April 2019 CD Reviews

May 2019 CD Reviews
Marc Blitzstein: Piano Music, 1918-63 – Leonard Lehrman [Toccata Classics]
April, 2019 |  The opening piece in this fascinating and educative collection, littered with first recordings, is called Waterfall, a light and fluffy barcarolle decorated with little descriptive liquid cascades from the pianist’s right-hand. And this is by Marc Blitzstein, the angular and tart musical and political radical? 
Imogen Cooper plays Beethoven – Bagatelles & Diabelli Variations [Chandos]
April, 2019 |  Having in recent years ventured down roads taking her from Liszt and Wagner to Chopin, Imogen Cooper here turns her attention to Beethoven, not a composer whose solo output she's recorded much... 
Music by Gary Carpenter – including SET, with Iain Ballamy, and Love’s Eternity, with Kathryn Rudge [Royal Liverpool Philharmonic; Nimbus Alliance]
April, 2019 |  Gary Carpenter (born 1951 in London) has the knack of writing music of wide appeal without one ever thinking that it is contrived to be liked, or that he is second-guessing the audience; the result is music that is immediately engaging and satisfying yet with something saved for return listens. ... These are all impressive and rewarding pieces, heard in excellent performances and first-class sound, yet are overshadowed by Love’s Eternity (initiated in 1992 and since revised), a quite wonderful set of songs that owe in one way or another to Roberts Browning and Schumann and to Heinrich Heine... 
Kenneth Hesketh – Diatoms – Music for two pianos, piano/four hands, and solo piano – The Green Duo [Prima Facie]
April, 2019 |  Once again (see links below) Kenneth Hesketh, born 1968 in Liverpool, issues a musical challenge that is beneficial to take up. Intricate and demanding Hesketh’s music may be, but the energy and staggered rhythms (reminding of Conlon Nancarrow) of ‘Inductio’, the opening of Three Movements from Theatrum (1996/2013), is enthralling, propelling us forward, continuously, through the exhilarating rapidity (the greater percentage) and beguiling bell-like lyricism of the remaining two sections. ... ...the members of the The Green Duo are heroic in sorting out the music’s technical and compositional complexities. 
Martin Roscoe plays Ernö Dohnányi [Hyperion]
April, 2019 |  The fourth and final volume of Martin Roscoe's complete Dohnányi cycle for Hyperion focuses both on Dohnányi as virtuoso pianist-composer, and on the traditions and styles he inherited from his principal teachers in Budapest during the 1890s – István Thomán, a favourite student of Liszt, and Hans von Koessler, a devotee of Brahms. 
Elgar from America, Volume 1 – Enigma Variations/Toscanini, Cello Concerto/Piatigorsky & Barbirolli, Falstaff/Rodziński [Somm]
April, 2019 |  It doesn’t take much working out that if these three works of Elgar, normally totalling ninety-five minutes on average, are here accommodated on one compact disc (including applause, and with a few minutes to spare regarding full capacity), then something is up. That ‘something’ is Falstaff, for which Artur Rodziński removes 291 bars, akin to about ten minutes. ... ... Following which the Cello Concerto offers a dignified and quietly passionate reading – in context, following Toscanini, a reassuring tonic. Whereas Enigma is a “first appearance on CD” and Falstaff a “first commercial release”, although new to me, this Piatigorsky/Barbirolli collaboration has presumably been available before. 
Angels – Choral Music by John Tavener – Winchester Cathedral Choir/Andrew Lumsden [Hyperion]
April, 2019 |  This Hyperion release outlines the longstanding relationship between Winchester Cathedral Choir and Sir John Tavener (1944-2013) initiated by Martin Neary (author of the printed note, the booklet also including sung texts) who had commissioned a number of works during his tenure as Cathedral Organist (1972-1987). They have become central to the Choir’s repertoire, sung throughout the David Hill years (recorded for Virgin Classics) and now continued with Andrew Lumsden. 
