Sturm und Drang 1

Sturm Und Drang Volume 1 – The Mozartists|Ian Page [Signum Classics]

4 of 5 stars

Don Juan, Wq.52 – XXX: Larghetto; XXXI: Chaconne (Allegro non troppo)
Fetonte – “Ombre che tacite qui sede”
La canterina, Hob.XXVIII/2 – “Non v’è chi mi aiuta”
Symphony in G minor, Op. 3/3
Sofonisba – “Crudeli, ahime, che fate?”; “Sofonisba, che aspetti?”
Symphony No.49 in F Minor, Hob.I:49 (La passione)

Chiara Skerath (soprano)

The Mozartists
Ian Page

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Signum Classics SIGCD619
Duration: 71 minutes



The final scene from Gluck’s Don Juan is an orchestral portrayal of the Don being cast into Hell.  A threatening slow introduction leads to the often-performed Dance of the Furies.  Boccherini was so impressed that he adapted this fiery orchestral showpiece very effectively for use as the finale to his D minor Symphony which is subtitled as ‘La casa del diavolo’.  Gluck’s dramatic creation is played with precise brilliance by the accomplished The Mozartists and makes an ideal overture to this collection entitled Sturm und Drang

Thereafter, the programming is bizarre.  Sprinkled between two excellent symphonic examples of the period are several operatic ‘bleeding chunks’ (to use Donald Francis Tovey’s famous description of bits taken out of operas).  Perhaps their connection to Sturm und Drang was thought to be represented by their consistent gloominess.  Jomelli’s Fetonte has Phaeton singing “the horror which oppresses me”, Haydn’s Gasparina complains that she is “Tormented and grieving” and Traetta’s Sofonisba sings “Ah my savage torment”.  At the end of her second aria there is the stage direction ‘She takes the poison’.  Perhaps 18th-century audiences enjoyed agonised operatic soliloquies and Chiara Skerath sings beautifully, she is even required to take the part of Phaeton.  Her soaring soprano voice with just a touch of vibrato lightens the gloom but out of their context these vocal fragments are of no significance.                                                                                                                                                                   

The two well-chosen Symphonies are another matter.  Franz Ignaz Beck (1734–1809) is largely ignored nowadays, although this G-minor symphony has been recorded once or twice.  It is darkly dramatic.  Scored only for strings with two horns, it is fierce from the outset, with momentary relaxations for effect, coped with skilfully by Ian Page so as not to lose the music’s impetus.  Beck’s symphony is as well constructed as one by Haydn or Mozart although the melodies are less memorable.  The Minuet is particularly sturdy and Page reveals an element of grandeur.  As with some conductors using period style, he makes the two Minuet repeats both before and after the Trio and here this seems suitable.

As with Beck’s, Page supplies Haydn’s sonata movements generously with repeats (it is rare but welcome to hear both in the opening Adagio movement) but the Minuet is peculiar. Taken rather swiftly the contour is ruined by making the first Minuet repeat after the Trio  but not the second.  Make both or neither and symmetry would be achieved but here the movement ends with the feeling: “where is the rest of it”? This is a shame because the dashing Allegro and Presto movements are played at high speed with conviction and amazing accuracy. This is an excellent period band. It plays at A=430 Hz with a warm string sound, but although cembalo continuo is indicated in the Universal Edition score of the symphony and a harpsichordist is named in the orchestral personnel, I cannot detect the instrument.

Haydn Op 20 1

Dudok Quartet Amsterdam play Nos. 1, 4 & 6 of Haydn’s Opus 20 String Quartets [Resonus]

4 of 5 stars

String Quartets, Op.20 – 1 in E flat; 4 in D; 6 in A

Dudok Quartet Amsterdam [Judith van Driel & Marleen Wester (violins), Marie-Louise de Jong (viola) & David Faber (cello)]

Recorded: 26-28 August 2019 in Studio 1 Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, The Netherlands

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: July 2021
Duration: 66 minutes



