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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: June 2006

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

Arthur Butterworth’s Desert Island Discs (link 1) provoked a few thoughts about recorded music that it would be impossible to live without. As he says, most of us probably would have hundreds of potential choices. My first instinct would be to see how far the rules could be stretched. If, for example, one was allowed eight items, I would choose Hyperion’s Complete Schubert Song Edition, Scott Ross’s recording of 555 Scarlatti Sonatas (link 2) and a complete recording of Wagner’s Ring - it would have to be Solti’s. I have written elsewhere on MusicWeb about my all-time favourite work – Bruckner’s 8th symphony (link 3) but, if a complete set of the symphonies was allowed, I would bring along Stanisław Skrowaczewski’s recordings for Oehms which is excellent but currently rather expensive for the real world (link 4). After all, there would be no need to worry about money! If had managed to get that far, there would be exactly 100 CDs in the bag and I would still have four choices left.

But I would expect to have been rumbled by now although I am not sure whether the restriction would be to eight pieces of music (leaving in the whole Ring, hopefully) or eight discs in which case Wagner becomes very difficult. If it were eight discs I would be tempted to burn them myself from a variety of sources, at least ensuring I had 640 minutes of music and allowing quite a wide range of choice. Arthur clearly played it by the book, choosing just eight pieces and I see that he didn’t specify the versions. I would certainly do some agonising about that. For example, my single Schubert song recording would have to be the cycle Die Schöne Müllerin but I am not sure whether I would pick Ian Bostridge’s recent traversal (link 5) or one of Fischer-Dieskau’s. I was also amused by Arthur’s point about music to actively avoid. I would probably try to get along with almost anything thrust upon me and I’d certainly take some Mahler. I suspect it would be Das Lied von der Erde leaving a very difficult choice between Ferrier and Walter or Baker and Haitink - with apologies to the tenors. The former probably wins out as the relevant disc also includes Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen – my favourite Mahler song. The snag is that I much prefer Baker to Ferrier for that work. Maybe I’ll try to escape after all – I haven’t even mentioned Beethoven, Sibelius or Vaughan Williams yet and I am certainly not going willingly without them!

A further reason for escaping is that, marooned on a desert island, the only live music would presumably come from the natives. Without being prejudicial about the quality of that, missing out on concerts such as that recently given by Davey Chamber Ensemble (Juliet Davey, violin; Lucy White viola; Ursula Hess, cello and Nicola Grunberg, piano) in Hampstead, London would be a pity. Given in the elegant surroundings of Burgh House, a packed audience enjoyed some excellent music-making. We made the mistake of trying to negotiate the North Circular Car Park on a wet Sunday afternoon and almost missed the beginning. That would have been a pity since Mahler’s single movement for Piano Quartet, written when he was sixteen, was a rarity worth catching. I have not heard it before although I am fairly sure it has been recorded - must look out for it. Next was Schubert’s movement for String Trio D471 and this was followed by the work we had travelled up to hear – the first public performance of Cornish composer Judith Bailey’s Light – in memory of Isabel. Written at the suggestion of the performers for the unusual combination violin, viola and piano, this is in four movements, each prefaced by a quotation. The work made a profound impression and was very well received in the presence of the composer. The first half was rounded off by Mozart’s Kegelstatt (Skittles) Clarinet Trio K498 with Jane Plessner joining the ensemble on clarinet. She returned to open the second half with two of Bruch’s Op.83 pieces and the programme was completed by a fizzing performance of Mozart’s G minor Piano Quartet K478. All the musicians made excellent contributions to this memorable occasion. Notably, violist Lucy White was made to work hard – she was the only performer who took part in every work.

My other live event this month involved no travelling tribulations but "came to us" whilst we were on holiday on Cornwall – a musical play called Mrs Brunel given by the remarkable Mikron Theatre company (see link 6).

And so to some discs. The most worthwhile CD to come my way for review this month was Alexandra Oehler’s recording of piano sonatas by Beethoven protégé Ferdinand Ries (link 7). It is surely a compliment to suggest that a piece of music - in this case the Grande Sonate Fantaisie Op. 26 - sounds Beethovenian. Anyone who regrets that Beethoven wrote just 32 piano sonatas should try to hear this disc. Curiously, the only Symphony of English-born Edinburgh academic Donald Tovey is much more Germanic than English. Tovey’s music has so far been little recorded and the recent release of this work on the Toccata Classics label is therefore very welcome (see links 8 and 9). One composer whose music definitely does not sound Beethovenian is Henri Herz (1803-1888). Famous in his day but largely forgotten since, his third, fourth and fifth Piano Concertos have been accorded their first recordings in Tasmania by Howard Shelley. Relatively trivial but delightful stuff, as Dominy Clements says, this is a "winner" (link 10).

I also enjoyed the recent release in Naxos’s American Classics series of Roy Harris’s third and fourth symphonies with the Colorado Symphony conducted by Marin Alsop (link 11). Back on the home front, I came across a delightful disc from 2001 of English Oboe Concertos by Michael Hurd, Kenneth Leighton, William Blezard, John Gardner and Philip Lane played by Jill Crowther (see link 12). All were worthwhile and, as expected, the Leighton made the biggest impression but the Gardner, which dates from 1990 was not far behind.

Two recent re-releases of baroque music by Hyperion in their 2-for-1 Dyad series caught my attention. Albinoni’s oboe concertos have long been favourites but his sonatas Opp. 4 and 6 were new to me (CDD22048). Both this and Locatelli’s violin sonatas Op. 8 (CDD 22057) are played by the Locatelli Trio and they are splendid bargains.

Finally, to return to the desert island, there is one other matter to consider – the single luxury. In this respect is it difficult to be original and I would want to copy the choice of someone I heard on the programme many years ago. He was a singer but I can’t for certain remember who it was; it may have been Benjamin Luxon. Listening to music in the heat would be thirsty work and a never-ending pint of beer the perfect luxury. Of course, one would have to give some consideration to the precise choice of ale …

Patrick C Waller


1. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/May06/Desert_Island_discs.htm

2. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/Nov05/Scarlatti_sonatas_2564620922.htm

3. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Oct04/Bruckner8_Waller.htm

4. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/July05/Bruckner_Symphonies_OC207.htm

5. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/Apr05/Schubert_Mullerin_5578272.htm

6. http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2006/Jan-Jun06/brunel0705.htm

7. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/May06/Ries_Piano_7771362.htm

8. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/May06/Tovey_tocc0033.htm

9. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Apr06/Tovey_symphony_tocc0033.htm

10. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/May06/Herz_345_CDA67537.htm

11. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/May06/Harris_Symphonies34_8559227.htm

12. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2001/July01/Englishoboes.htm


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