Norrington Elgar Symphony No.1

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55
Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg – Prelude to Act I

Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sir Roger Norrington

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: January 2001
Duration: 57 minutes

Issued as part of Hanssler’s ’faszination musik’ series, this live-compiled Elgar One was recorded at concerts between 27-29 October 1999. Similar to Norrington’s London Philharmonic Royal Festival Hall performance on 11 October last, which I reviewed for The Classical Source, it’s good to have a permanent document of his lively view of this great symphony.

Norrington’s approach to Elgar’s First is perhaps too urbane – there isn’t the focus on the composer’s inner passions, the shadows. If Norrington appears to be slightly inhibited about fully revealing Elgar’s emotional fantasy and the heart-on-sleeve outpourings, he is certainly aware of the subtly elusive aspects of the music – there is much that is delicately traced: in the lighter-scored passages of the scherzo or the opening of the finale for example. In doing so, Norrington moves this music closer to Schumann – Elgar’s true German counterpart, Anthony Payne once told me – and away from the assumed Brahms.

All this said – particularly given some of the disappointing aspects – Norrington does have the work’s structure in full-view; he responds to the surface incident with relish, and presides over an unfussy and fleet account, which is very refreshing. He also has antiphonal violins, so important in clarifying the two sections’ dialogue (the music written for this design) and doesn’t make portentous the symphony’s opening motto – indeed, Norrington is one of the few conductors that really makes this introduction ’semplice’ as marked.

Norrington adopts ’authentic’ tempos, the slow movement flows (albeit lacking somewhat in tension and inwardness) and the overall time of 48 minutes is about right in terms of the score. Yet his refusal to linger or indulge the moment may displease some, even if Norrington’s overall directness and symphonic through-line is not unwelcome, and, as the scherzo winds-down, Norrington shows that he can ’swell’ the expression by moulding the music when he wants to (from 4’52”-5’16” especially). I could though have done with much less non-vibrato string playing – Norrington over-uses this effect, which draws attention to itself rather than offering illumination.

Norrington’s CD may not be a first choice for this music – he doesn’t join Elgar himself, Boult, Barbirolli, Solti or Haitink (all EMI except Solti’s Decca taping) in offering a truly comprehensive traversal of this masterpiece. It is though a very likeable rendition, one I shall return to quite often, for it offers a sincere and informed view that doesn’t overplay its hand; one always senses Norrington’s deep commitment.

The Wagner (live, 4-5 November 1999) is Norrington’s ‘usual’ 8-minute dash through it and again has something tangibly considered at its core (although ultimately its inclusion is neither here nor there; nor is it a “bonus track” when the CD has twenty-odd minutes unused!).

The Elgar’s the thing. Norrington, full-chested and indomitable, cascades through the final bars with zeal, but seems less hasty than in London – his ’scramble to triumph’ would perhaps not have been out of place a century ago. For all my critical brickbats, I have now listened to this recording several times – and look forward to doing so again. Very well and instinctively played (Elgar’s early successes came in Germany) with excellent sound, Norrington’s Elgar One is notable for its freshness, vitality and some points well-made.

Beethoven Piano works

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.4*
Sonata in E, Op.109
Sonata in A flat, Op.110

Helene Grimaud (piano) with *New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: January 2001
CD No: TELDEC 3984-26869-2
Duration: 73’22″

Hélène Grimaud’s engagement and single-mindedness are apparent from the very first chord of the concerto. The pianist does not steal in; she makes a precise call to arms. Grimaud presents an iron Beethoven, strong rather than poetic, Florestan not Eusebius, a Beethoven of exposition not seduction. In interviews, Hélène Grimaud has stated her affinity with German culture rather than with her native France and on this evidence she is proved correct. Masur, whose first act is to soften the melodic line after the pianist’s entry, is a sympathetic accompanist, more affectionate and less driven than his soloist is.

