August 2019 CD Reviews

July 2019 CD Reviews
Elgar: The New England Connection, Volume 2 – Falstaff – and George Chadwick’s Tam O’Shanter – BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Andrew Constantine [Orchid Classics]
August, 2019 |  In reviewing Andrew Constantine’s previous Orchid Classics issue of Chadwick and Elgar, I wrote: “The premise of this release is to couple music by two contemporaneous composers, the American George Whitefield Chadwick (born 1854 in Massachusetts) and Edward Elgar (arriving in England three years later). ... Now it’s time to couple Falstaff and Tam O’Shanter. The Elgar is presented twice, either as written or (and this would have been better placed on the second CD, as an appendix) interspersed with lines from Shakespeare’s Henry IV (both parts) – if the latter appeals then rest-assured it couldn’t be better done with Timothy West as Sir John and Samuel West as Prince Hal. ... More or less contemporaneous with Elgar’s masterly take on Falstaff is Chadwick’s rather stunning depiction (1915) of Robert Burns’s Tam O’Shanter. What a piece! (New to me.) A separate track finds Erik Chapman as the composer and Billy Wiz as Burns reading Chadwick’s programme note (Tam is a “symphonic ballad”, says its creator) – well done, too, although the music does say it all. ... The opening is remarkable, a carbon-copy, and as equally arresting, string tremolo – exactly how the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony starts... 
John Wilson conducts Sinfonia of London in Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Symphony, Theme and Variations, and Straussiana [Chandos]
August, 2019 |  However valuable John Wilson’s back catalogue, this August 30 Chandos issue might just prove to be his most substantial recording achievement to date. It is by my reckoning the tenth commercial release of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s once-neglected Symphony... ... In the Symphony itself, placed first in physical format, Wilson adopts a leaner, meaner approach, insisting on the abstract nature of a concert work whose appropriation of cinematic material is perhaps neither here nor there. 
Alina Ibragimova & Cédric Tiberghien play Brahms’s Three Violin Sonatas and a Clara Schumann Romance [Hyperion]
August, 2019 |  When this is released on August 30, Hyperion has a total winner on its hands. Brahms, Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien are perfectly cast; these are mesmerising performances wonderfully well recorded by Simon Eadon (Andrew Keener producing) – with intimacy, clarity, faithful dynamics and spot-on balance – after all, these are Sonatas for Violin and Piano, and these artists are such a charismatic partnership... ... ...the frisson generated is spine-tingling... 
The Romantic Piano Concerto 79 – Markus Becker plays Pfitzner & Braunfels [Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Constantin Trinks; Hyperion]
August, 2019 |  Hyperion's landmark Romantic Piano Concerto series has been going strong for nearly thirty years... ... Musically, stylistically and expressively looking back, lingering in the aesthetic and society of long-gone kings and emperors – forget Schoenberg, Bartók, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Prokofiev – both Hans Pfitzner (Moscow 1869-Salzburg 1949) and Walter Braunfels (Frankfurt 1882-Cologne 1954) were contemporaries of Richard Strauss. ... The fantasy within the Tag- und Nachtstücke is special. ... Marcus Becker proves an eloquent, visceral master of the notes, making for a thrilling premier recording. 
Roderick Williams & Iain Burnside – Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin [Chandos]
August, 2019 |  Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside have already recorded Schwanengesang (on the Delphian label), their Winterreise is in the offing, and this Chandos recording of Die schöne Müllerin presents the first of Schubert’s big-three song-cycles. 
Howard Shelley conducts Charles Villiers Stanford [Ulster Orchestra; Hyperion]
August, 2019 |  Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s truly significant place in the history of British music has never been in doubt, founded upon his qualities as a teacher and pedagogue in the twenty or so years preceding World War One. What has been less-known, or appreciated, were his concurrent activities as a conductor and – especially – composer, a musician who was also an organist, choral trainer, writer on music and an administrator. 
St Louis Symphony Orchestra – Mozart Piano Concertos K453 & K491 – Orli Shaham plays & David Robertson conducts [Canary Classics]
August, 2019 |  Embracing the light and dark of Mozart’s Piano Concertos, this St Louis Symphony recording – its return to a studio in nearly two decades – enchants with tempos that mould appreciably this expressive music, giving it time and richness of sound (superbly recorded, well-judged balance between the piano and the ensemble, woodwinds pertinently to the fore, starring roles, violins antiphonal, basses left-positioned). Orli Shaham (sister of Gil) and David Robertson are at-one interpretatively (they are, as a secondary fact, married) and the SLS members are stylish and sympathetic confreres. 
