high standards set by its predecessors. ... In complete contrast, the (less than) ten minutes A History of the Thé Dansant... ... Sarah Connolly relishes the many sympathetic opportunities Bennett gives, and Wilson’s partnership, stylistically, is to the manor born. ... whilst it is true this work breathes the 1960s as sure as does A Hard Day’s Night, further listening discloses more of a Sergeant Pepper-ish seriousness, the organic nature of the juxtapositions eventually reveal true living organisms... 
Busoni’s Piano Concerto – Kirill Gerstein, Sakari Oramo, Boston Symphony Orchestra [Myrios Classics]
April 2019 |  We badly need a new recording of Ferruccio Dante Michelangelo Benvenuto Busoni’s outsize, five-movement Piano Concerto (1901-04); more importantly we need a superb one: this from Kirill Gerstein and Sakari Oramo, courtesy of Boston Symphony concerts, hits the spot... 
Martyn Brabbins conducts Elgar’s Caractacus – Huddersfield Choral Society & Orchestra of Opera North [Hyperion]
April 2019 |  Elgar’s Caractacus is now (finally) elevated. If perhaps (like me) this Cantata hasn’t quite made it on to the Elgar Essentials list, despite recordings by Charles Groves and Richard Hickox, then Martyn Brabbins and his forces offer a revelation. ... Dedicated to Queen Victoria, and first-performed at the 1898 Leeds Festival with the composer conducting, Caractacus – courtesy of the Huddersfield Choral Society, the Orchestra of Opera North and five vibrant and involved singer-soloists – is here able to soar high into one’s consciousness. ... My initial plan was to play just a few minutes of the first disc to get a feel for things, yet so compelling was the music and the performance that I listened to the lot there and then, hooked... 
Cédric Tiberghien plays Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, troisième année & other late piano works [Hyperion]
April 2019 |  This superb Hyperion issue is Cédric Tiberghien’s first foray into Liszt, and he has gone in at the deep end. Tiberghien has form in uncompromising repertoire, and he encourages you to hear, at the end of his long life, how Liszt in his final years – having channelled the romance, individualism and high ideals of music in the nineteenth-century – prepared the way for the atonality of the Second Viennese School, the exploratory textures of Debussy’s piano music, even the fervent imagery of Messiaen. 
Christian Thielemann & Staatskapelle Dresden at Suntory Hall – Robert Schumann’s Four Symphonies [Sony Classical]
April 2019 |  Christian Thielemann and Staatskapelle Dresden have been in Tokyo, including performing Robert Schumann’s ultra-wonderful four Symphonies, captured for Sony Classical at Suntory Hall concerts... 
Alban Gerhardt plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suites [Hyperion]
April 2019 |  In the accompanying liner notes, Alban Gerhardt refers to his apprehension in tackling what he sees, like many other cellists, as the summit of the repertoire for his instrument. He is too consummate a musician to turn in an indifferent performance, however, even though in this (his first recording of Bach’s Cello Suites) it is as though he has internalised that caution as a more or less subconscious strategy in these interpretations which avoid extrovert or exaggerated renditions. 
Giulini in Boston [Pristine Audio]
April 2019 |  One of the great conductors, Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) had long-standing and titled relationships with the Chicago Symphony and the LA Phil; less well-documented (until now) are the few concerts he gave in Boston, in 1962, 1969 and 1974, twenty in all, but not that number of programmes, for subscription events are scheduled more than once. Pristine Audio has been on the hunt for surviving broadcasts and has found these well-preserved stereo tapes... 
Maurice Duruflé: Complete Choral Works – Houston Chamber Choir/Robert Simpson [Signum Classics]
April 2019 |  Maurice Duruflé’s almost excessive self-criticism (characteristic also of his fellow-Frenchmen Paul Dukas and Henri Dutilleux) enables his slim if distinguished choral output to fit snugly onto one CD. Despite an already crowded discography of the Motets and the organ version of the Requiem (1961), this Signum release is welcome. The Houston Chamber Choir is a professional ensemble founded in 1995... 
