All 2020 CD Reviews

Erich Wolfgang Korngold – Violin Concerto & String Sextet – Andrew Haveron/RTÉ Concert Orchestra/John Wilson | Sinfonia of London Chamber Ensemble [Chandos]
April 2020 (David Gutman) |  The Violin Concerto, placed first in physical format, features the smallish RTÉ Concert Orchestra of which John Wilson was Principal Conductor when this recording was made, some time prior to the advent of the deep-pile Sinfonia of London. A recording team led by Andrew Keener nevertheless contrive a suitably glamorous effect. ... While Haveron may not be the biggest name to have tackled the Concerto in recent years he is an immensely accomplished player. 
Adrian Boult conducts Pyotr Tchaikovsky – Polish Symphony, Hamlet & 1812 Overtures, Violin Concerto & Third Suite – Mischa Elman/LPO/Paris Conservatoire [Eloquence]
April 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★☆☆ Highly praised in its day, Sir Adrian Boult’s sensitive performance of Tchaikovsky’s Polish Symphony makes a welcome reappearance, here a first CD release on Decca. Sir Adrian was well known for his faithful presentation of composers’ intentions, and he consistently avoided the imposition of interpretational whims. Here is a well-played performance in very decent mono sound where forward impulse is paramount and the only changes of tempo are those required by Tchaikovsky. This straightforwardness does not mean that it is any less exciting – note the wild Polish dance that breaks out halfway through the first of the five movements, The urgent breathlessness of the Scherzo and the tension at the build-up to the conclusion of the Allegro con fuoco finale typify this lively interpretation. 
Jean Sibelius – Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste – The Seven Symphonies, Tone Poems, Violin Concerto… [RCA Red Seal]
April 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★★☆ This selection of most of the orchestral music composed by Jean Sibelius is presented in a most suitable and easily accessible way. Each of the seven symphonies is placed at the start of a CD with the final disc containing the Violin Concerto together with the remaining music for violin and orchestra. […] This is a generous selection – I could imagine Saraste giving a sensitive performance of Rakastava or a grand one of the extensive Pelléas and Mélisande, but this set represents a fine Sibelius treasury, and the thirty-year-old recording presents much exciting sound. 
George Frideric Handel’s Brockes Passion – Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr [AAM]
April 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★★ Amongst various other anniversaries, 2019 was certainly the year of Handel’s Brockes Passion, marking exactly three centuries since its first known performance. Aside from an outing by Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen at the Wigmore Hall in the autumn, it was given more prominent and seasonally appropriate exposure on Good Friday by the AAM at the Barbican Centre, who have since followed that up with this fine recording. 
Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Fourth & Fifth Symphonies, Italian Capriccio & Theme and Variations – Albert Wolff, Carl Schuricht & Hans Schmidt-lsserstedt [Eloquence]
April 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★☆☆ Albert Wolff is best known as conductor of l'Opéra Comique in Paris and in the 1950s made a number of recordings for Decca including complete operas. The many nineteenth century Overtures that he recorded were noted for their excellent sound although most of the LPs were in mono. The stereo era found him recording Adam’s Giselle and Glazunov’s The Seasons but the only Symphonic recording that I can locate is this striking Tchaikovsky Fourth. The sound is vivid with remarkable detail and an exceptionally wide stereo spread; the bass response is surprisingly light. 
Beethoven's Nine Symphonies – WDR Sinfonieorchester/Jukka-Pekka Saraste [Profil]
April 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★☆☆ The excellent WDR (Symphonie-Orchester des Westdeutschen Rundfunks), probably better known to collectors under its original name of Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, here provides full-bodied sound notable for the richness of lower instruments. Taken from live performances, the mastering is admirable with no audience noise and no applause. There is a resonant die-away at ends of movements that sounds entirely natural. The warm acoustic of the Köln Philharmonie suits Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s modern-orchestra approach to the Symphonies. He is not among the pro-metronome school of conductors whose obedience to the relevant markings tends to result in swiftness. Generally these are faster speeds than those chosen by distinguished conductors such as Otto Klemperer, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Kurt Masur or Herbert Blomstedt in their admirably firm and straightforward readings but in Saraste’s hands most movements sound comfortably ‘right’ in pace. All repeats in the outer sonata-form movements are observed with the exception of the Finale to the Seventh, but in Minuets and Scherzos the observation of da capo markings is puzzlingly inconsistent, with disappointing omissions and unwonted additions. 
Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D – BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Sakari Oramo with Susanna Hurrell, Catriona Morison, Ben Johnson & Duncan Rock [Chandos]
April 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★☆ Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D (1891) is a major choral utterance that ought to be better known and more widely performed. As a grandiloquent Mass setting which was clearly inspired by, and modelled upon, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis (1824), it is curious that it has not been taken up more enthusiastically by choral societies. Given its dimensions it is really best suited to the concert hall rather than church, despite Smyth’s interest in Anglo-Catholic liturgy, and her hope that it might be performed in an Anglican cathedral. 
Boris Tishchenko's Harp Concerto and two Vocal Trios – International Parisian Symphony Orchestra/Mikhail Sugako [Naxos]
April 2020 (Edward Clark) |  ★★★★☆ Outside of Russia, Boris Tishchenko (1939-2010) is not well covered by record labels nor in the concert hall. He was, in fact, Dmitri Shostakovich’s favourite pupil (and lifelong friend) and continued his legacy with music in all genres. This recording from Naxos is to be praised for its continuing to issue music by Tishchenko. With the rediscovery of Mieczysław Weinberg in full flow, may I dare suggest a similar situation for the equally gifted and interesting Tishchenko? 
O gemma clarissima – Music in Praise of St Catharine – The Choirs of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge/Edward Wickham [Resonus]
February 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★☆ In this fine disc of largely unfamiliar Renaissance choral music (although by some familiar composers) the two choirs of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, bring together compositions written in honour of their patron saint. Written around the time of the college’s foundation in 1473, or within the century after that, the repertoire comprises a sequence of Latin motets written by various composers around Europe. Six of them are preceded by plainchants (from the distinctive ‘Sarum’ corpus) which form the structural basis of those works. All but one of the chants are sung – with fluid, flexible ease – by the college’s separate girls’ choir, who also provide a lithe and luminous account of Gombert’s intriguing four-part ‘Virgo sancta Katherina’ for upper voices alone, with its rigorously imitative sections (almost a succession of canons) remaining agile and precise under Edward’s Wickham’s direction.… 
Handel’s Queens – Cuzzoni & Bordoni [Signum]
February 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★★ Don't be deceived by the title of this release – from several points of view it is a more enterprising project than yet another traversal of the careers of singers connected to a famous composer or repertoire – in this case two of the divas employed by Handel in the heyday of his first opera company in the 1720s. Around half of the items recorded are little-known extracts from operas by other composers in which those famously feisty sopranos, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, also took part – indeed no fewer than fourteen arias are claimed to be first recordings. … 
Between Heaven and Hell – Joseph Moog plays Franz Liszt [Onyx]
February 2020 (Peter Reed) |  ★★★★★ I first heard the 32-year-old German pianist Joseph Moog at a Chopin Society recital in November 2019 in Westminster Cathedral Hall, and it is an understatement to declare that I was swept away, not just by his wizardry but also by his musicianship – and a pianist who includes Fauré in their programme already has me on their side. That aside, it was Moog’s performance of Liszt’s B-minor Sonata that had me on the edge of my seat – it seemed that all the ley-lines of virtuosity and imagination were beaming the audience up into something outstanding. … 
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Bruno Walter from 1955 – Mahler, Wagner, Haydn & Brahms [ICA Classics]
February 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★★☆ Bruno Walter will be remembered for his close association with Gustav Mahler, whom he encountered first in 1894, and it was through the influence of the composer that at the age of nineteen Walter became conductor of the municipal opera in Breslau. Around this time he changed his name from Schlesinger to Walter – possibly because the theatre director preferred a non-Jewish name. Soon, he moved to Pressburg for an appointment, and then to Riga where he converted to Christianity – a sincere conversion which he enthusiastically retained to the end of his life. In 1900 he returned to Berlin, the town of his birth, where he became Royal Prussian Conductor at the Staatsoper, and, one year later, he also became assistant to Mahler at the Court Opera 