Here is the conclusion of Dudok Quartet Amsterdam’s two-disc presentation of Haydn’s Opus 20 String Quartets, the CD containing Nos. 2, 3 and 5 having been issued in Autumn 2019.  There is always much care in ensuring that all inner lines are clearly heard, and this is evidenced in the opening of the First, where first violin is suitably reticent until introducing the second, more positive theme.  The use of delicate accompanying figuration is also a feature and there is plenty of subtlety when it comes to phrasing.  Sometimes a very personal approach is taken to dynamics; for example in the Minuet (here placed second) Haydn restates his forte marking at bar 40 yet the music is allowed to drop to piano at this very point and the sforzando three bars later is ignored.  The following Affetuoso sostenuto  flows coolly whereas the finale is amazingly rapid: high repeated violin notes are almost brushed aside in order to allow the lower strands through.

Number 4, with its strong Hungarian influences, is perhaps the most mature Quartet of the set; certainly the musicians take it seriously, achieving rapidity in the opening Allegro molto without appearing to rush.  Here is immaculate intonation and there are no tempo manipulations  The following variation movement finds each instrument used as soloist – and every player gives a tender representation of Haydn’s muse.  Unfortunately, the Gypsies are notably absent from the Minuet marked Allegretto alla zingarese.  The Dudok’s tempo is more like Presto than Haydn’s required Allegretto, and the implied Hungarian rhythm is brushed over as the music tumbles hastily forward.  This is very unfair to the cellist who takes a reasonable tempo for the Trio, but the scrambled Minuet makes it seem as if he were being over-careful.  Sometimes great speed can be used to enhance musical drama; this is so in the Finale, although among the excitement, rhythmic poise is sacrificed.  Haydn’s humorously quiet ending, a feature also of Number Two,  is very effective because the players make no emphasis, they merely stop playing and the music is gently at an end.

Urgent forward motion without hastiness is a feature of the approach to Number Six, and a Dudok characteristic becomes apparent when linking phrases between melodies are thrown off casually.  Another example is found at the cheerful final thought found in the ten bars before the end of the exposition and again at the end of the movement.  It is understated as if it were a mere trifle yet this does make interpretational sense.  High speeds prevail but this time the Minuet is more stable. Throughout the reading there is always an element of delicacy and attention is caught by daring pace rather than dramatic contrast, in particular the Finale is something of a whirlwind.


Filippo Gragnani – Masterful Guitar Duos – Jørgen Skogmo & Jens Franke [Naxos]

3.5 of 5 stars

Duo for Two Guitars No.2 in A minor
Duo for Two Guitars No.1 in D
Duo for Two Guitars No.3 in G

Jørgen Skogmo & Jens Franke (guitars)

Recorded: 29-31 July 2019 at St. Margaret, Mapledurham, Oxfordshire

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Naxos 8.579090
Duration: 61 minutes



Filippo Gragnani (1767-1812) was born in Livorno, Italy. He came from a musical family and his father Antonio was a skilled and now famous violin maker. At an early age Filippo became a talented violinist, but he developed a strong interest in the guitar, and the vast majority of his compositions include that instrument. But there do seem to be suggestions of violin style within his guitar music . As his career progressed, Gragnani resided in Germany, but Paris then became his home, and here he renewed his decade-old friendship with composer and later publisher Fernandino Carulli (1770-1841). Carulli is said to have strongly influenced Gragnani who was by now famous and Carulli published a great deal of his music.

The three Duos recorded here were dedicated to Carulli and date from 1809-10. They are carefully structured and Gragnani opens each work with a movement that keeps firmly to sonata form. In that respect and also in terms of their duration, the works resemble late eighteenth century symphonies or quartets. This is simply chamber music for two players but they are given the advantage of realistic recorded sound and the phrase ‘excellent stereo spread’ once much favoured by critics is an advantage. Guitar 1, placed to the left, initiates many of the melodies and since the ear is used to orchestral works with first violins in that position the overall sound, full of detailed inner harmonies, seems almost symphonic.