Jess Gillam – Rise [Decca]
April 2019 |  ...the transfer level of Jess Gillam’s Rise is disco-loud with a vengeance... ... Among Gillam’s collaborators are Miloš Karadaglić, a lush-sounding BBC Concert Orchestra... ... Musically, there is also a range – including Kate Bush, Shostakovich, John Williams, David Bowie, Weill, Milhaud, Marcello, Dowland, Michael Nyman... 
The Romantic Piano Concerto 78 – Howard Shelley plays & conducts Clara Schumann, Hiller, Herz and Kalkbrenner [Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra; Hyperion]
April 2019 |  At the age of fourteen, Clara Josephine Wieck (1819-1896) composed a Konzertsatz and her father’s student Robert Schumann helped her with the orchestration. It became the Finale of her Piano Concerto, which she completed two years later and in 1835 gave the first performance with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Mendelssohn conducting. ... Howard Shelley’s bright-toned instrument is particularly well-suited to this vibrant music. 
Yan Pascal Tortelier conducts Gounod’s Two Symphonies [Iceland Symphony Orchestra; Chandos]
April 2019 |  What a total tonic to start April’s listening adventures with the two Symphonies by Charles-François Gounod, celebrated for Faust of course (albeit just one of his twelve operas, and there is also a boatload of choral pieces and songs). He was very accomplished with orchestra alone as these Symphonies (both from the mid-1850s) handsomely demonstrate. They are so delightful [...] Yan Pascal Tortelier and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra make sunny weather of them. 
Vasily Petrenko conducts Elgar – In the South, Serenade for Strings, Enigma Variations [Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Onyx]
March 2019 |  It was all going along pretty well until the end of Enigma Variations when the organ turns up (marked ad lib, but best to include it). Here it is too loud, dominant and growly... ... Not that Vasily Petrenko’s view of this imperishable masterpiece is a full-sail winner anyway... ... Preceding Enigma to make a well-designed concert is an expansive (twenty-four minute), stimulating and vivid account of In the South... 
Seong-Jin Cho plays Mozart – Piano Sonatas K281 & K322, and Piano Concerto K466 with COE/Yannick Nézet-Séguin [Deutsche Grammophon]
March 2019 |  For all his fluency of technique and stylishness of approach, there is some suspicion as to Seong-Jin Cho’s complete empathy with this pair of Mozart Sonatas. ... It’s a different story with K466, owing a lot to the dramatic and incident-packed contribution from the COE and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, which treads the boards... 
J. S. Bach – Cantatas 33, 17 & 99 – Thomanerchor Leipzig & Sächsisches Barockorchester/Gotthold Schwarz [Accentus Music]
March 2019 |  One can reasonably expect the modern-day successor of J. S. Bach’s choir at the Thomaskirche, Leipzig, to acquit itself well in a selection of Cantatas written originally for the singers’ musical forbears in the mid-1720s. Certainly they do so here in three generally joyful and upbeat works (composed for Ordinary Time in the Christian liturgical year – Trinitytide in this case) with a crisp and alert approach to the opening movements which are built freely upon a given chorale, with elaborate instrumental episodes. 
Sweeter Than Roses – Songs by Henry Purcell – Anna Dennis & Sounds Baroque [Resonus]
March 2019 |  The rather innocuous and generic term ‘song’ belies, in this context, the extraordinary variety and imagination Purcell invested in his settings of texts even when, as in the case of most of those featured here, they were intended for public performance as a diversion within a stage play. They are not strophic settings, repeating the same music for each verse, but through-composed. Not all the writers are well-known today (John Dryden and Abraham Cowley are the prominent exceptions) but their expressive, Baroque texts repay close attention. ... Anna Dennis is wonderfully alive to the shifting moods and ideas expressed in order to tell a story... 
John Joubert – Piano Concerto & Symphony 3 – Martin Jones/BBC National Orchestra of Wales/William Boughton [Lyrita]
March 2019 |  When John Joubert passed away earlier this year Kenneth Woods wrote a tribute to him for Classical Source (link below). It was Woods who conducted the world-premiere of Joubert’s opera Jane Eyre... ... ...Joubert had the wit to re-use the discarded material as the basis of his Third Symphony “on themes from the opera Jane Eyre”. It is Woods’s colleague William Boughton who introduces this impressive Symphony... 
