All 2019 CD Reviews

Mozart – The Six String Quintets – Klenke Quartett & Harald Schoneweg [Accentus Music]
March 2019 |  Had it not been for Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806), the underrated younger brother of Joseph Haydn, we might never have had these six life-enhancing works. ... The present set of Mozart’s Quintets features the all-female Klenke Quartet, who met as students in Weimar and made their debut in 1994. ... They are joined by one of their mentors, Harald Schoneweg, who was the original second violinist of the now defunct Cherubini Quartet: he sounds equally at home on the viola. 
Paavo Järvi conducts Sibelius – The Seven Symphonies – Orchestre de Paris [RCA Red Seal]
March 2019 |  Why is it that this long-awaited Sibelius cycle from Paavo Järvi, historic for being the first to be recorded by a French orchestra, is not as globally satisfying as we might have hoped for? Certainly, you can't fault the playing: the Orchestre de Paris is one of the finest around, a large-scale enterprise with distinguished principals, and a rank-and-file committed to the task. No shirking, no ragged corners. 
Amici Voices – Johann Sebastian Bach [Hyperion]
March 2019 |  Amici Voices present a meditation on mortality and the uplifting prospect of a joyful afterlife via Christ’s redemption. Two relatively early Bach Cantatas outline the stylistic distance travelled from the German-influenced Actus tragicus (belonging to 1707 in Mühlhausen) to the French- and Italian-inclined Himmelskönig (from seven years later at Weimar), and there is a double-choir Motet from the Leipzig years drawn from the Venetian polychoralists filtered through Schütz. 
Maurizio Pollini plays Chopin – Nocturnes, Mazurkas, Berceuse, B-minor Sonata [Deutsche Grammophon]
March 2019 |  You may not get quantity from Maurizio Pollini but you do get quality, as well as involved sniffs and vocalising as he rapturously floats the first of the two Opus 55 Nocturnes, not prettified in any way... ... These entrées lead to the B-minor Sonata, Pollini unleashing a fiery first movement (exposition repeat observed), the second subject integrated into this smouldering missive yet with no lack of shape or sensitivity... 
Leonard Slatkin conducts Aaron Copland – Grohg | Billy the Kid – Detroit Symphony Orchestra [Naxos]
March 2019 |  2014 is correct, so here at last from Naxos (release date March 8) are two very different sides of the creativity of Aaron Copland (1900-90), if linked by both being music for ballet, conducted by one of his constant champions. ... Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra play every note of Billy the Kid... ... Musically, Grohg (a ‘he’, and adapted from Bram Stoker’s Dracula) is garish and threatening... 
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays Robert Schumann [Chandos]
March 2019 |  Steering clear of more obvious repertory choices, this collection mixes big-boned and intimate Schumann. Dedicated to Moscheles, the F-minor Grande Sonate was chronologically the third of Schumann's Piano Sonatas to be published, in the autumn of 1836, under the (passingly questioned catchpenny) title of “Concert sans orchestre”. ... Jean-Efflam Bavouzet prefers to confine himself to the final thoughts of the relatively familiar 1853 edition, with, by way of homage, one or two hybrid touches emanating from Horowitz... 
Tasmin Little & John Lenehan – Music by Amy Beach, Clara Schumann and Ethel Smyth for violin and piano [Chandos]
March 2019 |  Although the sole reason for this programme appears to be that all the composers were women, the Sonatas by Mrs H. H. A. Beach (strangely called here “Amy Marcy Cheney Beach”, of which more anon) and the young Ethel Smyth do go well together. ... Tasmin Little is well recorded and so is John Lenehan, who as always proves a strong yet tactful partner. He is nicely portrayed on the back cover of the booklet but has his name in smaller type on the front cover. I do wish record companies would not do this – the players in duo-Sonatas are equals. 