In their interpretations Skogmo and Franke give these modest sonata-like pieces a late-18th-century feeling, pointing the dramatic episodes strongly but avoiding overstatement in the brief, charming slow movements. Optimism is an element throughout – even in the minor-keyed No.2, which is placed first on the CD. The Finales are all dance-like in nature, although only the Polacca of No.2 is named as such. The Finale of No.3 is particularly jolly, a good piece with which to leave a gently entertaining programme; Gragnani’s melodies are not especially memorable but they have a warm, comfortable feeling about them and certainly the flowing nature of the performances is entirely suitable in presenting these modest but tuneful compositions.

Nordic Songs and Romances

Nordic Songs and Romances – Grieg, Svendsen, Sibelius, Stenhammar, Sunleif Rasmussen, Bo Holten [Danacord]

4 of 5 stars

Foraarsregn, Op.49/6
Ved Rondane, Op.33/9
Hjemkomst, Op.58/1
Romance, Op.26
Sunleif  Rasmussen
Romance [premiere recording]
Svarta Rosor, Op.36/1
I Rosentiden, Op.48/5
Med en Primula Veris Op.26/4
Romance, Op.28
Bo Holten
Romance II [premiere recording]
To Brune Øjne, Op.5/1
Jeg elsker Dig, Op.5/3
Solveigs Sang
Våren, Op.33/2
Til Norge, Op.58/4
Romance in C, Op.42
En svane, Op.25/2

Helge Slaatto (violin) & Anne Mette Staehr (piano)

Recorded: June2 20-21 & November 7-8, 2020, at Syddansk Musikkonservatorium, Odense, Denmark

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Danacord DACOCD880
Duration: 60 minutes



It is impossible to avoid the term ‘Salon Music’; but let it be said at once that these are high-class examples of that genre.  It may no longer be the fashion for such music to be played in an alcove of a large, respectable restaurant but it would be suitable to do so as also would performance in the drawing room of a grand house after supper.  Fritz Kreisler certainly gave pleasure to audiences in performing such music with piano while also being famous for his interpretations of the great violin concertos in the concert hall.

The interesting thing about the seventeen arrangements of songs is that the violin plays the vocal line; Helge Slaatto phrases the melodies in the way a singer would present them, and there is great rapport with Anne Mette Staehr in this respect.  The technique becomes very clear when listening to those pieces familiar in orchestral settings; for example Våren (The Last Spring) is very well known in the version for string orchestra, and therefore the melodic line is very familiar, but Slaatto plays the notes as if they were being sung, the shaping of the themes is far different. 

This can all the more easily be understood because in the accompanying booklet the words of the songs by Grieg and Sibelius are printed in their original languages,  so  even without knowledge of Norwegian or Swedish it is possible to  follow the vocal line.  Certainly, viewing the text makes it easier to understand why the violinist phrases the music as he does. Translations are also provided. Among these songs there are five items entitled ‘Romance’.  Apart from Rasmussen’s, which at first exploits the very highest notes of the piano and later becomes urgently busy, they provide thoughtful interludes. In particular the flowing Stenhammar work is very comforting.  Bo Holten’s Romance (2020) is today’s music, and it is of a melodic nature.  It lives up to the booklet note which describes it as “a real salon piece”.  Sibelius’s Romance for String Orchestra does not work so well here because the percussive nature of the piano fails to capture the lyrical essence of the original string-led melodies.

Slaatto’s elegant violin tone is immensely suited to these pieces; the vocal line is followed very precisely with just the occasional (surprising) lifting of a phrase to an octave above in order to suit the range of the violin.

Bengtsson Brahms Beethoven

An Aldeburgh Tribute to Erling Blöndahl Bengtsson – Brahms’s Double & Beethoven’s Triple Concertos [Danacord]

3 of 5 stars

Concerto in A minor for Violin and Cello, Op.102
Concerto in C for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op.36

Manoug Parikian (violin), Erling Blöndahl Bengtsson (cello) & George Malcolm (piano)

English Chamber Orchestra
Norman Del Mar

Recorded 21 June 1973 at Aldeburgh Festival, Suffolk

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Danacord DACOCD 870
Duration: 69 minutes



These recordings represent a tribute to the distinguished cellist Erling Blöndahl Bengtsson (1932-2013).  His rich, powerful tone is best heard in his notable recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites and in his complete recording of the Beethoven Sonatas but these off-air live performances still do justice to his great musical talent.

