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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    


HOFFNUNG for CHRISTMAS? an ideal Christmas present for yourself or your friends.
Books posted the day the order is received

Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Toccata e Due Canzoni (1946) [25.37]

Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Concerto in Ré (1946) [12.32]

Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1959)

Symphony No. 4 "Deliciae Basilienses" (1946) [27.07]
Kammerorchester Basel/Christopher Hogwood
Rec Radio Studio Zurich, Switzerland, 8-9 March 2001
ARTE NOVA 74321-86236-2 [65.43]

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As a patron, the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher was Godfather to much new music, including bona fide masterpieces such as Richard Straussís Metamorphosen and Bartókís Divertimento. His wifeís fortune allowed him to indulge in cultural philanthropy (including purchasing Stravinskyís musical estate for a reputed $5m), and his talent and supreme erudition saved him from becoming the playboy of western music.

This CD is a reconstruction of a concert given in January 1947 by Sacher to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his Basler Kammerorchester (not to be confused with the much newer Kammerorchester Basel who play on this CD). Three new works were offered that day and while none of the pieces are of the very first rank, they are all the produce of master craftsmen.

Christopher Hogwoodís period instrument work in the classical repertoire is characterful and exciting, so it is a slight disappointment that the performances of these three neo-classical works, whilst free of major deficiencies, are neither especially. Hogwood has cultivated rather a thin sound in the Swiss orchestra, of which he is principal conductor. Whether this is by technical limitation, or deference to the style of orchestras of the day (vastly inferior to today, as Honeggerís recordings testify) the music is ill-served. Intonation is not always impeccable either.

Martinuís Toccata e Due Canzoni is an infectious work written whilst living in the USA. Those familiar with the Martinu style will not be surprised here, as Martinu spins-out familiar material. A sense of enjoyment is essential for this effervescent music, and Martinu-enthusiast Hogwood draws this from his players, and Florian Hölscher gets stuck in to the piano part with gusto.

As might be expected, the Stravinsky is the deepest music on this disc. Compared to other neo-classical works such as Dumbarton Oaks or Pulcinella this Concerto for strings is much less often performed, which is no reflection on its quality. It is an angular, almost balletic work, and the crisp playing captures its energy, although some might prefer a greater sheen to the string sound at the calmer moments.

Arthur Honegger was one of Sacherís favourite enthusiasms, although it is hard not to believe that his faith in Honeggerís abilities as a symphonist was misplaced. The fourth is a moderately diverting piece that doesnít live up to the composer's grandiloquent claims - a slightly rambling affair to which the orchestra struggle to bring any life. The prominent wind playing is without colour, although it is hard to think what else could be brought to the banal lines of the slow movement. A miss, unfortunately, but two out of three ainít bad.

More interesting than impressive, this disc forms volume 1 of a series which may well offer more delight when it reaches the finer works of the Sacher legacy. The accompanying documentation is excellent, providing the original programme notes by Martinu and Honegger (Stravinsky declined to write a note) and a full list of orchestra members.

Workmanlike performances of workmanlike pieces, worth investigating for a buoyant performance of a delightful Martinu rarity.

Aidan Twomey


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