All 2017 CD Reviews

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays Haydn Piano Sonatas, Volume 6 [Chandos]
June 2017 |  The most comprehensive information is given in the booklet, where, with the utmost clarity, Marc Vignal explains the complications of the numbering of Haydn’s keyboard Sonatas. The system used here is from the accurate catalogue by Christa Landon while retaining Hoboken’s numerals. Vignal then gives a most perceptive analysis of the works recorded and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet contributes a further essay on the subject, describing his thinking behind the interpretations. 
Dimitar Nenov – Piano Concerto & Ballade No.2 – Ivo Varbanov/Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Emil Tabakov [Hyperion]
June 2017 |  Dimitar Nenov (1901-53) is one of the great unknowns of Eastern European music, a multi-gifted individual whose music is barely known, even in his native Bulgaria. On the strength of this Hyperion release it is clear that his neglect is wholly unwarranted... ... It is not easy to describe Nenov’s language as exemplified in his Piano Concerto, but I believe if you are attracted to the work of, say, early Schoenberg, Busoni, Reger, Szymanowski, Sorabji, Berg, Scriabin (even very late Liszt) – music from later in that period and not wholly unlike an admixture of such disparate styles – then you will be, as I am, fascinated by the breadth and strength of this music... ... Ballade No.2 (twenty-one minutes) was composed during the War (1942-3), but was not heard until after the composer’s death. Ostensibly lighter in intent, it is based upon a folk-like theme, heard at the outset on horn, and is a far more ‘approachable’ work, brilliantly composed... 
The Romantic Piano Concerto – 71: Carl Czerny; Howard Shelley & Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra [Hyperion]
June 2017 |  Pupil and champion of Beethoven, the vastly influential teacher of Liszt, Thalberg and Leschetizky, Carl Czerny (1791-1857) has never enjoyed much of a press. ... Howard Shelley, whose Hummel outings for Chandos have been such a source of pleasure, enlightenment and discovery, brings crisply informed insight to this Czerny release for Hyperion, tapping as much into the drama and decoration of the music as its swings between drawing-room and occasionally earthier pastures. 
Steven Osborne plays Ravel’s Piano Concertos and Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain [BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ludovic Morlot; Hyperion]
June 2017 |  What a good idea to couple Maurice Ravel’s two contemporaneous if very different Piano Concertos (both premiered in January 1932) and add Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain (first heard in 1916) and to engage Steven Osborne to play them. 
Music by George Antheil – BBC Philharmonic/John Storgårds [Chandos]
June 2017 |  Although early in George Antheil’s autobiography, Bad Boy of Music (1945), the author tells of his friendship with Stravinsky (there’s a photograph of them in a street in Paris), his self-confidence must have taken a battering when he heard the put-down of ‘making a mountain out of an Antheil’. ... Over the Plains (1945, this is its first recording) is an effective piece of Americana... 
Max Bruch – String Quintets and String Octet – The Nash Ensemble [Hyperion]
May 2017 |  Hyperion continues its laudable championing of Max Bruch’s music – taking us beyond his “Violin Concerto”. The current chamber pieces are all ‘late’ in Bruch’s output... ... The E-flat Quintet, in four concise movements, blossoms immediately in the opening Andante, blissfully melodic, maybe some sort of wistful escape for the composer. There follows a fiery and agitated Allegro, the listener sucked into its rhythms. ... The Nash Ensemble members (including Stephanie Gonley, Laura Samuel, Lawrence Power and Adrian Brendel) play superbly and devotedly... 
Michael Barenboim plays violin music by Bach, Bartók & Boulez [Accentus Music]
May 2017 |  Michael Barenboim, son of Daniel, journeys from Johann Sebastian Bach to Pierre Boulez via Béla Bartók, not in chronological terms, but as a full-circle recital, Boulez to Boulez. 
Ernst Krenek – Complete Piano Concertos, Volume 2 – Mikhail Korzhev/English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods [Toccata Classics]
May 2017 |  The keenly-awaited second volume from Toccata Classics devoted to Ernst Krenek’s four Piano Concertos has arrived... ... ...Mikhail Korzhev continues his championing of Krenek’s music, joined by the impressive Nurit Pacht, matched throughout by Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra. The other co-soloist is Adrian Partington in the Little Concerto for Piano and Organ... 
Jonathan Nott conducts Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde – with Jonas Kaufmann and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra [Sony Classical]
May 2017 |  He may only belatedly have tackled Das Lied von der Erde, but two recordings conducted by Jonathan Nott then appear almost simultaneously. That from Tudor marks the end of a Mahler cycle to have extended over the greater part of his sixteen-year association with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, whereas that from Sony resulted from performances with the Vienna Philharmonic in which Nott replaced an indisposed Daniele Gatti. 