Mozart – The Six String Quintets – Klenke Quartett & Harald Schoneweg [Accentus Music]
March 2019 |  Had it not been for Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806), the underrated younger brother of Joseph Haydn, we might never have had these six life-enhancing works. ... The present set of Mozart’s Quintets features the all-female Klenke Quartet, who met as students in Weimar and made their debut in 1994. ... They are joined by one of their mentors, Harald Schoneweg, who was the original second violinist of the now defunct Cherubini Quartet: he sounds equally at home on the viola. 
Paavo Järvi conducts Sibelius – The Seven Symphonies – Orchestre de Paris [RCA Red Seal]
March 2019 |  Why is it that this long-awaited Sibelius cycle from Paavo Järvi, historic for being the first to be recorded by a French orchestra, is not as globally satisfying as we might have hoped for? Certainly, you can't fault the playing: the Orchestre de Paris is one of the finest around, a large-scale enterprise with distinguished principals, and a rank-and-file committed to the task. No shirking, no ragged corners. 
Kenneth Woods conducts Philip Sawyers – Violin Concerto/Alexander Sitkovetsky, The Valley of Vision, Trumpet Concerto/Simon Desbruslais [Nimbus Alliance]
March 2019 |  Philip Sawyers (born 1951) is an Englishman, a Londoner by birth, and he is doing well by the Nimbus Alliance label (four previous releases of his music) and through Kenneth Woods’s championing; he has recorded two of those four issues. ... Alexander Sitkovetsky plays with considerable attention and technical brio. ... The Valley of Vision (2017) – artist Samuel Palmer’s name for his bit of Kent – is a rhapsodic piece in the mould of Frank Bridge... ... Yet the 2015 Trumpet Concerto (of similar length to the Violin Concerto, twenty-seven minutes) hangs around long after auditioning. ... ...a fearless display from Simon Desbruslais. 
Amici Voices – Johann Sebastian Bach [Hyperion]
March 2019 |  Amici Voices present a meditation on mortality and the uplifting prospect of a joyful afterlife via Christ’s redemption. Two relatively early Bach Cantatas outline the stylistic distance travelled from the German-influenced Actus tragicus (belonging to 1707 in Mühlhausen) to the French- and Italian-inclined Himmelskönig (from seven years later at Weimar), and there is a double-choir Motet from the Leipzig years drawn from the Venetian polychoralists filtered through Schütz. 
Maurizio Pollini plays Chopin – Nocturnes, Mazurkas, Berceuse, B-minor Sonata [Deutsche Grammophon]
March 2019 |  You may not get quantity from Maurizio Pollini but you do get quality, as well as involved sniffs and vocalising as he rapturously floats the first of the two Opus 55 Nocturnes, not prettified in any way... ... These entrées lead to the B-minor Sonata, Pollini unleashing a fiery first movement (exposition repeat observed), the second subject integrated into this smouldering missive yet with no lack of shape or sensitivity... 
Leonard Slatkin conducts Aaron Copland – Grohg | Billy the Kid – Detroit Symphony Orchestra [Naxos]
March 2019 |  2014 is correct, so here at last from Naxos (release date March 8) are two very different sides of the creativity of Aaron Copland (1900-90), if linked by both being music for ballet, conducted by one of his constant champions. ... Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra play every note of Billy the Kid... ... Musically, Grohg (a ‘he’, and adapted from Bram Stoker’s Dracula) is garish and threatening... 
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays Robert Schumann [Chandos]
March 2019 |  Steering clear of more obvious repertory choices, this collection mixes big-boned and intimate Schumann. Dedicated to Moscheles, the F-minor Grande Sonate was chronologically the third of Schumann's Piano Sonatas to be published, in the autumn of 1836, under the (passingly questioned catchpenny) title of “Concert sans orchestre”. ... Jean-Efflam Bavouzet prefers to confine himself to the final thoughts of the relatively familiar 1853 edition, with, by way of homage, one or two hybrid touches emanating from Horowitz... 
