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MusicWeb Reviewer’s Log May/June 2008 

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

The disc of Judith Bailey’s music which I helped to produce is to be released in June on the Metier label and has been reviewed by Rob Barnett. A sample movement from the Egloshayle Nightingale Trio can be heard on Divine Art’s website.

The second English Music Festival took place at various venues near Oxford in late May. I managed to get to two of the concerts, the first of which took place late on a Saturday evening in the splendid setting of Dorchester Abbey. Billed simply as “David Owen Norris plays Billy Mayerl”, this was an informal affair during which it seemed that the programme was being constructed on the hoof. Playing partly from memory Norris was unperturbed by a loss of memory in one particularly repetitive piece - he simply stopped, found the music and then carried on. Not everything he played was by Mayerl, pieces by "rivals" were included and Marigold was the only well known work. A ravishing - and Lisztian according to Norris - transcription of the song "Smoke get in your eyes" was one of the highlights. Norris entertained us superbly both with his pianism and wit as an hour slipped by very quickly indeed.

What better way to spend a wet Bank Holiday Monday is there than listening to a top-notch string quartet playing live in a small church (in this case All Saints, Sutton Courtenay)? The ensemble in question was the Carducci Quartet and their programme consisted of the two Vaughan Williams quartets in reverse order with Moeran's E flat quartet in between. The latter is a two movement work, probably written early in his career but only found in the composer's papers after his death and notable for its Irish jig derivations. These performances were tremendously alive - this was virtuosic, spellbinding playing from a relatively young quartet with a big future. The Carducci's have recently started their own label and their recording of quartets by Graham Whettam is well worth hearing and was a MusicWeb recording of the month in January of this year.

Talking of recordings of the month, the name Siegmund von Hausegger was unfamiliar to me, unlike the Mahlerian idiom of his Natursymphonie. This release on CPO is well worth the accolade as is Simon Rattle’s recent re-take on Mahler’s Ninth symphony. Listening to this with the score I was struck by how little Rattle imposes himself on the music. Another Mahlerian I have always had a lot of time for is Bernard Haitink. His recording of the Sixth symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has just been released and may prove more controversial. The approach is spacious with wonderful playing and sound. Overall the reading lasts 90 minutes but the tempi in the outer movements don’t seem to me as slow as the timings suggest and I enjoyed this recording greatly.

A sale of CPO discs prompted me to complete my collection of their recordings of Villa-Lobos symphonies, the first time I had heard most of these works. The relevant discs of the Third and Ninth, Sixth and Eighth and the Seventh have all been appreciatively reviewed on MusicWeb and this cycle is a fine achievement from the Stuttgart Radio orchestra under American conductor Carl St. Clair. I am still hoping the score of the lost Fifth symphony turns up.

It is always good to catch up on old favourites. I can still remember the first time heard Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for wind (K297b) – it was in the car when I was about 10 years old. We were on the way to visit my uncle and, when we arrived, it turned out that he had been listening to it too. The recording was new at the time on DG with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Karl Böhm (4744242). Both my father and uncle were so enthused that they bought the LP. Now released as an “Original” I really enjoyed hearing it again for the first time in many years. A much newer Mozart recording I should mention is Sir Charles Mackerras’s take on Cosi fan Tutte in English for Chandos (CHAN31523). This has a fabulous cast but Mackerras still steals the show and the three discs are an unmissable bargain costing around £15.

Speaking of bargains and my first thought would be of EMI who continue to release big boxes full of treasure. Their Nielsen box based on Blomstedt’s Danish Radio recordings from the 70s was a bargain of the month (review) and another opportunity to revisit some old friends. I have only got about a third of the way through the Vaughan Williams box of 30CDs (2066362) which I bought for the opposite reason (for less than £40) – unfamiliarity with most of the recordings. In particular it has been good to hear Vernon Handley’s highly-rated symphony cycle. One of the discs I do remember hearing a long time ago is a gem – Christopher Bishop and the London Madrigal Singers in some wonderful folksong arrangements.

Speaking of prices and bargains, the new symbols on MusicWeb led to an interesting discussion on what to do about DVDs. I was a bit sceptical about the existence of bargain price DVDs but was rapidly proved wrong by a swathe of release of late Karajan recordings on Sony. The one I decided to go for (at a mere £7) was of Bruckner’s Eighth and Ninth symphonies from 1988 and 1985 respectively (88697202399). The former is with the Vienna Philharmonic and there is no audience, the latter is “live” with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Both performances are tremendous although, inevitably, the sound is not comparable with Karajan’s VPO Eighth on CD made at the same time. Perhaps that reflects my equipment to some extent. The camerawork is very focused on the maestro and the handling of the applause in the Ninth is strange – about a second of it is heard abruptly faded to a closing jingle. I shall be ready with the remote next time!

A couple of excellent Lyritas I have recently heard are Havergal Brian’s Sixth and Sixteenth symphonies coupled with Cooke’s Third (review) and a disc of horn concertos by Hoddinott, Searle, Banks and Maw (review). It was also good to hear more Ries string quartets from the Schuppanzigh’s on CPO (review) and to explore the Cello Concertos of John Garth through an enterprising issue on Divine Art (review).

As always, I have spent some time exploring the Naxos Music Library’s new additions. I am gradually working my way through Leon McCawley’s generally excellent Mozart sonata cycle on Avie (reviewed back in November 2006). As well as issuing material on their Historical label, Naxos is putting archive recordings into the library without issuing them on CD. For example, I found some of Sir Adrian Boult’s 1950’s recordings including Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad. There is also a cycle of Boult’s Brahms symphonies from the same period but I haven’t got round to them yet. Unfortunately there is no information provided about the original sources. As I write this up, I have been listening to the second volume of Leroy Anderson’s orchestral music on Naxos which Ian Lace has just reviewed – great fun!

Patrick C Waller

 

 


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