Jonathan Nott conducts Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde – with Roberto Saccà, Stephen Gadd and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra [Tudor]
May 2017 |  He may only belatedly have tackled Das Lied von der Erde, but two recordings conducted by Jonathan Nott then appear almost simultaneously. That from Tudor marks the end of a Mahler cycle to have extended over the greater part of his sixteen-year association with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, whereas that from Sony resulted from performances with the Vienna Philharmonic in which Nott replaced an indisposed Daniele Gatti. 
Andrew Davis conducts Charles Ives’s Orchestral Set No.2 & Third (Camp Meeting) and Fourth Symphonies [Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Chandos]
May 2017 |  Sir Andrew Davis’s survey of Charles Ives’s orchestral output concludes with this release of three masterworks which survey the composer’s creative extent in all its idiosyncratic, frequently bewildering yet always inimitable originality. ... Not that the Third Symphony (The Camp Meeting, 1904) is at all provocative... ... ...its economy and restraint found an unlikely advocate in Gustav Mahler whose death prevented a high-profile premiere in New York... ... So to the Fourth Symphony (1916) which, along with the ‘Concord’ Piano Sonata, is Ives’s crowning and most inclusive statement. 
The Romantic Piano Concerto – 70: Danny Driver plays music by Amy Beach, Cécile Chaminade & Dorothy Howell [BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Rebecca Miller; Hyperion]
May 2017 |  For the seventieth issue in Hyperion’s long-running series of Romantic Piano Concertos, it is appropriate that seventy intriguing minutes await the listener. ... This release is bookended by one-movement works. The Concerto by Birmingham-born Dorothy Howell (1898-1982) was completed in 1923 and had its premiere that year at the Proms, the composer as soloist with Sir Henry Wood conducting. ... Closing the disc is Parisian Cécile Chaminade’s Concertstück (1888). This too has its heroic aspects, also featuring horns. Its exotic features anticipate Saint-Saëns’s ‘Egyptian’ Concerto... ... No praise is too high for the achievement of Danny Driver... 
Tasmin Little & Piers Lane play music for violin & piano by Franck, Fauré & Szymanowski [Chandos]
May 2017 |  Little and Lane may become as celebrated a double act as Little and Large, if Chandos gives them their head and lets them set down a goodly selection of repertoire. ... Luckily the 78rpm era did see quite a few recordings by proper duos: a re-make by Thibaud and Cortot – the one I still always hear in my mind’s ear – and performances by Joan Massia with Blanche Selva, Alfred Dubois with Marcel Maas, Jascha Heifetz with Artur Rubinstein and Zino Francescatti with Robert Casadesus. ... Piers Lane starts the Allegretto probingly and Tasmin Little restrains her natural vibrancy to keep her tone pure, although of course she has to turn up the heat at climaxes. ... Born into the Polish-Ukrainian landed class, Karol Szymanowski should have led a charmed life, but a childhood injury kept him from the usual boys’ escapades and, as he grew up, his homosexuality made him an outsider. 
Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi at LA Opera, directed by Woody Allen – Plácido Domingo, Andriana Chuchman, Arturo Chacón-Cruz; conducted by Grant Gershon [Sony Classical; DVD]
May 2017 |  This DVD is taken from the 2015 revival of Woody Allen’s production of Gianni Schicchi for LA Opera (the film director’s only opera staging), first seen in 2008, with Thomas Allen apparently excellent as the lead. Its main attraction now is the then 74-year-old Plácido Domingo, LA Opera’s founder and general director, in the title-role, and he spivs up marvellously as a Mafia-style wide-boy who steals the devious, hypocritical, generally loathsome Donati family’s inheritance from under their noses. 
Edward Gardner conducts Edward Elgar – Introduction and Allegro & Symphony No.1 – BBC Symphony Orchestra & Doric String Quartet [Chandos]
May 2017 |  As fine a contribution as the Doric Quartet makes to the Introduction and Allegro, I did wonder if the principal string-players of the BBC Symphony Orchestra felt a little miffed at being excluded from this role (although Bradley Creswick was guest-leading on this occasion). That’s by the by, and anyway Edward Gardner leads a lyrical and bracing account... ... The First Symphony is just as impressive. Gardner directs a flowing if flexible account that is very listenable and is particularly revealing of detail, dynamics and sonority. 
British Tone Poems, Volume 1 – BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba [Chandos]
April 2017 |  

Described as Volume 1, this collection of works has been cleverly selected so that all of them are likely to have equal appeal to the music-lover, which is not to say that each possesses equal artistic merit. ... The Witch of Atlas (1902, after Shelley) by Granville Bantock is one of those literal-inspired works wherein one cannot say if knowledge of the poem is a help or hindrance in coming to terms with this piece. ... Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950), in A Berkshire Idyll (this is its first recording), produced perhaps the most accomplished score in this collection after the more inspired pieces by Gurney and Vaughan Williams. 

