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Recordings of the Year 2016
van DIEREN Symphony No. 1, Introit, Elegie - Raphael Wallfisch
(cello) BBC Ntl O & Ch Wales/William Boughton rec. 2016 LYRITA
Lyrita and an elite team of artists and engineers usher into the world
the Chinese Symphony of enigmatic Dutch/English composer Bernard van
Dieren. It was a work revered by Constant Lambert but has had very few
performances - I know of only two others. It has little surface glamour
and few instantly obvious winning moments. Instead its currency is a
subtle impressionistic weave of mood, texture and nuance. The work has
never shone - I should say glowed - as captivatingly. To complete the
picture there's a passionate Elegie and a memorable and immediately
attractive overture based on Rabelais. This is a completely new
FREY Piano Music Vol. 1 - Luisa Splett (piano) rec. 2015
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0339
This is prime Toccata territory again: late-Romantic, at times hinting
at Medtner, at times strong on Brahmsian charm and polish, delicate yet
not unconfident. The Sonata Dramatica drips the nectar of grandiloquence.
HARRIS Symphony No. 5 Edward BURLINGAME HILL
Symphony No. 1 David DIAMOND Symphony No. 2 - Boston
SO/Serge Koussevitzky rec. 1943/44 PRISTINE AUDIO PASC484
Three previously unissued mono inscriptions of rare American
symphonies in historic 1940s sound and two of them are premieres. These
grizzled archival survivors blossom under Pristine's care which was well
worth the effort. All three symphonies have their rewards but I'll single
out the Harris for its vital energising kick and those eight horns
belting out in unison. One of Harris's most heroic inspirations.
GLAZUNOV Symphonies 4 & 5, The Seasons - Leningrad POYevgeny
Mravinsky rec. 1948-69 PRAGA DIGITALS DSD350129
Prime Glazunov in a very fully packed CD. The outer movements are
played with a wild-eyed enthusiasm and muscular dazzle. There's evident
affection here too — not necessarily a quality you may associate with
Mravinsky. For bristling and pulse-accelerating joy do catch the
pizzicato strings in the finale of the Fourth.
Alto - at its more than approachable price point - is well connected
with classic Russian recordings. The Kalinnikov First pleases and excites
in equal measure. Those quick-time string figures buzz, rock and sing.
The sighs and swoons go with a tender lilt. The Borodin First finds
Svetlanov and the USSRSO in taut and exuberant form. These ex-Melodiya
diamonds draw deep on vintage Svetlanov - a composer more often than not
on best form in the music of the Russian nationalists. He treads the line
between the shallows of sophistication and the sheer zest of abandon. He
puts not a foot wrong: hoarse and ingratiating abrasion meets suave
Granville BANTOCK Omar Khayyám, Sappho, Fifine at the Fair, The
Pierrot of the Minute - BBC Singers; BBC Scottish SO, BBC SO/Norman Del
Mar rec. 1968/79 LYRITA REAM2128
Two Lyritas in the selection this year. I confess my interest in this
recording for which I wrote the liner-notes. That said there's a
compelling case for each. This set would not have raised a ripple had it
been restricted to the mono tracks capturing the BBC's Bantock orchestral
broadcasts of the 1960s. What makes the case is this the first truly
- taken from a BBC Radio 3 broadcast - of all three parts of this
composer's epic setting of Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyam.
David Barker (Website Manager)
POULENC Piano Concerto, Aubade, Concerto for two pianos, Sonata
for piano four hands, Elégie - Louis Lortie, Hélčne Mercier (piano) BBC
Philharmonic/Edward Gardner rec. 2015 CHANDOS CHAN10875
I had no idea just how much enjoyment lay in store with the works
presented here. Poulenc's characteristic wit mixed with glorious
melodies is a wonderful combination.
Graeme KOEHNEForty Reasons to be Cheerful, The
Persistence of Memory, Divertissement, Between Two Worlds, Time
is a River - Tasmanian SO/Richard Mills rec. 2004/14 ABC
New recordings of the muic of Australian Graeme Koehne are always a
cause for celebration. Blissfully melodic, yet never cliched or
simplistic, these five works are at least forty reasons to be cheerful.
van BEETHOVEN Piano Trios Vol. 3 -
Making your first recording stand out in
such a crowded field is difficult, but this eponymous ensemble has
succeeded brilliantly, even surpassing my long-term favourites, the
It would be a disappointing year were I not to encounter a new name
whose music really impressed me. 2016 did not disappoint - Alec Roth's
lively, varied and beautifully written quartets were a joyous discovery.
I look forward to hearing his choral music on a recent Hyperion release.
