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MusicWeb Reviewerís Log: March 2006

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

I have never much liked points or token schemes but when it ultimately leads to a free disc, whoís complaining? Having recently accrued enough tokens from a mail-order company, I vacillated for some time about what to choose. Eventually I decided to go for Glièreís concerto for coloratura soprano and orchestra which I had come across by chance on the radio a little while back. Turning on somewhere near the beginning, I was transfixed by the music and also very puzzled as to what it was. This reminds me of Villa-Lobosís Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 and, interestingly, was written at about the same time (1943). There donít seem to be many recordings of it around but a Chandos disc from 1992 (CHAN9094) featuring Eileen Hulse accompanied by the City of London Sinfonia under Richard Hickox seemed the obvious choice. The couplings are two harp concertos Ė by Glière and the Argentinian composer Ginastera and these also turned out to be most worthwhile.

I have been waiting expectantly for the arrival of Boughtonís Trumpet Concerto played by John Wallace for a while and it is finally here (see link 1). This previously unrecorded work is in two movements and was written for Boughtonís son Brian in 1943 but declared unplayable by his teacher. The couplings on the disc are also splendid Ė trumpet concertos by Carmichael and Hewitt-Jones plus Iain Hamiltonís concerto for jazz trumpet. The latter is a "must hear" if you like that kind of thing and the good news is that the disc is at mid-price.

Hyperionís Romantic Piano Concerto series continues with the original version of Deliusís concerto coupled with John Irelandís. Piers Lane is the soloist and does a fine job in a recording made in Belfast with the Ulster Orchestra under David Lloyd-Jones. As Ian Lace indicates (link 2), the Delius is probably not a case of the composerís first thoughts being best but the work is attractive in this form. The catalogue is not overburdened with recordings of Irelandís concerto and his Legend for piano and orchestra - originally intended to be part of a second concerto - is a significant bonus.

The two most worthwhile discs I have reviewed this month have been Frank Martinís Cello Concerto in a blistering performance from the Dutch cellist Quirine Viersen (link 3) and two string quartets by Ferdinand Ries, pupil of Beethoven (link 4). I had not come across the Schuppanzigh Quartet - glad I donít have to pronounce that one! - but their playing is most convincing and this is the first of series that should be worth looking out for. It is good to see Ries emerging a little from Beethovenís shadow just as Ignaz Pleyel is from Haydnís and Mozartís. Another fine quartet Ė the Ensõ have recorded his Op. 2 quartets for Naxos and I enjoyed the first three, as did Göran Forsling (link 5). It is good news that Naxos has the rest of the set following sharply behind - how often does one have to wait for ages for the follow-up to an enjoyable disc? - and it is sitting in my reviewing pile right now.

Before we leave the string quartet, I should mention an interesting compilation from DG of recordings made by the Amadeus Quartet in the 1960s and 1970s released last year following the death of their leader, Norbert Brainin (477 5739). In recent years I get the feeling that recordings by this quartet have suffered a little at the hands of critics but this release may help to put that right. This is a two CD set (for the price of one) with quartets by Verdi (his solitary work in the genre dating from 1873), Smetanaís first (From my life), Tchaikovskyís first and DvořŠkís American. There is also Brucknerís String Quintet with Cecil Aronowitz playing second viola. The latter is the least successful performance here Ė after a broad first movement which I found promising, the great adagio seems a bit cool and the finale doesnít quite hang together. But everything else on these discs caught and held my attention, and the Smetana in particular is riveting.

Apart from the above, my listening has been dominated by the letter "S". First, I have been digging out every recording of a Sibelius symphony I could find for comparisons with Anthony Collinsís cycle from the 1950s as part of a review which is on its way (see review). Secondly, Scarlatti Ė my traversal through Scott Rossís complete sonata recordings has reached Kirkpatrick number 448 (of 555) and there are just six discs to go (link 6). Finally, Schubert and Hyperionís complete song edition. Having reached disc 10, I left Schubert somewhere late in his miraculous year of 1815 - in which he wrote about 200 songs - and moved to the final three discs of the set which contains songs by his contemporaries.

I understand these three discs are due for separate release soon. They include eighty-one songs by forty composers, all of whom lived during some part of Schubertís 31 years. Starting with Haydnís Der Gries for a quartet of singers, the first disc also contains a splendid version of Beethovenís cycle An die ferne Geliebte sung by Mark Padmore. Other well-known composers represented include Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt each of whom get only a single item because the main focus seems to be on much more obscure composers. Certainly I had never come across Reichardt and Zelter before, both of whom have several offerings, including their settings of one of Schubertís most famous songs Ė Erlkönig. I am not allowed to play this song when my wife is around because she profoundly hates it. She also disliked these versions - and recognized them immediately from the words - but perhaps not quite as much as Schubertís take on it, indicating the power of his music. All three versions use the same words by Goethe and it is notable how much broader Schubertís view is Ė about four minutes is normal Ė Reichardt here lasts 1í31" and Zelter 2í20". Back in the Schubert part of the set, there are two versions of this song. I have only heard one so far and this is unusual in utilizing three singers Ė one for each part.

Aside from Erlkönig, these discs make one realize that many song texts were set by multiple composers although often only one version remains well-known. About fifty of the songs presented here were also set by Schubert and are cross-referenced. Another of Zelterís songs has a very familiar title Ė Um Mitternacht is one of Mahlerís Rückert settings. But this version is by Goethe and its impact could hardly be more different Ė this is midnight on a balmy summer evening with none of Mahlerís dark undertones. Some other composers well-represented here who I had not heard of before are Zumsteeg, Hüttenbrenner and Lachner.

It was brave of Hyperion to complete the set in this way and it has been superbly realized with Susan Gritton, Ann Murray Mark Padmore and Gerald Finley bearing the brunt of the work. As ever, Graham Johnsonís accompaniments sound faultless. These discs provide welcome context to Schubertís songs, make the word "complete" an understatement and will be a highly desirable stand-alone collection when they are so released.

Patrick C Waller










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