Mariss Jansons conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony & Death and Transfiguration [BR-Klassik]
April 2017 |  These are concert performances and it is reasonable to draw on live events since an enormous number of players are required for An Alpine Symphony. ... I was strongly reminded of that version as I listened to Mariss Jansons taking a similar view and bringing cohesion to this work... ... Bringing out pictorial references to the various scenes while ensuring that the drama progresses in symphonic terms is something that Bernard Haitink achieves (Concertgebouw and LSO); to his credit, Jansons sees the general structure in a way similar to the distinguished Dutchman... ... Although Richard Strauss did provide a programmatic description for Death and Transfiguration the title is sufficient to indicate his intentions. 
Carl Nielsen – Flute and Clarinet Concertos, Aladdin – Samuel Coles, Mark van de Wiel, Philharmonia Orchestra/Paavo Järvi [Signum]
April 2017 |  This very welcome release preserves Concerto performances from the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Nielsen Symphony Cycle with Paavo Järvi. ... Late in his life Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) decided to write a Concerto for each member of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet... ... Samuel Coles plays with much virtuosity and personality and he enjoys a vibrant and deft interaction from his Philharmonia colleagues... ... Caprice and confrontation, and a dark lyricism, inform the Clarinet Concerto... ... ...Mark van de Wiel plays this demanding work with flair, poise and insight... ... In February 1919 a new production of Adam Oehlenschläger’s Aladdin was staged in Copenhagen, for which Nielsen wrote a considerable amount of incidental music, and spectacularly good it is too... 
Chamber music by Borodin – Piers Lane & Goldner String Quartet [Hyperion]
April 2017 |  Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) is as well-known to chemistry masters and pupils as he is to music-lovers through such always-welcome pieces as the Polovtsian Dances (from Prince Igor), In the Steppes of Central Asia, Symphony No.2 (the First is also magnetic), and of course there is Wright & Forrest’s borrowing of Borodin for Kismet, which includes the usage of String Quartet No.2. Here, as written, the Goldner String Quartet gives a flowing account... 
Vítězslav Novák – In the Tatra Mountains, Lady Godiva, Eternal Longing – Buffalo Philharmonic/JoAnn Falletta [Naxos]
April 2017 |  The Czech composer Vítězslav Novák (1870-1949) is represented here by three pieces composed between 1902 and 1907. The earliest is In the Tatra Mountains, music that is atmospheric, impressionistic and ravishing... ... As for the eleventh-century Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry to protest against a punitive tax levied by her husband – the Count – Novák’s descriptive powers are at their keenest... ... Coming in-between date-wise is Eternal Longing, owing to Hans Christian Andersen... ... ...JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic do Novák’s music proud. 
A Sousa Celebration – Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi [Chandos]
April 2017 |  Looking for something foot-tapping and beguiling, and with a fund of tunes? This Chandos Sousa release could be the answer. It is indeed a celebration John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), who might be seen as America’s counterpart to the Viennese Strauss dynasty and its acolytes. Kristjan Järvi is enjoying himself and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra plays with panache and sensitivity. ... Of the pieces that are not for striding forth, there are two called Humoresque, one on ‘Swanee’ (owing to George Gershwin) and on ‘Look for the Silver Lining’ (Jerome Kern)... 
Arturo Toscanini – The Essential Recordings [RCA Red Seal]
April 2017 |  To commemorate the 150th-anniversary of the birth (on 25 March 1867) of surely the twentieth-century’s greatest conductor, Sony Classical has enlisted two Toscanini specialists – Harvey Sachs and Christopher Dyment – to make their selection of recordings from the RCA back-catalogue, all presented in their previous re-mastering. So what do you get? ... There are then two discs embracing music by Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Berlioz. The Schubert is the ‘Great’ C-major Symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra from November 1941. Toscanini had temporarily fallen out with NBC over a variety of issues; what you get here is unexpectedly good in terms of sound and the performance is stellar. ... Included with the Philadelphia Debussy is an exceptionally beautiful, languorous, yet crystalline, account of the Second Suite from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, which explodes with energy in the concluding bacchanal. There is also Kodály’s Háry János, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and, in amongst the operas, a couple of Rossini Overtures... ... Then we have complete performances of Otello and Falstaff, from 1947 and 1950 respectively. In both Toscanini stands supreme, with only Carlos Kleiber equalling him in the former... 