Above all, Grimaud’s is Beethoven of structure, each phrase organically linked to the next, precisely graded sequences and crescendi (for instance from 12’ 09” or 13’ 50”), each transition clearly sign-posted, with never an attempt to draw a veil of illusion over the pillars on which Beethoven’s forms are built. Even the first movement cadenza (or, indeed, the arpeggiation in the first movement of Op.109) betrays no hint of its improvisatory ancestry, but is played as a dramatic culmination within an inevitable progression. If Grimaud consciously eschews mystery, the sheer commitment and intensity of the performances nevertheless gives them a heroic quality.

In an interpretative age equally and oppositely plagued by histrionics and over-competent monotony, her Beethoven is reassuringly traditional. It can also be relentless. She is frequently reluctant to let phrases smile, an approach heard at its worst at the start of the slow movement, where Masur and the NYPO fulminate convincingly but Grimaud fails to supply the necessary lyrical counterpart.

Only in the finale does the performance benefit from the fact it is recorded live. As if purified by the discipline of the first two movements, soloist and orchestra permit themselves to run free, to duet with spontaneity and excitement, to take risks that Grimaud’s constructivist shaping has so far forbidden.

There are few surprises come the late sonatas, though the performances are impressively coherent. Grimaud shows characteristic certainty and purpose in Op109, the scherzo analytical and stripped of whimsy, the big variation movement very successful in its passionate control.

At the opening of Op110 for about a minute, Grimaud seems willing to let the lyricism flow and speak for itself – then she takes control again. The scherzo is severe, presented as a restless struggle for harmonic resolution, rather than an exercise in quirkiness or wit; Grimaud’s approach is though ideal for the fugal finale, perfectly crafted.

There is no audience noise during the concerto – indeed, the artist’s gasps for breath at tense moments are far more audible. The recording overall is bright and clear, with close but very life-like piano sound.

If you are a wolf-lover, this disc will send you into raptures, since its booklet serves as a showcase for Grimaud’s second career as a conservationist. Otherwise, you will find it interesting, worthy, admirable but seldom loveable

Tchaikovsky – Barbirolli

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor
Francesca da Rimini
Romeo and Juliet

John Ogdon (piano), Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: January 2001
Duration: 76’40″

Forever to be associated with his beloved Halle Orchestra, Barbirolli’s EMI discography includes several recordings with the Philharmonia – Verdi’s Requiem and Otello, Elgar’s First Symphony and Mahler’s Fifth and Sixth.

It was after sessions for Mahler 5 had been completed that producer Ronald Kinloch Anderson (no relation) suggested to ‘JB’ that the remaining time might be used for Romeo and Juliet. So on 19 July 1969 in Watford Town Hall, Barbirolli and the (New) Philharmonia began work on a recording that was to remain incomplete. Session time over, it didn’t prove possible to find an available day when orchestra, conductor and location were mutually available. Barbirolli died on 29 July 1970 (while rehearsing the Philharmonia incidentally) other recordings completed in the meantime – but not this Romeo. As a torso it works well enough, the cut-off is just before the coda; as a performance it’s a little careful, emotionally cooler than one might expect from JB, but full of insights, atmosphere and characteristic yearning phrases. Had another session been found, then some details would have been tidied (‘patched’ in the trade), but we have what we have, and Barbirolli’s many fans will be delighted with this memento. Mike Dutton has retained Barbirolli’s ‘thank you’ to the orchestra on a separate track.

The other items are complete! Prior to this audition, I’d not found much in John Ogdon’s 1962 B flat minor. Aided by Dutton’s clean-as-a-whistle transfer, which reports a natural balance, rich-toned piano and superbly detailed orchestra, I now think this an absolute winner. Though one cavil on the sound is that occasionally certain frequencies and quiet dynamics respond less well to noise-reduction: for example at the beginning of the concerto’s second movement the strings (from 0’45”) are slightly husky and the preceding flute solo has a touch of flutter. I could add the cellos sound somewhat processed from 3’51”, but you may not notice or mind (some people don’t seem to) although I would have traded more hiss for tonal faithfulness. Nevertheless this is a wonderful rendition, one that finds Ogdon virtuosic without barnstorming and wonderfully delicate in quieter lyrical passages, which glitter alluringly. There is a generous sweep to this reading, often thrilling but always musical, with Barbirolli an imaginative and accommodating accompanist, the Philharmonia providing some superb solos.