It is somehow appropriate that the first music on the CD should be the Brahms because the initial theme is announced powerfully by the cello.  This is far from being a hi-fi recording but the sound of the instrument is clear and the important pizzicato moments are well captured.  This bold approach matches Norman Del Mar’s interpretation, which fashions Brahms in a strong, almost rugged manner – no lingering over romantic moments here.  The cello is also well-featured in the beautiful Andante, this is a most eloquent rendering, and violinist Manoug Parikian’s sensitive phrasing subtly parallels the cellist’s sympathetic view, although the recorded sound does not fully represent his elegant tone.  The Finale is driven firmly, helped by the solidity of the orchestral playing.

Although hollow-sounding, the Beethoven recording presents the soloists clearly.  How interesting to hear renowned harpsichordist George Malcolm in a pianistic role. The few recordings he made using a piano include fluent performances of Mozart Concertos and the same effortless technique is applied here.  Beethoven’s virtuosic flourishes are played accurately but without over-emphasis.  Parikian plays the melodic lines firmly making the high-lying moments sound bright but without virtuosic emphasis.  The discursive opening movement finds the soloists taking up the melodies in turn and at considerable length.  Since they are mid-range in nature it is the cello that usually announces them – and Bengtsson does this confidently.

The brief Largo finds the soloists playing what amounts to chamber music and it shows how effective they might have been had they ever chosen to play Trios. The cheerful, somewhat sentimental Finale is given with a suitably light touch.  The juxtaposition of lyrical melodies foreshadows the compositional style of a later generation.This is an adequate recording of a concert and it pays a suitable tribute to the talents of three notable artists. Radio announcements and applause are left in.

VW 4 6 LSO 1

Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fourth & Sixth Symphonies conducted by Antonio Pappano [LSO Live]

4 of 5 stars

Vaughan Williams
Symphony No.4 in F minor
Symphony No.6 in E minor

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Antonio Pappano

Recorded live at the Barbican Hall, London on December 12th, 2019, and March 15th, 2020

Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: LSO Live LSO0867 [SACD]
Duration: 68 minutes



It is one of the many paradoxes of British musical life that ardent Vaughan Williams enthusiasts are likelier to delight in the tweediest aspects of his oeuvre than explore his more radical ideas, yet in any successful realisation of these scores the miasma of gentlemanly amateurism must be ripped away. The Fourth and Sixth are not one whit inferior to the Shostakovich Symphonies that dominate latterday programming-building. If they have a fault it is one common to both composers, a fondness for communicating in battleship-grey which the leaden acoustic of the Barbican Hall is arguably less than ideally equipped to process.

In a just world the present release would be something of a game-changer. On one level it conveniently showcases purely local developments: the conductor always seemed a shoo-in for the position of post-Rattle chief conductor. There’s more to it than that though. The recordings are drawn from live performances in a “British Roots” strand which, by accident rather than design, coincided with significant events in our national life. Both are angry pieces (whether you regard them as absolute music or transmutations of issues personal and/or political). And both are given readings of exceptional fire and commitment.

The Fourth, overtly Beethovenian in structure but without Beethoven’s optimistic trajectory, coincided with the denouement of a post-truth General Election campaign Vaughan Williams would have held in contempt. Though tempos seemed faster in the hall – Pappano is often closer to Leonard Bernstein than the composer’s hectic 78s – he avoids superfluous rhetoric. Five stars are withheld only because the sound feels compacted even as it conveys the spread and heft of a big (and, needless to say, multinational) body of players. The Bartók-in-solid-boots aspect of the Scherzo and Finale will not disappoint. If memory serves only two Symphonies of Vaughan Williams end loudly and this is definitely one of them. The volcanic closing applause is snipped away (house rules). You may be most impressed by the eloquent desolation of the slow movement, the lone voice of Gareth Davies’s flute winding down proceedings more succinctly than Shostakovich was wont to do.