David Hackbridge Johnson Orchestral Music, Volume Two – Symphonies 10 & 13 – Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Paul Mann [Toccata Classics]
March 2019 |  In misquoting the opening sentence of Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth, it appears that not a day passes over the Earth that David Hackbridge Johnson is not writing music, an observation prompted by the opus numbers of the three works recorded here. Johnson (born 1963) has waited some time for his music to reach an audience. Considering the reception accorded his Ninth Symphony (link below), it has been worth it – a view fully reinforced by this second release. 
Martyn Brabbins conducts Michael Tippett – Symphonies 3, 4 & in B-flat – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, with Rachel Nicholls [Hyperion]
March 2019 |  I hope March the First 2019 has been as bountiful to you as it has to me – for this date marks Hyperion’s completion of Martyn Brabbins’s Michael Tippett Symphony Cycle – including an important bonus. 
Stephen Farr plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chorale Partitas [Resonus]
February 2019 |  The Chorale Partitas – that is to say, sets of variations (each section called a ‘partita’ in its own right, except for BWV768) upon a given chorale melody – are among the least well-known aspects of J. S. Bach’s extensive output for the organ, perhaps because they lack the variety of the Trio Sonatas, or the more concentrated flair of the Preludes or Toccatas and Fugues which can be programmed easily in concerts or as voluntaries for church services. ... Stephen Farr picks a suitable instrument in the Aubertin organ from 2015, installed in a private residence. Its soft flute registers predominate in these performances, evoking the more private, devotional world of these works, particularly with the comparatively compact acoustic of the venue. 
Owen Rees conducts John Taverner’s Missa Gloria tibi trinitas [Signum Classics]
February 2019 |  The lion’s share of this release is taken up with one of the great glories of Tudor church music by a composer who represents the final flowering of late-medieval English polyphony. Much has been written about the brief tenure as first Choirmaster to Oxford’s Cardinal College, now Christ Church, of John Taverner (c.1490-1545) but there is no certainty that Missa Gloria tibi trinitas was conceived for his new charges... 
Juanjo Mena conducts Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga [Berit Norbakkeen Solset, BBC Philharmonic; Chandos]
February 2019 |  The Overture to Los esclavos felices (The Happy Slaves) is all that survives of the very short-lived Bilbao-born Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga’s opera, composed when he was thirteen (he died aged nineteen). ... When Berit Norbakkeen Solset joins the orchestra for Herminie the balance is again immaculate. This work is based on a famous poem by the sixteenth-century Torquato Tasso. ... Juanjo Mena’s is a sensitive account with ideally chosen tempos... 
Edward Gardner conducts Schubert Symphonies, Volume 1 – Symphonies 3, 5 & Unfinished [CBSO; Chandos]
February 2019 |  This performance of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony brings to mind a recent recording by Edward Gardner’s near-namesake John Eliot because reservations about the interpretations are similar. Although this Birmingham version avoids the four-bar cut imposed on the first movement in JEG’s reading, there are similar shifts of tempo... 
Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen – Kabalevsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich – for Cello & Piano [Hyperion]
February 2019 |  Steven Isserlis's penetrating booklet note reminds that “Russian artists … carry story-telling genes in their DNA”: in their youth both Shostakovich and Kabalevsky (slightly older) busked piano in silent-movie picture palaces. “Each of the major works here takes us on a wide-ranging emotional voyage”, he emphasises, “passing from tragedy to grotesquerie, from tenderness to despair.” All but one (Prokofiev's 1912 Ballade) were the product of restrictive, manipulative, persecutional Soviet times... ... In brilliant, hungry form, Isserlis and Olli Mustonen do it glorious justice, taking the music and us by the throat (their Finale knocking a minute off the composer's recording with Rostropovich). 
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto – the composer conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Yo-Yo Ma [Sony Classical]
February 2019 |  Yes, a thirty-five-minute Cello Concerto, that’s all you get, but it is a first recording. Sony Classical must have great faith in the pulling-power of Esa-Pekka Salonen and Yo-Yo Ma. 