Wolfgang KORNGOLD Symphony, Much Ado about Nothing
suite - London SO/André Previn rec. 1996 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON
The Korngold symphony is a work which grows on one: every time I hear
it I admire it more. The idiom is Mahler as rewritten by Prokofiev. The
Much Ado suite is charming light music. Previn has always excelled at
music of this kind, and this is one of his best recordings, pleasingly
restored to the catalogue by Presto.
George ENESCU Complete works for piano solo - Raluca
Stirbat (piano) rec. 2010-13 HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD98.060
This is the first really complete set of all Enescu’s piano music with
not only the three suites and the two big piano suites but a large number
of other works. Like Busoni, Enescu’s fame as a performer rather
overshadowed his work as a composer, but with this set we can see him
developing from the influences of Brahms, Fauré and French impressionism
to a distinctive idiom of his own: subtle, elusive and strangely
haunting. Raluca Sturbat is an admirable guide.
BARTÓK Suite, Out of Doors, Hungarian Peasant Songs, Burlesques,
Mikrokosmos Book 6 - Cédric Tiberghien (piano) rec. 2014 HYPERION
This looks as if it is going to be the beginning of a new cycle of
Bartok’s piano works and it is very welcome. Tiberghien is a subtle
pianist and he offers sensitive playing, with plenty of rhythmic bite but
without that agressive pianism which the composer himself considered ‘too
Edward ELGAR & William WALTON Cello
concertos Gustav HOLST Invocation Imogen HOLSTThe fall of the leaf - Steven Isserlis (cello) Philharmonia
O/Paavo Järvi rec. 2014/15 HYPERION
The Elgar and the Walton are the main offerings here. Isserlis is
refreshingly cool and intellectual in the Elgar, not pulling the
emotional punches but lightening the tone. He also makes an excellent
case for the Walton and raised my opinion of it. The other two works are
slight but charming.
PROKOFIEV Violin Concertos 1 & 2, Five Pieces from Cinderella -
David Oistrakh (violin), Vladimir Yampolsky (piano), Moscow PO/Kirill
Kondrashin, Philharmonia O/Alceo Galliera rec. 1959/62 ALTO
The good news is that at last we have a good transfer of Oistrakh’s
stereo performance of the first concerto, coupled with the well-known one
with Galliera of the second and both at a very reasonable price. The
Cinderella pieces are a makeweight. Do not hesitate.
Michael TIPPETT String Quartets 1-5 - Heath Qt rec. 32013/14
WIGMORE HALL LIVE WHLIVE0080/2
Tippett was a real quartet composer with a flair for the medium; it is
shame that his works fall only into his early and late periods with none
from the middle period of The Midsummer Marriage. But they are rewarding
works, here performed live at the Wigmore Hall with its lovely acoustic.
The Heath quartet are full of zest and energy.
This year's choices more by accident than design have turned out to be a
celebration of smaller labels. With the international labels sticking in
the main to mining their back catalogues and releasing mainstream discs
the baton has passed to others to promote artists and repertoire of
revelatory worth. Additionally, these labels present their discs
superbly - well documented, attractively packaged and produced with care
and passion. Long may they continue. In no particular order:
Charles Villiers STANFORD String Quartets No 5 & 8 - Dante Qt
rec. 2015 SOMM CÉLESTE SOMMCD0160
A disc to force re-evaluation of Stanford's quality as a composer of
worth and considerable expressive power. Not just a teacher and acolyte
of Brahms. Passionate and committed performances by the excellent Dante
Quartet beautifully recorded. The Somm catalogue goes from strength to
strength. Volume 2 is eagerly awaited.
A first for me - a historical disc presented in pretty dreadful radio
broadcast sound. But performances of utter authenticity in the true
sense of the word - something felt not learnt from a book. The
dis-arming simplicity of octogenarian František Stupka's approach aided
by the superbly characterful Czech PO makes for the most enjoyable Dvorak
disc I have heard in years.
La vie Nouvelle Works by Baines, N Boulanger, Chaminade,
Cras & Enescu - Anne de Fornel (Pleyel piano) rec. 2015
I have reviewed several volumes in the on-going series (Les Musiciens
et la Grande Guerre) through the year and could have chosen any.
Hortus have produced a superb series of recital discs featuring a variety
of excellent performers playing often rare repertoire of great value.
Hortus' presentation is exemplary - fascinating archive material
beautifully presented. Jean Cras has been one of my composer discoveries
of the year.
YSAŸE Works for Violin and Orchestra - Svetlin Roussev, Amaury
Coeytaux (violin) Ličge PO/Jean-Jacques Kantorow rec. 2015
MUSIQUE EN WALLONIE MEW1681
Musique en Wallonie have produced a disc of considerable brilliance.
Again superb documentation backs up solo performances of stunningly
virtuosic display and musical insight. A disc that explores the range of
Ysaye's music beyond the familiar.