Yehudi Menuhin from 1956 playing Mozart's Violin Concertos with BBC Symphony Orchestra and London Mozart Players [ICA Classics]
February 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★★☆ Yehudi Menuhin performed these concertos live in the BBC studios during ten days in January 1956. He was then in his fortieth year and had long been regarded as a world-renowned musician. He had first appeared as a solo violinist, with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, at the age of seven. Six years later he was playing in Berlin with an orchestra under the direction of Bruno Walter. After moving to Paris, Menuhin then took instruction from Georges Enescu. It is notable that Menuhin’s Mozart performances are warm-toned and full of feeling, yet shaped in a classical manner; it may be that this style of playing is a reflection of a principle quoted to him by his tutor Enescu, who said: “however strong your emotional impulse may be, it should never destroy the basic pace nor twist the overall form of the piece from its architectural shape". … 
Bart Van Reyn conducts Joseph Haydn's 80th & 81st Symphonies, and Piano Concerto in D with Lucas Blondeel [Fuga Libera]
February 2020 (Antony Hodgson) |  ★★★★☆ There have been some excellent performances of these two Symphonies, mostly on modern instruments. Ernst Märzendorfer and Antonio de Almeida provided thoughtful versions of No.80, but, perhaps, these distinguished conductors were superseded in this work by the little-known Prionnsías Ó Duinn. For No.81 there is the magnificent Antal Doráti version with the Bath Festival Orchestra – far superior to the interpretation in his Decca/Oiseau-Lyre set of all the Symphonies.… 
Mozart’s Apollo et Hyacinthus – Classical Opera/Ian Page with Laurence Zazzo, Sophie Bevan, Andrew Kennedy, Klara Ek & Christopher Ainslie [Signum]
January 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★☆ Apollo et Hyacinthus is little less than a miracle. The first of two operas which Mozart wrote at the age of 11 in 1767, it was already his second stage work, taking the broadest sense of that term, as he had already composed the sacred play Die Schudigkeit des ersten Gebots. … 
A Bohemian in London – Violin Sonatas by Gottfried Finger – Duo Dorado [Chandos Chaconne]
January 2020 (Curtis Rogers) |  ★★★★★ The baker's dozen of Sonatas featured here originate in a little known but richly rewarding manuscript held at the British Library. Not all 66 in that set are by Gottfried Finger (1655-1730) but those which are represent a fascinating body of work assembled in London by the Moravian-born musician, even if some of it was actually written before his arrival. On either side of their compilation came the two events for which Finger is perhaps best remembered today, In 1690 he had published the first set of solo sonatas to have appeared in England and which established his reputation as an influential composer. … 
The Soul of Fire – Age Juurikas plays Manuel de Falla, Isaac Albéniz, Igor Stravinsky, Frederico Mompou [Estonia Record Productions]]
January 2020 (Ateş Orga) |  ★★★★★ The Estonian pianist Age Juurikas caught my attention some years back. Video performances of Rachmaninov's D-flat Prelude, Tchaikovsky's October, and Albéniz's La Vega revealed an artist capturing resonantly old-world qualities of timing, emotion, nobility, tone and fantasy. Subsequently, I discovered her penchant for off-the-beaten-track concertos – Anton Rubinstein's Fourth (aspiring to grand heights) and the Rachmaninov G-minor (a work she sees as “dark and tender”), both with Neemi Järvi and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. Her seriousness of application and resources of power and delicacy, structural tension, poetic spirit, her refusal to stoop to the gallery, make for a compelling chemistry. You get what you see, no frills, just an occasional telling smile. … 
Vasily Petrenko conducts Richard Strauss – Don Quixote, Don Juan, Till Eulenspiegel – a comparison of the CD with digital downloads
January 2020 (Rob Pennock) |  Sound: ★★★★☆ | Performance: ★★★☆☆ | Volume One of Petrenko’s Oslo cycle of Richard Strauss’s tone poems featured a rather bland performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra that went nowhere convincingly, and Ein Heldenleben, which was better, but hardly in the same class as John Barbirolli (BBC Legends), Thomas Beecham, Bernard Haitink (Philips) or Willem Mengelberg. So how does he fare in arguably Strauss’s three greatest orchestral works? 

 

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