All 2018 CD Reviews

Christian Gerhaher & Gerold Huber – Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin [Sony Classical]
January 2018 |  Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber first recorded Die schöne Müllerin fifteen years ago. Gerhaher is now in his late-forties and, recorded with palpable intimacy by Sony Classical, has all the expressive and imaginative musicianship you could ever desire in Schubert. As he has done in recital, Gerhaher recites the poems from Wilhelm Müller’s cycle that Schubert didn’t set... 
Jiří Bělohlávek conducts the Czech Philharmonic in Smetana’s Má vlast [Decca]
January 2018 |  Jiří Bělohlávek passed away on May 31 last year at the age of seventy-one. It is appropriate that this memorial issue from Decca should commemorate his memory with Smetana’s cycle of symphonic poems, Má vlast (My Country), describing landmarks and events indigenous to Czechoslovakia and a perennial in the Czech Philharmonic’s calendar. 
Andrew Davis conducts Elgar – Falstaff – and Songs with Roderick Williams [BBC Philharmonic; Chandos]
January 2018 |  Commenting on Elgar’s Falstaff sixty-four years ago, the composer Robert Simpson wrote: “Falstaff is perhaps Elgar’s greatest work. Perfect in form, profound in character portrayal... ... On this Chandos release the BBC Philharmonic plays as one of the World’s great orchestras. Yet it is of course Sir Andrew Davis who commands this performance as being superior in every way to any I have heard or can imagine. ... It was a different world then, and it is fascinating to hear such imaginative settings. They are, to be honest, not invariably in the same class as those by Richard Strauss, but are well-worth-knowing, and Elgar’s knowledge of the human voice was sufficiently experienced to enable him to create rewarding and appropriate vocal lines for his chosen texts. ... Quite apart from the merits of such examples as ‘The Pipes of Pan’ and ‘Pleading’, there is Roderick Williams... 
Scriabin’s Second Symphony & Piano Concerto – Oslo Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko and Kirill Gerstein [Lawo Classics]
January 2018 |  Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Concerto, from 1896, written when he was in his early-twenties, is his first work for orchestra, adding one to the piano he’d so far composed for; he was a concert-virtuoso on the instrument. ... Plenty of notes for the soloist to negotiate in the outer movements, mind, which Kirill Gerstein does with consummate ease as well as significant musicianship, the Oslo Philharmonic (sporting bewitching woodwind solos, clarinet especially) and Vasily Petrenko fully attuned to their guest’s dedicated and perceptive playing... 
Fieri Consort – Tears of a Lover [Fieri Records]
January 2018 |  The eight-voice Fieri Consort’s first recording is impressive, produced by John Rutter. Fieri (from the Latin fio, “to become”) was formed in 2012 – drawn originally from Genesis Sixteen – and is finely blended, musically intelligent and technically secure, and here continues its exploration of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian repertoire but, with an eye to an already-crowded market of Madrigals by Monteverdi and Marenzio, cannily introduces music by Ben Rowarth (born in 1992). 
Mozart’s Il sogno di Scipione – Classical Opera/Ian Page with Stuart Jackson, Klara Ek, Soraya Mafi, Krystian Adam, Robert Murray & Chiara Skerath [Signum]
January 2018 |  Il sogno di Scipione (1771-2), the sixteen-year-old Mozart’s seventh stage work (counting the sacred singspiel Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots), is really more of a serenata than a conventional opera, as it is an allegorical vision rather than a fully dramatic narrative. ... That proves no hindrance to Ian Page and Classical Opera... ... Aficionados will know Leopold Hager’s 1979 recording which later appeared in Philips’s Complete Mozart Edition (also featuring both version of Licenza’s aria). That boasts an impressive cast, including Peter Schreier, Lucia Popp, Edita Gruberova and Edith Mathis... 
Wiener Symphoniker – Philippe Jordan conducts Beethoven’s First and Eroica Symphonies
January 2018 |  A complete set of Beethoven’s Symphonies with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra is to be issued, released at intervals in time for the 2020 celebrations of the two-hundred-and-fiftieth-anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. They will be taken from Philippe Jordan’s concert performances during 2017. ... The ‘Eroica’ is given with well-judged pace even though the ‘Funeral March’ is swifter than usual. I returned to the earliest-ever Vienna Symphony Orchestra recording of this work, with Jascha Horenstein – big, uncompromising Beethoven... 
