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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: October 2005

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

To start this month, two discs not [yet] reviewed on MusicWeb which I have come across that seem to be very worthwhile. Sergei Taneyev was a pretty unfamiliar name to me until DG issued his Piano Quintet and Trio (477 4519) played by an all-star ensemble including Vadim Repin and Mikhail Pletnev. This is really interesting stuff and definitely the product of an individual mind. Both works are quite extended and the disc plays for 82’34’’ – the longest I have ever come across. I am not complaining but did not know that this was possible. York Bowen is, in my view a significant composer yet to emerge from the shadows and I already treasure a disc of his piano music played by Stephen Hough. On the same label – Hyperion – his Viola Concerto has recently been issued finely played by rising star Laurence Power (CDA67546). The coupling is another Viola Concerto by Cecil Forsyth (if you’ve heard of him before you are doing better than me), which was possibly the first foray into the genre by a British composer. The sound is excellent and the front cover picture of the disc (an 1859 picture by John Linnell) most attractive and apposite. This is deeply sonorous music - if they have not already done so, lovers of English music and/or the viola should investigate this urgently.

I write just after having heard that Naxos has won the Gramophone’s label of the year award, and deservedly so in my view. Their recent disc of Finzi’s songs with the baritone Roderick Williams accompanied by Iain Burnside has no fewer than 5 reviews on MusicWeb (a record?), so I’ll just add a link to the latest of them - from which all the others can be accessed (link 1), and say that I greatly enjoyed this too. Kurt Weill’s symphonies are little known works that are hardly known but Marin Alsop’s splendid disc with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra should put that right (link 2). Tutti bravi said Kevin Sutton and I couldn’t agree more. Two Naxos discs I reviewed recently both contained relative rarities. First, Berwald’s tone poems (links 3 & 4), and, secondly, Hummel concertos for violin (a completion), and the unusual combination of violin and piano (links 5 and 6). The range, quality and accessibility (at budget price) of these four discs – which are just those I have happened to come across in the past month – amply illustrate the justification of this award.

I was intrigued by Peter Lawson’s review of the 1921 multi-arranger chamber version of Bruckner’s 7th symphony (link 7). This was given the "Recording of the Month" accolade and I couldn’t resist investigating further. The instrumentation is for ten players on nine instruments (there is a piano duo), including just one brass instrument (the horn) and a harmonium. There was no conductor and, sensibly, the work is taken quite fast (less than 60 minutes overall). Unsurprisingly, some of the transitions are not perfectly managed but there is much fine playing. I agree with Peter that, despite inevitable losses, there are gains from hearing the work in this form.

MusicWeb seems to be increasingly offering multiple reviews of the same disc. Very often, I suspect that they are written at about the same time and are quite independent of each other. Despite that, reviewers often seem to come to similar conclusions. Occasionally they have radically different views and this was the case in respect of Jonathan Nott’s recent record of Schubert’s Symphonies Nos 1, 3 & 8. I received this disc for review and was just starting to listen to it when Evan Dickerson’s negative view was published on the site (link 8). Maybe this brought out the devil’s advocate in me (link 9) but it does illustrate how much personal taste can come into reviewing.

Come September, come the Last Night of the Proms and, whatever you think about the second half, the first part is usually a special concert in itself. With Andreas Scholl and John Williams as soloists, this was no exception. The first half concluded with Lambert’s Rio Grande – rousing stuff which was just right for the occasion. Well done to Paul Daniel on his first last night (paradoxically this is not a contradiction), he presided with great aplomb.

Post Proms and their earlier Beethoven splurge, BBC Radio 3 are continuing to set aside their schedules for complete composer bashes. J.S. Bach is promised soon (over a fortnight) and recently they did Webern’s complete oeuvre in a single day. You can get the whole of his 31 opus output on 3CDs but so far I only have one disc – Karajan’s orchestral offerings of the Passacaglia, 5 Movements, 6 Pieces and the Symphony. The last of these plays for just 10 minutes. This may be music on a postage stamp scale but it is powerful stuff and seems to me to be the most accessible from the Second Viennese School. On this day I heard for the first time In Sommerwind and some of the songs. I must explore this music further soon.

A little while back I revisited Barbirolli’s wonderful 1960s recording of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, a recording I have had on CD for many years. Renata Scotto and Carlo Bergonzi were the principals and both were in fine voice. When I put disc 2, which starts in the middle of Act 2, into my best CD player it completely failed to recognize the disc. There was no problem playing the CD in several other players but the sound was much inferior judging from the first disc. Transient glitches are not uncommon but this was not a problem I have come across previously. Since this set is currently on a special offer, the solution was to invest in the latest remastering (an EMI "Great Recording of the Century"). This sounds fantastic and is a considerable improvement from the 1980s offering.

Finally, for those who ponder the economics of recorded music, sets that were previously out of the price range (and storage space capacity) of most individuals and destined for libraries only are becoming different propositions thanks to massive price cuts and slimline packaging. For example, Mozart’s complete output is now being offered by Brilliant Classics for barely more than one pound per CD, Scott Ross’s complete Scarlatti sonatas on Warner classics for £2-3 per disc and Hyperion’s Schubert complete song collection for £4-5 per disc. I don’t know much about the first of these but from what I know of the latter two, they are top-notch offerings so it is not just a question of quantity before quality. Clearly it’s a buyer’s market at the moment. I suggest we all get our credit cards out and enjoy - just in case those who predict ultimate meltdown are right. And if you fancy any of the above monsters to see you through 2006, get them on your Christmas list soon.

Patrick C Waller













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