Donizetti’s Il campanello di notte – Agnes Baltsa, Enzo Dara, Angelo Romero; conducted by Gary Bertini [Sony Classical]
April 2017 |  Donizetti’s comic opera, Il campanello di notte, is a classic buffo piece with an inconsequential plot based around the attempts of Enrico to disrupt to post-nuptial celebrations of Don Annibale Pistacchio, an apothecary, and his new bride Serafina. She has been forced into the marriage... ... Don Annibale is played by the wonderfully ripe and supremely agile Enzo Dara... ... Agnes Baltsa was always a stage animal and recordings do not always do justice to her... 
Barry Douglas – Schubert Works for Solo Piano, Volume 2 – Impromptus D899 & Sonata D959 [Chandos]
April 2017 |  Barry Douglas has always been his own man, an artist with a generous heart who thinks and plays big. His mixture of the darkly brooding and the urgently fiery makes for a temperament to conjure with: he can paint still waters, ravish shadows, and scale the Eiger. ... Celtic bard meeting Viennese poet, the dreamer and the storyteller, makes this second volume of Douglas’s Schubert edition for Chandos as individually nuanced as anything in his Beethoven and Brahms outings. 
Carl Nielsen – Organ Works, including Commotio, and Hymns and Spiritual Songs – Bine Bryndorf & Torsten Nielsen [Dacapo]
March 2017 |  Carl Nielsen had an interest in the organ for many years and as early as 1913, inspired by a visit to Denmark by the famous German organist Karl Straube, he had the notion of composing a Fantasia for the instrument but his life was so full then that he never proceeded with the idea. It was not until 1929 that the organ began to take a significant part in Nielsen’s composing... ... Bine Bryndorf brings great imagination to her readings... ... Commotio is on a different scale and the composer’s last major work. It was completed on 27 February 1931 and gives the strongest possible reason for Bryndorf to use the organ at Nikolaj Kunsthal because the instrument was inaugurated on the same day. 
Ernst Krenek – Complete Piano Concertos, Volume 1 – Mikhail Korzhev/English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods [Toccata Classics]
March 2017 |  Ernst Krenek, the Viennese composer (1900-91), is on a roll at the moment: Hyperion has issued an imposing song-cycle (link below) and Toccata Classics comes up with this first volume of his Piano Concertos... ... Piano Concerto No.2 (1937) – first-performed in Amsterdam with Krenek as soloist, Bruno Walter conducting – is rather more severe, clearly aligned to Schoenberg’s twelve-note system, deftly utilised, organised and angular, and the result would pass in places for Webern. 
Rossini’s La donna del Lago – Katia Ricciarelli, Lucia Valentini-Terrani, Dalmacio González, Dano Raffanti, Samuel Ramey; conducted by Maurizio Pollini [Sony Classical]
March 2017 |  Here’s a welcome release! This recording of Rossini’s most romantic and in some senses pastoral opera, La donna del Lago, was recorded in tandem with some celebrated performances at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, then a relatively new event. It is also a rare foray into conducting by pianist Maurizio Pollini. ... There are two superb singers in the cast. Lucia Valentini-Terrani was the Rossini mezzo-soprano of her generation. ... The other great is Samuel Ramey; every utterance makes one revel in the beauty of his voice and his fine technique. ... Katia Ricciarelli is much admired for her Donizetti and Bellini interpretations and later in Puccini and Verdi. ... With Juan Diego Flórez, Kenneth Tarver, Lawrence Brownlee, John Osborn and Michael Spyres (to name but a few) we live in an age of superb Rossini tenors. In the early-1980s this was less true. 
Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron – Hans Herbert Fiedler & Helmut Krebs; conducted by Hans Rosbaud [Sony Classical]
March 2017 |  Eighty-two years after it was left in abeyance and fifty-seven after the initial hearing of its torso, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron remains an ambivalent, even problematic concept not merely for its incompleteness. For all that, the composition as it stands encompasses one-hundred minutes of Schoenberg at his most combative and provocative... ... Hans Rosbaud was a formidable exponent of modern music; his reputation resting on concert performances rather than his handful of studio recordings. Among these latter, most significant is this first commercial outing for Moses und Aron... ... In vocal terms, matters are hardly less consistent. Hans Herbert Fiedler evinces the requisite gravity and thoughtfulness for the exacting Sprechstimme of Moses... ... Helmut Krebs has no less eloquence and poise as Aron, though without quite the vocal agility which makes Philip Langridge (for Georg Solti on Decca) still the most captivating exponent of this cruelly exacting role. 
Morton Gould: The Complete Chicago Symphony Orchestra Recordings [RCA Red Seal]
March 2017 |  Few musicians of his generation enjoyed such a varied career as Morton Gould (1913-1996), his activity over a range of genres taking in classical and crossover pieces (rapping and tap-dancing not excepted) as well as a lengthy association with RCA Red Seal as saw numerous releases with ‘his’ orchestra that set the standard by which such collaborations were judged. 