The Sixth is if anything still more intense, coinciding as it did with the imminent end of London music making thanks to COVID 19. In fact the formal announcement of the closure of concert venues and theatres came the very next day. Like most of those in attendance on the night I have not yet been to another orchestral concert. Vilde Frang had just given her rightly celebrated account of the Britten concerto in the first half yet there was to be no anti-climax. Pappano’s sure-footed direction allows a modicum of lolloping in the first movement, also ensuring that the glorious blossoming near its end is more than usually foreshadowed in his characterisation of the material’s initial appearances. The powerhouse reading of the two inner movements is something quite out of the ordinary. As for the ambiguous Finale, while it may be a trick of the acoustic that even the LSO strings might be considered slightly too loud and ‘positive’, Pappano’s placing of the final chords is absolute perfection, the music finally, mesmerisingly, ‘lost’.

Interrupting the ovation in the hall Pappano thanked an audience determined to show its loyalty to the ‘great institution’ that is the London Symphony Orchestra. Neither clapping nor speechifying survives on disc but we do get a newly penned paragraph of conductor’s commentary in addition to the usual notes and player listings. Whether bespectacled and equipped with a baton as he was for these orchestral outings or in summoning his thoughts for publication, Pappano remains a natural communicator:

“It’s often remarked in concert lore that on such and such a night there was a particularly electric atmosphere in the hall; I can attest to that being totally the case with these two concerts. The Fourth symphony and its tortured and conflictual nature somehow resonated with the political struggles of the country, but, importantly (for me at least), the music unhesitatingly defines the British character: courage, perseverance, action. This has nothing whatsoever to do with taking political sides, but only with the febrile sensations of performers and audience members in the hall that night.

“I would say that to an even greater degree this was true of the March 2020 date. We somehow knew that a lockdown or a shutdown was coming, this knowledge or fear (!) inspiring the combined forces of the LSO to give their utmost, to hold a proverbial fist up to the insidious virus. Everyone felt it.

Leading these two works has been a voyage of discovery, and has revealed to me just how timely (modern!) are Vaughan Williams’s passion, tenacity and deep understanding of humanity.”

An indispensable, even shattering pairing I think you’ll agree. Unless state-of-the-art sound tops your list of requirements you won’t find better modern accounts of either work.

David Jones 3 5

Daniel Jones’s Symphonies 3 & 5 [Lyrita]

4 of 5 stars

Daniel Jones
Symphonies – No.3 (1951)a; No.5 (1958)b

BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra
Bryden Thomson

Broadcast recordings from BBC Studios, Cardiff on aJanuary 26th and bFebruary 9th, 1990

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: July 2021
Duration: 68 minutes



The Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust Archive here puts listeners further in its debt with the latest instalment of Symphonies by Daniel Jones (1921-1993), the Swansea-based composer who is arguably the foremost Welsh symphonist of his generation. As with the previous two releases (Nos. 1 and 10 on SRCD358, Nos. 2 and 11 on SRCD364), these performances derive from a broadcast cycle of the Symphonies the then BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra undertook with its then principal conductor Bryden Thomson in the run-up to the composer’s 80th-birthday.

Given its studio premiere in 1952 then a public performance at the Cheltenham Festival four years on, the Third Symphony introduces a new concision into Jones’s previously expansive thinking. The work’s defining theme unfolds surreptitiously at the start of an Allegro whose underlying restlessness is intensified by a tensile development then a modified reprise which brings the music round, albeit uneasily, to its beginning. The Lento that follows ranks among its composer’s major symphonic statements (as was quickly recognised), its elegiac opening on strings presaging the methodical build-up to a climax whose plangency is the more acute for its brevity – after which, the music subsides towards a sombre ending. With its ingenious eliding between Scherzo and Finale, the closing Allegro renews the tonal conflict heard at the outset via a process that is rhythmically propulsive and almost entirely developmental, right through to the coda where ongoing antagonisms yield only the hardest-won triumph. Clearly this was a watershed for Jones whose achievement duly informed his subsequent Symphonies.