Barbirolli’s 1969 Francesca is one of the great recordings of this work – ardent, impulsive and powerful; also sumptuous and glowing in the central section, memorably introduced by a suggestive clarinet solo, Bernard Walton presumably. For all the emotion and tingle that JB unleashes here, this Francesca also documents how carefully he prepared his scores – you don’t often hear the quiet cymbals at all, let alone so clearly differentiated, between 4’30”-4’38”.

Leaving aside my sensitivity to the occasional degradation to the sound, I welcome this CD, which is full of outstanding music-making – a marvellous concerto and Francesca, and a tantalising Romeo, a behind the scenes aural glimpse of an unfinished recording full of promise

Beethoven: The Nine Symphonies and Five Piano Concertos

0 of 5 stars

Symphonies 1-9
Piano Concertos 1-5

Daniel Barenboim (piano), Aase Nordmo Lovberg (soprano), Christa Ludwig (mezzo-soprano), Waldemar Kmentt (tenor), Hans Hotter (baritone), Philharmonia Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: January 2001
CD No: EMI CZS 5 73895 2
Duration: 9 CDs

Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) initially conducted the then recently formed Philharmonia Orchestra in 1947, first recording with it in 1954. For nearly twenty more years Klemperer and the Philharmonia made many LPs for Columbia and HMV (now EMI), quite a number of which remain available today and benefiting from EMI’s latest digital technology.

This cycle of Beethoven’s nine symphonies was made between 1955 and 1959 (all in stereo); the concertos date from 1967-8. Klemperer’s relationship with the Philharmonia culminated in 1959 when he became Principal Conductor, a position he held for life.

Anyone familiar with Klemperer’s recordings from the ’twenties, ’thirties and ’forties will know that he could be a quite a firebrand, adopting quick tempos and investing much passion. As he grew older so his speeds dropped. Consequently the picture that many of his later recordings give is of a musician who took his time with his chosen music. There are exceptions to this rule of course; however these Beethoven symphonies are generally ample and uncompromising.

Klemperer’s greatness is not just his fidelity to the score. It’s his ability to convince that his tempos ’work’ – which they generally do – and the reason is he sees each movement whole. This structural focus, the organic building of climaxes, the lofty expression all come from Klemperer giving the music time to breath and articulate – always with a sense of purpose and direction.

There are so many recordings of Beethoven symphonies currently available that it’s almost impossible to nominate one conductor as being the definitive interpreter. There’s Furtwangler and Toscanini who are continually exhibited as the two extremes – the former fast, fiery and direct; the latter fluctuating and spiritual – and there are many styles and views in between. Beethoven’s fast metronome markings continue to be debated and find favour with so-called ’authentic’ performers, and more traditional conductors such as Claudio Abbado and David Zinman have recently adopted Beethoven’s request for swiftness.

I’m not so sure just how convincing all this speed is in conveying Beethoven’s message. Klemperer’s monumental approach speaks of great things, his ear for detail (especially among the woodwinds) is emphasised by giving the players time to express the notes and Klemperer’s focus on the whole ensures each symphony’s architecture is laid bare. Klemperer’s Beethoven symphonies remain compelling and satisfying readings. The highlights are a rugged No.2, a massive Eroica, a powerful Fifth and a spacious, lyrical Pastoral. However, the whole cycle is wonderfully lucid. Add to this Klemperer’s use of antiphonal violins, which really clarifies internal dialogue between these sections, some wonderfully characterful and committed playing from the Philharmonia, and these recordings stand the test of time very easily.