Christian Gerhaher & Gerold Huber – Frage – Songs by Robert Schumann, Volume One [Sony Classical]
February 2019 |  There is a fragile optimism, often threatened by an undertow of irony, that threads its way through Robert Schumann’s songs, and it is a quality that shadows this album from Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber, the first in their projected ten-disc set of Schumann’s Lieder. 
Adrian Butterfield conducts Handel’s Chandos Te Deum in B-flat and Chandos Anthem No.8 [Onyx]
February 2019 |  Many devotees of choral music and members of choral societies will be familiar with some, if not all, of Handel’s ‘Chandos’ Anthems. Quite separate from those, however, is the ‘Chandos’ Te Deum, so called because it was written – like those Anthems – whilst its composer was in the employ of James Brydges, the Duke of Chandos, at his magnificent new house at Cannons Park, Edgware. ... The results here are renditions conducted by Adrian Butterfield which, in their one-to-a-part format, are sprightly and light-footed. 
The Polish Violin – Jennifer Pike & Petr Limonov – Szymanowski, Moszkowski, Karłowicz, Wieniawski [Chandos]
February 2019 |  I have two regrets about this album of Polish music. The first is that Jennifer Pike has not included the unaccompanied piece by Grażyna Bacewicz that she played on Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4) to publicise the release. I think there would have been room for it. The second is the recording of the piano: there is more resonance around it than I would ideally like, and it is ever so slightly recessed in relation to the violin. When Chandos has taken the trouble to import the excellent Russian pianist-conductor Petr Limonov and give him a nice Steinway D, you would think the recording team – producer Rachel Smith and engineers Jonathan Cooper and (assistant) Cheryl Jessop – would have taken a little more care to allow him to be heard. 
Respighi’s Roman Trilogy – Festivals, Fountains, Pines – JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic [Naxos]
February 2019 |  Whether Festivals, Fountains or Pines, Ottorino Respighi’s Roman Trilogy dazzles through its wide-screen cinematography, subtle impressionism, evocative powers, and fabulous orchestration. ... JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic are the latest to enter the distinguished orchestra/conductor ring with this music, literally so in Feste romane... 
Andrew Manze conducts Mozart Symphonies – G-minor and Jupiter, K550/K551 [NDR Radiophilharmonie; Pentatone]
February 2019 |  

There are no surprises here: that Andrew Manze favours quick allegros and flowing andantes, but he doesn’t rush; that every repeat is observed, a boon in the Finale of the ‘Jupiter’ (the repetition of both halves is vital), but unwieldy and causing an imbalance with the slow movement of K550, which becomes nearly double the length of the first one... ... The ‘Jupiter’ first movement is on the spiky side in terms of timbre, trumpets outweighing timpani, as they also will in the Finale, although there a few good hard-stick bellicose thwacks to be heard... 

More music by George Antheil – Symphony 3 American & Symphony 6 after Delacroix – BBC Philharmonic/John Storgårds [Chandos]
February 2019 |  “It is our usual task”, Donald Francis Tovey wrote of annotators, “to act as counsel for the defence”, and whilst Mervyn Cooke’s booklet note for this second Chandos issue of orchestral music by the American maverick George Antheil (1900-59) is full of informative background detail, in terms of any kind of analysis of the works in question he is less forthcoming. ... Archipelago (1935) does, however (as Cooke rightly states) reveal not so much an influence as imitation of the Euro-Brazilian language of Milhaud’s Saudades do Brasil of fifteen years earlier. Nonetheless, such flattery as Antheil uncharacteristically bestowed on the Frenchman appears genuine – the result is a lovely six-minute score of immediate appeal, as – to a rather lesser degree – does the Hot-Time Dance. ... It is impossible to imagine more committed performances than those John Storgårds obtains from the BBC Philharmonic, or a finer recorded sound than Chandos consistently displays. 
