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Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.3 in D minor Kerstin Meyer, Ladies of the Hallé Choir, Boys of Manchester Grammar School, The Hallé Orchestra. Conducted by Sir John Barbirolli BBC Legends BBCL 4004-7
Birgit Remmert, CBSO Youth Choir, Ladies of the CBSO Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Conducted by Sir Simon Rattle EMI CDS 556657 2
Two months after Sir John Barbirolli's death in 1970 the Mahler scholar Deryck Cooke wrote to Barbirolli's biographer Michael Kennedy to declare this 1969 BBC broadcast recording of Mahler's Third, made under studio conditions in Manchester's Free Trade Hall, "one of the finest Mahler performances I have ever heard" and to inform Kennedy he had been trying to persuade EMI to issue it. Cooke explained EMI were interested instead in a live recording of a Berlin Philharmonic performance by Sir John eight weeks before. "As I didn't hear the German tape," Cooke went on, "I couldn't argue with EMI; but I do know that the Barbirolli-Hallé tape of Mahler 3 is superior to the Barbirolli- Berlin Phil disc of Mahler 9 for two very good reasons: Barbirolli's special relationship with the Hallé and the Hallé's now complete familiarity with Mahler's music. The Berlin Phil may be a finer orchestra, but they just haven't any Mahler tradition - they hardly ever perform his symphonies. In any case, the Hallé play most beautifully on the BBC Mahler 3 recording and the BBC's Manchester engineer achieved a superb balance, I thought."
Nothing came of EMI's plans. Years after Cooke's death, an aircheck of the Berlin recording allowed us to hear what Cooke did not. Now, almost 30 years after, we can hear what it was in the BBC recording that so impressed him and decide whether his instinct in preferring this was correct. I can tell you it was and for the reasons he gave. While there's no denying the Berlin Philharmonic has greater tonal élan and depth, the Hallé's grasp of the idiom, allied to their empathy with the man who had been their chief for twenty-seven years, is complete. In addition, there are times when even the famed Berliners' prowess is tested to breaking point where those same passages are negotiated by the Hallé with aplomb.
Sir Simon Rattle's new recording followed live performances too. This time at Symphony Hall in Birmingham and must have benefited from that also. Though where the Hallé recording would have been taped "as live" the Rattle has signs of being a more carefully prepared affair and perhaps some spontaneity is sacrificed in exchange for accuracy when the two are compared. Rattle's sound recording is rich, deep and well-upholstered. Very much concert hall balance with a wide spread left and right and good front-to-back perspective. Barbirolli's, on the other hand, is closer-in, almost a conductor's balance with every detail of the score clear. Some may find the balance of the brass troublesome as there's no doubt they're favoured. But with superb 20-bit remastering it all now comes over bold, brassy and exuberant. Rather like the symphony and Sir John's interpretation of it.
To execute a successful Third the conductor has to do two things before anything else. First, realise that, in spite of the fact that the work falls into Mahler's "anthologising" strand (along with Klagende Lied, the Second and Eighth Symphonies), the overriding structural imperative linking the six movements is a pattern of ascending steps based on the concept of the evolutionary ladder within Pantheistic cosmology. In general terms 1] Inorganic nature, 2] Plant and vegetable life, 3] Animal life, 4] Human life represented as spiritual darkness, 5] Heavenly life represented as childish innocence, leading to 6] God expressed through Love. The conductor who fails to see this "ladder of ascent" is one who, among other things, makes the mistake of concentrating too hard on getting the first and last movements right and neglecting the movements in between; treating them as interludes rather than steps along the journey to perfection fashioned out of the world around and beyond.
But that isn't to say the first movement does not have a degree of independence from the others. Mahler designates it Part I with the remaining movements Part II. This leads to the second thing the conductor must do and that is render the disparate elements of the first movement into a whole when the nature of its thirty-plus minute length sets it on course for structural failure. What it comes down to is the necessity for no presence of doubt on the part of the conductor as to the movement's greatness. A hard thing to quantify. It's something you know is there at a very deep level at certain "way points" in the movement and in the way you can give in to its atmosphere, hallucinatory qualities, its own lack of doubt in itself. I think it's also true that a conductor's confidence in the rightness of Mahler's vision in the first movement stands him in good stead for the rest, because those conductors who get the first aspect right tend to get the second right too and I believe Barbirolli and Rattle are of that number. No matter what observations one might care to make about their treatment of sections, matters of phrasing, dynamics and expression, their vision of the work as a journey upwards in a series of steps is undiminished, as too is their grasp of the first movement's totality and their lack of doubt as to its worth.
With Barbirolli the opening on all eight horns is bold in sound, vigorous in delivery, rude and raucous. The clear recording also allows us to hear the grumbles on percussion as primeval nature bestirs. But the uprushes on the lower strings during the opening "Schwer und dumpf" section are disappointing. It isn't as if they seem "out of phase" as in the Horenstein recording, rather the favouring of the brass reduces their impact when compared with recordings where they are made to "kick" at this point. The section at 132-147 which introduces Pan as he sleeps contains a ripe delivery of the big trombone solo and when other members of the section join, forward and close-miked, the effect of their lament comes over as black as doom. You may hear more cultured playing from great international ensembles but there's no denying the corybantic edge of the Hallé players.
Rattle's horns open the work with more sense of space, physical and musical. Each note is spaced out more deliberately and the horns themselves sound more elemental, less penetrating. Overall the brass of the CBSO are much more cultured and cushioned than the Hallé. There's no doubt they offer a better blend but there is some loss in character, especially the trombone solos which are very well-mannered indeed. The strings are better balanced in the Rattle recording too and there appear to be more of them. This means that the uprushes from the lower strings really shudder from the very depths and offer what is missing in the Barbirolli recording.
The principal role of what passes as Exposition is the delivery of the huge march meant to signify Summer's arrival. Mahler loved his marches and this one is his most energizing. So it comes over under Barbirolli. More important is the way he gives the impression of the march beginning from a distance, getting nearer, then, as it goes past, sweeping us along. The moment of its arrival has a particular quality which I can't imagine any other orchestra bringing. If Mahler was inspired by workers in Vienna, Barbirolli seems to have in mind the holiday resorts in the north of England at the height of Summer. There's about his rendition a hint of the Promenade at Blackpool with the whiff of fish and chips, the sun catching the silver paper on the "Kiss Me Quick" hats and the taste of petrol from charabancs depositing mill girls from the looms of Manchester. Rattle's march is finely done also. In terms of tempo and weight grander than Barbirolli. But I think it's missing the latter's greater sense of the approach from the far distance and also has less impudent swagger.
Then at 347 we are dragged back to the natural world with all its force and splendour as the horns roar out a theme from back at the start, and the Development is underway. I like the way Barbirolli balances his brass sections in what follows. It shows the value of the orchestra having played in a couple of live performances before the recording, adding a sense of security. The important passage 530-642 is where Mahler develops on the idea of marching and marks each section differently, something a conductor must take note of. "The Rabble", "The Battle Begins", "The South Storm" are all acknowledged and this has the effect of making the music seem to comment on itself - an extraordinary concept. Under Barbirolli I was also put in mind of some of the wilder sections of Ives in the way the marches, broken down into constituent moods, criss-cross in a mesmerising half-nightmare. In the passage leading up to this I felt Rattle could have learned a lot from the example of his older colleague. Barbirolli never loses track of the plot here where Rattle seemed to. He redeems himself in the "Ivesian" section but then lets the music sag again in the long, dreamy section before the march resumes for the Recapitulation. With Rattle my attention wandered here where with Barbirolli I remained riveted - a benefit from the fact that Sir John did the whole movement in a single take, perhaps ? Apart from this, there is some really lovely playing from the Hallé cellos prior to the return of the march proper. Their portamenti a quintessential Barbirolli fingerprint we will hear more of in the last movement.
All this is swept away because the march has one more appearance, shorn of Ivesian nightmare, again emerging from a distance, approaching and arriving in our midst. This second time I was even more aware on the Barbirolli of the long crescendo that will bring about a conclusion to this extraordinary movement. The frenzy of the end itself, starting at Figure 74 where the orchestra explodes into wild and crazy vistas, is well brought off. Though not even Barbirolli can match Horenstein on Unicorn-Kanchana, whose LSO brass are absolutely shattering. Rattle cushions the climaxes a little at the end. One gets the impression he might be wanting to save something up for the end, not fire off all his bullets too soon.
I've heard recordings where the interpretation of the second movement is such that the conductor allows it to barely peep out from beneath the weight of what preceded it. A pity because the second movement is subtler than is sometimes realised. For it to make an effect as part of the whole the conductor must lavish the same care on it he would everything else. Barbirolli's walk through the flowers in the meadows doesn't take the pretty route all the time. There are stinging nettles beyond the blooms and we stumble into them quite often in the way the woodwind allow spiky sounds to come through.
The rhythm is also nicely pointed when the tempo picks up. Which means when it relaxes into lyricism the effect is that much more nostalgic. With a slightly broader tempo Rattle can point up more details too, but I think he loses some of the bite that Barbirolli gives it, some of the sting. There is a gain here and that is in the impression of dreaminess: a more continental landscape, perhaps. It has to be said Rattle demands and gets more portamenti from his strings in this movement, the kind Sir John would have approved of.