Treasures Works by Heaton, Henze, Howarth, Vinter - The
Cory Band/Philip Harper rec. 2015 DOYEN DOYCD355
Here it is the Doyen label who have produced - as the title suggests - a
disc of music that deserves to be better known. As usual, Doyen have
captured in superbly thrilling sound British Brass Band playing of the
very highest order. The Heaton Partita was a real discovery.
MEDTNER Complete Works for Violin and Piano - Manoug Parikian
(violin) Hamish Milne (piano) rec.1985-87 CRD 34934
Performances that have been in the catalogue for some thirty years but
new to me. Apart from promoting music of real power and impact - I had
no idea Medtner had written so effectively for the violin, this is an
important part of the discography of Manoug Parikian. Patrician violin
playing of the highest and most searching order superbly supported by
Medtner specialist Hamish Milne.
Much of my listening, and writing, this year has been focussed on
Bruckner, and many of the performances I have heard were recorded in
Japan. Nowadays it’s much easier to get hold of Japanese recordings than
it once was and the revelation over the past decade or so is just how
outstanding many of the post-War Japanese conductors were in core
repertoire, and how that tradition is flourishing today with a younger
generation. Hardly a review passes for this site where I don’t make
reference in some way to a Japanese conductor or recording. Distribution
of these recordings has long been a problem, and continues to be so, but
I hope readers will continue to look beyond geographic borders for the
most interesting performances. One of the lessons of the political
turmoil of 2016 isn’t that we become more isolationist, but that we
embrace globalisation - and that includes in the music we listen to.
Giuseppe Sinopoli and the Staatskapelle Dresden
rec. 1994-2004 PROFIL PH07053
Giuseppe Sinopoli,who died 15 years ago, would have been 70 years old in
November. This fine Profil set remembers him as both composer and
conductor in the city in which he was so musically revered, Dresden. The
indisputably magnificent performance of Ein Heldenleben from his
legendary January 2001 concert is included here, in superb sound, and is
a towering musical achievement. His Schumann Fourth is no less riveting.
The Dresdener’s clearly loved playing for him. What all of these
performances amply show is that no early musical loss has been greater
for music, for perhaps half a century, than that of Sinopoli.
Discs of Richard Strauss Tone Poems don’t come much more exciting than
this one. The amount of detail in this Heldenleben just blows the mind at
times: the clarity of Strauss’ counterpoint is crystal clear, the
meticulous attention to detail, the voluptuousness of the phrasing and
the epic, sweeping power of the work are just blisteringly conducted and
played. Pentatone’s rich and detailed recording is sumptuous and bass
rich. A triumph, which makes Mr Orozco-Estrada’s recording of Strauss’
Salome next year all the more unmissable.
MAHLER Symphony No.10 (Gamzou edn) International Mahler O/Yoel
Gamzou rec. 2011 WERGO WER5122-2
This is one of the most important Mahler discs to have appeared in many
years, although as my long review of the CD suggests it is not without
its problems. No completion of Mahler’s Tenth is ever going to be perfect
but Gamzou’s is probably the most successful attempt since Cooke’s. Some
will question Mr Gamzou’s autobiographical inferences from Mahler’s life
at the time, the darker orchestration, the musical analogies to Berg and
the more interventionist scoring. I’ve spent more time with this CD (and
his score) than any other this year, and few have been more rewarding,
despite the imperfections.
Erasmus LANGE-MÜLLER Piano Trio Niels GADE
Piano Trio, Trio movement Rued LANGGAARD
Fjeldblomster - Danish Piano Trio rec. 2014 DACAPO 8.226119
This recital of Danish piano trios features superb performances and an
outstanding recording environment. It provides a perfect investigation
of the genre as in Denmark, and fills a small, but nevertheless
important gap in its documented growth and development in the rest of
Europe. Highly enjoyable, too.
WIENIAWSKI Violin Sonata, Allegro de sonate, Grand Duo
polonaise - Liv Migdal (violin); Marian Migdal (piano) rec. 2014
Some very attractive music from an accomplished composer, and impeccably
performed by a father-and-daughter duo. The CD was, in fact, recorded
just six months before the father’s passing, and there does strangely
seem a particularly profound bond between them here.p>
BORTKIEWICZ Piano Sonata No. 2 & other piano works - Nadejda
Vlaeva (piano) rec. 2014 HYPERION CDA68118
Composers of romantic piano music regularly feature in each month’s new
releases. Bortkiewicz is certainly not unknown as such, but this quite
superb CD is a wonderful introduction to his piano music, and virtually
guaranteed to seek out more of his writing. An outstanding CD.
