All 2019 CD Reviews

John Andrews conducts Thomas Arne’s The Judgment of Paris – Brook Street Band [Dutton Epoch]
June 2019 |  English music-theatre in the eighteenth-century has been so greatly overshadowed by Handelian Italian opera that audiences have rather forgotten about the native tradition of the masque. That is a pity as much as it is curious, since Purcell’s celebrated Dido and Aeneas at the end of the seventeenth-century is essentially the same type of work, and it might be expected that it would have inspired more attention to the genre’s subsequent development. ... ...two of the most prominent literary figures of that time, John Dryden and William Congreve, and intended for musical settings. The Judgment of Paris by the latter had been submitted for a competition in 1701, to be set to music by four composers (that by Daniel Purcell is relatively well-known in the annals of musical history if not in the concert hall). Thomas Arne’s later work first appeared in 1742... 
Lise Davidsen sings Wagner & Strauss with Philharmonia Orchestra & Esa-Pekka Salonen [Decca]
June 2019 |  This is Lise Davidsen’s debut album, and it gives an accurate idea of what all the fuss is about. She is already being spoken of in the same breath as Kirsten Flagstad... ... The programme is Wagner and Strauss – this year she sings Elisabeth at Bayreuth and she has already performed Ariadne at Glyndebourne... 
James MacMillan – One Equal Music – The Elysian Singers/Sam Laughton [Signum Classics]
June 2019 |  There seems to be no reduction in the prodigious quantity of sacred music coming from the pen of Sir James MacMillan. This Signum recording, mostly of relatively recent material, forms an imaginative response to a variety of liturgical and specific cultural events broadly divided into “Psalms, Poems and Folksongs”... ... But relief arrives with ‘Lassie, wad ye loe me?’. Its folk-inspired melody, drones and rapt harmonies are all affectionately delivered by The Elysian Singers, whose warmth of tone (and that too of soprano Lois Gallaher) makes an attractive counterweight. ‘One equal music’ itself, beginning with John Donne’s familiar text “Bring us, O Lord God”, is at some remove from Sir William Harris’s sublime setting. 
Albion Quartet – Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartets Opuses 9 & 96 [Signum Classics]
June 2019 |  Those who value numerology will note that this release is number 555 in Signum’s catalogue, which must signify good luck. At any rate, it is a splendid recording debut but for the Albion Quartet, who had been going for only two years when it was made. I have been aware of Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Rosalind Ventris since they were in their early teens and I have watched their progress with interest. The other two musicians appear to be just as talented, on this evidence. With a name starting with A, which will get these musicians near the top of all alphabetical lists, they should do well. 
Andrew Manze conducts Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphonies – Sinfonia antartica & No.9 [Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Onyx]
June 2019 |  Andrew Manze is nothing if not full of surprises and this latest and final instalment of his recorded Vaughan Williams cycle contains more than most. ... Sinfonia antartica courts controversy straight away by including the literary superscriptions favoured by a minority of recordings, most famously Sir Adrian Boult’s first, Decca LP with Sir John Gielgud and André Previn’s RCA version with Sir Ralph Richardson. (I haven’t heard Kees Bakels on Naxos.) Timothy West’s recitations are calm and a little ‘furry’ as were Richardson’s... 
The Romantic Violin Concerto – 22 – Linus Roth plays Lassen, Scharwenka & Langgaard | BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antony Hermus [Hyperion]
June 2019 |  Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series is in full swing, and this latest instalment is a winner. ... Eduard Lassen (1830-1904), a Copenhagen gentleman, completed his Violin Concerto in 1888. Nicely expressive from the off... ... ...the dance-like Finale is perky and enjoyably unpredictable, the violinist given greater demonstration, seized upon with relish by Linus Roth. ... Of equal distinction (and length, thirty-four minutes here) is the Violin Concerto by Ludwig Philipp Scharwenka... ... Which leaves the Violin Concerto by Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) and a return to Copenhagen. 
Heinz Holliger conducts Schubert, Volume Two – Symphonies 1 & 5 and the Overture to Fierrabras [Basel Chamber Orchestra; Sony Classical digital download]
June 2019 |  Heinz Holliger’s version of Schubert’s ‘Great C-major’ Symphony proved outstanding (link below) and in these two earlier works he vividly illuminates the amazing talent of a composer still in his teens. These are sensitive performances, full of articulate phrasing but Holliger never finds it necessary to adjust the speed for the sake of expressiveness. ... I do though have reservations about the sound because higher frequencies often have a cloudy nature resulting in a lack of impact from the upper strings. The excellence of the compact disc reproduction on Holliger’s ‘Great’ is not equalled although the venue and producer are the same. Could this be the difference between downloaded sound and CD quality? 