Barbirolli adopts a very slightly slower tempo in the third movement than we are used to, but this allows a little more room to make rhythmic points and to bring out the character of the piece. I don't think I've heard the rollicking brass descents at two bars before Fig 9 and likewise before Fig. 23 delivered quite so loud and with such precision. Barbirolli must have drilled his players meticulously here and their contributions come off superbly. Rattle has nothing approaching it, but then, by now, such a sound would have been out of place.
The crucial posthorn episode, our first tentative glimpse of humanity, is beautifully prepared by Barbirolli, but the first posthorn is a little disappointing. The player is fine, the problem is he's too close to make that dreamy effect Mahler wanted. However the section between the two appearances of the posthorn makes up for any misgivings by being raucous and loud. You gain the impression that the orchestra are really enjoying themselves here. The second posthorn solo is placed further away, but this is where he should have been the first time around.
The opening woodwinds of the CBSO for Rattle show more character than their Hallé counterparts and they are more cultured and refined. It's really a question of taste as to which you prefer. Rattle is also anxious to luxuriate more in the details of this movement where Barbirolli is the more extrovert. This leads to an unforgettable delivery of the posthorn solos in the Rattle recording, exactly what was missing in the Barbirolli. The lead up is given a deliberate slowing down too. In the live performance it was a piece of concert hall "theatre" worthy of Furtwangler. In the recording the player impinges into our aural imagination from a huge distance, sounding as if he is out of the hall altogether, on the top of the Rotunda surveying the Bull Ring, perhaps; serenading the Balti takeaway queues and the traffic jams around New Street Station. In the interlude between the two Posthorn passages Rattle then coaxes his muted brass players to cluck like an expectant hen house - "What the animals tell me", indeed.
If the posthorn represents the first appearance of humanity, raw nature has the final word with the passage at bars 529-556: a crescendo from ppp to fff followed by a diminuendo back down to pppp, replete with harp glissandi. This passage has at its centre a development of one of the bird call motifs to become "The heavy shadow of lifeless nature" rearing up on horns and trombones, all fecund strength. It links back to the first movement and forward to the end and is a key moment of crisis which should be marked with special emphasis. Barbirolli prided himself on being able to recognise the highlights and climaxes in each Mahler symphony and there's no doubt he gives this passage everything it can stand with a huge rearing-up of sound whose mood doesn't lift even through the dash to the end where darkness now beckons. Rattle is more reined-back in this passage and, in comparison with Barbirolli, disappointed me rather. He seemed more concerned with the beauty of sound that can be drawn from this moment rather than its earthy, elemental ugliness. But it's a valid point of view and the orchestra certainly delivers what he wants.
Under Barbirolli I would have liked more Stygian gloom for the fourth movement, a setting of Nietzsche's "Oh Mensch", the first appearance in the work of the human voice. I think the recording balance must take some blame here. Kerstin Meyer is a fine singer, but you can hear just too much of her for her contribution to be as mysterious as it ought to be. This is not the case in the Rattle recording where the backward depth in the sound stage means that it starts with a considerable advantage, and Birgit Remmert emerges from way back, singing with greater insight into the words and character of her part than Meyer. The difference that another generation of Mahler performing brings ?
The biggest difference with Rattle is that it's in this fourth movement his renowned concern for bringing out every detail of the score leads to a controversial decision. There is an important solo part for the principal oboe and Mahler's instruction to the player is "hinaufziehen". I'll just say I have never heard an oboist play his/her contribution in this movement quite like this. A friend who was at one of the live performances described the sound produced by CBSO principal oboe Jonathan Kelly as "an extraordinary upwards glissando". It sounds to me like a Tom cat on a wall mewing for a mate on a warm Summer's night. Rattle may have interpreted exactly what Mahler asks for, (or he may not), but hearing something I'm so familiar with played in a way I'm so UNfamiliar with makes me wonder whether this is a case of "an unsightly carbuncle on the face of an old and dear friend": a detail too far.
With Barbirolli a nice contrast arrives with the boys and women in the fifth movement which is a return to the Wunderhorn world, heralding dawn with bells. The boys of Manchester Grammar School are nowhere near the pretty angels we are used to elsewhere. These are urchins from the mean streets of Manchester and they give an earthier quality to match the purer sounds of the women and the darker tone of Kerstin Meyer. Rattle adds girls to his boys and so there is a difference between his fifth movement and many others too. In comparison with Barbirolli there is more warmth overall but less contrast. I prefer Barbirolli's unvarnished honesty, though Rattle's orchestral accompaniment is very telling.
For the last movement to crown the work perhaps something more spiritual, more inner ,is needed than what Barbirolli delivers. Compared with some Barbirolli is more expressive, moulded, given to "heart-on-sleeve". But one is overwhelmed by the big-heartedness of it as a true journey's end that couldn't have been won by this conductor any other way. Notice the expressive rubato, a particular Barbirolli trait, also the singing line of cello portamenti, another speciality. The Hallé could do all this almost by telepathy by then so it's no wonder it's in the last movement the Berliners sound under strain. Barbirolli's inability to resist speeding up at moments of release later on in the movement also spoil this movement's serenity a little. But take that away and it would not have been a Barbirolli performance. So accept it and go with it. The end is built to masterly fashion within Barbirolli's warm-hearted view. Again he presses forward in the closing pages a little harder than is comfortable and he can't resist almost a luftpause before the last chord of all.
Rattle is more restrained than Barbirolli in the last movement and, I think, for the better. He has a degree of expression a few notches beneath Sir John's and does supply more of that inner spirituality the movement benefits from. He doesn't slow up too much, though. He agrees with Sir John the movement should have an ebb and flow, but his ebb and flow is within narrower limits. The string players in Birmingham have more weight of tone too and seem better able to deliver a true pianissimo and more levels of dynamic than their Manchester counterparts who were, perhaps, given a separate agenda. At the close Rattle reins back his tempo where Barbirolli presses forward and the end under him is perhaps a degree or so more satisfying, even though with Barbirolli you are still aware of the end of an epic journey and an end that satisfies just as much but in its own way.
If you are looking for a modern version of Mahler's Third, superbly recorded and played, with a care for detail that takes you deep into the complexities of this remarkable work, look no further than Rattle. (Though be aware of that oboe in the fourth movement.) But if, like me, you already have one of those and are looking for a record of one of the great Mahlerians of the previous generation in this particular work (to go with Horenstein, Kubelik and Bernstein, perhaps) you must have Barbirolli. His potent mixture of experience and emotion is a special event you will return to often.
WILLIAM MATHIAS Piano Sonata No. 1 Op. 23 Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 46 JOHN PICKARD A Starlit Dome Piano Sonata Raymond Clarke, piano MINERVA ATHENE ATH CD 15
Though he was a fine pianist, William Mathias wrote little for piano, if one excepts his three piano concertos. His piano sonatas are in fact his only large-scale piano works. Though they are on the whole very characteristic of Mathias music-making, they nevertheless reveal other facets of it. The Piano Sonata No. l Op. 23 (1963) is an imposing piece of some substance described by Malcolm Boyd as "a work of tremendous power and sinew - one of the more masculine of all Mathias pieces". The first movement is the more extended and over-flows with vintage Mathias ideas. It is also a highly personal reinterpretation of traditional sonata form design. It has much energy though Mathias manages a good deal of contrast in the course of this predominantly animated movement. The Andante semplice that fol-lows is a darker, brooding meditation in which the character of the Welsh Penillion may be found. This comparatively simple movement is a moving example of Mathias avowed Welshness. Characteristi-cally the First Sonata ends with a vigorous dance-like Toccata. The Piano Sonata No.2 Op. 46 (1969) is still more impressive. It is in one single movement encompassing a fairly traditional slow-fast-slow structure of which the animated central section acts "as a turbulent development" (John Pickard). The final section gradually slows down and provides a calmer recapitulation of the opening. A very impres-sive piece indeed. In fact Mathias piano sonatas are among his finest and nevertheless most neglected works. The present performances are therefore most welcome for they shed yet some further light on Math-ias oeuvre.
John Pickard (born in 1963) was a pupil of William Mathias. Though still in his mid-thirties Pickard has composed a fairly impres-sive output that contains three symphonies and four string quartets. His substantial Piano Sonata was completed in 1987 and dedicated to Raymond Clarke who premiered it in 1988. This ambitious work is much a young mans work, some sort of Stürm und Drang sonata into which the young composer threw all his technical accomplishment and all his sincerity, even if the fairly traditional music (none the worst for that!) does not also match the composers avowed vindictive mood. This is however a remarkable achievement superbly written for the piano which it exploits in an almost Rachmaninov-like manner. The extended first part is a massive double set of variations ending some-what mysteriously. The second part is a vigorous Toccata which builds up to a mighty conclusion. A Starlit Dome (1995) is some sort of updated nocturne with much colourful and imaginative writing. A highly enjoyable piece that should be taken-up by any marginally ad-venturous pianist.
Raymond Clarkes superb performances are given a very fine re-cording perfectly suited to this highly idiomatic piano writing. Unreservedly recommended for the Mathias works and for this first glimpse into John Pickards output.
VITEZSLAV NOVAK (1870-1949) South Bohemian Suite (1937) 29:57 Eight Nocturnes (sop & orch) (1907) 29:25 Daniela Strakova (sop) Carlsbad SO/Douglas Bostock ClassicO CLASSCD 191 59:32
In the league of Czech composers, Novak, if known at all, is definitely ranked in the third division. Is this fair? While everything that Dvorak wrote is legitimate for recording the best of Fibich and Novak is still seen as unusual and risky for concerts and disc. Fibich has made something of a come-back with Neeme Jarvi's Detroit SO recordings on Chandos. Novak still has some headway to make up.