Musical Evenings in Munich Works by Kruswhev, Raichev &
Vladigerov - Marian Kraew (violin); Ivajla Kirova (piano); Nadejda
Vlaeva, Ivajla Kirova (piano duo); Maria Hristova (viola) rec. 2015
CON BRIO RECORDINGS CBR21653
Although recorded in Munich, this fascinating CD presents chamber music
from a mix of better-known, and less familiar Bulgarian composers –
Vladigerov in the former, and Raichev and Krushev in the second camp.
The recording and performances are first rate, and even the music’s not
always highly-innovative, there are some gorgeous melodies along the
PÄRTThe Deer's Cry - Vox Clamantis/Jaan-Eik Tulve
rec. 2007-14 ECM NEW SERIES 2466
There is no shortage of Arvo Pärt recordings, but this one not only
covers some of his newer and less frequently heard works, but also has a
rare and vibrant thread of authenticity running right through it.
Yevgeny Sudbin’s Scarlatti is packed with imaginative colour,
expression, and subtlety of detail, making it one of the more memorable
piano discs of the year.
van BEETHOVEN Complete Music for Cello and Piano - Xavier
Phillips (cello) François-Frédéric Guy (piano) rec. 2015
EVIDENCE CLASSICS EVCD015
Beauty and power in equal measure are the strengths in this superb
recording of Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano. Immaculate
and fascinatingly varied dynamic shading, the most warmly shaped
phrasing and an unequalled unity of ensemble between the two players
makes this release a delight from beginning to end.
Max REGER Complete Organ Works - Martin Schmeding
(organ) rec. 2014-16 CYBELE RECORDS 051500 SACD
Max Reger has been given some deserved attention in this anniversary
year, but I’ve seen nothing quite as monumental as Martin Schmeding’s
recording of the complete organ works. Binaural SACD sound for
headphones is the icing on a very rich cake indeed.
Anything musical that has a genuine power to shock and terrify is
deserving of attention, and both Mauricio Kagel’s characteristic quirky
wit and his darker side are ably demonstrated in this surprising and
superbly performed and recorded release of his organ works.
Works by Cadew, Krauze, Riley, Sikorski & Wolff - John Tilbury, Zygmunt Krauze, Szábolcs Esztényi (piano) Hubert Zemler (percussion) rec.
2015 DUX 1288
A fabulous sample marking a momentous meeting of minds, this is a
reminder of where big chunks of the best kinds of contemporary music
took root and a fascinating treat for ears and imaginations.
BOITOMefistofele - René Pape, Joseph Calleja,
Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Omer Meir Wellber rec. 2015 C MAJOR
Boito’s Mefistofele is an opera that one could take a lifetime
waiting to see staged which I don’t believe is a true reflection of its
quality as it deserves a place in the repertory. Love it or loathe it
Roland Schwab’s highly controversial and often disturbing Munich staging
of Mefistofele makes a powerful impact. Schwab draws me hook, line and
sinker into a nightmarish often shocking world. René Pape takes the
plaudits for a magnificent performance as Mefistofele.
One of the oldest orchestras in the world, the Staatskapelle Dresden
has a long and continuing tradition of performing Bruckner which began
back in 1885 by performing the Symphony No. 3 ‘Wagner’ under Ernst von
Schuch at the Semperoper. With this world class orchestra under Yannick
Nezet-Seguin I find this performance of the original 1873 version of
Bruckner’s Third Symphony revelatory.
ROSSINILa donna del lago - Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego
Flórez, Metropolitan Opera Ch & O/Michele Mariotti rec. 2015
ERATO 2564 604699 Blu-ray
Congratulations are due to stage director Paul Curran and his set
designer Kevin Knight for expertly achieving a taut, relatively
straightforward staging of La donna del lago. Joyce DiDonato and
Juan Diego Flórez head a brilliant cast.
SCHUMANN Cello Concerto, Symphony No. 2 - Jan Vogler (cello)
Dresden Festival O/Ivor Bolton rec. 2016 SONY CLASSICS 88985
Performing on period instruments cello soloist Jan Vogler and the
Dresden Festival Orchestra under the experienced direction of Ivor Bolton
excel in this programme of Schumann masterworks. For its feeling of
spontaneity and searing intensity of lyrical expression from Vogler in
the concerto and the strong sense of engagement in the symphony, this
wonderful recording has hardly been off my CD player since it arrived.