Less so, maybe, in the Fourth Symphony that Jones wrote in memory of Dylan Thomas but most definitely the Fifth, whose 1959 premiere at Royal Festival Hall secured the composer one of his most enduring successes. The canny interplay between asymmetrical phrases and symmetrical paragraphs here comes into its own – not least the opening Allegro whose well defined themes make possible a resourceful development then, after the shortened reprise, a searching coda. Less a Scherzo than a swift intermezzo, its successor passes through several pertly characterised episodes (subtly modifying the ‘scherzo and trio’ archetype) which are quizzically marked off by glockenspiel. By contrast, the ensuing Lento centres on a melody whose expansive processional admits of more austere and agitated elements on the way to a fatalistic close. It remains for the final Allegro to integrate the preceding and often disparate musical facets via themes whose interrelated nature ensures a tight integration of formal and expressive means across trenchantly contrapuntal textures, then on to a decisive conclusion.

It should be emphasised that both the broadcasts, if not without passing technical fallibilities, are always aware of what affords this music its integrity and humanity. The remastered sound has come up well in terms of clarity and warmth, with Paul Conway contributing his typically detailed booklet notes.

Good to hear broadcast recordings of Symphonies 12 and 13 (also the Symphonic Prologue?) are in preparation – after which Lyrita ought to consider issuing those Symphonies by Alun Hoddinott (Nos.1, 4 and 7-10) as have yet to be commercially released.

Further information here.

LSO Rach Sym2

LSO Live – Simon Rattle and Sergei Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony

3 of 5 stars

Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle

Recorded live at the Barbican Hall, London on September 18-19, 2019

Reviewed by: David Gutman

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: LSO Live LSO0851 [SACD]
Duration: 59 minutes



Sir Simon Rattle launched his LSO tenure with some audacious repertoire choices but here he plays to the orchestra’s established strengths. Unabridged accounts of this Symphony were rarer than hen’s teeth until the step change associated with the André Previn era and the team’s second LP version, made in 1973. Gennady Rozhdestvensky was at the helm in 1988 for what may well have been the first commercial recording of the work to include the first-movement exposition repeat, omitted by Previn and now Rattle. LSO Live already lists a live account under Valery Gergiev (who includes it).

Neither Claudio Abbado nor Colin Davis demonstrated much interest in Rachmaninov. Whereas Sir Simon has long championed highlights of the oeuvre notwithstanding its idiomatic closeness to Tchaikovsky, a creative voice largely absent from his discography. His Berlin Philharmonic CD pairing The Bells and the Symphonic Dances (Warner Classics) was conspicuously successful. So too a relay of the Third Symphony from 2017 available on the orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall. Then again, a 2011 Europakonzert performance of the Second Symphony (Euroarts) has less going for it. As immortalised on DVD, its muted soundworld presents fewer openings for the textural exploration he relishes these days. Has something been lost since he first tackled this music in Los Angeles for EMI in the mid-1980s? He has every note of the score in his head – it’s a piece he conducts from memory – but is it in his heart?

Those questions are not conclusively answered by this third recording. The sound team under Andrew Cornall – himself an old hand responsible for Vladimir Ashkenazy’s original Decca recording and more recent live Signum version – coaxes a degree of glamour from the recalcitrant Barbican acoustic but real weight of sonority is oddly lacking. In the opening movement the conductor would seem to want a more mobile, less marmoreal quality than that favoured by Previn. There are some intriguing kinks and swellings but less in the way of inexorable build. The recapitulation virtually grinds to a halt and the thrust of the lower strings at the very end is undersold. The brass may be too loud but at least we no longer get that pesky unauthorised timpani stroke Rattle used to favour (Gergiev still does).

