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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log: July-September 2007

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

Our summer holiday this year took us to Canada. After visiting Quebec and Nova Scotia we ended up in Alberta and quite by chance were in Banff during the triennial International String Quartet Competition. Even more fortunately, we were able to go along on the penultimate night and heard the quartets who were eventually placed first and second, both playing late Beethoven. The winner was the TinAlley Quartet from Australia who played Op.131. Second came the Zemlinsky Quartet from the Czech Republic who played Op.127. Both these groups were magnificent and the judges must have had a tough time choosing between them. All the concerts in this competition were streamed on the internet by CBC and, at the time of writing – more than three weeks later – they were still accessible (concert 27 and concert 28 were the ones we heard).

My principal other live music experience this summer was a trip to the Proms for Kurt Masur’s 80th birthday celebration. The orchestra was a combination of the London Philharmonic and the French National Orchestras, and the programme was Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings and Bruckner’s seventh symphony. It was good to meet up there with fellow Assistant Webmaster David Barker who was over on holiday from Newcastle, New South Wales. His trip was beset by dreadful weather - and they were affected by a cyclone before they left - but at least that couldn’t spoil the concert. Mind you, I do remember being at the Albert Hall about 15 years ago during a performance of the Turangalîla symphony when there was a big thunderstorm going on and the roof leaked big time. I think they have fixed it since. David and I were both much more enthusiastic about this concert than Jim Pritchard who reviewed it for Seen and Heard.

One of the discs I have enjoyed most this summer contains the music of a Scottish composer I had never heard of until I read Colin Scott-Sutherland’s reviewF.G. Scott. This disc of 32 delightful songs is called Moonstruck and they are splendidly performed by Lisa Milne and Roderick Williams, accompanied by Iain Burnside. This was a Recording of the Month in May and is on my short-list for one of the discs of the year. Another disc to receive this accolade in May was of the Hallé Orchestra playing Debussy under Mark Elder. Alongside La Mer are twelve of the piano preludes recently orchestrated by Colin Matthews. As John Quinn said in his review, this disc is an "out and out winner" and it is good news that the other twelve preludes are also being recorded.

I suspect most MusicWeb reviewers are currently suffering from an obsessional fixation on "Lyritas" and I shall have to come clean and admit that I have experienced some of the symptoms. Top of the pile for me was the set of George Lloyd Symphonies (4, 5 and 8) conducted by Edward Downes. The affliction tends to be much worse when you owned the LPs and this version of the fourth is one of the few LPs I still have tucked away in the loft. Of course, the composer subsequently recorded all these works but Downes was by no means eclipsed and these discs sound wonderful. Boult’s Elgar symphonies on Lyrita are not far behind in my affections. Whilst I got to know the second from this recording, I had never heard this first before. In both cases, Lyrita have been generous – the Elgar is two-for-the price of one and Lloyd three-for-the-price of two.

Not much time for reviewing recently but I did get the easy task of rounding up the DVDs of the complete Barenboim version of Wagner’s Ring after Göran Forsling and Tony Haywood had reviewed the individual issues. This tremendous set is one of the biggest bargains around at the moment and, with Christmas looming, there could be no better present for a Wagner lover. Another Wagner bargain provided my first experience of the Australian Eloquence label. Tim Perry’s enthusiastic review of an interesting compilation of mostly orchestral music prompted me to take the plunge and have some discs shipped half way round the world. They were so cheap (about 5-50 for two CDs) that the shipping cost was almost as great - but I need not have worried about delays. Within an hour or so of ordering from Buywell I had a personally written e-mail back confirming the order and the discs arrived after about a week. As Tim says, there is much that is splendid on the discs although Wagner’s symphony written at the age of 19 is basically a curiosity.

As usual, the value offered by the Naxos catalogue has proved irresistible. Discs I can recommend giving a spin include Alla Pavlova’s Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4, the symphonies of Wenzl Pichl - an approximate contemporary of Mozart - and the piano and organ music of Alberto Ginastera. Two other Naxos discs not yet reviewed on MusicWeb are the Piano Quintets of Martinů (8.557861), and the Seventh and Eight Quartets of Maxwell Davies which were commissioned by the label and are magnificently performed by the Maggini Quartet (8.557399). As I mentioned on the Bulletin Board recently, I got a bit of a shock when I tried to access the MaxOpus website which was dedicated to his music and couldn’t find it. I then came across an article suggesting that the site has folded in relation to suspected fraud. The idea behind this website was good one and I very much hope it can be resurrected.

Finally, I would like to reflect a little on the boundaries of musical criticism, prompted by legal cases brought by composer Keith Burstein who successfully sued The Times for libel over an article published in 1997 (see judgment) but recently lost on appeal another libel case against a critic who wrote adversely about his controversial opera Manifest Destiny. Notwithstanding the details of these cases, it seems obviously undesirable that musical criticism should end in litigation. A critic is surely entitled to say that a work or performance - in their opinion - is bad. On the other hand I do not think they should say, unless there is very clear justification, that a performer or composer is incompetent. It is when criticism gets personal that problems arise – for example, the effect that the Viennese critic Hanslick had on Anton Bruckner was probably considerable. In that regard, I wonder whether David Hurwitz on Classics Today oversteps the mark in relation to Sir Roger Norrington's recording of Mahler’s Resurrection symphony for Hänssler. Incidentally this can be heard on the Naxos Music Library. Having listened, I don't think the vibrato-less performance is great either but to call him a "quack" etc. seems to me a bridge too far. But I doubt that Mr Hurwitz will need to worry about litigation, Sir Roger seems far too sensible and his considerable reputation will survive such unnecessary comments. After all, if you don’t like something, you don’t have to listen to it.

Patrick C Waller


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