Tasmin Little & John Lenehan – Music by Amy Beach, Clara Schumann and Ethel Smyth for violin and piano [Chandos]
March 2019 |  Although the sole reason for this programme appears to be that all the composers were women, the Sonatas by Mrs H. H. A. Beach (strangely called here “Amy Marcy Cheney Beach”, of which more anon) and the young Ethel Smyth do go well together. ... Tasmin Little is well recorded and so is John Lenehan, who as always proves a strong yet tactful partner. He is nicely portrayed on the back cover of the booklet but has his name in smaller type on the front cover. I do wish record companies would not do this – the players in duo-Sonatas are equals. 
David Hackbridge Johnson Orchestral Music, Volume Two – Symphonies 10 & 13 – Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Paul Mann [Toccata Classics]
March 2019 |  In misquoting the opening sentence of Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth, it appears that not a day passes over the Earth that David Hackbridge Johnson is not writing music, an observation prompted by the opus numbers of the three works recorded here. Johnson (born 1963) has waited some time for his music to reach an audience. Considering the reception accorded his Ninth Symphony (link below), it has been worth it – a view fully reinforced by this second release. 
Martyn Brabbins conducts Michael Tippett – Symphonies 3, 4 & in B-flat – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, with Rachel Nicholls [Hyperion]
March 2019 |  I hope March the First 2019 has been as bountiful to you as it has to me – for this date marks Hyperion’s completion of Martyn Brabbins’s Michael Tippett Symphony Cycle – including an important bonus. 
Stephen Farr plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chorale Partitas [Resonus]
February 2019 |  The Chorale Partitas – that is to say, sets of variations (each section called a ‘partita’ in its own right, except for BWV768) upon a given chorale melody – are among the least well-known aspects of J. S. Bach’s extensive output for the organ, perhaps because they lack the variety of the Trio Sonatas, or the more concentrated flair of the Preludes or Toccatas and Fugues which can be programmed easily in concerts or as voluntaries for church services. ... Stephen Farr picks a suitable instrument in the Aubertin organ from 2015, installed in a private residence. Its soft flute registers predominate in these performances, evoking the more private, devotional world of these works, particularly with the comparatively compact acoustic of the venue. 
Owen Rees conducts John Taverner’s Missa Gloria tibi trinitas [Signum Classics]
February 2019 |  The lion’s share of this release is taken up with one of the great glories of Tudor church music by a composer who represents the final flowering of late-medieval English polyphony. Much has been written about the brief tenure as first Choirmaster to Oxford’s Cardinal College, now Christ Church, of John Taverner (c.1490-1545) but there is no certainty that Missa Gloria tibi trinitas was conceived for his new charges... 
Juanjo Mena conducts Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga [Berit Norbakkeen Solset, BBC Philharmonic; Chandos]
February 2019 |  The Overture to Los esclavos felices (The Happy Slaves) is all that survives of the very short-lived Bilbao-born Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga’s opera, composed when he was thirteen (he died aged nineteen). ... When Berit Norbakkeen Solset joins the orchestra for Herminie the balance is again immaculate. This work is based on a famous poem by the sixteenth-century Torquato Tasso. ... Juanjo Mena’s is a sensitive account with ideally chosen tempos... 
Edward Gardner conducts Schubert Symphonies, Volume 1 – Symphonies 3, 5 & Unfinished [CBSO; Chandos]
February 2019 |  This performance of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony brings to mind a recent recording by Edward Gardner’s near-namesake John Eliot because reservations about the interpretations are similar. Although this Birmingham version avoids the four-bar cut imposed on the first movement in JEG’s reading, there are similar shifts of tempo... 
Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen – Kabalevsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich – for Cello & Piano [Hyperion]
February 2019 |  Steven Isserlis's penetrating booklet note reminds that “Russian artists … carry story-telling genes in their DNA”: in their youth both Shostakovich and Kabalevsky (slightly older) busked piano in silent-movie picture palaces. “Each of the major works here takes us on a wide-ranging emotional voyage”, he emphasises, “passing from tragedy to grotesquerie, from tenderness to despair.” All but one (Prokofiev's 1912 Ballade) were the product of restrictive, manipulative, persecutional Soviet times... ... In brilliant, hungry form, Isserlis and Olli Mustonen do it glorious justice, taking the music and us by the throat (their Finale knocking a minute off the composer's recording with Rostropovich). 