So what is Novak's music like? He is a late romantic paralleling Szymanowski, Atterberg, Karlowicz, Bax and de Boeck. What we know of the music is largely down to Supraphon. Their Karel Sejna-conducted recordings of the two tone poems About the Eternal Longing and In the Tatras were long a staple of the LP catalogue. The Sejnas and the earlier (1960) Bohumil Gregor recordings remain in the Supraphon catalogue and are definitely well worth collecting.
The suite dates from 1937 but its idiom is locked into the flourishing crop of impressionistic/Dvorakian works written during the 1900s. The first movement blends Delian luxuriance with Dvorak's naive romantic and sprightly nationalism. It ends in exalted magic floated on high violins at the top of their register.
The second movement is of a similar atmosphere - gently rounded themes conjure up a woodland in summer and Delius seems not far away. The third movement (Hussite March) is turbulent and shadowy rising to a dread march of doomed heroes. The harp swirls, the side-drum hammers with militaristic remorselessness and brass call out. This is a most ambiguous movement superficially triumphant but who has won? It has a very satisfying emotional symmetry.
The extremely brief Epilogue: To My Homeland is positive but seems oddly out of place alongside the powerful, albeit negative, 'punch' of the Hussite March.
The suite represents relaxed picture painting, like Bax's Spring Fire, though the intensity of inspiration in the first two movements burns a micron or two lower with Novak. It can more closely be compared with Bantock's Hebridean Symphony of nine years later. The titles of the movements suggest an inconsistent line of inspiration with movements 1 and 2 being rural and woodland idylls. The other two movements are patriotic in their origin; the sort of inspiration you might expect from Smetana or Dvorak.
At the end of the disc I was left thinking that Novak was a Czech counterpart for Bantock (Sappho Fragments), Schoeck (Elegie), Szymanowski (Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin), Zemlinsky, Mahler, Delius or Bax.
These range from the glistening Stars in the Water  to the deep plangent sea-currents of Waldnacht  which ends in elfin bells and dances. The Notturno  is followed by the foruth song which has a comforting and memorable tune. The sixth song is Night Journey - full of dark and disruptive currents and the dreamy atmosphere of some Bohemian nightride and sunrise. Christchild's Lullaby has the innocent wonder of Canteloube's Songs of Auvergne. This is the kind of song which would have a popular success if only it were featured on Classic FM or was taken up at an international singing competition. Utterly treasurable.
Strakova creamily floats the long vocal lines with the an engaged and engaging sense of joyous discovery.
Strakova's lovely voice is comparable with that of Heather Harper (in another register) but the recording balance not ideal and when she sings quietly she can be over-run by the orchestra.
Notes are in English only by Mogens Wenzel Andreasen. Regrettably none of the song texts are provided. The photograph of Novak which adorns the booklet cover and the insert main text has been textured in a way which does not enhance the clarity of the portrait. I wish this design feature had not been used.
Douglas Bostock assures me that there are other Novak orchestral song cycles to come. I hope to hear them soon. This one is extremely impressive. It is rumoured that another Bostock Novak song CD is to be released soon. I look forward to hearing it.
This disc is very well worth getting and is too easily lost in the welter of 'big name' releases. The orchestra is in excellent heart.
The enterprise of ClassicO is to be congratulated. Do get this disc, made a compulsive purchase by the song cycle.
I hope that the same forces will soon tackle the other song cycles and the 1941 St Wenceslas Triptych plus the unrecorded May Symphony (1943, curiously dedicated to Marshal Stalin). The symphony, Triptych and De Profundis are all orchestral works dating from the early 1940s and Czechoslovakia's occupation by the Nazis.
ALLAN PETTERSSON Symphonies No 5 (1960-62) [40:51], No 16 (1979) [24:23] Saarbrucken Radio SO/Alun Francis, John-Edward Kelly (saxophone) in No 16 CPO 999 284-2 [65:24]
Pettersson's Fifth was the last symphony he was able to write out in his own hand before polyarthritis struck home. It is in his accustomed, massive, single movement. The work opens in the quietest of whispering mysteries, punctuated with stabbing figures, tolling and tumultuous brass and strange bird and insect calls. The symphony marks his middle period spanned by symphonies 5-9 of which all but No. 8 (in 2 movements) are single movement monoliths. It was premiered in November 1963 conducted by that one-man giant of the Swedish international musical renaissance, Stig Westerberg. However the success of this performance had little stamina and Pettersson had to wait until the celebrated Dorati performances of No 7 (a work whose weary repose is prefigured at 31:00 Track 1) to make any real headway.
Symphony No 16 was written in the same year as another concertante work: the viola concerto. It was written at the request of the American saxophone virtuoso, Fred Hemke whose recording is on Swedish Society Discofil coupled with the 7th symphony. When the CPO soloist saw the work he noticed how the saxophone part did not fully exploit the instrument in Pettersson's own terms. With the permission of the publishers he prepared his own edition which is recorded here. The characteristic sax-wail seems entirely in character with Pettersson's gale-tossed turmoil, breasting the hurricane like a sea-bird. The territory is familiar. There is little peace in the work. The furious angst is alleviated by a second movement producing another of those wonderful Pettersson melody-laments. It is amongst his finest examples. This repose which is almost Bachian is surely what he envisioned for himself but, what puzzles me, is why he placed it second in the four movements. He veers into jazz territory in the fourth movement. The instrument is always heard as it cavorts, spurs, goads and leads the orchestra. This is a very tuneful score and one of Pettersson's most accessible. Those who have enjoyed other modern sax concertos (e.g. Michael Nyman's Where The Bee Dances) would do well to give it a spin.
There are other recordings of these pieces though I have not heard them. No. 16 is on Discofil and probably in a different version so is not directly comparable. The Fifth Symphony is on BIS and also on another level with a German youth orchestra. Both performances have been praised elsewhere but I cannot imagine either of them being markedly superior to this one. The Saarbrucken players and Alun Francis seem to have no shortage of commitment and passion.
The recording is fine and the notes are very thorough as is true of all this series. I did not however understand why the fifth symphony was allocated only a single track when (helpfully) CPO's CD of Nos 10/11 divided each work into five tracks separated by bar number references. It is a sobering thought that CPO are now within hailing distance of a complete cycle. Only the fragments of 1 and 17 and the whole of number 12 to go!
ALLAN PETTERSSON Symphonies No 8 (1969) [46:00], No 10 (1972) [24:30] Norrkoping SO/Leif Segerstam BIS-CD-880 [71:31]
While the CPO cycle of Pettersson Symphonies has positively rushed onto the scene and is now almost complete. The BIS cycle has progressed at a steadier more Petterssonian pace.
Symphony No 8
This has been previously recorded first, by pioneer conductor Sergiu Comissiona on a Polar/DG LP (never reissued) and then on CPO. It was premiered in Baltimore in October 1977 and the Baltimore orchestra recorded the LP.
Pettersson's Bach-like chorales are a trademark of his: a fingerprint. They are prominent in the eighth symphony. A long calmly confident line expands freely and stretches its wings across the massive framework of this two-part (20 mins + 26 mins - separately tracked) symphony. Disquieting shudders squeal and chatter. The climaxing long lines (4:46) remind me of Rubbra's symphonic writing. Pettersson is a strongly lyrical composer and it is that lyricism (close to Vaughan Williams and even Hovhaness sometimes!) which predominates. Little surges, shudders and currents disturb the calm, opening casements onto nightmare scenes. Segerstam keeps the action fluid and defies the temptation to sink into meandering. The second section is two minutes longer than the 10th symphony. There is a higher conflict quotient here. This movement is also the most difficult to come to terms with by comparison with the unendliche melodie of the first. The symphony ends in character with the raw eldritch lyricism of the closing of the seventh symphony although the theme is not as distinguished as that in the seventh. The symphony fades down the gentlest of gradients to a niente close.
Symphony No 10
This too has been previously recorded - most recently on CPO with the Hannover Radio SO and Alun Francis. The Segerstam is a minute and a half quicker and you feel this invigorating acceleration in the first 10 minutes of the symphony where Segerstam keeps pressing forward almost impatiently. Strangely I soon began to wonder about Segerstam's approach and now lean in favour of the Francis on CPO. Frankly though, either will satisfy and neither strikes me subjectively as a distortion or unrepresentative. The booklet cautiously recounts a possibly apocryphal story that sections of this symphony were written out on bandages and dressings which became part of Pettersson's daily life from the fifth symphony onwards as arthritis took its appalling toll. From 18:29 the great chorale arrives lifted and bludgeoned by chattering and violence and it is the violence which triumphs. This is a work of hectoring gestures.
Stig Jacobsson's notes (English, German and French) are excellent giving useful solid factual details and blessedly non-existent in describing musical technicalities.
I wonder how Bis are planning to handle the remainder of the cycle. They really ought to beat everyone else to it and record the surviving fragments of numbers 1 and 17. Are either able to be completed by Segerstam who is of course a composer as well? Also will they re-record No 5 previously recorded in a version conducted by Moshe Atzmon and the Malmö SO?
A fine addition to the Pettersson discography balancing a short symphony with one of Pettersson's more monumental scores. I can hardly wait for Segerstam to tackle No 9. Please Bis record that one next coupled with either 1 or 17.