Mahan Esfahani – The Passinge Mesures [Hyperion]
February 2019 |  Just as there were the French clavecinistes in the high Baroque period of the late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-centuries so, around a century before that, there was the school of English virginalists. General listeners will very likely know of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, probably the most important source of keyboard repertoire from that time and place, but Mahan Esfahani also draws on other collections for this fascinating and wide-ranging exploration. For the most part, the composers featured here – such as Byrd, Gibbons, Farnaby, and Tomkins – are better-known for their sacred choral music, but that belies their considerable skills and virtuosity in writing for the keyboard instrument that in England was called – luridly as it might seem – the virginal, but which is simply no more or less than the harpsichord... 
Leonore Piano Trio – Music by Hubert Parry [Hyperion]
February 2019 |  Anyone listening blind to this selection of chamber music by Englishman (and Baronet) Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918, Hubert his preferred forename) – of Jerusalem fame, the creator of five Symphonies, author of music books, and a professor at and then head of the Royal College of Music – you might think he was German, for there are strong kinships with the scores of Brahms (in particular), Mendelssohn and Schumann. 
LSO Live – Gianandrea Noseda conducts Tchaikovsky 4 & Pictures at an Exhibition
February 2019 |  A fine start to February reviewing (available from the Eighth), even if the Tchaikovsky is a little subdued to begin with, more a warning from afar than establishing Fate’s dire summons, for Gianandrea Noseda is playing the long game with the first movement of the Fourth Symphony, giving it symphonic credence and building emotions by stealth. ... This admirably clear-sighted account is followed – following a decent pause – by a vividly characterised Pictures at an Exhibition, a long-familiar score that here receives a tiramisu reading, nothing glossed over yet with nothing that plays to the gallery either. 
2019 New Year’s Concert – Christian Thielemann conducts the Vienna Philharmonic [Sony Classical]
January 2019 |  Last year it was Riccardo Muti, it’s Andris Nelsons in 2020; meanwhile Christian Thielemann got the vote to preside over the Vienna Philharmonic’s 2019 New Year’s Concert: a time-honoured affair. Once again Sony Classical has rushed-released the event for our pleasure... 
Mark Elder conducts the Hallé in Elgar’s Wand of Youth Suites and the Nursery Suite [Hallé own label]
January 2019 |  Mark Elder has the measure of The Wand of Youth music – inimitable Elgar, thirteen pieces that contain his complex spirit – and the Hallé is superb in response, from tender to virtuosic with numerous other qualities in between. 
LSO Live – John Eliot Gardiner conducts Mendelssohn – The Five Symphonies, Overtures, and music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream
January 2019 |  Mendelssohn’s C-minor Symphony is somewhat neglected but Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s committed performance is full of vitality making the teenage composer seem remarkably mature. ... After an expansive reading of the introduction, Gardiner takes a bright view of the ‘Scottish’ Symphony’s Allegro un poco agitato. ... The ‘Italian’ Symphony always responds to swift speeds and the first movement is notably sunny as a result. ... The Goethe-inspired Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage is full of contrast between atmospheric gentleness and exciting power... ... Immediately following on this fourth and final disc, there comes a sensitively contoured reading of the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. 
so many stars – Violin and Piano Sonatinas – Fenella Humphreys & Nicola Eimer [Stone Records]
January 2019 |  Here is a unique and very welcome collection of Sonatinas for Violin and Piano, a genre often overlooked in our teeming world, with most of them (not necessarily the best) being by British composers. Perhaps the best-known is that by Lennox Berkeley... ... It receives a wonderful reading, admirably balanced, with Nicola Eimer coping superbly with the very tricky piano part. ... Gordon Crosse’s Sonatina (2010), written for Fenella Humphreys (indeed, inspired by her playing), follows the Sibelius well... ... This is an exceptionally well-planned issue, one which ought to find a place in the collection of any lover of music for violin and piano... 