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto – the composer conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Yo-Yo Ma [Sony Classical]
February 2019 |  Yes, a thirty-five-minute Cello Concerto, that’s all you get, but it is a first recording. Sony Classical must have great faith in the pulling-power of Esa-Pekka Salonen and Yo-Yo Ma. 
Christian Gerhaher & Gerold Huber – Frage – Songs by Robert Schumann, Volume One [Sony Classical]
February 2019 |  There is a fragile optimism, often threatened by an undertow of irony, that threads its way through Robert Schumann’s songs, and it is a quality that shadows this album from Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber, the first in their projected ten-disc set of Schumann’s Lieder. 
Adrian Butterfield conducts Handel’s Chandos Te Deum in B-flat and Chandos Anthem No.8 [Onyx]
February 2019 |  Many devotees of choral music and members of choral societies will be familiar with some, if not all, of Handel’s ‘Chandos’ Anthems. Quite separate from those, however, is the ‘Chandos’ Te Deum, so called because it was written – like those Anthems – whilst its composer was in the employ of James Brydges, the Duke of Chandos, at his magnificent new house at Cannons Park, Edgware. ... The results here are renditions conducted by Adrian Butterfield which, in their one-to-a-part format, are sprightly and light-footed. 
The Polish Violin – Jennifer Pike & Petr Limonov – Szymanowski, Moszkowski, Karłowicz, Wieniawski [Chandos]
February 2019 |  I have two regrets about this album of Polish music. The first is that Jennifer Pike has not included the unaccompanied piece by Grażyna Bacewicz that she played on Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4) to publicise the release. I think there would have been room for it. The second is the recording of the piano: there is more resonance around it than I would ideally like, and it is ever so slightly recessed in relation to the violin. When Chandos has taken the trouble to import the excellent Russian pianist-conductor Petr Limonov and give him a nice Steinway D, you would think the recording team – producer Rachel Smith and engineers Jonathan Cooper and (assistant) Cheryl Jessop – would have taken a little more care to allow him to be heard. 
Respighi’s Roman Trilogy – Festivals, Fountains, Pines – JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic [Naxos]
February 2019 |  Whether Festivals, Fountains or Pines, Ottorino Respighi’s Roman Trilogy dazzles through its wide-screen cinematography, subtle impressionism, evocative powers, and fabulous orchestration. ... JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic are the latest to enter the distinguished orchestra/conductor ring with this music, literally so in Feste romane... 
Andrew Manze conducts Mozart Symphonies – G-minor and Jupiter, K550/K551 [NDR Radiophilharmonie; Pentatone]
February 2019 |  

There are no surprises here: that Andrew Manze favours quick allegros and flowing andantes, but he doesn’t rush; that every repeat is observed, a boon in the Finale of the ‘Jupiter’ (the repetition of both halves is vital), but unwieldy and causing an imbalance with the slow movement of K550, which becomes nearly double the length of the first one... ... The ‘Jupiter’ first movement is on the spiky side in terms of timbre, trumpets outweighing timpani, as they also will in the Finale, although there a few good hard-stick bellicose thwacks to be heard... 

More music by George Antheil – Symphony 3 American & Symphony 6 after Delacroix – BBC Philharmonic/John Storgårds [Chandos]
February 2019 |  “It is our usual task”, Donald Francis Tovey wrote of annotators, “to act as counsel for the defence”, and whilst Mervyn Cooke’s booklet note for this second Chandos issue of orchestral music by the American maverick George Antheil (1900-59) is full of informative background detail, in terms of any kind of analysis of the works in question he is less forthcoming. ... Archipelago (1935) does, however (as Cooke rightly states) reveal not so much an influence as imitation of the Euro-Brazilian language of Milhaud’s Saudades do Brasil of fifteen years earlier. Nonetheless, such flattery as Antheil uncharacteristically bestowed on the Frenchman appears genuine – the result is a lovely six-minute score of immediate appeal, as – to a rather lesser degree – does the Hot-Time Dance. ... It is impossible to imagine more committed performances than those John Storgårds obtains from the BBC Philharmonic, or a finer recorded sound than Chandos consistently displays. 