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986): Four Medieval Latin Lyrics for baritone and string orchestra Op.32, Five Spenser Sonnets for tenor and string Orchestra Op.42, Amoretti (Five Spenser Sonnets second series) for tenor and string quartet Op.43, Sinfonietta for large string orchestra Op. 163 Martyn Hill (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (baritone), Endellion String Quartet, City of London Sinfonia conducted by Hans-Hubert Schönzeler EMI British Composers series CDM5 66936 2 (mid-price reissue)
This disc has been a revelation to me and I regret missing it on its Virgin issue ten years ago; it has now been re-issued in the EMI British Composers series at mid-price. Edmund Rubbra has a following who regard him as the greatest English symphonist; others might place him as one of the greatest , but I am probably inviting an avalanche of e-mail when I say that I have always struggled with his music. I will attempt to fend off that e-mail by declaring that I really have been persistent and have bought a number of CDs over the years, including this one which did not arrive as a review copy, and have listened to most of the 11 symphonies. My problem with Rubbras music is that although he has interesting ideas, I find he does not develop them in a way that sustains my interest. He seems to lose direction, seemingly meandering without purpose, quite unlike Arnold and Alwyn who were contemporaries, all three having been born in Northampton I purchased this disc in the hope that I might find Rubbra more persuasive as a composer of pieces on a smaller scale and that is exactly what we have here.
The disc contains three groups of songs and is completed with the Sinfonietta for large string orchestra. This was a late work (Opus 163 composed in 1986 the year of his death) but was his first piece for a string orchestra. Hans-Hubert Schönzeler, the conductor on this disc, states that Rubbra told him he wanted to compete in the tradition set by Elgar (Inroduction and Allegro & Serenade), Vaughan Williams (Tallis variations etc.), Holst (St Pauls suite) and Britten (Frank Bridge variations, simple symphony etc.). The Sinfonietta was first performed by the Albany Symphony Orchestra who had wished to commission a work and accepted this one in progress. The two sections, Andante con moto ma non flessibile and Lento run contiguously through a held bass line. As with the Vaughan Williams Tallis variations, this work sounds as if the composer had in mind a cathedral acoustic rather than the concert hall, and indeed, the slow sonorous opening is reminiscent of the opening of Dives and Lazarus (without the harp). This music is powerful yet reflective even sorrowful. A most valuable fill-up lasting 15 minutes.
Two of the song cyles are settings for tenor of sonnets by the 16th Century English poet Edmund Spencer. The Five Spencer Sonnets Opus 42 (1935) were first performed by a soprano and string quartet but was reworked for tenor and string orchestra. The second cycle, Amoretti Opus 43 (1936) was written for tenor and string quartet but Schönzeler received verbal authority to arrange the work for string orchestra as heard on this disc. Being Sonnets they are full of sighing, sorrows and pining for lost love but the settings are beautiful and enthralling with Martyn Hill (tenor) slightly forwardly balanced against the string orchestra. Some of the perkier movements (the second of the five Spenser sonnets for example) do sound like Britten and Martyn Hill then reminds me of Peter Pears way with English song. Many of these songs will have me coming back repeatedly because of their beauty. If you have the opportunity to audition this disc listen to Shall I then silent be or shall I speak? or the wistfullness of Lacking my love I go from place to place.
The Four Medieval Latin Lyrics for Baritone (David Wilson-Johnson) are more traditional, reflecting English folk-song which I do not detect in the Spenser cycles. The opening song is rumbustuous. Summer is coming and with it the love of a young maiden. The second is more plaintive as Summer is slowly passing away and the love was unrequited. The third has maidens dancing in the Spingtime and is reminiscent of some of the songs in Orffs Carmina Burana. The fourth and final song in this cycle is a powerfully affecting lament Could I share thy grave with thee? Happy then my death would be.
SAINT-SAENS Africa, for piano and orchestra. Symphonies: No. 2 in A; in F, Urbs Roma Jean-Jacques Kantorow, cond; Tapiola Sinf; Laura Mikkola (pn) BIS CD790 (73:03)
That Organ Symphony of Saint-Saens has attracted so much attention that his other four symphonies have been almost completely upstaged, which is a pity, for they are all fascinating and approachable, and make rewarding listening.
This BIS release has arrived at the same time as a repackaging of Martinons recordings of the five symphonies (minus Africa) as a two-CD EMI reissue, thus giving me an ideal opportunity to compare the considerably different approaches of both conductors.
Some readers might be surprised to learn that there are five Saint-Saens symphonies, for it has often been claimed, erroneously, that the composer wrote only three. The misunderstanding arose because two of them were not published during Saint-Saens lifetime. The Symphony No. 2 in A Minor, op. 55, on this disc, was the fourth symphony that he composed - it was written in 1859 but not published until 1878, which accounts for its relatively high opus number.
The other symphony here, the early, unnumbered, Symphony in F Major, known as Urbs Roma (actually, the third to be written) was composed in IX56 when Saint-Saens was 21 years old. The famous Organ Symphony, known to us, confusingly, as No. 3, was composed last of all in 1886.
The Second Symphony is classical in idiom with influences of Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn. Saint-Saens orchestration is restrained. He uses no trombones and only two horns. It is the stern, crisp, classical, almost Beethovenian approach that Kantorow adopts throughout this Symphony (and in the Urbs Roma Symphony); his tempos are consistently faster than Martinons. Kantorow generates considerable tension and excitement, and armchair conductors will have difficulty in restraining themselves. On the other hand, Martinon prefers a more relaxed, more rhythmically flexible approach. On the whole, Martinons Symphony sings; Kantorows marches. I hasten to add, though, that Kantorow is warm, gentle, and elegant enough in the Adagio, but it is Martinon who is the more Romantic, his readings having those telling little extra nuances and more light and shade. In the Prestissimo finale, Kantorows breathless dash, stretching his strings to the limit I would imagine, obscures all the detail that Martinon reveals-and he manages to make the tarantella whirl excitingly enough.
Urbs Roma means the City of Rome, but there are no real points of reference to it, either biographically or musically, in Saint-Saens symphony. The opening Largo begins imposingly, however, suggesting former Roman splendour. Once again, Kantorow opts for the no-nonsense, hard classical line, but tempered, this time, with more charm and tenderness. Martinon, once more, chooses the sunnier, more Romantic and relaxed route. His Poco allegretto has some delicious woodwind phrasing discreetly, and hauntingly, backed by pp brass chords. In this movement, Martinon closely rivals Kantorow for excitement, and he somehow invests the music with added heroism and dignity.
The jolly and colourful Africa for Piano and Orchestra, full of good tunes, was composed in 1890 when Saint-Saens had visited Cairo and Alexandria. It is a sonic picture postcard of North Africa, featuring a Tunisian folk melody. It is a virtuoso showpiece for the piano, and Laura Mikkolas fingers flash over the keys in response to Kantorows relentless speeds. Her interpretation is brilliant, every note and chord clearly delineated; and she has an engagingly light touch that clearly conveys that she is enjoying the music tremendously.
Africa is also available in a very enterprising concert, on the Cala label, of little-known and very exotic Saint-Saens music that includes three world premiere recordings of short orchestral items as well as the composers Requiem. The Cala soloist, in Africa, is Gwendolyn Mok, who has not quite the brilliance and assurance of Mikkola but she is served by a more illuminating and atmospheric accompaniment (the woodwind playing is especially evocative of sinuous North African rhythms) by Geoffrey Simon and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Summing up, personal choice will dictate between Kantorow and Martinon. I am sitting firmly on the fence on this occasion: I like both styles of interpretation.
FLORENT SCHMITT (1870-1958) Sonate Libre (violin and piano) Op. 68; Trois Rapsodies (two pianos) Op. 53; Hasards (piano, violin, viola, cello) Op. 96. Sonate: Régis Pasquier; Huseyin Sermet. Rapsodies: Sermet; Kun Woo Paik Hasards: Haridas Greif; Pasquier (Régis and Bruno); Roland Pidoux. recorded September 1992, Lyon, Paris AUVIDIS VALOIS V4679 [66:30]
Schmitt was a very close contemporary of Vaughan Williams and in an occasional pastoralism there are some parallels between the two composers. The two are pictured together in OUPs pictorial biography of the British Composer.
The Sonate Libre is a free-wheeling violin sonata in two lanky rhapsodic movements over a 30 minute span. It dates from the years just after the Great War ended and was written in the Pyrenees. It is a spiritual cousin of Herbert Howells' Piano Quartet though ultimately much freer and wide-ranging in its impressionism and bejewelled sounds. Frank Bridge's more impressionistic chamber works (pre-1920s) also come to mind. The big tune can be heard in full unfolding splendour from 8:20 (Track 1). To the British voices can be added the influence of Ravel and Debussy. There is none of the oriental grandeur of his big set-piece scores such as Psalm XLVII or Tragédie de Salomé. The Animé second and final movements are full of delicate fantasy in a voice familiar from Ravel's Mother Goose and, for those who know it, Josef Holbrooke's Sonate Orientale. At 15:02 Schmitt brings us full circle with a recollection of the strikingly nostalgic theme from the first movement. This is a sort of Lark Ascending ... but over the Pyrenees.
The Three Rapsodies (1903) for two pianos are 'picture postcards' of France (a Chabrier-emulating valse), Poland (a Chopin-type mazurka) and Vienna (a Johann Strauss waltz) in 23 minutes. These offer classic bon-bouches for both performers and listeners. The music is not profound but deft and colourful, sounding like a cross between Godowsky and Saint-Saens. Schmitt wrote a large number of works for this medium. He orchestrated the present set and the Rapsodie Viennoise became a popular concert item. Claude Michel and his associates are embarking on an 'intégrale' spanning the complete two piano/piano duet output over 15 CDs.