LSO Live – Nikolaj Znaider plays Mozart Violin Concertos, K207, K211 & K216
January 2019 |  As with Nikolaj Znaider’s excellent recordings of Concertos K218 & K219 LSO Live employs the ideal system for transferring concert performances to disc. ... Although of a similar length to that of its companions, K216 is a more substantial work and is treated as such. I believe all the (uncredited) cadenzas to be Znaider’s own and those provided for this work are a little more serious. The opening Allegro includes many powerful chords and here Znaider’s violin mirrors the positive orchestral contribution... 
Amarae morti – El León de Oro/Peter Phillips [Hyperion]
January 2019 |  There’s no shortage of material to add to an already huge discography of Renaissance polyphony. This seemingly disparate collection of Franco-Flemish and Iberian composers has been compiled by Peter Phillips (of the Tallis Scholars) in his capacity as honorary director of El León de Oro founded two decades ago in Asturias; this is its first recording for Hyperion. 
Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria – Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner with Furio Zanasi, Lucile Richardot & Krystian Adam [Soli Deo Gloria]
January 2019 |  Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir marked, in 2017, the 350th-anniversary of the birth of the composer after whom the ensemble is named with a pilgrimage around Europe and the USA promoting the cause of the three surviving operas – acknowledged as the first masterpieces of the genre. This release represents the record of a third of that project, in featuring Monteverdi’s penultimate stage-work, which conflates the same mythological impetus as his first-surviving, Orfeo, with the earthier, quotidian motivations of ordinary human characters in The Coronation of Poppea. ... After the idiomatic and well-characterised Prologue among the allegorical figures of Human Fragility, Fortune, and Love, Lucile Richardot’s Penelope sets the tone, with her steady opening lament which charts an assured way through her conflicted feelings at awaiting the return of Ulysses for ten years after the end of the Trojan War. 
Garrick Ohlsson plays Brahms – Opuses 4, 116, 117, 118 [Hyperion]
January 2019 |  Among British-originated Brahms piano cycles, Martin Jones (Nimbus, released 1992) and Barry Douglas (Chandos, 2012-16) have led the field, the former honest, thoughtful and musical if a little small and washy in tone, the latter bold with a fantastical edge. Like Douglas, Garrick Ohlsson is comfortably equal to the challenge, with a big-boned concept of the music and a willingness to open the piano throttle across the registers. 
Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Sibelius – Symphony 1 & En Saga – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra [Alpha Classics]
January 2019 |  January 2019 is Sibelius Symphony month. I am much looking forward to Paavo Järvi’s complete cycle from Paris for Sony – and also publishing Ateş Orga’s review and Edward Clark’s interview with the conductor – and, meanwhile, Santtu-Matias Rouvali (a Finn in Sweden) begins a Symphony and Symphonic Poem survey (to include Kullervo?) from Gothenburg for Alpha. 
John Andrews conducts the first recording of Arthur Sullivan’s The Light of the World [BBC Symphony Chorus & Concert Orchestra; Dutton]
January 2019 |  Arthur Sullivan’s oratorio The Light of the World was premiered at the Birmingham Musical Festival on 27 August 1873. Sullivan conducted and the new work was met with an extremely enthusiastic reception. Favourable commentary was made by other composers such as Gounod and performers such as Clara Butt. The work remained popular for several decades. ... For John Andrews this is clearly a labour of some love. 
Arcadia Quartet – Béla Bartók’s Complete String Quartets [Chandos]
January 2019 |  This is an excellent set of the Bartók String Quartets, although it has two unusual characteristics which may be linked: the playing is very well upholstered – we normally hear a leaner, meaner sound in Bartók – and the interpretations are on the slow side. Usually the six Quartets fit easily on to two CDs, but the feat is accomplished here by having Disc Two run to eighty-three minutes. The slowness is not outrageous, especially if you compare the timings with those of the Hungarian Quartet; but turning to another favourite ensemble, the Keller Quartet, they are significantly slower. The Arcadia Quartet players tell us in a note that they all live in Transylvania. ... The Second Quartet of 1915-17 follows Bluebeard’s Castle and is on the cusp The Miraculous Mandarin – I far prefer the Quartet, which like some of Beethoven’s works summarises the composer’s progress so far and hints at things to come. Kodály saw the three movements as “A quiet life” / “Joy” / “Sorrow”. The Romanian musicians catch the strange quality of the Moderato, which partakes of both Schoenberg and Reger without crossing the divide between tonal and atonal. 