Oslo Philharmonic & Vasily Petrenko – Richard Strauss’s Zarathustra & Heldenleben [LAWO Classics]
April, 2019 |  A generous coupling, although neither work has individual tracks beyond the respective start-points, but this is seriously good and dynamic music-making, if with reservations. ... The opening of Zarathustra (as heisted by Kubrick for 2001) is grandly announced... ... Furthermore, the second reservation is that musically this is not the most symphonic of readings, Vasily Petrenko tending to indulge at times... ... Following thirty-four minutes of Zarathustra, Heldenleben (a youngish Strauss inventing his life as a Hero, if with many decades of creativity ahead of him) enters with barely a pause! 
Kirill Karabits conducts Liszt – Mazeppa and Sardanapalo [Staatskapelle Weimar; Audite]
April, 2019 |  This premiere recording present’s the first Act of Liszt’s Sardanapolo, based on a Byron play, in a realisation by David Trippett who has brilliantly orchestrated the surviving piano-vocal score that Liszt abandoned sometime in the early-1850s, never to return to it or any other operatic venture. 
Leonard Slatkin conducts Hector Berlioz – From Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Benedict, King Lear [Orchestre National de Lyon; Naxos]
April, 2019 |  Quite why Naxos has delayed this title for so long is anyone’s guess (similarly a recent issue of Leonard Slatkin’s Aaron Copland coupling, also from 2014). ... Housekeeping aside, here are three plays from William Shakespeare’s quill that so inspired Hector Berlioz’s creativity – Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Beatrice and Benedict, okay, Benedick (the latter characters from Much Ado About Nothing)... ... Once past the vocal preliminaries, Berlioz becomes orchestra-centric for a lonely and sad Romeo, a party courtesy of the Capulets (Juliet’s brethren), a serene if burgeoning love episode and the remarkable ‘Queen Mab (Scherzo)’. All are handsomely brought off, Slatkin not so much conducting the music as communing with it... 
Wiener Symphoniker – Philippe Jordan conducts Beethoven’s Pastoral & Eighth Symphonies
April, 2019 |  This is Beethoven played swiftly in the modern manner although only in Symphony 8 are speeds close to the fast metronome markings in which the rapid requirements make good sense. Each tempo is convincing within the context of the interpretations yet there are times when Philippe Jordan gives the impression of haste... 
Sir Richard Rodney Bennett Orchestral Works Volume 3 – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/John Wilson, with Sarah Connolly singing A History of the Thé Dansant [Chandos]
April, 2019 |  Here is the third volume in Chandos’s series of Richard Rodney Bennett’s orchestral music, which fully maintains the high standards set by its predecessors. ... In complete contrast, the (less than) ten minutes A History of the Thé Dansant... ... Sarah Connolly relishes the many sympathetic opportunities Bennett gives, and Wilson’s partnership, stylistically, is to the manor born. ... whilst it is true this work breathes the 1960s as sure as does A Hard Day’s Night, further listening discloses more of a Sergeant Pepper-ish seriousness, the organic nature of the juxtapositions eventually reveal true living organisms... 
Busoni’s Piano Concerto – Kirill Gerstein, Sakari Oramo, Boston Symphony Orchestra [Myrios Classics]
April, 2019 |  We badly need a new recording of Ferruccio Dante Michelangelo Benvenuto Busoni’s outsize, five-movement Piano Concerto (1901-04); more importantly we need a superb one: this from Kirill Gerstein and Sakari Oramo, courtesy of Boston Symphony concerts, hits the spot... 
Martyn Brabbins conducts Elgar’s Caractacus – Huddersfield Choral Society & Orchestra of Opera North [Hyperion]
April, 2019 |  Elgar’s Caractacus is now (finally) elevated. If perhaps (like me) this Cantata hasn’t quite made it on to the Elgar Essentials list, despite recordings by Charles Groves and Richard Hickox, then Martyn Brabbins and his forces offer a revelation. ... Dedicated to Queen Victoria, and first-performed at the 1898 Leeds Festival with the composer conducting, Caractacus – courtesy of the Huddersfield Choral Society, the Orchestra of Opera North and five vibrant and involved singer-soloists – is here able to soar high into one’s consciousness. ... My initial plan was to play just a few minutes of the first disc to get a feel for things, yet so compelling was the music and the performance that I listened to the lot there and then, hooked... 