Hasards is a 4-movement piano quartet (circa 15 mins) dedicated to another neglected hero of the French musical renaissance, Guy-Ropartz. It was premiered in 1943. The work is fey and flighty, influenced by Ravel's string quartet, the first two (of 4) movements especially. The third is a twilight berçeuse in the hinterland between sleep and waking. In this work Schmitt often made me think of the chamber music of Arnold Bax. The final Bourrée is marked 'impétueux' and there is a heady dash and intoxication to the proceedings and to the jerky hiccuping theme which unfolds in Howellsian majesty at the close.
Excellent notes by Benoit Duteurtre
I am not familiar with these works in other performances but the artists here seem completely engaged and concentrated.
Recommended for the Schmitt explorer, the French music enthusiast and the chamber music fan who would like to push the boundaries of her or his knowledge outwards into unusual territory.
Rewarding and varied listening. An excellent production by Auvidis Valois. More please.
NOTE AND PLEA When will someone record Schmitt's impressive Introduction, Récit et Congé a 25 minute work for cello and orchestra. It is one of the few orchestral works by Schmitt which has not as yet been recorded commercially.
HUMPHREY SEARLE Symphony No 1 Op 23; Symphony No 4 Op 38; Night Music Op 2; Overture to a Drama Op 17 CPO 999 541-2 Symphony No 2 Op 27; Symphony No 3 Op 36; Symphony No 5 Op 43 CPO 999 375-2 BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Alun Francis.
For that rare breed of discerning musicians, one of the great recording events of 1998 was the issue of all Searle's five symphonies. As Humphrey's friend, pupil and biographer may I lay to rest the curious falsehood and state that there is not a sixth symphony.
When I spoke to Alun Francis in Berlin a few days ago I asked him why he had undertaken to record these symphonies. He replied modestly that he had always admired them because of their stunning originality. The first symphony was recorded by the LPO under Sir Adrian Boult in 1960 and Sir Adrian told us that while he was not in sympathy with the music it was 'a brilliant work teeming with invention'. The story about a BBC orchestra who threatened to go on strike if plans to play this piece went ahead is now well-known; it was so technically difficult.
Boult's realisation was on the slow side and yet it captured the drama and power of this impressive score. Francis clearly understands the idiom far better and his speeds generally are more in keeping with the composer's intentions although I find the Adagio a shade fast so that when the concertante middle section appears, something of the high drama is lost. And yet his stirring final Allegro molto shows up Boult's cautious performances.
This is both a splendid and important symphony. It is the first serial symphony by a British composer; it has the essential qualities of greatness in that it is original, structurally sound and faultlessly orchestrated; it has tremendous excitement and drama as well as sections of warm intimacy with brooding melodic lines.
Hermann Scherchen gave the première and he is on record as saying that Searle is 'the greatest British composer since Purcell'. The German conductor also said, "Here is a composer who lives in the present, who has both the courage and integrity to write what he wants to write and does not bend the knee to musical fashion. He is a master, not a slave."
The Symphony No 2 is Searle's most popular symphony, perhaps because it suggests a tonality of D although remaining serial. During the composition of this wonderful score, his first wife Lesley died and this was on Christmas Day, 1957. Yet the work is not a nauseating wallow but a tribute and is very positive. The outer movements are truly exhilarating and the slow movement has a melody of strange beauty which is also referred to in the finalé.
The maestoso just before the end was once suggested to be reminiscent of Walton and so Humphrey revised this passage. Walton had music lessons from Searle for a few years after the Second World War, a vital fact which Michael Kennedy ignores in his book on Walton. Both composers were great friends and shared the wish to be original although Walton often "borrowed other people's tunes".
There is a therapeutic glow about Searle's Second Symphony as there is about his other masterpiece written for Lesley, the Poem for 22 Solo Strings, Op 18.
The Symphony No 3 dates from 1960 and is a fascinating work. The first movement is somewhat fragmentary but impressively sinister; the middle movement is a sparkling scherzo, although not everyone will see it like that, and it is a tour de force. I remember a concert conducted by Sir John Pritchard in which Lennox Berkeley's Serenade for Strings and the Elgar Cello Concerto were positively received and the last piece in the programme, Searle's Third, brought a standing ovation and demands for the central movement to be repeated. The finalé is possibly the most romantic movement Humphrey ever wrote. I am not quite sure it 'belongs' to the preceding movements but it is exceptionally beautiful dispelling all that verbal rubbish that 12-note music cannot have such qualities.
I think that Alun Francis takes the scherzo a little on the slow side and he graciously accepted my observation. The revelation of this cycle however, is the Fourth Symphony, which is the hardest to assess. At least, it was until I heard this performance. I do not wish to bore readers with all the problems of this piece but rather say that the orchestra and conductor overcome all of them wonderfully well. And this says a lot for this orchestra. Frankly, if they can play Humphrey's symphonies, and they can, they can play anything. They are worthy of the highest praise. I heard them première David Doward's splendid Symphony No 2, again under Alun Francis, and, yes, this is an unashamed hint that this work should be recorded.
Searle's Symphony No 5 has risen in popularity over the last few years. It is a retrospective work recalling the composer's studies with Anton Webern and memories of Vienna before it was occupied by the Nazis. It is a work of mysterious shadows and has an enviable transparency. This is nostalgia without the wallowing.
It is a pleasure to have the Night Piece Op 2 available since, like the Fifth Symphony, it is dedicated to Webern. In my view, it is in this piece that Francis and the Scottish Orchestra bring out the velvet romanticism of Searle. And to think he was called an avant-garde! The Overture to a Drama was premièred by Sargeant at a Prom and savaged in the broadsheets at the time. One wonders why. It is a piece which aptly displays Humphrey's character. He was a man of tremendous humour with a wonderful capacity for friendship. He was not arrogant or pompous but modest and caring. He was precise and to the point, he was not a man of grand empty gestures.
These two discs, which are available separately, are very welcome indeed. At last, a neglected master is now receiving the recognition he more than deserves and Britain's most original and courageous composer can now be heard, appraised and admired. But he is not a composer for the shallow or faint-hearted.
Visit the Humphrey Searle web site
ALEXANDER SCRIABIN (1872-1915) Symphony No 3 in C minor 'Le Divin Poème' (1903) Concertgebouw Orchestra/Kiril Kondrashin Live recording of a concert on 12 February 1976 ETCETERA KTC 1027 [46:01]
A year before Scriabin died Kiril Kondrashin was born in Moscow, the city of Scriabin's birth. Kondrashin has a reputation similar in some ways to Evgeny Mravinsky. His recordings are not plenteous but what there is is often worth having. His recording (available on BMG-Melodiya) of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances is the only one to have though its age is beginning to tell.
Scriabin wrote three symphonies of which the mult-movement first is worthy of reassessment. Scriabin has a reputation for being a bit of a bore with his prolix approach to the loftiest ideals. Anyone wanting an antidote to this should listen to the 1894 piano concerto - a superbly tuneful and romantic work which would appeal to anyone who enjoys the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto, the Saint-Saens concertos or the Palmgren works.
The symphony dates from the same year as Bartók's Kossuth, Holbrooke's The Bells, Paderewski's symphony (recently recorded by Hyperion), Sibelius' Violin Concerto, Elgar's Second and Delius' Sea Drift.
The orchestra is as expansive as Scriabin's programme is ambitious: eight horns, five trumpets, two harps, four flutes and so on.
Luttes. 14:10 surge tune - elgarian - 17.01 resolute heroism. tchaikovskian balet music - liquid-toned heiratic trumpet baying to the heavens. Also Khachaturyan adagio.
Voluptes is a sensuous movmenet full of attrcative touches. At 9:00 on track 2 the horns gently calling register touchingly and the solo violin evokes images of a dream of abandoned dionysian pleasure. The orchestral palette is Tchaikovskian.
The third movement 'Jeu Divin' is Scriabin's vision of man giving himself completely to sensual joys and finding an apotheosis. From the pointedly sprightly trumpet calls to the overblown exalted climaxes you are never in doubt about Scr8abin's belief in his mission.
This is a live concert recording as the occasional cough testifies. The sound has some depth and the typical advantages of a concert recording are evident here in the sense of occasion.
At just over three quarters of an hour the disc does not offer best value as playing time.
There used to be a BBC CD of the same work conducted byJohn Pritchard but one of the best sets around is the complete cycle conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov. Perhaps BMG-Melodiya will release this one. I hope so. I never warmed to the Philips Inbal/Frankfurt RSO set but other Scriabin collections by Muti and Ashkenazy are worth hearing.
The performance of the third symphony by Kondrashin is founded on a committed interpretation but which does not entirely overcome doubts about the work itself. Still there is much to enjoy here if you appreciate headily indulgent grand symphonism.
RUDI STEPHAN (1887-1915) Liebeszauber (Magic of Love) for baritone and orchestra (1911) 10:22 Music for Orchestra (1913) 16:38 Music for violin and orchestra (1911) 17:30 Music for seven stringed instruments (1911) 24:27 Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) Hans Maile (violin) Deutsches SO, Berlin/Hans Zender Recorded April 1983 at Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem Koch Schwann 3-6709-2 [69:27]
While it is politically correct to identify genius among allied servicemen who died during two world wars, any attention paid to those who fell fighting for the aggressors who lost is considered suspect. George Butterworth was the archetype of the young officer class British composer who was cut down in the Great War slaughter of the trenches. Quite properly his reputation stands secure on the basis of the handful of works he completed.
