One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider


paid for


100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas

FOGHORN Classics

Mozart Brahms
Clarinet Quintets

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


alternatively AmazonUK   AmazonUS



Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
“Wanderer Fantasy” (arr. Joseph James) (2007) [21:28]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasie” (arr. Joseph James) (2007) [31:45]
English Chamber Orchestra
Members of the Schubert Ensemble/Orlando Jopling
rec. Air Lindhurst Studios, London, 7-8 February 2006 (Schubert); 19-20 September 2005 (Schumann) DDD


A very odd duck.  What we have here on this deliciously-sounding recording from Signum Classics - known for their deliciously-sounding recordings - are two transcriptions of two major Romantic pieces for piano into works for string orchestra.  The works in question are Franz Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy in C” and Robert Schumann’s “Fantasie in F”, both for solo piano. The person given credit for doing the transcription is Joseph James who is in fact two people: Stanley Joseph Seeger and Francis James Brown who have collaborated before under the name Joseph James. They’ve done an opera, Sketches from The Scarlet Letter and, more relevant to the disc at hand, a transcription of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence along with a movement from the Piano Sonata (op. 80) into something called Piano Concerto after P.I. Tchaikovsky. So these guys had done this sort of thing before. Just why is a question one could ask, but there is nothing mentioned in the booklet to explain why this was done in the first place.  I think “Joseph James” want their work to speak for itself.

Joseph James has transcribed these pieces for string orchestra in order, one presumes, to bring out their romantic lushness; some passages do indeed do this. The opening to the first movement in the Schumann “Fantasie in F” is given a shimmering undercurrent on the violins, whereas on the piano these passages are rendered more crisply. But this only succeeds in spots. The rest of the time the writing in the violins is so limited that what you get is the dry sound of a string quartet, which I don’t think was the intention. This problem emerges in the opening allegro of the “Wanderer Fantasy in C” and it’s only four minutes into the movement that a real orchestral “feel” emerges.  But moments like this do not a work make. Moreover, some passages are rendered almost unrecognizable from the solo piano versions. 

These two masterpieces really don’t need the embellishments of a string orchestra to enhance what was already beautiful in them.  There are passages in both these works as constructed here that do surprise for the richness of texture that a string orchestra can conjure, especially in a robust recording environment.

But what is missing here is that personal interpretive touch that only comes from a soloist face-down in the music. Why gild the lily?  Rudolf Barshai did this for Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony opus 110a and his Symphony for Strings opus 118a, from String Quartets Eight and Ten, but Barshai had the permission of the composer who was then living and both works do add to that composer’s canon.  I have reviewed the Barshai before and I’ve always ended off there as I want to end off here:  While the playing here is technically fine and the physical sound extraordinary, giving these works a broader canvas takes away the intended intimacy of their original setting.  Nothing new is illuminated.  These chimeras, however, might have their odd appeal to fans of Schubert and Schumann who might be interested to see what another fan, Joseph James, saw in them that compelled him (or them) to interpret these works in this particular way. 

Paul Cook 


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat



Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


Symphonies 1, 2, 3


Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.