Mahan Esfahani – The Passinge Mesures [Hyperion]
February 2019 |  Just as there were the French clavecinistes in the high Baroque period of the late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-centuries so, around a century before that, there was the school of English virginalists. General listeners will very likely know of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, probably the most important source of keyboard repertoire from that time and place, but Mahan Esfahani also draws on other collections for this fascinating and wide-ranging exploration. For the most part, the composers featured here – such as Byrd, Gibbons, Farnaby, and Tomkins – are better-known for their sacred choral music, but that belies their considerable skills and virtuosity in writing for the keyboard instrument that in England was called – luridly as it might seem – the virginal, but which is simply no more or less than the harpsichord... 
Leonore Piano Trio – Music by Hubert Parry [Hyperion]
February 2019 |  Anyone listening blind to this selection of chamber music by Englishman (and Baronet) Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918, Hubert his preferred forename) – of Jerusalem fame, the creator of five Symphonies, author of music books, and a professor at and then head of the Royal College of Music – you might think he was German, for there are strong kinships with the scores of Brahms (in particular), Mendelssohn and Schumann. 
LSO Live – Gianandrea Noseda conducts Tchaikovsky 4 & Pictures at an Exhibition
February 2019 |  A fine start to February reviewing (available from the Eighth), even if the Tchaikovsky is a little subdued to begin with, more a warning from afar than establishing Fate’s dire summons, for Gianandrea Noseda is playing the long game with the first movement of the Fourth Symphony, giving it symphonic credence and building emotions by stealth. ... This admirably clear-sighted account is followed – following a decent pause – by a vividly characterised Pictures at an Exhibition, a long-familiar score that here receives a tiramisu reading, nothing glossed over yet with nothing that plays to the gallery either. 
2019 New Year’s Concert – Christian Thielemann conducts the Vienna Philharmonic [Sony Classical]
January 2019 |  Last year it was Riccardo Muti, it’s Andris Nelsons in 2020; meanwhile Christian Thielemann got the vote to preside over the Vienna Philharmonic’s 2019 New Year’s Concert: a time-honoured affair. Once again Sony Classical has rushed-released the event for our pleasure... 
Mark Elder conducts the Hallé in Elgar’s Wand of Youth Suites and the Nursery Suite [Hallé own label]
January 2019 |  Mark Elder has the measure of The Wand of Youth music – inimitable Elgar, thirteen pieces that contain his complex spirit – and the Hallé is superb in response, from tender to virtuosic with numerous other qualities in between. 
LSO Live – John Eliot Gardiner conducts Mendelssohn – The Five Symphonies, Overtures, and music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream
January 2019 |  Mendelssohn’s C-minor Symphony is somewhat neglected but Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s committed performance is full of vitality making the teenage composer seem remarkably mature. ... After an expansive reading of the introduction, Gardiner takes a bright view of the ‘Scottish’ Symphony’s Allegro un poco agitato. ... The ‘Italian’ Symphony always responds to swift speeds and the first movement is notably sunny as a result. ... The Goethe-inspired Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage is full of contrast between atmospheric gentleness and exciting power... ... Immediately following on this fourth and final disc, there comes a sensitively contoured reading of the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 
so many stars – Violin and Piano Sonatinas – Fenella Humphreys & Nicola Eimer [Stone Records]
January 2019 |  Here is a unique and very welcome collection of Sonatinas for Violin and Piano, a genre often overlooked in our teeming world, with most of them (not necessarily the best) being by British composers. Perhaps the best-known is that by Lennox Berkeley... ... It receives a wonderful reading, admirably balanced, with Nicola Eimer coping superbly with the very tricky piano part. ... Gordon Crosse’s Sonatina (2010), written for Fenella Humphreys (indeed, inspired by her playing), follows the Sibelius well... ... This is an exceptionally well-planned issue, one which ought to find a place in the collection of any lover of music for violin and piano... 
