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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: July-September 2006


Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

 

The summer has gone and so quickly. I was away for the last week or so of the Proms season and only managed to get to half of one of the concerts - the other half was stolen by a twenty mile traffic jam on the M3. We managed to hear Schubert’s Ninth played by BBC Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda in a fizzing rendition. In the first half we were too late for Haydn’s B-flat Mass, the first time I have ever missed the beginning of a concert. Hearing the beginning on the radio and arriving about ten minutes later, I can accept that we were not allowed in but I was unimpressed with the Royal Albert Hall’s facilities for listening in such circumstances. There was some recompense though in the facility to listen online afterwards via the Proms website. Another positive development this year was the screening of many of the concerts on BBC4. On this channel I caught most of Maxim Vengerov’s concert with the youthful USB Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, the highlight of which was the K364 Sinfonia Concertante during which Vengerov struck up great rapport with violist Lawrence Power. In the second half he ditched his violin and conducted Mozart’s 29th without a baton. Also impressive in Mozart, and notably in the Prague Symphony, were the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra under Ivor Bolton.

 

As usual, most of my listening has been on CD, although I was fortunate to receive a DVD of one of Bernstein’s last concerts to review. His special rapport with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was much in evidence in a moving performance of Bruckner’s 9th (link 1). It was also a pleasure to reacquaint myself with the first ever recording of Mahler’s 10th symphony – recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy in 1965 (link 2).

 

After spending several months listening to all Schubert’s songs in the 40 CD Hyperion complete edition, John Quinn and I collaborated on an appreciation of this marvellous project (link 3). Soon afterwards, Christine Schäfer’s compelling rendition of Winterreise came along and stole my heart completely (link 4). It was disconcerting to read in the September Gramophone that Alan Blyth thought the disc “something of a write-off” but there seem to be plenty of gross divergences of critical opinion about at the moment.

In contrast Bernard Haitink’s Beethoven symphony cycle for LSO Live seems to have received only positive reviews and, on the evidence of the coupling of the Second and Pastoral (LSO0082), deservedly so. Haitink’s Beethoven is lithe and the antiphonic split of violins highly successful. This disc certainly makes me want to explore the rest of a cycle which is being released quite rapidly. The dilemma is whether now to wait for the boxed set to save space and money.

Although all the music mentioned above is fairly standard repertoire, exploration of the unfamiliar continues to give great pleasure. The name Grechaninov is hardly very well-known but I enjoyed a disc of his 3rd and 4th string quartets (link 5) enough to seek out his 3rd symphony and Vespers (which is similar to but predates Rachmaninov’s setting) on splendid discs from Chandos (CHAN9698) and Hyperion (CDA67080) respectively.

As well as unfamiliar music, it is also good to come across top-rank artists for the first time. In this respect, the Wihan Quartet’s disc of Smetana’s two string quartets was notable (link 6) and their disc of Wolf not far behind (link 7).

The biggest bargains I have come across recently are Ned Rorem’s Flute and Violin Concertos (link 8) and Bax’s clarinet music (link 9) both on Naxos and further instalments of important series.

Coming back to unfamiliar music, I have recently heard some of Cyril Scott’s imaginative music for the first time. The disc was the second in a Chandos series including his 4th Symphony and 1st Piano Concerto (link 10) and I was soon seeking out its predecessor (link 11). Another British composer doing quite well at the moment is York Bowen and Dutton’s disc of his Violin and First Piano Concertos is little short of a revelation (link 12).

Lovers of English music will no doubt be aware that the English Music Festival is almost upon us. It is being held in Oxfordshire from 20-24 October and tickets can now be ordered (link 13). I already have mine for David Owen Norris’s recital of Elgar piano music and I see that a disc of the same by Ashley Wass is just being released by Naxos.

Download doubters should consider visiting Pristine Audio’s website (link 14), particularly if they are partial to historical recordings. They are building up a very impressive online catalogue of recordings that are out of copyright and the website is easy to use. Whilst all the usual possibilities are there i.e. downloading in various formats and custom CDs - they are now offering something else for a modest ten Euros a month: online access to their whole catalogue. They kindly offered reviewers a trial and it has been like having an additional record collection suddenly appear in the house. However, there is nothing to burn or store – you just grab what takes the fancy and play it via a link from computer to hi-fi system. Sound quality seems generally excellent and, providing broadband is used, it is probably quicker to put something on than finding a disc on the shelves.

Finally, I should mention the death of Malcolm Arnold (link 15) which had me screening the shelves under “A” for something appropriate to play. The 5th and 9th Symphonies seemed most obvious but instead I chose the Fourth in a performance conducted by Richard Hickox (CHAN9290). And for something lighter – the flute and clarinet sonatinas played by members of the Nash Ensemble (CDH55072). Whatever one thinks of Arnold’s music there can be no denying his originality of style – these gems couldn’t have been written by anyone else.

Patrick C Waller

Links

1. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Aug06/Bruckner9_Bernstein_2072018.htm
2. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/July06/Mahler10_8287678742-2.htm
3. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/July06/Hyperion_Schubert_Edition.htm
4. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/July06/Schubert_Schafer_onyx4010.htm
5. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Jun06/Grechaninov_MDG6031388-2.htm
6. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Jun06/Smetana_Wihan_UP00862.htm
7. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Jun06/Wolf_Wihan_UP00292.htm
8. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Jun06/Rorem_Pilgrims_8559278.htm
9. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Sept06/Bax_Clarinet_8557698.htm
10. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Jun06/Scott_Volume2_CHAN10376.htm
11. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/May04/Scott3.htm
12. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Jun06/Bowen_Concertos_CDLX7169.htm
13. http://www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk/
14. http://www.pristineaudiodirect.com/index.html
15. http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Sept06/Arnold_Obituary.htm

 

 


 



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