The Fellini Album – The Film Music of Nino Rota – Riccardo Chailly conducts Filarmonica della Scala [Decca]
June 2019 |  Eighty-one minutes of Nino Rota’s music for the films of Federico Fellini – played superbly by the La Scala Philharmonic, conducted with relish and affection by Riccardo Chailly... ... Take 8½ (Otto e Mezzo), dripping in picturesque sentiment and electric emotions... ... Finally, The Clowns – if you like Shostakovich in Dance/Film/Jazz mode [...] then you are in business... 
Barry Douglas – Schubert Works for Solo Piano, Volume 4 – Sonatas D537, D575 & D664 [Chandos]
June 2019 |  Schubert unsettles people. ... This is the fourth volume of Barry Douglas's Schubert cycle for Chandos. Its strength is that it's Schubert supremely un-photoshopped. Irrespective of merits and recommendations, I find I have no need to listen to other versions or angles. He gives us the pages as they are, truthful to content and markings, the music and its grammar, not acquired habit, relaxing or pushing the tempo. This makes for a natural ebb and flow. 
Edvard Grieg Kor sings Grieg [Chandos]
June 2019 |  The eight-voice Edvard Grieg Kor offers impressive singing and some fine arrangements, of which Jonathan Rathbone’s reimagining of the Holberg Suite is this release’s chief selling point. 
Ein Liebesleben – Simon Callaghan plays piano music by Jean Louis Nicodé [Hyperion]
May 2019 |  Technically Prussian, born near Posen (modern-day Polish Poznań), ancestrally a Hugeunot, hence his French name, Jean Louis Nicodé (1853-1919) was a notably well-connected pianist, organist, composer and conductor. ... ...Simon Callaghan's debut solo disc for Hyperion, is a Nicodé first. And most welcome and generous it is. ... The imposingly 'Beethoven-Brahms-Reger' titled Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme in D-flat, dedicated to Anton Rubinstein, dominates. The six phantasiestücke of the Andenken an Robert Schumann collection (1876), inscribed to Clara – she of anti-Liszt/Wagner/Bruckner sentiment – are youthful essays in pastiche. ... Befitting his passion for discovery, Simon Callaghan acquits himself superbly. This is a classy album... 
Augustin Hadelich plays the Violin Concertos by Brahms and Ligeti with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya [Warner Classics]
May 2019 |  A stimulating coupling of the Violin Concertos by Johannes Brahms and György Ligeti, linked by the superb artistry of Augustin Hadelich, vibrantly supported by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, this release’s success owing as much to him and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. ... Leave the disc running to enter the surreal world of György Ligeti (1923-2006). His Violin Concerto (from 1990) for Saschko Gawriloff underwent major surgery a couple of years later, one movement dropped, two added, making five. It’s a fascinating work... 
Edward Elgar – String Quartet & Piano Quintet – Brodsky Quartet & Martin Roscoe [Chandos]
May 2019 |  I am delighted that, in the centenary year of these compositions, the Brodsky Quartet members made these beautiful recordings of Elgar’s chamber music... ... The Brodsky musicians did not take up the Piano Quartet until a few years after the Quartet, but they are used to playing it with Martin Roscoe, one of the most astute and style-conscious pianists. ... This Chandos coupling will go happily on the shelf next to them: it can be recommended without reserve to any newcomer to the music. 
Martin James Bartlett – Love and Death [Warner Classics]
May 2019 |  From being crowned BBC Young Musician of the Year 2014, Martin James Bartlett now starts his discography. Love and Death is Bartlett’s concept, his introductory written note quoting from Oscar Wilde... ... Liszt is a much-credited author in this anthology, including his perfumed and lyrical response to Three Petrarch Sonnets (from the Italian leg of Years of Pilgrimage, S161) – richly encompassed by Bartlett... ... There is spiritual love, too, twice highlighted from J. S. Bach, whether Busoni’s transcription of ‘Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ’ (BWV177) or Myra Hess’s of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’... 
Khatia Buniatishvili plays Schubert – Piano Sonata D960, Impromptus D899, Schubert/Liszt Serenade [Sony Classical]
May 2019 |  Unlike Magnus Magnusson, I started but I didn’t finish. That was a few weeks ago when I sampled Khatia Buniatishvili’s approach to D960... ... What was a lyric from Schubert’s publisher-compiled Schwanengesang becomes an enchanting piano piece. Buniatishvili plays it slower that it perhaps warrants... ... The B-flat Sonata, Schubert’s ultimate in the genre ... any better now from Khatia B? Not really! Starting gravely, Molto moderato to a tee, she gets quicker and quicker until glibness sets in... 