Of the piano concertos, I’m slightly less sure. Barenboim, then 25, plays with command and spirit – and seems to have formed a positive relationship with Klemperer – but the soul of the music isn’t quite as exposed here in the way that Klemperer had previously achieved in the symphonies. That said, the concertos are certainly fresh and communicative and document a fascinating collaboration between youth and ’grand old man’.

The recordings are excellent, the concertos especially so. The symphonies don’t really sound their age being full and spacious, although there are a few moments where the remastering, in an attempt to reduce tape-hiss as much as possible, compromises somewhat the natural tones of the orchestra – try the ’nasal’ strings at the beginning of the Fourth Symphony’s slow movement and the pizzicato strings at the close of the opening movement of the Eighth. These vagaries to the sound are few, not especially distracting, but are surely avoidable.

However, the joy is that Klemperer’s spacious and focussed Beethoven symphonies – attractively presented in a slimline box with full notes – remain available not only as superb cycle on its own terms but one that is a valuable alternative to the slick and uneventful way of presenting this music that is becoming more and more the norm. At EMI’s giveaway price, this treasurable box could make a rather special Christmas present

As a postscript, I must also recommend a live Beethoven 9 with Klemperer and the Philharmonia, which took place in the Royal Festival Hall on 15 November 1957 just a week before the studio recording from the above set. Splendid though that is, the live performance has that something extra. Issued for the first time in 1999, this live Choral – with the same soloists and then newly-formed Philharmonia Chorus – is among the greatest of the Choral that I know. It’s an essential document capturing Klemperer and the Philharmonia on the wing. TESTAMENT SBT 117.

William Henry Fry – Santa Claus Symphony

0 of 5 stars

Santa Claus – Christmas Symphony
Overture to Macbeth
Niagara Symphony
The Breaking Heart

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Tony Rowe

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: January 2001
CD No: NAXOS 8.559057
Duration: 61’32”



This is a fascinating CD, one to delight students of American music and anyone looking for some unfamiliar orchestral scores that are both attractive and worthwhile. William Henry Fry was born in 1813 in Philadelphia. Dead aged 51, Fry had a short but busy and productive life – not only a composer, he was a music, art and political correspondent for several American newspapers and he also lectured on the history of music. You won’t be surprised to learn that, come his early demise through tuberculosis, he was exhausted!

Although the ’real’ voice of American music is a twentieth-century development, beginning with Ives and Copland, there was plenty of music written by native composers in the preceding century – George Chadwick, Horatio Parker (who taught Ives) and John Knowles Paine among them. Fry pre-dates the oldest of these, Paine, by a couple of decades. He was, I imagine, very sympathetic to French music. No doubt, given his music critic role, he would have heard many pieces, and, as a composer, would have been open to and influenced by a number of his contemporaries. Berlioz is aurally suggested (a bit of research finds Fry and Berlioz met), and Fry must also have had a liking for the lighter things of musical life, Offenbach for example. Fry’s French influence shifts the balance somewhat – the American composers who followed him tended to be more Germanic, often studying in Berlin or Leipzig. Of these, Chadwick is worth exploring, for his works, with their suggestions of Mendelssohn and Schumann, have much to recommend them.

The Santa Claus Symphony is a single movement, lasting here 26 minutes, that is a loosely constructed series of episodes, a story told by the orchestra, used here quite strikingly by Fry, who was largely self-taught. The Saviour is born to jubilant fanfares, then we move to a Christmas Eve Party. Among later ’events’ are The Lord’s Prayer syllabically set for strings, ’Rock-a-by baby’ is intoned by the saxophone (in 1853 Adolphe Sax’s instrument was just a few years old), then there’s a snowstorm (with the obligatory traveller who has lost his way) and, finally, good old Father Christmas turns up (whips and sleigh bells to the fore). He’s armed with presents, Christmas Day has arrived and all is well with the world. Musically, there’s a call to attention from the brass, a trumpet solo (French scoring for a Donizetti-type melody with a suggestion of Rossini’s humour), then solos not just for the saxophone but for clarinet, which initiates a delightful Gavotte, double bass (the traveller) and bassoon (Santa Claus). Fry’s imagination provides great entertainment, his tunes are catchy, his orchestration atmospheric, and the whole is a pleasing diversion.