Wigmore Hall Live – Schubert Lieder – Benjamin Appl & Graham Johnson
March 2017 |  He may have performed every nook and corner of the songbook and recorded it all for Hyperion, but Graham Johnson hasn’t yet finished with Schubert. The pianist has been lured back to the composer by the youthful, full-toned baritone of Benjamin Appl for a disc that’s packed with out-of-the-way gems plus a few favourites. ... Recorded live at Wigmore Hall... 
Vasily Petrenko conducts Elgar’s Second Symphony [Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Onyx]
March 2017 |  Elgar’s Second is on a roll. From Berlin to Singapore the score seems to be taking its place, finally, as one of the pillars of late romanticism. ... Vasily Petrenko has conducted fine, even remarkable live accounts of both Elgar Symphonies with several orchestras yet neither of his Onyx recordings does justice to his distinctive vision. ... The highest profile of the recent ‘revisionist’ contenders, Daniel Barenboim, is certainly closer to the ‘authentic’ lick of the composer himself...  
Ginastera – Orchestral Works 2 – Panambí & Piano Concerto No.2 – Xiayin Wang/BBC Philharmonic/Juanjo Mena [Chandos]
March 2017 |  Chandos’s survey of Alberto Ginastera’s orchestral music continues with this stark if effective juxtaposition of works separated by thirty-five years... ... Not that Panambí (completed in 1937) is a derivative or jejune piece. Completed when Ginastera was a student in Buenos Aires, its subtitle implies a conceptual link to Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé such as is made manifest by the sophisticated impressionism evident in much of this score. ... By the time of his Second Piano Concerto (1972), Ginastera was well into his most forward-looking phase that fused a highly personal take on serial technique with an equally individual approach to rhythm and sonority. ... Not least when the pianist is so evidently attuned to this music as Xiayin Wang... 
Doric String Quartet plays Schubert – D703 Quartettsatz & D887 G-major [Chandos]
March 2017 |  The Quartettsatz is only one movement but it contains the qualities of greatness evident in all of Schubert’s late works. The Doric Quartet is always deeply expressive and also gives sufficient impulse to propel the music firmly while still sensitively caressing every phrase. ... The Doric musicians’ interpretation of the G-major Quartet brings out the best of the players and the shaping of the immense opening movement is superb. 
Muzio Clementi – Four Symphonies – Mozarteumorchester Salzburg/Ivor Bolton [Sony Classical]
March 2017 |  Apart from one appalling mistake by Sony, this is a brilliant issue of music that, for no defendable reason, is never heard in the concert hall, but which every self-respecting music-lover should hear. Muzio Clementi was a vastly more original and imaginative composer than many people realise... ... Indeed, we simply don’t know when they were written, nor do we know how many Symphonies Clementi composed... ... It has fallen to the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg – and a very gifted British conductor – to give us this exceptional release. ... The subtitle of the Third Symphony, ‘The Great National’, refers to the use of the British National Anthem, but some listeners may feel the opening three notes allude to the ringing of familiar bell changes – better-known to Clementi’s contemporaries than us. 
James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater conducted by Harry Christophers [Coro]
March 2017 |  This is the first recording of Sir James MacMillan’s setting of the Stabat Mater... ... Stabat Mater is preceded by eponymous Plainsong, and MacMillan is said by Harry Christophers to be amongst “a trio of truly great composers of sacred music, the other two being Tomás Luis de Victoria and Francis Poulenc.” Whether one agrees or not with this list – which omits Tallis, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Bruckner, et al (Bach was Lutheran) – there is no doubting the belief which has gone into the preparation of the public performances – and this recording – of MacMillan’s score. 
Concertos by Howard Shore: Ruin and Memory for Lang Lang, and Mythic Gardens for Sophie Shao [Sony Classical]
March 2017 |  The Canadian composer Howard Shore (born 1946) is best-known for his successful film music, having written scores for over eighty films. As a consequence, and certainly on the evidence of these two Concertos, his concert music has a directness of utterance... ... Ruin and Memory was composed for Lang Lang, who gives a wholly fine account of the solo part, quite well recorded at the world premiere in Beijing. ... The Mythic Gardens Cello Concerto is more sombre. 
Flute Concertos by Mozart and Nielsen – Juliette Bausor/Royal Northern Sinfonia/Jaime Martín [Signum]
February 2017 |  This recording represents something of a homecoming for Juliette Bausor, principal flautist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Previously she was with the Northern Sinfonia, and additionally it is very suitable that she should co-operate with Jaime Martín who is also a flautist. ... The Mozart may be considered as highly superior entertainment music to which Carl Nielsen’s Concerto is a perfect foil. ... The dedicatee was the distinguished Holger Gilbert-Jespersen and the joke would at once have made its mark with his companions... 