Jiří Bělohlávek conducts Josef Suk – Asrael Symphony & Fairy Tale – with the Czech Philharmonic [Decca]
May 2019 |  In 1898 Josef Suk married Dvořák’s daughter Otilie: it was a very contented time for Suk (1874-1935); not only was he happily married but he also enjoyed a fruitful relationship with his father-in-law both professionally (as his student) and personally. When Dvořák died in 1904 Suk intended a piece in his memory (to be a celebration of his life) and he started work; but plans changed the following year when Otilie also passed away. ... That music was the Asrael Symphony (completed in 1906, white-hot out of double-tragedy, and dedicated to the “noble” deceased father and daughter) – Asrael being the Old Testament Angel of Death... ... Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic give a dedicated and inspiring performance – gripping, revelatory... ... Similarly distinguished is Pohádka [...] music Suk rescued for the concert-hall from an incidental score that he provided for Julius Zeyer's drama Radúz and Mahulena. 
Vers l'ailleurs – Gaspard Dehaene plays Schubert D959, Liszt & Bruneau-Boulmier [Collection 1001 Notes]
May 2019 |  I chanced upon Gaspard Dehaene at the Paris Philharmonie in January 2018, playing Liszt's E-flat Piano Concerto. He caught my attention at many levels, a refined, aesthetic young man... ... Born to a cultured French family – his mother is the pianist Anne Queffélec – and benefitting from a cradle of teachers including Bruno Rigutto, Denis Pascal, Jacques Rouvier and Rena Shereshevskaya (bringing to bear the Moscow lineage of Vlassenko and Flier) – he's also taken advice from Alfred Brendel – his is a spirit from another age, a lyricist come to wander our dreams. ... An artist who traverses the intensity of late Schubert, the brilliance of Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody – calling-card of the Soviet greats – and the speech of Schubert-Liszt must ideally be a musician, virtuoso and dramatist. Dehaene does not disappoint. 
Albrecht Mayer – Longing for Paradise – Music for Oboe and Orchestra by Elgar, Strauss, Ravel & Goossens | Bamberger Symphoniker & Jakub Hrůša [Deutsche Grammophon]
May 2019 |  Released today, May 17, nearly three years following the sessions, Albrecht Mayer’s Longing for Paradise recital opens with the wistful (Wand of Youth-like) Soliloquy of Edward Elgar... ... Immediately evident are Mayer’s consummate artistry, the excellence of the Bambergers’ response to Jakub Hrůša’s collaborative conducting, and that the recording is lucid and naturally balanced. ... These qualities are evident throughout, and serve especially well Richard Strauss’s autumnal Oboe Concerto... ... What might be a delightful discovery (it’s new to me) is Eugène Goossens’s Oboe Concerto, written in 1927 for his brother Léon. 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Ssens Trio plays Divertimento in E-flat K563 & Bach Fugues [Lawo Classics]
May 2019 |  What a beautiful release this is. Mozart’s Divertimento for string trio may be his longest chamber work but it never seems too long – which may be the cue for me to get my only complaint out of the way early on. The Ssens Trio members give us the exposition repeat in the opening Allegro, but not the second repeat, thereby depriving us of at least three minutes of music. I cannot understand the attitude... 
Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León – Andrew Gourlay conducts Rachmaninov [OSCyL own-label]
May 2019 |  Spanish orchestra records Rachmaninov: that’s one to break-down preconceptions. ... This first recording on its own label for Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León [...] a linear and lucid account conducted by Andrew Gourlay. 
Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ – Andrew Davis conducts Melbourne Symphony Orchestra & Chorus [Chandos]
May 2019 |  This fine recording of Berlioz's Sacred Trilogy from Sir Andrew Davis reminds us that this oratorio is far from a bombastic choral epic, but a rather tender re-telling of the events immediately after Jesus's birth. The soft hues and nuances which Sir Andrew tends to draw from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus create the aural equivalent of an artistic triptych, inviting the listener to meditate on the Christ-child's flight to safety into Egypt with his parents... 