Although – like a puppy – Fry’s Santa Claus Symphony isn’t just for Christmas, the other music on this CD, although shorter, has more substance. Macbeth, from Fry’s last year, is a splendidly dramatic concert overture, while Niagara, with its eleven timpani and effective ‘waterfall’ scoring, would have delighted Berlioz in its extravagance and impact. The Breaking Heart is a rather gooey concoction of waltz tunes, which will appeal to listeners with a sweet tooth; it’s worth getting to 5’55″ where something more soulful arrives and the remaining five minutes are utterly charming. Retaining Fry’s ‘French Connection’, anyone who likes Waldteufel’s music will love The Breaking Heart.

So, good stuff, and I wonder if Naxos have more Fry up its sleeve? Tony Rowe and the RSNO play Fry with sensitivity, power and a good humour, and the recording is excellent. A thoroughly enjoyable and enterprising CD.

Kennedy plays Bach

0 of 5 stars

Concertos for violin – in A minor (BWV 1041)& E (BWV1042)Concerto for two violins in D minor (BWV 1043)Concerto for oboe and violin in D minor (BWV 1060)

Kennedy and Daniel Stabrawa (violins)Albrecht Mayer (oboe)with members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2000
CD No: EMI CDC 5 57091 2
Duration: 58’ 55″

I’m in two minds about this CD. The first listen found me enthusiastic, admiring of Kennedy’s musicianship, invigorated by the up-tempo fast movements and moved by the sensitive handling of the slow ones. A second spin was rather different – I thought the recording too reverberant and the musicians’ sound penetrating and unlovely; also those fast movements were now too quick, too emphatic (aggressive even) and predictable, though the liquid centres of the slow movements were still affecting.

There’s much to admire in Kennedy’s technique and in his spirit – this music really lifts of the page to rejuvenate and console – and a ‘period’ awareness hovers over proceedings as the old meets the new. Baroque music Berlin style has all the attributes of musical eloquence sympathetic to Bach’s expression but in the modern clothing of a sleek modern band, Kennedy first among equals and making Bach relevant – a process of sincere interpretation, sharing with colleagues and reaching out to listeners.

I doubt though I shall return as often to Kennedy’s CD – and really then for the confidential and unaffected slow movements – as I will to Isaac Stern for something gloriously ‘old-fashioned’ (Sony SMK 66471, identical in contents, 10 minutes longer). Then there’s Mullova (Philips 446 675-2; BWV 1043 replaced by 1059) who is as ‘authentic’ as Kennedy but more varied and intimate in realising the concertos’ song and dance.

Reservations aside, Kennedy is no doubt the man to persuade reluctant listeners just how vital and moving Bach’s music is. If this CD becomes a best seller I won’t be surprised; if Bach’s music has a whole new audience because of Kennedy’s pulling-power then that’ll be great – musically there’s nothing dull here and much that speaks directly from and to the heart.

Dvorak: Symphony No 9

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.9 “From the New World”
Concert Overture – Othello

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado

Reviewed by: Geoff Diggines

Reviewed: December 2000
CD No: DG 457 651-2

Any new recording at full-price of Dvorak’s last symphony has to have very special qualities if it is to compete with the many existing recordings of this ever-popular work.

The ’New World’, because it is such standard repertoire, is performed too-often as a familiar ’warhorse’, resulting in many regular performances on and off record. I recall admirable (long deleted) LP versions conducted by Jorda, Horenstein and Schmidt-Isserstedt, which were memorable because they seemed to understand the specific sound and idiom of the work: dramatic but not melodramatic or streamlined; symphonic, but permeated by Czech rhythmic inflections, rustic woodwind tone and warm but flexible strings. The Czech Philharmonic under Talich, Ancerl and others understand this intrinsically. No version I know has such panache and humorous rhythmic drive as Ancerl’s Supraphon recording.