Andrew Davis conducts Vaughan Williams’s Job and Ninth Symphony [Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Chandos]
February 2017 |  Job (1930) is one of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s 24-carat masterpieces, and in recorded terms, I have no doubt that Sir Adrian Boult’s fourth and final version (with the LSO, for EMI) is definitive. Andrew Davis, vastly experienced as a conductor of this composer, is every bit as idiomatic as the score’s dedicatee and finds the Bergen Philharmonic in virtuoso and sensitive form. ... Vaughan Williams’s Ninth Symphony (1957) was underestimated at its premiere, and possibly remains so... ... The second movement, with contemplative flugelhorn and militaristic rhythms, and perhaps linked to a literary source, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, continues the opposites to be found in this music... 
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain/Edward Gardner – Also sprach Zarathustra & The Planets [Chandos]
February 2017 |  Two stellar performances that together just fit one disc, which rightly starts with the earthy rumbles of Also sprach Zarathustra... ... Edward Gardner’s conducting of Strauss’s Nietzsche-inspired symphonic poem is impressively flowing and direct while still being flexible and also alive to small details; in return the members of the National Youth Orchestra play with confidence, poise and bravura... ... However, it’s The Planets that takes the bouquets, captured in sound, as ‘Mars’ announces immediately, which is that bit more tangible – indeed the war-mongering is hurled at the listener – Gardner not driving the music but ensuring tension-packed and increasing danger; the full force of the outsized NYO is uncompromising. 
Elbphilharmonie Hamburg: The First Recording – Thomas Hengelbrock conducts NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester in Brahms’s Symphonies 3 & 4 [Sony Classical]
February 2017 |  The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester is formerly the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra, originally conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt from 1945 and, later, by Günter Wand, Christoph Eschenbach and Christoph von Dohnányi. The new name dates from 2016 and stems from the ensemble’s residence – the spectacular new Elbphilharmonie. ... Although the disc’s packaging is labelled Brahms Symphonies 3 & 4 (presented in reverse order), the first music to be heard is two long-held chords that do not belong to either work. “Thomas Hengelbrock has opted for a world-first in this release” and includes four bars that Brahms composed to commence his Fourth Symphony but he didn’t include them in the published score – they have been recorded previously by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Riccardo Chailly as an appendix within their Decca Brahms cycle. 
Bernard van Dieren’s Chinese Symphony [Lyrita]
February 2017 |  Time was when the music of Bernard van Dieren (1887-1936) was more discussed than heard, then hardly discussed at all, yet there is no better way into his output than the ‘Chinese’ Symphony. .... Dutch-born Van Dieren resided in London from 1909, but travelled widely prior to the First World War; attending the 1912 premieres of both Busoni’s Die Brautwahl and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. He seems not to have attended the Munich debut of Das Lied von der Erde a year before, though he must have been aware of Hans Bethge’s anthology Die Chinesische Flöte prior to the London premiere of the Mahler in 1913 as he had already embarked on his own settings. 
Humphrey Searle Orchestral Works [Lyrita]
February 2017 |  Both the 30th-anniversary of his death and, more to the point, the centenary of his birth passed without any consequence. Humphrey Searle (1915-82) deserves better... ... After the notable disaster that was the premiere of his Fourth Symphony (1962), the relative success of the Fifth (1964) might partly have been a recognition of its less fragmented nature. Inscribed to the memory of Webern (with whom Searle studied in Vienna during 1937 and 1938) and conceived as an overview of his life... This last performance also serves as a reminder of the numerous British premieres undertaken by Louis Frémaux and the CBSO under the auspices of the Feeney Trust. Nor are the other accounts slacking conviction; testament to the interpretative acumen of Messrs Pritchard, Leonard and Foster. 
Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride – Carol Vaness, Thomas Allen, Giorgio Surian, Gösta Winbergh; La Scala Milan conducted by Riccardo Muti [Sony Classical]
February 2017 |  Iphigénie en Tauride (1779) was Gluck’s penultimate opera, written in Paris and premiered there... ... ...which looks back to the directness of diction which the French operatic tradition had prized since Lully and Rameau, and lays the foundations for the even greater symphonic structures in operas by Mozart, Weber and, eventually, Wagner. ... Riccardo Muti captures the essence of both worlds... 
Handel’s Serse / Xerxes – Carolyn Watkinson, Paul Esswood, Ortrun Wenkel – La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire [Sony Classical]
February 2017 |  This re-issue provides a welcome opportunity to reappraise one of the milestone recordings in the history of Handel opera. ... Jean-Claude Malgoire’s interpretation is alert and well-sprung... ... That aside, Malgoire’s cast is distinguished and creditable, led by Carolyn Watkinson’s assured Serse. ... There is a slightly brittle wobble in Paul Esswood’s singing as Serse’s brother Arsamene, and there are times when he projects more confidently... ... More-recent recordings offer greater drama and vivacity, such as William Christie’s with Les Arts Florissants (Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role) or the Early Opera Company under Christian Curnyn... 