In a later conflict two German composers who sided with the Nazis included Von Trapp and Hessenburg. Both reputedly wrote fine music which we do not hear because of their objectionable political alignment.
Rudi Stephan died at the age of 28 in the service of the German Imperial Army in the Galician Eastern front campaign during the Great War.
Stephan's music comes from a world of saturated early 20th century romanticism.
The Magic of Love is a narrative monologue for baritone and orchestra. It inhabits a world similar to that of Zemlinsky and Schrecker with a touch of Mahler. His textures are quite luminous and the vocal part is smoothly curvaceous. A dramatic rictus at 3:10 leads into a dreamy recitative. Fischer-Dieskau is in good voice, sounding more youthful than his years. The singer has to switch from singing to speech and back. The lightness of his serenading suggests that Stephan was influenced by the burgeoning operetta world of the time as well as by early Schoenberg.
Music for Orchestra floats spectrally in and out of the miasma of a dream. At 2:48 a more positive almost heroic and demonstrative interlude bursts in. The harp cuts a swathe through the strata of sound. The music is somewhat Straussian but with some of Korngold's epic wash and a grand victorious stride. The vainglory subsides and we return to the mournful reflection of the opening but with the enchanter solo violin to spin the silk of this unusual fantasy. A jolly fugue sets in (11:23) and gallops into a climax of exalted high ideals in a Romantic Hansonian language with the odd hint of Sibelius. This is a most intriguing and pleasurable discovery.
After too short a silence the Music for violin and orchestra starts. This at first muses in a Hollywood haze - part Lark Ascending, part Finzi Introit, part Delius Violin Concerto. This is intensified in a display of fireworks which becomes increasingly warm and nostalgic. A rapid scudding from the violin (reminiscent of Sheherazade) bridges into calm and back at (10:30) to flights of fancy and again to Korngoldian whooping horns. Gallic accents are never far away and strangely enough neither is the Elgar violin concerto! The final 'meltdown' sunset is very Delian.
Finally we move to a surgingly romantic two-movement chamber work. The movements are of unequal length with a sprawling quarter hour Sehr ruhig followed by a ten minute Nachspiel. The work is laid out for string quartet, double bass, harp and piano. John Ireland, Fauré, Howells, Ravel and Schumann are the names which spring to mind as reference points. In addition to the intense sea-swell swing of the opening, Stephan also explores more ghostly and magically still moods. Towards the end of the first movement he attains a swinging confident life-enhancing theme although the movement ends conventionally.
The second and last movement makes the two-movement work enigmatic. The first movement feels complete and of a piece. It is a parallel with one of the single movement constructs featured on the first three tracks. Perhaps we have misunderstood and Stephan simply intended to group together two independent pieces which are simply published together because otherwise they might become lost in the flood of music. The two pieces play quite independently. Together it is like listening in sequence to two tone poems which share the same instrumental specification.
The second movement 'Nachspiel' is a throatily romantic piece with a lifting free-floating dance theme which suggests a dream ballroom. The work seems to rake over and revive intense and painfully beautiful memories. It promises to end in resolute energy but instead fades to a high held violin note and the gently trilling piano.
This music reminds us that German music of this century is not simply preoccupied with the trendy, massive, colossal or impenetrable.
I rather hope that this disc will launch a series of recordings of music by German composers killed in or forgotten because of the Great War or the Second World War.
The present Koch disc is the single most generous (probably only) compendium of Stephan's music, taking in four works. I seem to remember that this collection or at least some of these recordings have been issued previously.
The collection is distinguished by the presence of Fischer-Dieskau. Interesting to see that he was prepared to associate his name and standing with Stephan's music.
Reasonable notes in German, French and English although I would have appreciated more biographical background.
The texts of Liebeszauber are also presented trilingually but unfortunately the different language versions are not side by side making it difficult to follow the singing.
PETER TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1903) Piano Concerto No 2 in G major (1879) DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Symphony No 9 in E flat major Op. 70 (1945) Andreas Boyde (piano) Freiburg PO/Johannes Fritzsch Live broadcast recording on 13/14 January 1997 at Sudwestfunk Landestudio, Freiburg - Konzerthaus Freiburg MINERVA ATHENE ATH CD 16 [73:34]
This CD is part of a series entitled the Freiburger Edition. The edition evidently sets out to document the best of the Freiburg POs broadcast concerts as featured on Sudwestfunk in the Landesstudio Freiburg.
Two classic Russian works are offered on a reasonably well filled CD. First of all let me applaud the choice of the second Tchaikovsky piano concerto. The first would have been a more obvious but more hackneyed option. As it is the second concerto is a determinedly independent work which refuses to ape the first concerto except occasionally in the first movement. On the debit side it does not have the world-conquering melodies of the first concerto. This version plays for just over 45 minutes and while in no way effacing the Gilels version from some years ago or indeed Peter Donohoes (both EMI - not sure if they are currently available) is a vivid document gaining from the immediacy and risk-taking of a live concert situation with an audience (largely silent) present. Certainly, Andreas Boyde gives every sign of revelling in the work - both its showy splendour and its inwardness (very much to the fore in the chamber music interplay between piano, violin and cello). The first movement Allegro Brillante is stormy and turbulent aspiring to the heights of the romantic ideal in a sort of parallel to Manfred. While without the shocking overwhelming gusto and great tunes of No 1 is still has its moments and more especially in first movement with its celebratory theme like some grandiose coronation hymn. The second movement has extensive work for solo violin and cello played with Brahmsian passion, occasional introspection and chamber music texture. The finale glitters like Christmas and is clearly a progenitor of the five Saint-Saens piano concertos and especially the second.
I have less to say about the Shostakovich Ninth. After the first movement which begins with the most sprightly woodwind gloriously recorded with excellent stabbing attack I found that the tension occasionally sagged. This is a pity because Johannes Fritzsch (the conductor) clearly took to the work with a Rozhdestvensky-like pleasure in the more energetic movements. The sardonic humour of the solo violins squeaking serenade is brilliantly caught suggesting a zany serenade of the mice. The Moderato is much more serious but a lot less concentrated and wayward. It wanders by some desolate place like Warlocks Curlew. The Presto is vintage Shostakovich startlingly like a bellicose Malcolm Arnold with the orchestra skating and skittering like maddened squirrels. The black Largo reminded me of Bernard Herrmanns fantasy film music. The final allegretto is knockabout fun.
The notes are in English and German. The recording quality is excellent.
Two concert performance recordings which never less than enjoyable and which in the case of the Concerto bid fair to be anyones library version. Let me commend the concerto to any collectors who, with me, rejoice in live concert recordings. Recommended in these terms.
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 7 Sinfonia Antartica Symphony No. 8. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Lynda Russell: Soprano, Waynflete Singers Kees Bakels Naxos 8.550737 [71m] DDD
I do not regret this journey: we took risks, we knew we took them, things have come out against us, therefore we have no cause for complaint. These poignant words preface the last movement of the Sinfonia Antartica and are in a nutshell, the kernel of this full-blown symphony. Vaughan Williams must have felt inspired by the heroisms and tribulations endured by Scott and his team and this is felt in the chilly scoring that permeates the piece.
We have had many satisfactory recordings over the years. One recalls the trailblazingly magisterial Barbirollis world premiere recording and the trenchant spirituality of Boults equally fine 1953 Decca recording, both records that have stirred the memories of the avid collector for decades. I can still remember those haunting final bars creating such a sense of desolation that I was stupefied for days on end after a listen to the Boult recording. His 60s remake was not a patch on that unique occasion.
This brings us to this splendid recording under review. Kees Bakels has not always been lauded as an exemplary Vaughan Williams interpreter. His exciting recordings of the London and the Third and Sixth have been treated with some disdain if not plain dismissal by some reviewers. Personally I thought that the BSOs playing in the Third Symphony was exquisitely beautiful and the rich Chandos recording rivalled the more superior Handley performance although that is in a league of its own. Curiously a few years since Naxos last issued that disc and this excellent coupling has been worth the long wait.
The first real bonus is in the Movement superscriptions provided on disc. These are eloquently read by David Timson (of Sherlock Holmes Naxos fame) and none makes more moving listening than the one quoted in the preface to this review. Bakels directs with a firm commanding hand and lavishes great care on the four movements. The First Movement is boldly eloquent with a really majestic Andante maestoso that leads into a spirited Poco animato. The Bournemouth brass are heard in their impressive full cry and the ending of the movement is also shatteringly bleak. The Scherzo is also blisteringly vivid; here we can almost imagine Scott and his company making their way through snowstorms and glaciers.
The same goes for the forbidding Landscape which teems with orchestral detail. Bakels slowish tempi create that right sense of mystery that is the tonic to our musical inspiration. Wind machines and percussion are married with some glorious climaxes and here we can appreciate the full strength of the BSO. And Bakels really scores in the majestic Epilogue, I would go as far as saying that those final 50 bars are almost as haunting as Boults own. The choral contributions are also winningly done and Lynda Russell is particularly succesful in her wordless enunciation.