The new Abbado, recorded live in May 1997, begins with a beautifully realised account of the Othello overture – the lyrical and dramatic aspects of the musical narrative are juxtaposed with consummate skill and finesse. Abbado’s reading of the symphony is likewise delivered with great insight into the work’s structural configurations. The dramatic interruptions into the first movement’s Adagio opening are perfectly realised without being overstated or too loud. The main Allegro is full-toned with the second subject making its lyrical effect without any need to slow. As one would expect, Abbado correctly observes the dramatic notes leading to the exposition repeat. Most of the older school of conductors ignored this repeat, with the exception of Klemperer; Toscanini observed it in a 1940s concert performance but not in his famous 1953 recording.

Abbado’s account of the famous Largo is measured and meticulous, never sounding slow. The unanimous, sustained precision and beauty of the Berlin strings comes into its own here. The scherzo – with echoes of Beethoven 9’s prominent timpani interjections from its scherzo – Abbado keeps rhythmically alive, although, ironically, I would have welcomed more from the timpani. For a far more exuberant rendition, listen to the wonderful Ancerl or the recent Harnoncourt (Teldec) with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Compared with Ancerl, Abbado’s woodwinds sound far too urbane. Abbado’s finale is again well structured and symphonically powerful, although I would have liked more of the con fuoco emphasised. Abbado’s constraint is admirable but sometimes more drama is required.

Overall, Abbado’s is one of the most distinguished of recent versions. I would marginally prefer Harnoncourt, which is more detailed, idiomatic and slightly more naturally balanced – DG’s recording has a tendency to glare in the higher registers. Of the older recordings, Ancerl and the Czech Phil are hard to beat, Reiner’s Chicago version is still distinctive in its straightforward way as is, more surprisingly, Klemperer’s with the Philharmonia, and Kertesz’s respected LSO version is especially attractive at budget price. As well as the Othello overture, Kertesz also contains Carnival. I would have thought DG could have included an additional piece – 58 minutes is a little mean. Nevertheless Abbado is fresh, spontaneous and effective. Recommended.

Geoff Diggines’s benchmark recordings are:

  • Czech Philharmonic/Karel Ancerl – SUPRAPHON 1119982 011
  • Philharmonia/Otto Klemperer – EMI CDM 5 67033 2
  • LSO/Istvan Kertesz – DECCA 466 212-2
  • Chicago Symphony/Fritz Reiner – RCA 09026 62587-2
  • Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt -TELDEC 3984-25254-2

Haydn: The String Quartets (complete)

0 of 5 stars

The Complete Haydn String Quartets

The Angeles String Quartet
Kathleen Lenski – violin 1
Steven Miller/Sara Parkins – violin 2
Brian Dembow – viola
Stephen Erdody – cello

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2000
CD No: PHILIPS 464 650-2

Although the last of Haydn’s Quartets, the unfinished D minor (Op.103) is numbered 83, there are only 68 such works! This new set does not include Op.51, The Seven Last Words from the Cross, the seven movements of which are numbers 50-56; there’s also the ’missing’ 19-24 (no doubt a set once attributed to Haydn now confirmed as another composer’s), and from the six each of Opp.1 & 2, the Angeles play the nine works that are genuine quartets (i.e. not arrangements) and one termed Op.0 (discovered in the 1930s). These ’10 Early Quartets’ are all in five movements; from the Op.9 set, excepting the two-movement incomplete one, it’s the customary four.