Stephen Hough plays Debussy [Hyperion]
January 2018 |  With this Stephen Hough Debussy recital Hyperion is competing with itself for it matches almost exactly a recent release from Steven Osborne. The good news (there’s no bad) is that both are a rich addition to this composer’s recorded catalogue. While Osborne plays Masques and ... D’un cahier d’esquisses, Hough offers La plus que lente in their place... ... There is no need for a blow-by-blow account of this release’s contents, for each of the seventeen tracks is a highlight – nevertheless the allure of ‘Pagodes’ (Estampes) and the sensitivity of ‘Hommage à Rameau’ (Images I) are transporting, while the friskiness of ‘Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum’ is a particular delight... 
Kirill Karabits conducts William Walton’s Two Symphonies [Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Onyx]
January 2018 |  Well done to Kirill Karabits for conducting William Walton’s music, here his masterly if very different two Symphonies, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in very responsive form, although the recording quality, for all its clarity and vividness, tends to be over-edgy and too bright, and the acoustic is rather reverberant... ... So, it says much for Karabits’s conception of the magnificent First Symphony – a stunning masterpiece – that it outdoes any sonic problems. ... Twenty-five years later, in 1960, when Walton’s Second Symphony was unveiled (he’d taken his time, the commission had arrived in 1957), some critics were taken aback that he had not emulated his epic First, and failed to allow that stylistically he had moved on (as Elliott Carter and Michael Tippett were also doing). 
Rachel Barton Pine plays Violin Concertos by Edward Elgar and Max Bruch – BBC Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton [Avie]
January 2018 |  I did at first react scornfully to seeing another Bruch No.1 listed; it’s a splendid piece but simply programmed too often and easily. Then I listened: very impressive from Rachel Barton Pine and Andrew Litton. ... The Elgar is perhaps the greater prize, a flexible and expansive account (fifty-one minutes) if lacking nothing in direction. Litton is a sympathetic Elgarian, impulses and emphases finely judged... ... This release is “Dedicated to the memory of a musical hero and generous friend, Sir Neville Marriner”. 
The Leonore Piano Trio plays Johann Peter Pixis [Hyperion]
January 2018 |  Johann Peter Pixis (1788-1874) is sadly neglected nowadays; with the recent exception of Stephen Hough and Howard Shelley, few musicians have paid any attention to him although in his day he was greatly respected, particularly so in Paris where the Mannheim-born composer resided from 1825 to 1845. His style of composition indicates that his birth-date lay between those of Beethoven and Schubert but some of his fiery fast-moving piano sequences suggest Mendelssohn. ... The members of the Leonore Piano Trio rightly concentrate on the inherent optimism for the quieter melodies are too innocent to be sentimentalised and the straightforwardness of the reading makes for an ideal approach. 
Johannes Brahms – The Three Piano Trios – Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos & Yo-Yo Ma [Sony Classical]
January 2018 |  These are magnificent performances of Brahms’s three acknowledged Piano Trios which, as far as I am concerned, go straight to the top of the list. The architect of their supremacy is Emanuel Ax... ... The string-playing does not exude the same personality, although both Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma have the Brahms style at their fingertips. 
Martyn Brabbins conducts Michael Tippett – Symphonies 1 & 2 – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra [Hyperion]
January 2018 |  What a momentous way to start 2018, with the first release in a new Michael Tippett Symphony Cycle, courtesy of Hyperion and Martyn Brabbins... ... London-born Sir Michael Tippett (1905-98) is one of the great composers... ... ...a terrific place to start would be the Second Symphony (1957). ... The first movement, with its pounding Vivaldi-inspired bass line (supplemented by a piano) and ecstatically dancing violins is simply irresistible... ... If not his first such work, the Symphony that he was eventually able to assign as No.1 (completed in 1945) could only be by Tippett (and surely displaying his admiration for Bach, Beethoven and Hindemith, the latter composer far more esteemed then than he has become, sadly) – a first movement of vigour, rigour and confidence... 

 

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