In the Eighth, one of RVWs most enigmatic symphonies, Bakels has his work cut out to match his earlier superb effort. This work is rather mysterious to many but it carries the quintessential RVW charm through its symphonic veins. I enjoyed Bakels in the Fantasia although there is that much more passion in Handleys excellent RLPO account on EMI Eminence. The wind instruments have a field day in the short Scherzo whilst the cavatina holds that wistful mood in abeyance. The Toccata disappoints a little although the superb Naxos sound more than makes up for that. The disc is superbly engineered throughout, a brilliant production by Andrew Walton and his K & A team. Naxos could not have chosen a more superb cover, the Glacial Sea is indeed the perfect accompaniment to this rather exceptional release.
Symphony No. 7:
Symphony No. 8:
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Job, a masque for dancing; Prelude on an old carol tune; Variations for orchestra (orch - Gordon Jacob). Munich Symphony Orchestra, Douglas Bostock. British Symphonic Collection vol. 2. Classico CLASSCD 244 [63.47]
Job has attracted quite a few recordings over the last thirty years. There are two Boults, Hickox, Handley and another for Collins. The Handley is the one which I admire most for its gravity and steady splendour. The work itself has elements of the pastoral and of the apocalyptic.
The present recording is a worthy alternative to the Handley and an antidote to the big and beefy accounts found among the competition. The sound of the orchestra is lean and strong, pliant and cleanly poetic. Listen to the classic rural poesy of tracks 5 and 12 echoing track 1.
The slow motion decay (2:50) of Satan's Dance of Triumph  with its foreshadowing of Scott of the Antarctic is imaginatively handled. Also I was struck by the Transatlantic shades of Roy Harris striding placidly through the pages of the Saraband of the Sons of God.
Even the different sound of the orchestra can do nothing for what I have always found to be the insufferable Dance of Job's Comforters  and the rum-ti-tum jollity of the Galliard  but this is no fault of the orchestra or conductor. I also have difficulty with the Roy Harris 4th symphony in some of its more gauche prairie cowboy songs.
The Lark Ascending meditation of the Introduction and Elihu's Dance are glowingly handled by the orchestra's concert-master ( ). If you cannot get enough of the Lark, Finzi's Introit or Harrison's Bredon Hill (rumoured to have been recorded by Lyrita for later release) then do explore Job.
The Pavane of the Sons of Morning is one of VW's noblest conceptions winding and unwinding in elegant, diaphanous and vulnerable beauty. It is very much out of the same cloth as the similarly yearning tunes from the fourth symphony and the sixth. The Altar Dance is less a dance than a reflection in meditation - a dance in slow sea-swelling motion.
The Carol Tune Prelude  was written as part of VW's music for a BBC Radio dramatisation of Thomas Hardy's novel 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'. It is elevated music suffused with the tragedy and rural mysticism of Hardy's powerful story. This is, I believe, a world premiere recording. It is by no means as slight as the title might suggest and there are some surprising touches (4:28)
The Variations were orchestrated by Gordon Jacob from a brass band original. Jacob had previously done a similar job for another VW work, the Old English Folk Song Suite. The Variations recorded here are rather inconsequential. All the VW hallmarks are there but with exception of one moment of quiet enlightenment at 10:02 this is not a work which attracts repeat listenings. They have been recorded previously on EMI (either Hickox or Handley). This is only their second outing in orchestral format in recent times.
The anonymous notes are good and extensive(although they would have benefited from more proof-reading) . Like the other volumes in the series they give a track by track and second by second outline of the music which enables you to follow the 'plot' with considerable ease.
The notes are in English and German with a good choice of photographs. The cover design (by Dan Eggen) is outstanding. Recording quality is fine, open and lively.
This is the second in a sequence of ten volumes planned by the Danish company ClassicO. The series will adopt a consistent approach to design and planning. The intention is that each disc will feature at least one world premiere recording. The artists here will be used throughout the series which should be complete by the end of 2000.
To date ClassicO have issued three volumes. The first included Gordon Jacob's second symphony. The third has as its centre-piece Bax's Sixth symphony with Tintagel and Overture to Adventure. ClassicO have already recorded Arthur Butterworth's Fourth Symphony and Ruth Gipps' Second. There are further exciting offerings in prospect. Withcompanies such as Lyrita presently dormant it is a delight to find that British music is finding a new additional champion.
This volume is recommended not only as part of a series but as a valuable alternative viewpoint on Job. It also offers the Hardyesque Prelude on an Old Carol Tune which I believe is a recording premiere.
and another view from David Wright
I have always been somewhat ambivalent about Vaughan Williams Job and for many reasons. I wonder whether the subject is suitable for dance since Biblical subjects in themselves and by their very nature have a reverential and spiritual dimension quite at odds with dance which is predominantly a secular activity. Job was a perfect man that escheweth evil, a righteous man and his involvement in dance is as ridiculous as William the Conqueror flying a B52. While there is evident skill in classical dance it is a difficult medium to convey a story unless there is an accompanying narrative. As this work is based on William Blakes Illustrations from the book of Job one can readily accept the fictionalisation and disembowelling of the story and the disregarding of its morality. Blake was both a remarkable and strange man. And, I fear, that Vaughan Williams has been influenced to both parody and ridicule one of the oldest books in the world but, perhaps, it suited Vaughan Williams agnosticism.
I cannot imagine the Sons of God dancing minuets, sarabandes, galliards or pavanes. Bearing in mind that Jobs comforters were a morose bunch I cannot visualise them dancing and not to an alto saxophone.
Yet another worrying factor is that the music, lovely as it often is, is hopelessly out of character with the story. After 40 years, I have yet to be musically menaced by Satan, experience the grief of Job or the judgemental hypocrisy of his comforters in this score.
As an untitled piece it would fare better. Much of the music is beautiful but it often meanders into melodic nullity and, occasionally, it is mawkish.
I hesitate to say such things because I believe that Vaughan Williams is, without doubt, our finest British composer in the tonal tradition.
I would like to recommend this disc since, like many others, I applaud Classicos excellent project in recording British works. But I believe that Sir Adrian Boults performance with the LPO is the definitive version and it has the advantage of a glorious English sound and a polished refinement. That is not to discredit the Munich orchestra or their performance which is very good but not quite in the same league as Boults.
The old carol tune is On Christmas Night the Joy-Bells Ring a melody that also appears in the 1912 Fantasia on Christmas Carols.
By far the most interesting work is the Variations for Brass Band of 1956 orchestrated by Gordon Jacob which was premièred by Sir Adrian Boult in January 1960. A theme in C major is followed by eleven variations including an alla polacca, a fugato, a profound adagio in A flat and a chorale.
The joy of this piece is the welcome reminder that Gordon Jacob was an unsurpassed orchestrator as well as a very gifted composer in his own right.
Although I have reservations about Job, let it not deter you from investigating this disc. Douglas Bostock brings out interesting detail to great effect ... but, as for me, I will remain with Sir Adrian Boults superb performance of a curious piece.
MATTHIJS VERMEULEN (1888-1967) The Seven Symphonies various performers. Made available by the Donemus Foundation Composer's Voice CV36-38 (3CDs - box)
This set has been in currency since 1994 (there is another of the Vermeulen chamber music CV39-41) . It is a monument not only to Vermeulen's music but also to the great work of the Donemus Foundation, the Vermeulen Estate and the enlightened support of the Nederlands Government. The Apennine spine of the set is the septet of symphonies running 1912-1965. All but No 5 are in a single movement; the fifth is in three. In the foothills are three extracts from his own The Flying Dutchman (1930) and the song for soprano and orchestra La Veille (1917 arr 1932).
The recordings are from Dutch Radio. Some, though not all, may be familiar from LP issues. They date between 1977 and 1984 with one of The Flying Dutchman pieces from 1994.
Vermeulen was the classic outsider. Gifted both as a composer and as an author, he did not pull his punches with the musical establishment of Holland and he quickly alienated Willem Mengelberg and the management of the Concertgebouw. His character was perhaps rather akin to that of British composers Joseph Holbrooke and Havergal Brian, both doughty critic-authors as well as individualistic and ambitious musicians. Paul Rapoport's book Opus Est grouped Vermeulen with Brian, Pettersson and Holmboe amongst others. Vermeulens self-imposed exile in France was to last twenty five years and left its legacy in the French titles of seven of the nine scores here.
The music except in the first symphony and the Flying Dutchman music is complex and in the words of Otto Ketting polymelodic. It has more in common with Pettersson and Brian than with Holmboe. I would also mention Karl Amadeus Hartmann as another reference point although Vermeulen's building block tunes seem simpler than Hartmann's.
Symphony No 1 Symphonia Carminum (1912-14) 26:03 Rotterdam PO/Roelof van Driesten rec 1985
A symphony of songs indeed. It starts with a memorably heroic brass fanfare (which reappears momentarily at the end) and passes through great washes of string sound in character with the Vaughan Williams symphonies 4-6. The more heroic moments could have served as a pattern for Miklós Rózsa's and John Williams' film music. There are also extensive rural passages all of which sound more Scandinavian than Germanic although there is a flavour of Mahler in the martial elements. Incredibly, given the high-riding confidence of the piece, this was Vermeulen's first work of any type. It is a sunny work, bursting with pre-Great War idealism and reaches across several borders to shake hands with equally happy works such as Peterson-Berger's second symphony. The first decent performance had to wait fifty years until Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw introduced the work to Amsterdam. Why does Haitink not play the work now?