My overview of the Angeles’s new performances (recorded between 1994-99) is that they give lucid, clear-sighted readings that make for pleasing listening. The recordings, with the consistency of having been made in the same place – a church in California – are courtesy of the experienced team of Joanna Nickrenz and Marc Aubort, and report a warm, focussed sound that allows the players to be both mellifluous (using modern instruments) and detailed. With the exception of a change of second violinist (new girl Sara Parkins plays fourteen works) we are offered one group’s view of a canon of music that contains some of the greatest works of the genre, presented with informative notes in a space-saving box and in opus number sequence (play CD 13 before 12 to get Op.54’s six in the published order!). With the same production team and singular recording venue, there’s an attractive wholesome quality to this issue.

The Angeles’s are consistently musical, playing with a lively mixture of urbanity, poise and reflection. Not as searching as the Lindsays (ASV), as characterful as the Amadeus (DG) or as polished as the Italians (Philips), the Angeles are nevertheless immensely likeable, their tempi thoughtfully chosen – fast movements are shapely and articulate, slow ones flow, minuets are attractively equable in pace, which underlines their dance origin and courtly elegance. I also like the players’ teamwork – theirs is genuine chamber dialogue and interplay – but consistently musical though the Angeles certainly are, their moderation in both tempo and (especially) temperament doesn’t always convey the originality and passion of some of the later quartets.

On balance I wouldn’t suggest that any performance here challenges the very finest available for individual quartets. Against this must be weighed the pleasure these dedicated readings give and the convenience of having all Haydn’s Quartets in one box (similar sets are available from Decca and Naxos). Some distracting edits aside, these beautiful-sounding and musically engaging readings – sponsored by The Joseph Haydn Society Incorporated – have in their sincerity and freshness of approach an eminently listenable quality.

Dvorak Legends

0 of 5 stars

Legends, Op.59
Notturno, Op.40
Miniatures, Op.75a
Prague Waltzes

Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Ivan Fischer

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2000
CD No: PHILIPS 464 647-2

Whether as symphonist, composer of significant chamber pieces or as the author of smaller, lighter works, Dvorak the exquisite craftsman always wrote from the heart to the heart (to borrow from Beethoven), often with a touching simplicity using dance forms and folk-like melodies from his native Bohemia.

The ten Legends, not as well known as the two sets of Slavonic Dances, have, in their unassuming way, all the depth of response to be found in Dvorak’s larger musical essays. Dvorak’s subtle, imaginative scoring, his unpredictable but engaging harmonic shifts relate a composer’s need to communicate and share. In the Legends’ case modesty of form should not be mistaken for inconsequential expression – as early as 1’18″ in the first Legend the clarinet has the most beguiling melody; the heartfelt idea for strings that opens the second piece is similarly memorable and wholly personal.

Dvorak was 40 when, as for the Slavonic Dances, he composed Legends for piano duet. One of the joys of Dvorak’s music is his absolute mastery of the orchestra; throughout Legends there is the most innate and gratifying choice of instruments and skilled interweaving of colour. Although Legends as a set tends to be generally thoughtful, the spirit of dance is still present (No.3) which contrasts nicely with the heraldic No.4, the sheer charm of No.5 (with its lovely use of harp) and flowing 6th (a summer day’s trip down the Moldau perhaps). There are so many haunting refrains in this music, and I was occasionally reminded of Elgar (especially during the most introspective moments) – both composers took as much trouble over their ’lighter’ music as they did when composing their biggest statements. Take No.7. This begins with a simple phrase but it’s one underlain with much emotion, then (from 0’24″) there’s bolder material for contrast. O’42″ introduces a friskier rhythm before a repeat (differently scored) of the opening material and at 1’02″ the violins ’sigh’ before enjoying a descending scale. Something more heroic then appears, horns sing out with martial timpani in attendance, flute and bassoon add pertinent comments and the ear delights to horn and flute trills. These are just some of the many aural pleasures on offer.

I love the music and these performances – Ivan Fischer’s light touch and attention to detail and his orchestra’s airy textures and spirited, sensitive playing are just right. I wish though that the BFO had been more warmly recorded in a less spacious acoustic; although textures are clean, upper strings have a tendency to ’whiteness’ in the louder passages, but this is a minor cavil.

