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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



CD REVIEW
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Music for Strings
Paul HINDEMITH
(1895-1963)

Fünf Stücke, Op.44 No.4 (1927) [11:31]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Visions Fugitives, Op.22 (arr. R. Barshai) (1915-17) [17:23]
Béla BARTÓK (1891-1945)
Divertimento for Strings, Sz.113 (1939) [26:51]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto in B minor, Op.3 No.10 (pub.1711) [10:13]
Concerto in D major Op.3 No.11 (pub.1711) [10:20]
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner (Hindemith, Prokofiev)
Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Rudolf Barshai (Bartók, Vivaldi)
rec. St. John’s, Smith Square, London, July 1974 (Hindemith) and October 1972 (Prokofiev), and at Decca Studio 3, West Hampstead, London, July 1962 (Bartók, Vivaldi)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 8414 [76:38]



With only the Prokofiev Visions Fugitives having appeared previously on CD, this is an especially interesting release. The Bartók and Vivaldi were originally to be found on Decca LXT 6026, and Marriner’s Hindemith and Prokofiev recordings would have appeared on an Argo edition LP. The recordings have been superbly remastered for this CD, with a virtual absence of hiss, and well-preserved tapes having only one or two very minor blips with regard to damage over the years. More importantly, the succulence of the original analogue recordings seems to have been retained as good as intact, and it all sounds very good through my highly expensive new headphones – ones which make you look like a partially clad Cyberman.

Paul Hindemith’s Fünf Stücke are the final set of a number of educational works designed to advance ensemble playing, these also being known as ‘Five Pieces in the First Position for String Orchestra.’ These works go far beyond what one might expect from such titles, and their expressive potential and sense of vitality are fully explored by the Academy.

Having already heard the completed Visions Fugitives on a recent CD conducted by Yuri Bashmet, I was fascinated to be able to compare and contrast the two versions. There is no real first prize winner in the end. Marriner is sometimes more sharply etched in the way solo lines leap out from the rest of the string textures, and Bashmet has the greater sense of refinement when it comes to nuance and colour in the ensemble as a whole. I do love the freshly-minted and sometimes restless feel of this older recording, even if the ensemble is marginally less disciplined in the more hectic moments. If this is you reason for seeking out this disc, then you will want both versions.

Moving from the resonant acoustic of St. John’s, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra’s sessions were recorded in the more intimate acoustic of Decca Studio 3. The upper strings sound brighter and the ensemble feels closer, but not uncomfortably so. Written at Paul Sacher’s chalet in the Swiss village of Saanen, Bartók’s Divertimento can be seen as a kind of neoclassical concerto grosso, with a considerable amount of interplay between soloists and the rest of the orchestra. This recording doesn’t over-emphasise this aspect of the score, and the lighter outer movements have a reasonably well integrated feel with plenty of punch and gritty contrast. The all-important and nightmarish central Molto adagio is not without its intonation problems however. The spirit of the music is certainly communicated, and I’ve rarely heard the tremolo textures at around 7:35 as spooky as here. There is an unfortunate vagueness about the bass which often disrupts the harmonies however, and while the middle strings dig deeply and passionately in the build-up to 6:00 you can’t really make claims for this as a definitive recording – even when the spanking final pages of the concluding Allegro assai could almost convince you otherwise.

Vivaldi’s Opus 3 concerti are known collectively as L’estro armonico, and while these have become familiar enough in their own right, Concerto No.10 is also famous in its transcription for four harpsichords BWV 1065 by J.S. Bach. Authentic performance theory might not have been at its height in 1962, but these concerto recordings still sound quite fresh in terms of interpretation. Helped along by a discretely placed harpsichord, the music has a pleasant sense of swing in the faster movements, with plenty of dynamic contrast. The unnamed soloists are very good as well, matching tone and vibrato, if not always attack and phrasing. Op.3 No.11 comes off least well of the pair, with something of a four-square opening which never quite takes off in the first movement. The slow movement is elegant and well poised though, and the finale picks up fairly well to make for a suitably rousing conclusion. I am grateful to the alert reader who pointed out that the booklet and liner mistakenly list this work as Op.3 No.1.

With excellent sonics and musicianship and a high score in the ‘first CD release’ stakes this disc is as good as self-recommending. Decca are to be applauded for keeping at least part of the original LP programmes intact, even if it means the Vivaldi seems a little strange to have alongside all those 20th century composers. Whether you are in search of a replacement for scratchy old vinyl, sheer nostalgia, or just as a very nice disc of some superb string music on its own terms, I think this is a must-have.


 
Dominy Clements
 



 


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