Symphony No 2 Prélude à la Nouvelle Journée (1919-20) 19:30 Rotterdam PO/Otto Ketting rec 1978
The great divide of the 1914-18 war separates this from its predecessor. It is a prelude to a new day - yes - but that day is one marked by waking nightmares and only the vaguest tatters and shreds of hope for the future. A side drum clatters over a funereal and minatory theme. This must have been a concert performance complete with close range cough (from the conductor?). The last ten minutes chart increasingly raucous bugle call and alla marcia territory. The music is rather Stravinskian at times like the chillier reaches of Petrushka and Le Sacre.
Symphony No 3 Thrène et Péan (1921-22) 20:34 Hague PO/Ferdinand Leitner rec 1977
The title helpfully summarises the mood of the music. The first section is a lamenting hymn presumably over the still fresh battlefields of Europe. This music reminded me of the pictures of post-barrage battlefields turned into seas of mud with shattered and blasted trees punctuating the scenery and the festoons of barbed wire marking the tortured landscape. The music has a drained, meandering and uncertain feeling. Very gradually a paean emerges - savage and gory rather than positive and again with a few recollections of middle period Stravinsky. The work peters out rather than ending in any positively conventional sense. Some low tape hiss is (just) noticeable on this recording as it is with the last two Flying Dutchman pieces
The Flying Dutchman (1930) Symphonic Prologue 7:51 Amsterdam PO/Anton Kersjes rec 1984
Kersjes may well be known to dedicated tape and British music collectors for his 1980s performance with the same orchestra of Bernard van Dieren's Chinese Symphony. This prologue was written for an outdoor spectacular to words by Martinus Nijhoff complete with Philips amplification. The style is marginally more relaxed - less aggressive - than the second and third symphonies. Vermeulen is fond of insistent heartbeat drum ostinati and these he uses with a string theme, predicting Bernard Herrmann, to create a pessimistic atmosphere which is transformed into an almost Brahmsian calm.
The Flying Dutchman (1930) Passacaille et Cortège Netherlands Ballet Orch/Otto Ketting rec 1994
A quiet raindrop ostinato on harp provides a gentle motive force like a similar long-sustained figure in Bax's Spring Fire symphony or in Sibelius' Nightride and Sunrise. The style is Debussyan. Over it erupt various brass figures sometimes jaunty, sometimes threatening, sometimes heroic. The music becomes increasingly "gothick" as befits its subject but moves into a resplendently triumphant march-like hymn. This would make an excellent accessible introduction to Vermeulen's work.
The Flying Dutchman (1930) Interlude 4:25 Utrecht SO/Otto Ketting rec 1983
This staid monastic reflection accompanies the Easter festivities of Boniface. This is not a distant stone throw from Hovhaness and Arvo Part's Cantus.
La Veille (1917 arr 1932) 10:54 Jard van Nes (mezzo)/Utrecht SO/Otto Ketting rec 1982
An exhausted plodding off-beat pizzicato trudge launches this scena to words by Francois Porché (1877-1944). The song was written in 1917 and later arranged for orchestra during Vermeulen's long stay in France. This is the equivalent of Housman's "soldiers marching ... all to die." and of course it was written during the height of World War 1. The style is again impressionistic rising to some martial fury and fierce resentment at 6:30-7:10.
Symphony No 4 Les Victoires (1940-41) 30:25 Hague PO/Ernest Bour rec 1981
This and its successor are war symphonies with No 4 written in the wake of Hitler's blitzkrieg conquest of France. Droning and an inexorable drum-beat launch the work which is strident and discordant as various themes and figures march independently in a maze and from time to time a tempest of sound. Simplicity surfaces periodically (e.g. at 4:00, 16:30) but soon the thickets of sound arise again. The victories in question are the many (wished for) victories which were needed for the Allies to secure the ultimate victory over fascism. Straightforwardly victorious themes are not in evidence at all. The victories are tortuous and painful - not at all joyous - although the high-screeching strings achieve something close to athletic elation after 19:38 and a Roy Harris like ecstasy floats high (21:10). In the closing bars Vermeulen affirms all that has gone before with a clamantly desperate air of triumph.
Symphony No 5 Les Lendemains Chantants (1941-45) 44:12 Omroep Orch/Roelof van Driesten rec 1983
This is his largest work and is unique among the symphonies in being in three movements. The title is from a farewell letter written by a leader of the French Resistance after his torture and prior to his being led to a firing squad. The sentiment of a singing, blessedly happy future is familiar from idealistic works such as John Ireland's These Things Shall Be. Vermeulen is not given to easy singing or at least not after the 1930s. The first movements surging, torrential and strident lines lighten only intermittently to open windows on more peaceful landscapes (e.g. CV 37 track 5 - 4:36, 7:03) but soon the monsoon of rippling rushing themes sweeps everything aside. The second movement opens in very welcome calm with a gently intoned saxophone solo around which other instruments interlace. Soon however Vermeulen's insistence on complexity comes to the fore. The final movement presses forward in much the same way with prominence given to long tunes. The complexity of this music can be oppressive as well as impressive. Its tragic demeanour is both universal and overpoweringly personal: His first wife had died in 1944 and one of his sons was killed resisting the Nazi invasion early in the 1940s. Vermeulen set himself the most exalted of aims. Whether he achieved them through this symphony and its predecessor I rather doubt. In any event once he had completed the symphony he abandoned the writing of music for ten years.
Symphony No 6 Les Minutes Heureuses (1956-58) 25:44 Rotterdam PO/Lucas Vis rec 1984
This work was written after the ten year silence. He had returned to Holland and music criticism after the War. The same decade introduced him to an avalanche of music he had not been able to hear during his twenty year seclusion in France. The symphony was premiered in 1960 and its dedication is to the composer's second wife: Thea Diepenbrock. The title is lifted from Baudelaire's poem Le Balcon. Vermeulen employs a La-do-re (l'adoré) figure to denote the adored or beloved in life. The music has the same complexity we are now used to from the earlier works. Dark dreams float before us. The saxophone is prominent in the less noisy textures - serenading and meditating. Simplicity asserts itself occasionally - usually in the quieter sections (Track 3 18:55, 20:40). A fondness for marches (purposeful and savage) is clear enough. They often emerge out of quiet and disrupt its peace. Melody is there but obscure and often twisted out of shape. Sometimes it emerges gloriously in full flood as in 24:02 and closes the work in a not unclouded confidence.
Symphony No 7 Dithyrambes pour les temps à venir (1963-65) 18:02 Omroep Orch and Radio Chamber Orch/Roelof van Driesten rec 1984.
This, the shortest of the seven, was premiered in Amsterdam in 1967, the year of the composer's death, and is intended as a song of joy. He was by the time of the premiere quite deaf. The music was written after a decade of his retirement to Laren, a period during which he was at last able to dedicate himself to music. The music sometimes sounds like a giant clock mechanism. The times to come envisioned here, feared or invoked, are disturbed. The visions are out of a Bosch painting. Only in the final "sunrise" bars does a sense of conventional joy emerge.
Recording quality is exceptional. If you are dubious try the first symphony. The discs are well filled: 74:20, 73:54, 74:37. The only forced compromise involves splitting the fifth symphony across CDs 2 and 3. However all credit to Donemus for presenting the works in chronological order across only three discs. Some low level tape hiss is discernible in some of the recordings especially when listening with headphones. This does not detract from the music.
The bilingual (English and French - no Dutch!) documentation by composer-conductor Otto Ketting in a 64 page booklet is excellent with solid information, recording history and good photographs (Vermeulen looks strikingly similar to the young Bax). This is a set too easily lost in the constant blaze of artist-centred publicity by the major companies. Recommended for all explorers of 20th century music. If you have enjoyed Frankel, Fricker or Pettersson then you must hear this music. (c) Robert Barnett
CV36 Symphonies 1-3 Dutchman prelude
CV37 Dutchman 2 extracts, La Veille, Symphony 4 and I Symphony 5
CV38 Symphonies 5 (II and III), 6-7
THOMAS WILSON Violin Concerto SHOSTAKOVICH Festival Overture HOLST Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus (The Planets). Ernst Kovacic (vn), National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, Christopher Seaman. Linn Records NYOS NYOS001 (mid-price)
I approached this disc with some misgiving about the programme. Who wants a recording of four of Holst's Planets coupled with Shostakovich's Festival Overture and Thomas Wilson's Violin Concerto?
I do. Having heard the performances, I do. This is a gem of a disc. And let it be said at once that the playing and conducting is extremely good. Christopher Seaman is a fine conductor with excellent insight. I recall the distinguished pianist Peter Katin telling me that in his fifty years on the concert platform he found no better conductor.
Thomas Wilson's Violin Concerto is a beautiful work, a piece of lyrical sensitivity. It is almost sensual and many human emotions are here. What is also immensely satisfying is its logical musical coherence, its evident and sound structure, its lack of sickly sentiment and its elegant melodic and harmonic invention. When one considers that the work's inspiration was the late Bryden Thomson one can appreciate the work even more. It being a willing labour of love. The clarity that 'Jack' Thomson brought to his conducting and his concentration on detail and balance is inherent in this masterwork. It has an elegiac serenity that is profoundly moving. It is a work from the heart and to the heart of all who appreciate music of such rare quality as this.
Kovacic makes an impressive soloist and shows that his heart, as well as his exceptional ability, is in the piece as well.
The Shostakovich is a difficult work to bring off successfully but this is the best recording I have encountered for a long time. The movements from The Planets are played well with a bright sound. However strange the coupling, this disc should be snapped up because of a truly superb Violin Concerto. Only the ignorant will fail to respond to this exceptional work.
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