I was less concerned with the sound in the rest of the programme. Notturno (for strings) suggests a balmy night, moonlight flecking through trees – music to transplant you to thoughtful reflection (especially if you’re reviewing this CD during an afternoon when the sun is reflecting off the computer screen!). From 3’14″ there is another one of Dvorak’s wonderful, long and expressive melodies that grows (and climbs the scale) quietly but ecstatically burning into one’s consciousness. Also note, from 3’40″, how the second violins’ decorous writing is in perfect accord to the firsts’ sustained notes: Fischer has these sections sitting antiphonally (as Dvorak would have expected).

The Miniatures are a posthumous spin-off for strings (here just a few in number) from the Terzetto (two violins and viola) and Romantic Pieces (Terzetto’s violin and piano re-write). From the Cavatina’s sweet melody to the Elegia’s burdened heart via the folk-fiddle Capriccio and gently singing Romanza, these lovely pieces are a delightful discovery.

So too the swinging Prague Waltzes (full orchestra) which close this excellent CD with couples swaying around the dance floor, onlookers armed with a frothing tankard of ale, as Dvorak affectionately nods in the direction of Johann Strauss and Joseph Lanner. Lovely stuff and played here with style and panache.

Boughton on Hyperion

0 of 5 stars

Rutland Boughton
Three Folk Dances
Aylesbury Games
Concerto for flute and strings
Concerto for string orchestra

Emily Beynon (flute)
The New London Orchestra conducted by Ronald Corp

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: October 2000

Boughton was born in Aylesbury in 1878 and died in London in 1960 aged 82. In between, this largely self-taught composer followed Wagner in making Glastonbury his Bayreuth for the production of his operas including ’choral dramas’ based on Arthurian legend. From the First War years The Immortal Hour became very popular and this, like a number of other Boughton scores, may be found on Hyperion.

This label’s latest Boughton venture concentrates on music for string orchestra, Emily Beynon’s sparkling flute-playing adding a delightful contrast to the folksy, rhapsodic nature of most of the music presented. I can’t pretend that we’re dealing with masterpieces, except possibly the Concerto for strings, but everything here was composed to be enjoyed. The Folk Dances are rustic and tender, altogether charming, while Aylesbury Games was intended for amateur performance in the town until conductor Charles Pope recognised the music to be beyond his players’ abilities. Three rhapsodies on a ’little tune’, each movement is a tad too long, yet each has some lovely lyrical invention that doesn’t quite reach the ’memorable’ target. Overall, these 22 minutes are somewhat strenuously achieved and dourly coloured.

The Flute Concerto’s outer movements – light-stepping and good-natured with a mix of attractive rhythms and lyrical episodes – frame the beautiful slow movement’s flute arabesques that gracefully contour over string chords. The soloist then sings a sad tune, one which seems to look over the sea to Ireland – really quite lovely, played here with melting sensitivity by Emily Beynon who, otherwise, plays with elan and virtuosity.

The Concerto for strings (like the Flute Concerto, from 1937) is an ambitious four-movement, 30-minute piece in which Boughton shows genuine mastery of writing for strings – an English-composer speciality. Whether it joins the premier league of works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Tippett, time will tell. I doubt it, yet Boughton’s seriousness of purpose impresses; so too does his skill in using every technical device in the book to construct music that keeps the ear and mind interested in the variety of colour and expression that Boughton conjures. There’s plenty of heart too in quieter, reflective moments when Boughton’s use of solo strings is particularly atmospheric; once again the slow movement (originally titled Love Scene) is especially affecting.

The performances on these first recordings all appear to be excellent, not least in the Concerto for strings (which Boyd Neel’s orchestra found too difficult – strange when it had managed Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations just a few months previously). I like the Flute Concerto very much and am delighted to know the strings’ concerto – it’ll be that I return to most to relish Boughton’s confident strides, mastery of scoring and, like all his music I suspect, warm heart.