Haydn String Quartets – Opuses 54 & 55 – The London Haydn Quartet [Hyperion]
January 2017 |  All the requirements of ‘period’ performance are here: The London Haydn Quartet uses gut-strung instruments and plays at lower pitch as used in the late-eighteenth century. There is a keen sense of structure, for example: observation of all repeats including both sections of sonata movements and the use of long grace-notes rather than short ones (appoggiaturas rather than acciaccaturas). This is backed up by the use of Longman & Broderip’s scores of 1789. There is much expressiveness in these interpretations... ... Opus 55/2 is probably the most-performed of this set – maybe because of the legend that Haydn, when shaving, complained of the bluntness of his razor saying: "I would give my best quartet for a good razor" and he was working on this composition at the time. 
NHK Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi – Richard Strauss Volume 1 – Don Juan & Ein Heldenleben [RCA Red Seal]
January 2017 |  The booklet includes an article by Paavo Järvi regarding this his first recording with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, the beginning of a Richard Strauss project with an orchestra particularly attuned to the German repertoire, he feels, thanks to time-honoured associations with Wolfgang Sawallisch, Horst Stein and Otmar Suitner. ... Don Juan is a good place to start... ...in the Kempe, Reiner and Szell moulds... ... Järvi is equally wholesome with Ein Heldenleben. 
Andrew Davis conducts Handel’s Messiah [Chandos]
January 2017 |  Handel’s Messiah isn’t just for Christmas (or Lent) but is a masterpiece that has endured across the generations since its 1742 premiere and survived intact the various performing traditions and arrangements to which it has been subjected. Sir Andrew Davis’s “New Concert Edition” of the oratorio sidesteps the ‘authentic’ practice of recent decades and reclaims the work for a ‘modern’ symphony orchestra and chorus in such a way as to revive, to some extent, the traditions of the 19th-century and earlier half of the 20th in filling out and extending Handel’s scoring. 
Piano Music of Jack Gallagher played by Frank Huang [Centaur]
January 2017 |  Having been impressed with Jack Gallagher’s Second Symphony, I can now report that his piano music is just as good. Gallagher (born Brooklyn in 1947) has the knack of communicating without making it obvious, drawing the listener into a lively and warm discourse, and vivid characterisations. ... The disc opens with the Piano Sonata (1973/2005), a three-movement work reminiscent of Hindemith (which is just fine with me), succinct, affirmative and very expressive music... ... Six Pieces for Kelly (1989) refers to the composer’s daughter, then aged eight; each one is evocative and includes a ‘Lullaby’, a ‘Folksong’ and a rollicking ‘Balkan Dance’. 
Kenneth Hesketh piano music, including Horae (pro clara), played by Clare Hammond [BIS]
January 2017 |  It’s a real pleasure to listen to Kenneth Hesketh’s piano music, played with such dedication by Clare Hammond, and superbly recorded, too. ... The big work here, albeit in twelve movements, is Horae (pro clara), completed in 2012 for Hammond, and with each section given alluring/intriguing Italian markings followed by in-English descriptions, such as “as fleet as the tiniest humming bird”... ... I shall also revisit with equal keenness both Notte Oscura and the Japanese Miniatures (all from 2002). The former is a transcription of an interlude from Hesketh’s Gogol-inspired opera, The Overcoat, chilly yet darkly beautiful... 
Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, and songs by Zemlinsky – Florian Boesch & Roger Vignoles [Hyperion]
January 2017 |  Although Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) embraced many musical styles and factions over the course of his lifetime, including jazz, his song-cycle Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen is a relatively early work (1929) expressed in a generally neo-Romantic musical language. ... Florian Boesch captures with a dry humour the satirical bent of a number of the Songs, particularly so in the quiet, almost deadpan delivery of some of them, such as in satirising the utilitarian interests of the tourist hordes who flock to the Alps in search of transient gratification... ... Roger Vignoles’s playing is marked by a more playful and lyrical impetus... 
Kirill Gerstein plays Liszt’s Transcendental Studies [Myrios Classics]
January 2017 |  2016 was a strong 'Russian' year for Liszt’s Transcendental Studies, with releases from Dinara Klinton and Daniil Trifonov. ... Liszt's final 1851 revision unfolds a tale of selection and metamorphosis, retention, rejection and recasting, tracing the legend of the double-escapement concert-grand from straight-strung wood frame to cross-strung iron waiting for 1853 and the Bechstein-Blüthner-Steinway power revolution... ... In the booklet note (an interview with Tom Service) Kirill Gerstein comments on what he sees (reasonably enough) to be the Austrian inheritance of the cycle – back to Haydn and Beethoven via Czerny... ... When he does holds back, the dividends are palpable – ‘Harmonies du soir’ and ‘Paysage’, for example, come off well, notwithstanding the unremitting fullness of their voicing. ‘Feux follets’ is crisply machined... 