Johannes Brahms’s three Piano Quartets – Primrose Piano Quartet [Meridian]
May 2019 |  Brahms’s three Piano Quartets are not exactly terra incognita, but this Meridian set has some special claims on our attention: several editions of the music have been consulted, the string-intruments are strung with gut, as they would have been in Brahms’s day, and John Thwaites uses three period pianos from the Gert Hecher Collection in Vienna – in opus number order, a Streicher, a Blüthner and an Ehrbar. 
The Choir of Westminster Abbey – James O’Donnell conducts Bairstow, Harris & Stanford [Hyperion]
May 2019 |  Some of the finest sacred music written for the Anglican church is by these three knighted composer-organists whose impact still reverberates around cathedral cloisters. The settings of Edward Bairstow (1874-1946), William Harris (1883-1973) and Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) are often symphonically conceived, with the organ elevated to a quasi-orchestral dimension. ... Under James O’Donnell, the Choir of Westminster Abbey delivers robust, forthright readings ideally suited for much of this music. 
Seiji Ozawa conducts Beethoven 9 [Mito Chamber Orchestra; Decca]
May 2019 |  The handpicked Mito Chamber Orchestra (a mix of stellar Japanese and European musicians) delivers greater weight of sound than its name might suggest... ... Seiji Ozawa does though lead a compassionate ‘Choral’ Symphony, sincere and shapely, with dedicated playing and singing... 
Gerald Finzi – By Footpath and Stile | Music for String Quartet – Finzi Quartet, Marcus Farnsworth, Robert Plane, Ruth Bolister [Resonus]
May 2019 |  Gerald Finzi’s music can have a devastating effect on the emotions... ... Lovely music, beautifully played and recorded, and the Finzi Quartet also excels in the other considered transcriptions here... ... By Footpath and Stile is word-setting and Nature-painting at its most-haunting; music of atmosphere and rapture, enhanced here by Marcus Farnsworth’s sympathetic address and immaculate enunciation... 
Alina Ibragimova & Cédric Tiberghien – Violin & Piano – Lili Boulanger, Franck, Vierne, Ysaÿe [Hyperion]
May 2019 |  This is an exceptional release. Cédric Tiberghien has been impressing me since I first encountered him at the festival in Cahors, giving an outstanding open-air recital in one of the town squares and competing successfully with an over-insistent blackbird which had stationed itself on a good vantage point. He appears to be capable of any technical feat and he produces great surges of sonority with seemingly effortless ease. In recent years his partnership with Alina Ibragimova has been a feature of the Hyperion catalogue, but I do not think they have risen to quite these heights before. 
Juanjo Mena conducts Manuel de Falla’s La vida breve [BBC Philharmonic; Chandos]
May 2019 |  Manuel de Falla’s La vida breve is a fascinating work, for whilst its origins lie in the Italian verismo operatic tradition, there is much authentic, rather than impressionistic, Iberian colour and vitality. ... Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic have worked hard to get these dynamically balanced... 
Doric String Quartet plays Benjamin Britten’s three String Quartets and five Fantasias by Henry Purcell [Chandos]
May 2019 |  This is a splendid way for the members of the Doric Quartet to enter their third decade, for they have done nothing better on record. ... To lend extra authenticity and inspiration to these sessions at Snape Maltings, violist Hélène Clément was using Britten’s own 1843 viola by Francesco Guissani of Milan, passed on to him by his teacher Frank Bridge. ... The Second Quartet, written in 1945 to mark the 250th-anniversary of Henry Purcell’s death and first performed by the Zorian Quartet on the date itself, November 21, is even more assured and has a wholly individual sound from first bar to last. ... The Third Quartet of 1975 was composed in the shadow of Britten’s 1973 heart surgery, which did not go well. 
Steven Osborne plays Beethoven – Piano Sonatas – Opuses 109, 110, 111 [Hyperion]
May 2019 |  The holy trinity of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Opuses 109, 110 & 111 thrives under Steven Osborne’s intense musicianship; an unmissable release. 
An English Coronation 1902-1953 – Edward VII 1902 | George V 1911 | George VI 1937 | Elizabeth II 1953 – Gabrieli | McCreesh | Simon Russell Beale [Signum Classics]
May 2019 |  Whether or not Paul McCreesh was in his “right mind”, he has created a corker of a release. It’s a tremendous achievement; not least for giving the opportunity for impressionable teenagers to work alongside seasoned professionals from whom McCreesh coaxes intensely committed performances ranging from Merbecke’s Lord’s Prayer to Stanford’s gloriously rousing Coronation Gloria. Taking music from each of last century’s four Coronations, this reconstruction largely follows that of the 1937 Order of Service with the oak-aged voice of Simon Russell Beale as the Archbishop of Canterbury delivering the spoken passages with reassuring gravitas. 