GIORDANOAndrea Chénier – Jonas Kaufmann, Eva-Maria
Westbroek, Ch & O Royal Opera House/Sir Antonio Pappano rec. 2015
WARNER CLASSICS Blu-ray 9029593779
Captivating from start to finish, Giordano’s flawed masterpiece is
presented in a sterling production under director David McVicar bringing
the story to life remarkably successfully. The period set by designer
Robert Jones provides an impressive snapshot of some aspects of the
French Revolution, vibrantly colourful and scrupulously detailed. In the
title role Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Maddalena are in
remarkable voice with Željko Lučić excelling as Gérard.
van BEETHOVEN The Nine Symphonies - BerlinPO/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 2015 BERLINER PHILHARMONIKER RECORDINGS BPHR160091
On the Berliner Philharmoniker own label this high-end merchandise is
presented as lavishly I have come to expect from this source. More
importantly with Rattle’s Berlin Beethoven cycle the quality of the
performances and recorded sound is to an elevated standard. I wouldn’t be
at all surprised if this cycle becomes a classic.
Henri DUTILLEUXLe Loup, Trois Sonnets
de Jean Cassou, La Fille du Diable, Quatre
Mélodies, Trois Tableaux symphoniques - Vincent Le Texier (baritone) O
Ntl Pays de la
Loire/Pascal Rophé rec. 2015 BIS BIS-1651 SACD
The main attraction of this superbly produced and played release is
the inclusion of a number of early works by Dutilleux. These include
excerpts from a film score, a suite drawn from some incidental music, the
first complete performance of Three Sonnets of Jean Cassou and of four
early orchestral songs. This brave venture definitely was the most
important disc released during Dutilleux's centenary.
COOKE Symphonies 4 & 5 - BBC SO/John Pritchard, BBC Northern
SO/Bernard Keeffe rec. 1975/81 LYRITA REAM1123
This is yet another most welcome release in Lyrita's ongoing Itter
Broadcast Collection that allows for a deeper appreciation of Cooke's
symphonic writing. It seems a pity that these substantial scores have
never been recorded commercially. So one cannot but be grateful to Lyrita
for making these performances available to the public at large.
HESKETHHorae (pro Clara), Notte Oscura, Three Japanese
Miniatures - Clare Hammond (piano) rec. 2015 BIS BIS-2193 SACD
Kenneth Hesketh is a most distinguished composer with a substantial
output to his credit. This recent BIS release offers a fine survey of
some of his piano music in which his substantial Horae (pro Clara) must –
so far – take pride of place. This is a most inventive cycle worth
exploring that also generously repays repeated hearings and that should
now find a permanent place in any pianist's repertoire. The performances
are just superb.
MELARTIN Traumgesicht, Marjatta, The Blue Pearl - Soile Isokoski
(soprano) Finnish RSO/Hannu Lintu rec. 2015 ONDINE ODE1283-2
I for one am particularly happy to witness some renewed interest in
Melartin's music which has at times been overlooked because of Sibelius's
overwhelming shadow. Earlier releases from this label have been most
welcome and useful in helping restore Melartin's true stature, most
importantly of all his symphonies. The present release has much to offer
indeed such as the magnificent work for voice and orchestra Marjatta
beautifully sung here by Soile Isokoski.
Every year has its individual influences on my choices. Last year
I noted that in 2013 my choices were made from forty-seven reviews and
was influenced by the Verdi bicentenary year, whilst my choices for 2015
were made from thirty-seven reviews. This year my productivity is down
further, my choices being made from a mere nineteen reviews, albeit one
was of a collection of no fewer than seventy-five CDs. Such collections
of that size are usually a pot pourri of the good, the mediocre and the
awful. But the collection of Verdi’s music came on the Decca label, now
subsumed into Universal Music with its additional virtues of access to
Philips and DG label recordings. Importantly, Decca were non pareil in
respect of recording quality in the years that many of the contents
originated. The review had a day to itself along with my personal
imprimatur as Recording of the Month and is my first choice under this
I cannot deny that now into my being in my
eighties is a factor in my reduced reviewing activity. However, more
important has been a reluctance to bid to review many opera recordings on
Bluray or DVD because of my dislike of the prevailing production mores in
Europe, dominated as many are by producer concepts and what is termed
Regietheater. There is nothing more frustrating that being negative in an
opera performance review, particularly when the singing and orchestral
playing are, as often, of a high standard. These comments are apt for one
of my most recent reviews where the director even adds a non-singing or
speaking role who also plays an important part in the proceedings!
However, the visual factor does not count for choices on CD and
thankfully Opera Rara, in particular, continue to produce interesting
repertoire with carefully chosen casts and top recording quality. This
year I also found an opera recording from Naxos’ burgeoning catalogue of
Rossini operas from the Bad Wildbad Festival to have that extra frisson
of a live recording, as well as being well cast, and be worthy of
VERDIThe Complete Works rec. 1959-2013 DECCA
The seventy-five CDs in this collection are contained in 35 numbered
and titled cardboard slipcases, of 1 to 4 discs, and which are contained
in one sturdy box along with two CD sized hard backed books. The books
give descriptions of most of the contents, including artists involved,
recording details, a brief essay on each opera and biography of the
composer, all in English, French and German. At modest cost this
collection is perfect for the recent opera enthusiast. Avid Verdi
enthusiasts will notice that while not quite all Verdi’s music is here,
the issue gives them the opportunity to add a diversity of performances
to their collection at a modest cost, many with the benefit of Decca’s
superb recording qualities.
