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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: February 2006

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

Everyone likes a good bargain and the best I have come across recently is the complete set of Villa-Lobos string quartets on the Brilliant Classics label (catalogue no. 6634). There are 17 quartets written over a period of more than forty years; they are interesting and approachable works even if the composer was surprisingly orthodox about form in this genre - for example, all except the 1st have four movements. This is a six CD set which has been licensed from Dorian and features the Latin American Quartet. As recently as August 2003, Jonathan Woolf was enthusiastically reviewing these discs as they were being issued at full price (see link 1 from which there are links to the whole series). This slimline set is very attractively presented and recently cost me just £12-50 - a special offer but the regular price is probably not much greater. The performances are excellent and, compared with the two discs in the rival series I have heard, considerably preferable to the Danubius Quartet on Marco Polo. This is highly idiomatic playing and the recordings are first-rate. There is a sense of atmosphere here which is most compelling and which the rival Hungarians do not match. Villa-Lobos’s contribution to the string quartet seems under-recognised - they are surely amongst his finest works - but the ready availability of this set could change that.

Catching up on Christmas presents, I was fortunate to receive Opera proibita, Cecilia Bartoli’s latest offering with extracts from music by Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti and Caldara which was initially banned by the Catholic Church. Christopher Howell’s review (link 2) indicates that he too was won over by Bartoli’s singing and, whatever one thinks of the presentation (it is fine by me), this is well worth hearing.

As usual, there has been a good crop of Naxos discs. Pride of place goes to the disc of Piano Concertos by Ferdinand Ries (links 3 and 4). A pupil of Beethoven, one can certainly hear echoes of the master and there is fine solo playing from Christopher Hinterhuber. As Colin Clarke says this is "sheer delight" and the first in a series of recordings of Ries’s concertos, the rest of which will be awaited with some anticipation. Naxos’s American Classics series continues to impress me and there has been a recent rush of discs by William Bolcom. The music for two pianos (links 5 and 6) is a diverse mix, starting with the delightful Recuerdos which gives homage to important figures in Latin American music, most strikingly Ernesto Nazareth. Frescoes and the Sonata which follow are much more serious stuff but there are two attractive lollipops to finish. Morton Gould’s music has been rather neglected on disc but one of the late Kenneth Schermerhorn’s final discs makes some amends. The main work is the Ballet Fall River and the Jekyll and Hyde Variations provide a fill-up. As Patrick Gary’s review indicates (link 7), both are interesting works.

Amongst the discs I have reviewed myself, the most worthwhile have been the completion of Martin Roscoe’s cycle of Szymanowski’s Piano Music (link 8), the symphonies of the man who didn’t complete Mozart’s Requiem – Joseph Eybler (link 9), and an attractive selection of bon-bons by the "Danish Strauss" – Hans Christian Lumbye (link 10). If any of those appeal, they can purchased with confidence, as can a disc of piano music by Glazunov played by Stephen Coombs (link 11). This is a re-release on Hyperion’s budget Helios label and the first disc of a highly regarded series.

Last month I mentioned the music of Alice Mary Smith, the almost forgotten Victorian female composer (1839-1884) whose clarinet sonata I had heard performed live. Since then I have tracked down the only disc I could find of her music – two symphonies and an orchestral version of the slow movement of the same clarinet sonata. This is on the Chandos label (CHAN10283) and features the London Mozart Players under Howard Shelley. There is some beautiful playing from clarinetist Angela Malsbury in the Andante. I also enjoyed the symphonies, the first of which was written (and premiered) when she was aged 24, and second from 13 years later. The latter was intended for entry in a British symphony competition but never submitted. Apparently there were 38 entries and it was won by F.W. Davenport. If you’ve heard of him you are doing better than me and the 50,000 plus database of CDs from which I found this disc doesn’t have any of his music at all.

I have been remiss in not hearing any live music this month, unless I can count the obligatory television relay of the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, notable for the debut of Mariss Jansons and enjoyable as ever. Somehow I haven’t caught Mozart anniversary fever either. Perhaps I am distracted by large doses of Scarlatti – my review of Scott Ross’s 34 CD set of sonatas is now past half-way (link 12) and by listening to the some more discs (I have reached 7 out of 40) from the complete Schubert songs on Hyperion. This is certainly living up to expectations, even though, with the chronological presentation, most of the early songs are unfamiliar.

I finish on a sad note. A family friend of Margaret Hubicki wrote to tell me that she had died on 3 January at the age of 90. Last July I reviewed the first ever disc devoted entirely to her music and it was a recording of the month (link 13). Fortunately it was released in her lifetime and I am sure that it must have given her great pleasure.

Patrick C Waller

















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