Thierry Fischer conducts Symphonies by Camille Saint-Saëns – in A-minor & Urbs Roma – and Danse macabre [Utah Symphony; Hyperion]
May 2019 |  Déjà-vu, as the French say ... this time last month (on its first day) I was singing the praises of Gounod’s two Symphonies. Now, May the First, I am just as enthusiastic for a brace of such works by Saint-Saëns. ... ...deftly and fervently brought off by the Utah musicians and Thierry Fischer, driving forward without overlooking detail... ... Three years earlier Saint-Saens had written a Symphony in F (‘Urbs Roma’; City of Rome). It’s an ambitious piece... ... And then there is Danse macabre, one of Saint-Saëns’s biggest hits, and rightly so... 
Marc Blitzstein: Piano Music, 1918-63 – Leonard Lehrman [Toccata Classics]
April 2019 |  The opening piece in this fascinating and educative collection, littered with first recordings, is called Waterfall, a light and fluffy barcarolle decorated with little descriptive liquid cascades from the pianist’s right-hand. And this is by Marc Blitzstein, the angular and tart musical and political radical? 
Imogen Cooper plays Beethoven – Bagatelles & Diabelli Variations [Chandos]
April 2019 |  Having in recent years ventured down roads taking her from Liszt and Wagner to Chopin, Imogen Cooper here turns her attention to Beethoven, not a composer whose solo output she's recorded much... 
Music by Gary Carpenter – including SET, with Iain Ballamy, and Love’s Eternity, with Kathryn Rudge [Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Nimbus Alliance]
April 2019 |  Gary Carpenter (born 1951 in London) has the knack of writing music of wide appeal without one ever thinking that it is contrived to be liked, or that he is second-guessing the audience; the result is music that is immediately engaging and satisfying yet with something saved for return listens. ... These are all impressive and rewarding pieces, heard in excellent performances and first-class sound, yet are overshadowed by Love’s Eternity (initiated in 1992 and since revised), a quite wonderful set of songs that owe in one way or another to Roberts Browning and Schumann and to Heinrich Heine... 
Kenneth Hesketh – Diatoms – Music for two pianos, piano/four hands, and solo piano – The Green Duo [Prima Facie]
April 2019 |  Once again (see links below) Kenneth Hesketh, born 1968 in Liverpool, issues a musical challenge that is beneficial to take up. Intricate and demanding Hesketh’s music may be, but the energy and staggered rhythms (reminding of Conlon Nancarrow) of ‘Inductio’, the opening of Three Movements from Theatrum (1996/2013), is enthralling, propelling us forward, continuously, through the exhilarating rapidity (the greater percentage) and beguiling bell-like lyricism of the remaining two sections. ... ...the members of the The Green Duo are heroic in sorting out the music’s technical and compositional complexities. 
Martin Roscoe plays Ernö Dohnányi [Hyperion]
April 2019 |  The fourth and final volume of Martin Roscoe's complete Dohnányi cycle for Hyperion focuses both on Dohnányi as virtuoso pianist-composer, and on the traditions and styles he inherited from his principal teachers in Budapest during the 1890s – István Thomán, a favourite student of Liszt, and Hans von Koessler, a devotee of Brahms. 
Elgar from America, Volume 1 – Enigma Variations/Toscanini, Cello Concerto/Piatigorsky & Barbirolli, Falstaff/Rodziński [Somm]
April 2019 |  It doesn’t take much working out that if these three works of Elgar, normally totalling ninety-five minutes on average, are here accommodated on one compact disc (including applause, and with a few minutes to spare regarding full capacity), then something is up. That ‘something’ is Falstaff, for which Artur Rodziński removes 291 bars, akin to about ten minutes. ... ... Following which the Cello Concerto offers a dignified and quietly passionate reading – in context, following Toscanini, a reassuring tonic. Whereas Enigma is a “first appearance on CD” and Falstaff a “first commercial release”, although new to me, this Piatigorsky/Barbirolli collaboration has presumably been available before. 
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! 
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. 
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... 
Wiener Symphoniker – Philippe Jordan conducts Beethoven’s Pastoral & Eighth Symphonies
April 2019 |  This is Beethoven played swiftly in the modern manner although only in Symphony 8 are speeds close to the fast metronome markings in which the rapid requirements make good sense. Each tempo is convincing within the context of the interpretations yet there are times when Philippe Jordan gives the impression of haste... 
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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