DONIZETTILe Duc D’Albe - Angela Meade (soprano),
Michael Spyres (tenor), Opera Rara Ch, Hallé O/Sir Mark Elder rec. 2012
OPERA RARA ORC54
Recorded in a new performing edition by musicologist Professor Roger
Parker, and with a first-rate cast and recording, this is another
Donizetti opera that this small company adds to the catalogue.
BIZETCarmen - Rihat Shaham (mezzo), Dmytro Popov
(tenor), Nicole Car (soprano), Australia Opera and Ballet Ch & O/Brian
Castles-Onion rec. 2013 ABC CLASSICS DVD 0762939
Recorded in the open-air venue at Mrs Macquaries Point, Sydney
Harbour, Australia, with its unparalleled backdrop, along with an
excellent singing actress in the eponymous role this is an updated
production that works.
ROSSINIIl Viaggio A Rheims - Laura Giordano (soprano),
Marianna Pizzolato (alto), Virtuoso Brunensis/Antonino Fogliani rec. 2014
Recorded live during the 26th Bad Wildbad Festival this perforamnce
fizzes with vitality.
As usual I encountered problems with which six discs to choose for my
ROTY list. In particular I regret two wonderful discs that in the last
resort had to give in: Christian Immler’s Heine programme, which includes
no less than 23 songs by Robert Franz; and the recently found Copenhagen
recital with Marian Anderson.
Härenstam (guitar)Recital rec. 2014 DAPHNE
The whole programme on this disc is a fascinating mix of styles,
nationalities and times but they hang together admirably and so
contrasted are the various pieces that they keep the listener alert from
beginning to end. And the playing is superlative. This is not a disc for
guitar lovers only – it is a disc for music lovers!
Björling (tenor)Copenhagen Concert/The Voice of Firestone
- Bertil Bokstedt (piano) The Voice of Firestone O & Ch/Howard Barlow
rec. 1952/59 JSP RECORDS JSP682
This was a sensation: a hitherto unknown recording with Jussi Björling,
caught live in Copenhagen less than a year before his untimely death at
the age of 49. The technical quality is surprisingly good. As a bonus we
also get material from the Voice of Firestone from seven years earlier.
You need not be a ‘historic’ freak to like this. Björling’s voice is
MAYR Requiem - Simon Mayr Ch & Ens/Franz Hauk rec. 2013
Naxos’ ongoing series of music by Simon Mayr has been one of the
revelations during the last few years, and the Requiem is so far the
crowning glory. His melodic inventiveness is remarkably consistent and
there are also powerful choral contributions.
WOLFKennst du das Land? Sophie Karthäuser (soprano)
Eugene Asti (piano) rec. 2015 HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902245
Wolf’s songs are not the easiest to get under the skin of, but Sophie
Karthäuser’s readings are utterly convincing. Wolf, the etcher among the
Lieder composers, with all those finely-chiselled details, needs filigree
work also from his interpreters and that is what he gets here from singer
and pianist alike.
Arias by Bach, Handel and Mozart - Aksel Rykkvin (treble) O Age of
Enlightenment/Nigel Short rec. 2016 SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD435
13 years old and a fully-fledged artist! You could travel a very long way
without finding a voice of such beauty and technical accomplishment; and
the owner of that voice has also the ability to express the inner meaning
of the music. Aksel Rykkvin is a phenomenon!
Hvorostovsky (baritone) War, Peace, Love and Sorrow -
State Academic SO Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov”/Constantine Orbelian rec.
2015 DELOS DE3517
Hvorostovsky, who has for many years been the leading Verdi baritone,
here returns to his Russian roots with equally impressive results. It is
especially welcome to have a substantial excerpt from Anton Rubinstein’s
once popular The Demon. Here we also hear the newest soprano star on the
Russian firmament, Asmik Grigorian.
Varsi (piano) Legacy - The Collected Piano Recordings rec. 1945-2004 GENUIN GEN15353
Genuin have done a fine job amassing this mammoth 35 CD and 5 DVD set of
the Uruguayan pianist Dinorah Varsi (1939-2013), as her recordings have
always been difficult to come by. Everything about the production spells
quality. The CDs, DVDs and book are housed in a large, beautifully
produced deluxe presentation box. For pianophiles it will prove a
valuable and worthwhile investment.