Rattle’s ‘lissom’ approach is most successful in the outer portions of the second movement, the Scherzo element uncommonly brilliant and deft. The central fugato is carefully articulated and makes for a bigger contrast than usual, not that its capacity for menace is really followed up by either composer or interpreter. Rattle does succeed in ‘darkening’ the movement’s closing bars rather effectively.

On Previn’s last London appearance in 2015 the Adagio was marred by an uncharacteristic ensemble lapse. No such problems here. That said, I remain unconvinced that Rattle is the man for this kind of late romanticism. No complaints about Chris Richards’s clarinet solo but too much of the affection is lavished on the undergrowth. While Rachmaninov’s invention can stand leisurely pacing its long lines need a more straightforward kind of sustaining passion and flow. Rattle’s hiatuses can be Brucknerian, his textures hyper-refined. Sceptics will find this a long haul notwithstanding what is often very beautiful playing.

The Finale again feels a little sluggish, the big tune gooey with portamento. The marked speeding up for the coda garnered wild applause on the night I was in the hall yet still smacks of a certain cynicism. Digital alchemy ensures that precise unanimity is no longer threatened hereabouts. That no hint of audience presence survives either is in line with label policy. So too are the full player listing, admirable notes by Andrew Huth and idiosyncratic artwork

This handsome package has its strengths and you may warm more than I did to a sometimes interventionist, sometimes low-key interpretation that, finally, doesn’t quite add up. It should however satisfy the conductor’s many devotees.

Bartok Vol 2

Bartók|BBCSSO|Dausgaard: Orchestral Works, Volume 2 – The Miraculous Mandarin; Hungarian Peasant Songs; Suite No.2 [Onyx]

4 of 5 stars

The Miraculous Mandarin, BB82 (Op.19, 1918-24)
Hungarian Peasant Songs, BB107 (1914-18, orch. 1933)
Suite No.2, BB40 (Op.4, 1905-7, rev. 1943)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Thomas Dausgaard

Recorded 2017 & 2018 at City Halls, Glasgow

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Onyx 4213
Duration: 73 minutes



Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra renew their welcome survey of Bartók’s orchestral music with this astute juxtaposition of works, written around fifteen years apart, which finds the composer at his most accommodating but also at his most provocative.

As heard in its full ‘pantomime’ form, The Miraculous Mandarin is Bartók’s most visceral score. Dausgaard certainly captures the febrile urban atmosphere of its opening section, then maintains a stealthy grip on those three ‘Decoy Games’ – seductive and assaultive by turns – through to the spine-tingling ‘Entrance of the Mandarin’. The ‘Dance of the Girl’ then builds to a frenzied climax as carries into a propulsive ‘Chase’ sequence, hitting the ground running for the post-suite evoking of the Mandarin’s lurid ‘transfiguration and death’. The orchestral balance is mostly exemplary, even if such accounts as that by Peter Eötvös (Budapest Music Center) convey even more of its intense anguish and unbridled energy. Dausgaard mentions having used ‘‘the recently discovered original score without censored cuts’’, which might be the same as Peter Bartók’s edition of 2000; in any event, this 32-minute reading compares to other recent versions of the complete work, and Andrew Stewart’s note does not mention this issue. Also, why was the wordless vocal contribution not specified?

A bracing interlude now in the Hungarian Peasant Songs, Bartók’s inter-war arrangement of nine from the original fifteen of a wartime piano work – in the process, eliding the ninth and tenth numbers (track 13) for an eight-movement medley, but the rear inlay description is under the illusion Dausgaard has omitted one of the movements in his account (there is no track-listing). That said, his take on this most acerbic of Bartók’s orchestral reworkings is true to its essence – whether in the pathos of the initial ‘Ballad’ or the incisiveness of the ensuing dance tunes.