The Jupiter Project – adaptations by Clementi, Cramer & Hummel for piano, flute, violin & cello of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Magic Flute, Figaro, Piano Concerto K467 & Jupiter Symphony – David Owen Norris & Friends [Hyperion]
August, 2019 |  Arrangements of eighteenth-century orchestral masterpieces for chamber ensemble or piano have captured the interest of musicians recently and David Owen Norris is currently researching the subject. Often, as in this Mozart-transcriptions selection, flute takes the leading part, sometimes accompanied by strings, but a piano is used frequently. ... Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s representation of the Overtures is skilfully done although the sparse scoring cannot begin to represent the serious nature of some of the episodes. The gravity of The Magic Flute with its unmistakeable Masonic significance does not come over, although the playing is imaginative. Figaro relies heavily on the piano... ... Muzio Clementi is not the only one to reduce the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony (said to have been so-named by impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who brought Haydn to London). 
Gerald Finzi – Sacred and Secular choral music – Trinity Choir/Stephen Layton [Hyperion]
August, 2019 |  It’s been a while since a recording devoted to Gerald Finzi’s shorter choral works has appeared, so this superb Hyperion is more than welcome. ... ...a warm response from Stephen Layton’s thirty-plus ensemble. 
Johann Sebastian Bach – The Toccatas BWV910-916 – Mahan Esfahani [Hyperion]
August, 2019 |  J. S. Bach’s seven Toccatas (BWV910-916) remain a rather niche and under-explored part of his output for keyboard, perhaps mainly appreciated by connoisseurs or serious devotees of the composer, and oddly still probably more favoured by pianists than harpsichordists on the evidence of available recordings. Mahan Esfahani’s version of the complete set, for all its many accomplishments, seems to be addressed to those converted few rather than setting out to win new admirers. 
The London Album & The Paris Album – Trio Sonatas – Ensemble Diderot [Audax Records]
August, 2019 |  Like many musical forms and styles in Western Classical music, the Trio Sonata began life in Italy and was soon taken up by composers all around Europe. But like the String Quartet in later centuries, it proved an almost infinitely adaptable genre, which could be developed to suit local conditions and predilections. ... These two releases throw fascinating light on how composers in England and France – even before the High Baroque period after 1700 – adopted and varied the form in line with their cultural habits and expectations... ... Ensemble Diderot also achieves some notably elegant playing for the Paris Album... 
Ludwig van Beethoven – The Cello Sonatas – Leonard Elschenbroich & Alexei Grynyuk [Onyx]
August, 2019 |  Here is an outstanding set of the Beethoven Cello Sonatas by two players of the younger age group, in excellent sound. Born in Germany in 1985, Leonard Elschenbroich was trained in Britain and his native country; he has been a BBC New Generation Artist. He and the Ukrainian Alexei Grynyuk are a regular duo and have recorded the Rachmaninov and Shostakovich Sonatas (also for Onyx). They omit the sets of Variations from this release but include Beethoven’s own transcription of his Horn Sonata... 
Ivan Ilić plays Haydn Symphonies 44, 75 & 92, transcribed Stegmann for piano [Chandos]
August, 2019 |  In 2015 Ivan Ilić was shown manuscripts of Haydn Symphonies in transcriptions by Carl David Stegmann (1751-1826). This was an exciting discovery involving presentations of twenty-five of the works. It is unlikely that any of these were ever publicly performed but they were probably much appreciated by talented amateur pianists. 
The Film Music of Gerard Schurmann – Rumon Gamba conducts the BBC Philharmonic [Chandos]
August, 2019 |  Gerard Schurmann (born 1924) is one of the more neglected figures of British music. He was born in the former Dutch East Indies and came to Britain at the age of four. He studied composition with Alan Rawsthorne who became his friend and mentor. After pursuing a career as a pianist and conductor he worked in the British film industry... ... Dr Syn (1963) is the opener. It’s a Disney story of Essex smuggling folk and is held together by an exuberant performance from Patrick McGoohan as the eponymous doctor. ... Bizarrely, The Long Arm (1956) directed by Charles Frend and starring Jack Hawkins is given much exposure on the cover and in the accompanying booklet but is the shortest item here. Schurmann’s most-recent score is The Gambler (1997), a rather good film by Karoly Makk with Michael Gambon, Polly Walker and Dominic West based on Dostoevsky’s novel. 
Carlo Maria Giulini conducts Le nozze di Figaro, London 1961 [ICA Classics]
August, 2019 |  Carlo Maria Giulini’s genial and relatively straightforward interpretation of The Marriage of Figaro is not an unknown quantity for he had made a studio recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra and two of the singers here (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Piero Cappuccilli) in 1959. Two years later and, as often with live recordings, there are dividends and drawbacks. 

 

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