Cédric Tiberghien plays Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, troisième année & other late piano works [Hyperion]
April, 2019 |  This superb Hyperion issue is Cédric Tiberghien’s first foray into Liszt, and he has gone in at the deep end. Tiberghien has form in uncompromising repertoire, and he encourages you to hear, at the end of his long life, how Liszt in his final years – having channelled the romance, individualism and high ideals of music in the nineteenth-century – prepared the way for the atonality of the Second Viennese School, the exploratory textures of Debussy’s piano music, even the fervent imagery of Messiaen. 
Christian Thielemann & Staatskapelle Dresden at Suntory Hall – Robert Schumann’s Four Symphonies [Sony Classical]
April, 2019 |  Christian Thielemann and Staatskapelle Dresden have been in Tokyo, including performing Robert Schumann’s ultra-wonderful four Symphonies, captured for Sony Classical at Suntory Hall concerts... 
Alban Gerhardt plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suites [Hyperion]
April, 2019 |  In the accompanying liner notes, Alban Gerhardt refers to his apprehension in tackling what he sees, like many other cellists, as the summit of the repertoire for his instrument. He is too consummate a musician to turn in an indifferent performance, however, even though in this (his first recording of Bach’s Cello Suites) it is as though he has internalised that caution as a more or less subconscious strategy in these interpretations which avoid extrovert or exaggerated renditions. 
Giulini in Boston [Pristine Audio]
April, 2019 |  One of the great conductors, Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) had long-standing and titled relationships with the Chicago Symphony and the LA Phil; less well-documented (until now) are the few concerts he gave in Boston, in 1962, 1969 and 1974, twenty in all, but not that number of programmes, for subscription events are scheduled more than once. Pristine Audio has been on the hunt for surviving broadcasts and has found these well-preserved stereo tapes... 
Maurice Duruflé: Complete Choral Works – Houston Chamber Choir/Robert Simpson [Signum Classics]
April, 2019 |  Maurice Duruflé’s almost excessive self-criticism (characteristic also of his fellow-Frenchmen Paul Dukas and Henri Dutilleux) enables his slim if distinguished choral output to fit snugly onto one CD. Despite an already crowded discography of the Motets and the organ version of the Requiem (1961), this Signum release is welcome. The Houston Chamber Choir is a professional ensemble founded in 1995... 
Jess Gillam – Rise [Decca]
April, 2019 |  ...the transfer level of Jess Gillam’s Rise is disco-loud with a vengeance... ... Among Gillam’s collaborators are Miloš Karadaglić, a lush-sounding BBC Concert Orchestra... ... Musically, there is also a range – including Kate Bush, Shostakovich, John Williams, David Bowie, Weill, Milhaud, Marcello, Dowland, Michael Nyman... 
The Romantic Piano Concerto 78 – Howard Shelley plays & conducts Clara Schumann, Hiller, Herz and Kalkbrenner [Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra; Hyperion]
April, 2019 |  At the age of fourteen, Clara Josephine Wieck (1819-1896) composed a Konzertsatz and her father’s student Robert Schumann helped her with the orchestration. It became the Finale of her Piano Concerto, which she completed two years later and in 1835 gave the first performance with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Mendelssohn conducting. ... Howard Shelley’s bright-toned instrument is particularly well-suited to this vibrant music. 
Yan Pascal Tortelier conducts Gounod’s Two Symphonies [Iceland Symphony Orchestra; Chandos]
April, 2019 |  What a total tonic to start April’s listening adventures with the two Symphonies by Charles-François Gounod, celebrated for Faust of course (albeit just one of his twelve operas, and there is also a boatload of choral pieces and songs). He was very accomplished with orchestra alone as these Symphonies (both from the mid-1850s) handsomely demonstrate. They are so delightful [...] Yan Pascal Tortelier and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra make sunny weather of them. 


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