LSO Live – Nikolaj Znaider plays Mozart Violin Concertos, K207, K211 & K216
January 2019 |  As with Nikolaj Znaider’s excellent recordings of Concertos K218 & K219 LSO Live employs the ideal system for transferring concert performances to disc. ... Although of a similar length to that of its companions, K216 is a more substantial work and is treated as such. I believe all the (uncredited) cadenzas to be Znaider’s own and those provided for this work are a little more serious. The opening Allegro includes many powerful chords and here Znaider’s violin mirrors the positive orchestral contribution... 
Amarae morti – El León de Oro/Peter Phillips [Hyperion]
January 2019 |  There’s no shortage of material to add to an already huge discography of Renaissance polyphony. This seemingly disparate collection of Franco-Flemish and Iberian composers has been compiled by Peter Phillips (of the Tallis Scholars) in his capacity as honorary director of El León de Oro founded two decades ago in Asturias; this is its first recording for Hyperion. 
Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria – Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner with Furio Zanasi, Lucile Richardot & Krystian Adam [Soli Deo Gloria]
January 2019 |  Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir marked, in 2017, the 350th-anniversary of the birth of the composer after whom the ensemble is named with a pilgrimage around Europe and the USA promoting the cause of the three surviving operas – acknowledged as the first masterpieces of the genre. This release represents the record of a third of that project, in featuring Monteverdi’s penultimate stage-work, which conflates the same mythological impetus as his first-surviving, Orfeo, with the earthier, quotidian motivations of ordinary human characters in The Coronation of Poppea. ... After the idiomatic and well-characterised Prologue among the allegorical figures of Human Fragility, Fortune, and Love, Lucile Richardot’s Penelope sets the tone, with her steady opening lament which charts an assured way through her conflicted feelings at awaiting the return of Ulysses for ten years after the end of the Trojan War. 
Garrick Ohlsson plays Brahms – Opuses 4, 116, 117, 118 [Hyperion]
January 2019 |  Among British-originated Brahms piano cycles, Martin Jones (Nimbus, released 1992) and Barry Douglas (Chandos, 2012-16) have led the field, the former honest, thoughtful and musical if a little small and washy in tone, the latter bold with a fantastical edge. Like Douglas, Garrick Ohlsson is comfortably equal to the challenge, with a big-boned concept of the music and a willingness to open the piano throttle across the registers. 
Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Sibelius – Symphony 1 & En Saga – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra [Alpha Classics]
January 2019 |  January 2019 is Sibelius Symphony month. I am much looking forward to Paavo Järvi’s complete cycle from Paris for Sony – and also publishing Ateş Orga’s review and Edward Clark’s interview with the conductor – and, meanwhile, Santtu-Matias Rouvali (a Finn in Sweden) begins a Symphony and Symphonic Poem survey (to include Kullervo?) from Gothenburg for Alpha. 
John Andrews conducts the first recording of Arthur Sullivan’s The Light of the World [BBC Symphony Chorus & Concert Orchestra; Dutton]
January 2019 |  Arthur Sullivan’s oratorio The Light of the World was premiered at the Birmingham Musical Festival on 27 August 1873. Sullivan conducted and the new work was met with an extremely enthusiastic reception. Favourable commentary was made by other composers such as Gounod and performers such as Clara Butt. The work remained popular for several decades. ... For John Andrews this is clearly a labour of some love. 