Manuel Cardoso Requiem – Cupertinos/Luís Toscano [Hyperion]
January 2019 |  Established in 2009 by Luís Toscano, Cupertinos has now released its debut recording. It’s a gratifying selection of devotional offerings from Portuguese Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650), a master of sacred choral polyphony. 
Zubin Mehta & Israel Philharmonic – The Mumbai Concerts – with Forsyth, Matsuev, Zukerman [Accentus; DVD]
January 2019 |  Zubin Mehta was appointed Music Adviser to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969, becoming Music Director in 1981. He steps down this coming October. There's little that he hasn't done in his life. From his early days in Los Angeles he's always been the glamour boy on the block, with a cut-glass technique and unshakeable ideas. ... ...his old friend Pinchas Zukerman joining the party in Mumbai, along with Denis Matsuev from Russia. ... Bounding onto the platform, clapping audience and orchestra, Matsuev, in muscle and sweat mode, wrestles Tchaikovsky with devastating ferocity, sending the Steinway out of tune early into the introduction. 
French Cello Concertos – Lalo, Milhaud, Saint-Saëns – Hee-Young Lim [LSO/Scott Yoo; Sony Classical]
January 2019 |  The three Cello Concertos come from different periods, ranging from Saint-Saëns’s familiar First of 1872 and Lalo’s of four years later – the first years of La Belle Époque – to Milhaud’s First of 1934 – the Great War and the Jazz Age having led to the latter period – but they are each wholly characteristic and share those clever Gallic styles which define the nationality of the composers. ... These works do not demand much intellectual insight on the part of the soloist, and therefore appeal greatly to gifted young instrumentalists, of whom the Korean Hee-Young Lim is certainly one; she gives very good performances... 
London Philharmonic Orchestra – Vladimir Jurowski conducts Tchaikovsky’s Little Russian & Polish Symphonies [LPO own label]
January 2019 |  It’s good to have Tchaikovsky’s ‘Little Russian’ and ‘Polish’ Symphonies coupled together, relative Cinderellas, certainly when compared to the ubiquitous Four to Six. Even better when these performances are so good, Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic doing these splendid pieces proud. 
Natalie Clein & Christian Ihle Hadland – Rebecca Clarke, Frank Bridge, Ralph Vaughan Williams [Hyperion]
January 2019 |  Some composers seem to have the dice loaded against them in the game of life, and so it was with the violist and composer Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979). ... Natalie Clein’s version is at least the third, following a horrible one by Raphael Wallfisch and another by Pamela Frame that I have not heard. The work is so bound up with the modern renaissance of the viola, it arises so naturally from the very soul of the viola, Clarke’s own instrument, that a cello is bound to make a very different impression. ... Sorry to keep harping on pachyderms, but here the elephant in the room is the great performance by Rostropovich and Britten (Decca). Good as they are, I think Clein and Hadland are outgunned. 
Kirill Karabits conducts Boris Lyatoshynsky – Symphony 3 & Grazhyna – Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra [Chandos]
January 2019 |  It’s rather fascinating to listen to an ambitious Symphony – it lasts forty-five minutes here – and not find too much of interest, and then listen again in case anything was missed. Yet Ukrainian composer Boris Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968), a pupil of Glière and himself a teacher in Kiev for many years, and also of orchestration at the Moscow Conservatory, must have believed he was on to something with this the Third (1951) of his five Symphonies... ... Grazhyna (1955) was composed as a tribute to writer Adam Mickiewicz on the centenary of his death... 

 

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