Sonatas by Debussy, Janáček, Schulhoff & Szymanowski - Noé Inui (violin)
Mario Häring (piano) rec. 2015 ARS PRODUKTION ARS38189 SACD
I admire musicians who produce well-thought-out and imaginative
programmes, and this is what Noé Inui and Mario Häring have done, with
tremendous success. It focuses on European composers, who were searching
for their own musical identity, freeing themselves from the shackles of
tradition, and giving free rein to their imaginations. I had never come
across the Schulhoff Sonata before, and am more than happy to have
made its acquaintance.
d'ALBERT Cello Concerto Max BRUCH Kol Nidrei,
Canzone Ernst von DOHNÁNYI Konzertstück - David Pia
(cello) Munich RO/Ulf Schirmer rec. 2014 FARAO CLASSICS B108089
This is an impressive programme to launch a debut solo album. The Swiss
born cellist David Pia has avoided the highways of well-trodden
territory, preferring the byways less travelled. Eugen d’Albert’s Cello
Concerto has always been a favourite of mine, and I’ve always felt it
doesn’t get the attention it deserves. The same can be said of
Dohnányi’s Konzertstück Op. 12. He completes the programme with two
shorter works by Bruch, music steeped in generous melody and lyricism.
Pia plays the Stradivari cello De Kermadec Bläss 1698, which has a full,
rich, glowing tone, which is captured in gloriously warm sound by the
Here’s a young pianist to watch out for, and he’s certainly making his
mark in both the concert hall and recording studios. His latest release
on Hyperion of a selection of 24 Chopin mazurkas led me to comment:
‘This must be one of the most appealing Chopin discs I’ve ever come
across’. What distinguishes these mazurkas are the subtleties of nuance
and inflection and rhythmic flexibility he brings to them.
AGÓCSThe Debrecen Passion - Lorelei Ens, Boston
Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose rec. 2010-15 BMOP SOUND 1046
This is my first encounter with the music of the Canadian composer Kati
Agócs. All of these highly imaginative and compelling scores are
beautifully recorded and superbly engineered. The Debrecen Passion is
the centerpiece, and delivers a moving, spiritual experience, both
powerful and uplifting. The BMOP acquit themselves with distinction
under Gil Rose’s charismatic direction. An amazing discovery for me, and
music I will return to often.
LISZT Transcendental Études, Études de Concert, Grandes Études
de Paganini - Daniil Trifonov (piano) rec. 2015 DEUTSCHE
Rarely do we see all four sets of Liszt's Etudes gathered together. When
they are, and played by one of the greatest young pianistic talents
around, then there's a winning formula if ever there was one. The
stunning technique is taken as read. It's the sensitivity, rapt emotion,
poetry and visionary insights he brings to such pieces as Ricordanza,
Harmonies du Soir and Il Lamento that I find particularly alluring.
BERKELEY Stabat Mater, Mass, Judica me Michael BERKELEY
Touch Light - Marian Consort/Rory McCleery, Berkeley Ensemble/David
Wordsworth rec. 2016 DELPHIAN DCD34180
You are left in no doubt of the agony of the crucifixion in the vocal and
horn climax of the opening chorus of Stabat Mater. Then, as their vocal
tessitura rises, ardour for the love of Christ from tenor Benedict Hymas
and for sharing in the crucifixion suffering from countertenor Rory
McCleery, becomes intense and riveting.
of the Spheres Part Songs of the British Isles -
Tenebrae/Nigel Short rec. 2010/15 BENE ARTE SIGCD904
In Vaughan Williams' Three Shakespeare Songs 'Full fathom five' is like a
mirage, the vocal line sinuously rippling as if through the sea, its
echoing both seductive and eerie. 'The cloud-capp'd towers' then takes us
to a huge expanse and the pain of Prospero's renunciation of that
kingdom, while Puck's 'Over hill, over dale' is all blithe energy.
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphonies 1, 2 & 5 - Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily
Petrenko rec. 2014/15 ONYX 4150
The slow movement of Symphony 1 begins tenderly and deeply felt but,
despite the surrounding nonchalance, there’s also angst in its main
theme, fulfilled in the movement’s thrilling climax. Both the ceremonial
and vivacious aspects of Symphony 2 are vividly realized. Symphony 5 is
passionate and dramatic without detriment to its symphonic integrity.
Michael TIPPETT String Quartets 1-5 - Heath Qt rec. 32013/14
WIGMORE HALL LIVE WHLIVE0080/2
These are finely conceived, often gripping, accounts. The first movement
of the second quartet has assured, gleaming lyricism but also an
unwavering sense of direction. The slow movement's mournful fugue is
cherished and expressively developed. The scherzo is joyful, dancing
energy and the finale creates passionate order from chaos.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphonies 2 & 8 - Royal Liverpool PO/Andrew
Manze rec. 2015 ONYX 4155
Here's in full measure the visionary quality of RVW, as in the
beneficence of the opening of Symphony 2 and the continued striving of
old age in the slow movement of Symphony 8, contrasted with a racy joy in
the hubbub of the main body of Symphony 2's first movement and the
breeziness of Symphony 8's second.