So, to the ‘dark horse’ among Bartók’s earlier orchestral works. The two Suites are analogous to the Serenades of Brahms: indeed, the Second Suite – conceived for Brahmsian rather than Straussian forces – was initially called a serenade and, in contrast to its ebullient predecessor, is for the greater part understated in manner. Not least the opening Comodo in its interplay of wistful and playful aspects, with the following Allegro (premiered separately in what was the composer’s single public appearance as conductor) a capricious amalgam of dance and fugal elements which anticipates those much more aggressive scherzos to come. If the intermezzo-like Andante evokes a note of uncertainty (despite a haunting initial melody for bass clarinet), this may reflect on Bartók’s decision to leave the work in abeyance prior to his first intensive folksong expedition. Two years on, and the final Comodo exudes an aura permeated by folk music – that the composer was able to integrate it into the foregoing, as is underlined by this perceptive reading, only enhances the attraction of a work such as definitely warrants revival.

In short, those having acquired the first instalment in this series (ONYX4210) need have no qualms as to its successor, even if more thorough booklet notes might have been welcome, and Onyx ought to double-check its sources to avoid errors such as that mentioned above.

Further information at

Bartok Vol 1 1

Bartók|BBCSSO|Dausgaard: Orchestral Works, Volume 1 – Concerto for Orchestra; Suite No.1 [Onyx]

4.5 of 5 stars

Suite No.1, BB39 (Op. 3, 1905) [First recording of original version]
Concerto for Orchestra, BB123 (1943)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard

Recorded during 2019 in City Halls, Glasgow

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Onyx 4210
Duration: 78 minutes



Thomas Dausgaard has hardly been short of ambition as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony and here inaugurates a series devoted to the orchestral music of Bartók that, even if not including the Concertos, will likely amount to a sizable project. This first volume has been artfully planned to juxtapose his largest such pieces which (coincidentally?) frame almost the entirety of his output, their symmetrical design indicating a lifelong concern with balance and proportion as underpins an eventful trajectory taking its composer from apprentice to master.

Bartók’s two Suites occupy a not dissimilar position in his catalogue to that held by Brahms’s Serenades. Neither is often revived today, explicable in the case of the First Suite by an idiom rooted in Strauss tone poems that was soon left behind. Not that its combining late-Romantic panache with a Hungarian inflection centred on urban populism rather than rural authenticity is other than engaging, and Dausgaard makes the most of these in a reading as animated as it is affectionate. This is also the first recording to incorporate material in the second and third movements Bartók excised from his 1920 revision, but while this is by no means repetitious, it does extend them out of proportion in relation to those other movements – as a comparison with Zoltán Kocsis’s account (Hungaroton), at its finest in the propulsive central Scherzo and bittersweet intermezzo that follows, amply reinforces. Anyone who encounters it for the first time, however, is unlikely to find themselves unresponsive to the infectious elan Dausgaard generates throughout this often gauche while technically assured and always appealing work.

Onward some 38 years and the Concerto for Orchestra shares a comparable five-movement design, though its formal and expressive integration is on another level entirely. Dausgaard underlines this in a reading that seeks to encapsulate the piece as a single cumulative entity and comes as close as any earlier version to doing so. Listen to the seamlessness with which he elides between relative stasis and dynamism in the ‘Introduzione’’s contrasting sections, or the wit and urbanity in the ‘Giuoco delle coppie’ that does not preclude affecting poise in its central chorale. Anguished eloquence there is aplenty in the ‘Elegia’, but also a sense of mysterious inwardness which finds its unlikely corollary in the ‘Intermezzo interrotto’ with its ingenious interplay of plaintiveness, pathos and – allusions to Shostakovich or otherwise – parody. Kocsis (Hungaroton) may emphasise each movement’s character more distinctly but, navigating the ‘Finale’s apparent discontinuity in mood and motion with keenest dexterity, it is Dausgaard who sees the work through to a joyous culmination shot-through with defiance.

Summing up, this is an auspicious start to a welcome series as looks certain to bring the best out of this partnership. The sound has no lack of focus or immediacy, if without the depth of perspective or acoustic definition as found on those Kocsis SACDs, which also feature more extensive and detailed annotations. A future volume will likely include the Scherzo that was all the 21-year-old Bartók orchestrated from his only designated symphony, of which a full realization by Denijs Dille can be heard at

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