Pavel Kolesnikov plays Chopin’s Mazurkas [Hyperion]
January 2017 |  Pavel Kolesnikov, a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist whose teachers have ranged from the old Ginsburg/Soviet guard (Dorensky) to the elegantly Western European (Norma Fisher at the Royal College of Music, Pires in Brussels), is one of a crop of gifted young Russians currently based in London. 
Schumann Lieder – Frauenliebe und -leben & Dichterliebe – Alice Coote & Christian Blackshaw [Wigmore Hall Live]
January 2017 |  Alice Coote’s voice has a rich flavour nowadays... ... To compare Coote’s latest recorded account of Frauenliebe und -leben with the 2003 version on her debut disc for EMI is to understand how daring an artist she has become. ... If Coote is the psyche then Christian Blackshaw is the beating heart of the partnership. ... Although Dichterliebe tells a male tale, it is no more a man’s cycle than, say, Schubert’s Winterreise, which Coote has also recorded. She and Blackshaw chart a bleak trajectory through Heinrich Heine’s plunge into the poet-narrator’s emotional depths. 
Martyn Brabbins conducts Elgar – In the South & Enigma Variations, and other pieces [BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Hyperion]
January 2017 |  This outstanding Elgar release opens with a bracing account of In the South, Martyn Brabbins securing sweep and incisiveness... ... Brabbins’s spacious conducting of Enigma Variations is altogether special... ... ...‘Nimrod’ is deeply contemplative – the German word Innigkeit (“poignant intimacy of feeling”) seems apt, for the music sends shivers down the spine... ,,, What follows is intriguing, three pieces for narrator and orchestra written by Elgar during World War One, beginning with Carillon, incorporating a text by the Belgian writer Émile Cammaerts... 
Lucas Debargue live at Salle Cortot – Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, Grieg, Schubert [Sony Classical]
January 2017 |  Lucas Debargue (born 1990 in Paris) wowed critics and audience during the International Tchaikovsky Competition that was held in Moscow in 2015; the Jury was perhaps less impressed, awarding Debargue Fourth Prize. ... The opening of the Chopin is beautifully tender, the succeeding lines poetic, given with an attractive extemporisation, and Debargue goes on to increment impressively the music’s power and passion, and his clinical fingers come into their own in the coruscating coda. Following which Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz is curiously sedate initially and over-analysed... ... The big piece is Gaspard de la nuit. Its wonderfully played... 
Angela Hewitt plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations, 2015 [Hyperion]
January 2017 |  This is Angela Hewitt’s second recording (the first was in 1999, and both on Hyperion) of a work that she has lived with for years, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, “Aria mit verschiedenen Veränderungen” ... Her piano is a beautiful Fazioli instrument, which responds well to her brand of attack, colour and characterisation. ... Sixty years have passed since the famous Glenn Gould recording became a crucial spiritual soundtrack for many Bach lovers... 
The Royal Opera – Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci (Cav & Pag) – Aleksandrs Antonenko, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Dimitri Platanias, Carmen Giannattasio; directed by Damiano Michieletto; conducted by Antonio Pappano [Opus Arte DVD]
January 2017 |  This Opus Arte DVD of opera’s most-durable double-bill of ‘Cav and Pag’ is of well-received productions that are especially cohesive... ... Aleksandrs Antonenko is dramatically better suited to the jealous Canio than to the reckless and feckless Turiddu, but his singing has a thrilling ring and security throughout. Even better is Dimitri Platanias. ... Of the two leading ladies Carmen Giannattasio takes the honours as a put-upon, unhappy Nedda... ... Antonio Pappano, as ever singer-friendly and theatrically alert, provides sure-footed tempos and relishes the verismo idiom perfectly... 
Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne – Michael Fabiano, Ana Maria Martinez, Igor Golovatenko; directed by Mariame Clément; conducted by Enrique Mazzola [Opus Arte DVD]
January 2017 |  Glyndebourne Festival’s production of Donizetti’s Poliuto in Mariame Clément’s staging comes over rather better on DVD than it did in the theatre... ... The title role is sung by Michael Fabiano – a superb vocalist. ... Paolina is beautifully sung and affectingly portrayed by Ana Maria Martinez in a grandiose fashion and with an outstanding voice... ... The London Philharmonic and Glyndebourne Chorus make important contributions and Enrique Mazzola skilfully keeps the music flowing... 

 

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