Wind Mass by John Taverner and Court Music for Henry VIII -
Emily van Evera (soprano); Charles Daniels (tenor) Taverner Ch &
Players/Andrew Parrott rec. 2015 AVIE AV2352
Fascinating juxtapositions here: the terse, crisp song Western Wind with
its keen climactic point is the basis of Taverner's expansive,
spiritually expressive mass setting. Both performances have hardiness and
edge. Henry VIII's thrusting, voracious Taundernaken gives way to the
angelic descant voices of Taverner's Audivi vocem de caelo.
DVOŘÁK Violin Concerto, Romance Josef SUK
Christian Tetzlaff (violin) Helsinki PO/John Storgĺrds rec. 2015 ONDINE ODE1279-5 SACD
I am choosing this mainly because the performance of the Dvorak is as
close to ideal as you can reasonably expect to get: it has warmth, charm,
delicacy and idiomatic nuance, and is above teeming with life. All this
is based on a notably close partnership between soloist and orchestra.
The coupling is also particularly welcome, namely the only work for
violin and orchestra by Dvorak's son-in-law - flawed, but much more
valuable than the standard warhorse one tends to get.
de LESCURELThe Love Songs - Ensemble Céladon/Paulin
Bündgen rec. 2015 RICERCAR RIC366
From what we hear on this new disc, Lescurel was a cultured and a fine
artist of the generation before Machaut and a man who could well have
been very influential on the younger composer. The CD is beautifully presented with a vivid, colour manuscript illustration of a
Lescurel song on the booklet front. All the texts are offered, in the
original, in modern French and in English. Anyone who buys this disc will
not be disappointed.
Wolfgang KORNGOLD Complete Songs - Konrad Jarnot (baritone);
Adrianne Pieczonka (soprano); Reinild Mees (piano) rec. 2013/14
This 2 CD set claims its 60 songs provide a complete Korngold song
collection. Baritone, Konrad Jarno imbues each song with intelligence,
imagination and colour and has the gift of ‘acting’ the gist of the
words. The only disappointment is the documentation, with no English translations of
MATTHEWS & Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Quintets -
Martin Cousin (piano) Villiers String Qt rec. 2015 SOMM
David Matthews’ genial Piano Quintet, conceived as an engagement present
for his wife is the ideal partner for the Shostakovich work that has an
equally direct emotional appeal: its opening movement contrasting
feminine daintiness with forceful, strong masculinity, and the Finale is
sunny optimistic and affirmatory.
DEBUSSY, Edward ELGAR & Ottorino
RESPIGHI Violin sonatas - James Ehnes (violin); Andrew Armstrong
(piano) rec. 2015 ONYX 4159
Debussy’s last major work has an affinity with the Elgar work written
just three years later and both works within the shadow of World War I.
Both share an elusive mysterious quality. The Respighi Sonata is the
composer’s best known work in this medium and was widely championed by
artists including Heifetz. Ehnes and Armstrong deliver refined, memorable
from the British Isles Vol. 2 BBC Ntl O Wales/Rumon Gamba rec.
2015 CHANDOS CHAN10898
Works by Roger Quilter and Eric Coates lead a thoroughly enjoyable
collection of British Light Music. Walter Leigh’s Agincourt is
SAINT-SAËNS & Ernest CHAUSSON Piano Quartets -
Schubert Ens rec. 2016 CHANDOS CHAN10914
This CD has given me great pleasure – one of the most satisfying albums
of chamber music I have reviewed in recent times. It has revisited my CD
player several times and I have enjoyed it more and more each time. The
Saint-Saëns Piano Quartet, written in the year the composer married is
mostly genial and good humoured. The Chausson is charismatic. The
Schubert Ensemble are inspired.
Hear Ye! Hear Ye!, Appalachian
Spring - Detroit SO/Leonard
Slatkin rec. 2013/14 NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559806
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! – the title comes from the preamble to proceedings in a
US court. This one-act ballet centres on the trial for the murder of a
male night-club dancer and the conflicting evidence of several
witnesses. The ballet was danced in Chicago in 1934 and Copland drew a
concert suite from the ballet but soon afterwards withdrew both ballet
and suite. As Dan Morgan observed, this is something of a mystery for the
music has style and vivacity. This performance of the complete
Appalachian Spring is riveting. As Dan says, Bravo, bravo, thrice bravo.