Arcadia Quartet – Béla Bartók’s Complete String Quartets [Chandos]
January 2019 |  This is an excellent set of the Bartók String Quartets, although it has two unusual characteristics which may be linked: the playing is very well upholstered – we normally hear a leaner, meaner sound in Bartók – and the interpretations are on the slow side. Usually the six Quartets fit easily on to two CDs, but the feat is accomplished here by having Disc Two run to eighty-three minutes. The slowness is not outrageous, especially if you compare the timings with those of the Hungarian Quartet; but turning to another favourite ensemble, the Keller Quartet, they are significantly slower. The Arcadia Quartet players tell us in a note that they all live in Transylvania. ... The Second Quartet of 1915-17 follows Bluebeard’s Castle and is on the cusp The Miraculous Mandarin – I far prefer the Quartet, which like some of Beethoven’s works summarises the composer’s progress so far and hints at things to come. Kodály saw the three movements as “A quiet life” / “Joy” / “Sorrow”. The Romanian musicians catch the strange quality of the Moderato, which partakes of both Schoenberg and Reger without crossing the divide between tonal and atonal. 
Manuel Cardoso Requiem – Cupertinos/Luís Toscano [Hyperion]
January 2019 |  Established in 2009 by Luís Toscano, Cupertinos has now released its debut recording. It’s a gratifying selection of devotional offerings from Portuguese Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650), a master of sacred choral polyphony. 
Zubin Mehta & Israel Philharmonic – The Mumbai Concerts – with Forsyth, Matsuev, Zukerman [Accentus; DVD]
January 2019 |  Zubin Mehta was appointed Music Adviser to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969, becoming Music Director in 1981. He steps down this coming October. There's little that he hasn't done in his life. From his early days in Los Angeles he's always been the glamour boy on the block, with a cut-glass technique and unshakeable ideas. ... ...his old friend Pinchas Zukerman joining the party in Mumbai, along with Denis Matsuev from Russia. ... Bounding onto the platform, clapping audience and orchestra, Matsuev, in muscle and sweat mode, wrestles Tchaikovsky with devastating ferocity, sending the Steinway out of tune early into the introduction. 
French Cello Concertos – Lalo, Milhaud, Saint-Saëns – Hee-Young Lim [LSO/Scott Yoo; Sony Classical]
January 2019 |  The three Cello Concertos come from different periods, ranging from Saint-Saëns’s familiar First of 1872 and Lalo’s of four years later – the first years of La Belle Époque – to Milhaud’s First of 1934 – the Great War and the Jazz Age having led to the latter period – but they are each wholly characteristic and share those clever Gallic styles which define the nationality of the composers. ... These works do not demand much intellectual insight on the part of the soloist, and therefore appeal greatly to gifted young instrumentalists, of whom the Korean Hee-Young Lim is certainly one; she gives very good performances... 
London Philharmonic Orchestra – Vladimir Jurowski conducts Tchaikovsky’s Little Russian & Polish Symphonies [LPO own label]
January 2019 |  It’s good to have Tchaikovsky’s ‘Little Russian’ and ‘Polish’ Symphonies coupled together, relative Cinderellas, certainly when compared to the ubiquitous Four to Six. Even better when these performances are so good, Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic doing these splendid pieces proud. 
Natalie Clein & Christian Ihle Hadland – Rebecca Clarke, Frank Bridge, Ralph Vaughan Williams [Hyperion]
January 2019 |  Some composers seem to have the dice loaded against them in the game of life, and so it was with the violist and composer Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979). ... Natalie Clein’s version is at least the third, following a horrible one by Raphael Wallfisch and another by Pamela Frame that I have not heard. The work is so bound up with the modern renaissance of the viola, it arises so naturally from the very soul of the viola, Clarke’s own instrument, that a cello is bound to make a very different impression. ... Sorry to keep harping on pachyderms, but here the elephant in the room is the great performance by Rostropovich and Britten (Decca). Good as they are, I think Clein and Hadland are outgunned. 
Kirill Karabits conducts Boris Lyatoshynsky – Symphony 3 & Grazhyna – Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra [Chandos]
January 2019 |  It’s rather fascinating to listen to an ambitious Symphony – it lasts forty-five minutes here – and not find too much of interest, and then listen again in case anything was missed. Yet Ukrainian composer Boris Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968), a pupil of Glière and himself a teacher in Kiev for many years, and also of orchestration at the Moscow Conservatory, must have believed he was on to something with this the Third (1951) of his five Symphonies... ... Grazhyna (1955) was composed as a tribute to writer Adam Mickiewicz on the centenary of his death... 


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