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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: May/June 2007
  Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

Reviewing EMI’s Beethoven Collector’s Edition – a box of 50 CDs – was a pleasant task but it occupied my listening almost exclusively for a whole month. I was just perusing a list of new releases for June and see that there is competition on the way in the form of a complete Beethoven edition (87 CDs for £70 from Cascade) and a 60 CD selection of major works from Sony for only £32. The latter seems mainly to derive from US sources – presumably the old CBS catalogue – and the former claims to contain quite a few new recordings with nothing earlier than 1987. From the information available it is hard to guess which of these three will be the most desirable.
I did manage to get out a couple of times to musical events. First, I heard an excellent performance of Shostakovich’s Leningrad symphony given by the Southampton Concert Orchestra. Reading up about the work beforehand I came across a Pelican book called The Symphony dating from 1967 and edited by Robert Simpson. In the chapter on Shostakovich Robert Layton wrote that he had not been able to trace a public performance of the work since the war but it has certainly been rehabilitated since then.
The second trip was to the 20th birthday celebration of Naxos which was held on a boat on the Thames in central London in late May. Also there from MusicWeb were Len Mullenger, Bill Kenny, Anne Ozorio and Robert Hugill. There were quite a few well-known people present and I was fortunate to meet Christopher Nupen, José Serebrier and Klaus Heymann. The latter gave a brief speech saying that 2006 had been the most profitable year yet for Naxos. Afterwards he was presented with a medal by the British Strauss society recognising the Marco Polo recordings of the complete works of Johann Strauss II (on 52 CDs). Naxos has done so much to facilitate access to the music of many less well-known composers and I found it heartening that it is possible for them to make a profit at all selling as they do mostly at bargain price. Probably it is a case of a few big sellers subsidising the more obscure but, nevertheless, it is a good model for music lovers.
Never a month goes by without me hearing something new and interesting from Naxos. The Fifth Symphony of Alfvén has for me been the pick of recent releases with wonderfully committed playing from the Norrkøping Symphony Orchestra under Niklas Willén. As heard here this is a much more interesting work than one would expect from its reputation. At the same time these forces recorded some of Alfvén’s film music – music of less substance but delightful and often reminiscent of the Midsummer Vigil. Also from Scandinavia, I found a disc from pianist Håvard Gimse worth while – the main focus being on the little known Klaus Egge – his second piano concerto and first sonata form the backbone of the programme.
Perhaps the most riveting “new” CD I have heard recently is Smetana’s Ma Vlast performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Václav Talich in 1954. This is now available on Naxos Historical (8.111237) – if you are lucky enough to live in those parts of the world in which copyright expires after 50 years. No doubt this will be reviewed on MusicWeb soon. The transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn is very fine indeed and he has also transferred equally superb performances of Dvořák’s Seventh and Eighth symphonies from the same forces dating from the 1930s. These sound good too although in the case of the Seventh the same performance is also available from Pristine Classical. The sound there uses their latest “XR” technique and is quite different – much less hiss but perhaps a little less presence too.
Marco Polo discs seem to be available quite cheaply at the moment although many may ultimately be re-issued at bargain price. Two that I picked up virtually for the price of one are the Second Symphony of Joly Braga Santos and the Fifth and Twelth Symphonies of Janis Ivanovs (8.223332). I am going to be going back for more having discovered the music of Australian composer Alfred Hill in the Naxos Music Library. Just added is a disc of his first three quartets (8.570491), the first of which sounds very reminiscent of Dvořák. Another recent addition I enjoyed very much was the final release in the notable Chandos father and son Berkeley edition. As Tony Haywood’s says in his review, Michael’s Concerto for Orchestra Seascape, dating from 2005 makes a big impression.
Two Naxos discs that were not well-received on MusicWeb were the Fifth symphony of Alla Pavlova (composed in 2005-6) and various works by Holst performed by the English Sinfonia under Howard Griffiths. The gripes were primarily about the music in the case of the Pavlova and the performances for the Holst. I enjoyed both these discs more than the reviewers, particularly the Pavlova. In the case of the Holst, Jonathan Woolf found the composer’s daughter’s performances on Lyrita much more desirable but I haven’t heard that. Indeed I have only heard two of the recent crop of Lyrita issues and have some catching up to do. These were a disc of British Horn Concertos expertly played by David Pyatt and a collection of orchestral Finzi mainly conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Both lived up to high prior expectations and the former, just released for the first time, was a Recording of the Month.
The Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto collection has reached Volume 42, heading for Scandinavia with works by Alnæs and Sinding played by Piers Lane. An enjoyable disc, it is the former composer – a name I had not heard of before – whose work makes the bigger impression here. Two other Scandinavian composers whose music I have been seeking out recently are Kurt Atterberg and Gösta Nystroem. There is an excellent Atterberg symphony series on CPO and couplings of the First and First and Fourth and Third and Sixth have not disappointed. Finding a copy of Nystroem’s Sinfonia del Mare took some patience but was worth it.
Also on CPO I should mention the five symphonies of Humphrey Searle – these powerful atonal works come on two discs which are now available together in a reasonably priced package. The Searle website on MusicWeb is also full of interest, particularly as it includes the composer’s memoirs. These works featured on Radio 3 recently alongside an interview with Searle’s widow and hopefully interest in them is reviving.
I recently read in print two rave reviews of Sir Colin Davis’s recent LSO Live disc of Sibelius’s 2nd symphony (LSO0105), one of which suggested it might become a record of the year. But listening to it was, for me, something of a disappointment. There are some great moments no doubt but overall I was less impressed by it than by the 1950s Anthony Collins recording, for all the difference in sound quality. And finally, a pair of discs which I have been meaning to hear for years and picked up very cheaply in London recently – Mravinsky’s famous 1960 Leningrad Philharmonic recordings of Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies (DG 477 5911). These are hardly late night listening but I put the Fourth symphony on at 10.15 one evening and didn’t/couldn’t stop till I had heard all three works. Now that was some music-making and recorded in the studio too!
Patrick C Waller


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