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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    


MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: November 2005

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

It is curious that the complete piano music of two Edinburgh academics – Hans Gál and Kenneth Leighton – should appear one after the other. I reviewed the Leighton set in June when it was a Recording of the Month (link). Jonathan Woolf reviewed the more recent Gál release (link) and was also positive. Although somewhat quirky, if anything, Gál’s music is more immediately accessible and I liked everything about this new Avie set. There are twenty-four preludes and twenty-four fugues (one per key of course) but they are separate works written twenty years apart. The latter were a ninetieth birthday present to himself! Gál’s style struck me as far from academic and hopefully this will be the start of an exploration of his oeuvre on disc. There are symphonies and quartets out there that hardly anyone knows which are surely worth hearing. I should also mention the pianism of Leon McCawley which is most impressive, the exemplary production by Simon Fox-Gál (the composer’s grandson) and handsome documentation. This is a major achievement and on my shortlist for one of the records of the year.

Any disc by Marc-André Hamelin is an event – the Gramophone recently reproduced a quote suggesting that he is "the greatest living pianist". It also suggested that it is about time he concentrated on mainstream repertoire rather than by-ways such as Scharwenka’s first piano concerto (see link for Terry Barfoot’s review). I couldn’t agree less and am delighted that Hyperion has completed its Scharwenka "set" – Nos 2 and 3 are played by Seta Tanyel and No 4 by Stephen Hough. All are in the Romantic Piano Concerto series which has now reached Volume 38. The coupling is Anton Rubinstein’s 4th concerto, another bravura work and, for me, slightly less interesting than the Scharwenka. One notable thing about Scharwenka’s first concerto is that all three movements are allegros. There is some stunning pianism on this most compelling disc and strong support comes from BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (no mean band at all) under Michael Stern (son of the late violinist Isaac).

Hyperion also has a Romantic Violin Concerto series ongoing and has just started on the cello version of the genre. Volume 1 contains works by Dohnanyi, Enescu and d’Albert that were entirely new to me. Gerhard Albrecht is the soloist and does a fine job. The Enescu is an unusual work (called Sinfonie Concertante) which is worth resurrecting even though the very end is unconvincing. The recording was made in Caird Hall in Dundee and is superbly engineered. There is a perfect balance between soloist and orchestra and this is among the best sounding discs I have ever heard. A most auspicious start to the series.

Whilst on the subject of the cello, one of the most interesting discs I have reviewed recently was Astor Piazzolla’s Tangos arranged for cello and piano (link). Superbly realized by the Argentinian team of Eduardo Vassallo and Cristina Filoso, this is compulsive stuff.

It has been a good month for Hyperion – their release of little known works by Janáček was very positively received by Evan Dickerson (link) – a Recording of the Month. The major works are the choral piece The Eternal Gospel and an orchestral suite arranged from the opera "The Excursions of Mr. Brouček". The latter is something of a Cinderella amongst his operas (it was not included in the marvellous Mackerras/Decca series - which incidentally can now be bought in single box fairly cheaply), presumably because of the unreal plot rather than any deficiency in the music. All the works are highly characteristic of the composer, and Ilan Volkov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra seem well at home in the idiom. This disc will be essential for admirers of Janáček.

Staying where we were geographically but moving back to the piano, and the music of Dvořák. ... A while ago Naxos issued a complete set and it was something I meant to get around to buying. After reading Jonathan Woolf’s review (link) of the Inna Poroshina’s set for Brilliant Classics which he compared favourably with the Naxos, I went for that instead. For one thing it was £10 cheaper, the presentation was also much more attractive and in slimline format. This is not the greatest piano sound I have heard by any means – there is a touch of hardness but it is certainly tolerable. Poroshina’s playing is idiomatic and this is an excellent bargain.

I have been listening to some Naxos discs, including the ongoing series of symphonies by William Schuman played by the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz (review). Numbers 7 and 10 are included on the latest release and the latter (his last) is subtitled American Muse and was written in 1976 for the bicentennial of the USA. The opening movement is uncompromisingly marked con fuoco and hardly the stuff of celebration but this is a particularly powerful work. Edmund Rubbra’s Violin Concerto is also very worthwhile in a new recording by Krysia Osostowicz (review). Finally the complete works for solo piano and violin/piano of Luigi Dallapiccola which fit onto a single disc (review). Whether starting from scratch or using material from Paganini and Tartini, Dallapiccola’s music is atmospheric and compelling.

I recently dug out and re-listened to one of last year’s most interesting issues – David Zinman’s Zurich set of Schumann symphonies. John Phillips was most enthusiastic (review) and there is no doubt that this is quite special. The second symphony receives a particularly compelling performance and only in parts of the Rhenish does Zinman’s lean and sprightly approach seem at all underpowered. This set is also a considerable bargain (under £10) and should be snapped up quickly because occasionally record companies do strange things like re-issuing their successes in a higher price band.

I had been hoping to go to one of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s recent performances of Mahler’s Resurrection symphony under Marin Alsop. Unfortunately, in the end, I had to listen to a radio broadcast. This seemed to me to get better as it went on. In particular the first movement sounded slightly under-characterised whereas Alsop held the finale’s rather wayward structure together well. There was some fine singing from soloists, Sally Matthews and Karen Cargill, and also from the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus. I see that the same soloists have also been performing the work (in a new edition) under the amateur conductor and Resurrection symphony specialist Gilbert Kaplan. Jim Pritchard was not impressed (review).

Finally, it was interesting to hear the top men from Naxos (Klaus Heymann) and Hyperion (Simon Perry) interviewed on BBC Radio 3’s CD review in consecutive weeks. Perhaps unsurprisingly (given Naxos’s recent label of the year award from the Gramophone and Hyperion’s legal woes), Heymann seemed much more upbeat. They had diametrically opposite views on the future of CD versus downloads. Heymann sees the major current challenge as how to manage the transition to downloading, Perry thinks it won’t take off in the classical world. Personally I have yet to be convinced about downloads but once you start ...

Patrick C Waller



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