Classical Editor: Rob Barnett
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett, Spoken Word Editor :Gerald Fenech, Reviewers: Rob Barnett, Ian Lace, Len Mullenger, and: Richard Adams, Arthur Butterworth, Paul Conway, Andy Daly, Tony Duggan, Jane Erb, Gerald Fenech, Lewis Foreman, David Frieze, Malcolm Galloway, Ian Marchant, Gairt Mauerhoff, Humphrey Smith, Colin Scott Sutherland, Andrew Seivewright, Richard Whitehouse, Reg Williamson, Peter Grahame Woolf, David Wright.
October 1999 part 2
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BOHUSLAV MARTINU 1890-1959 Piano Music (selection) Eleonora Bekova (piano) CHANDOS CHAN 9655 [60.10]
Fantaisie et Toccata (1940)
Eight Preludes (1929)
Piano Sonata (1954)
Dumka No. 3(1941)
The Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon (1948)
The three Bekova sisters have already given us, courtesy of Chandos, a complete cycle of the three Martinu trios. Now Eleonora Bekova has recorded a selection (it could have been longer) of the piano music - largely from Martinu's later years. It is not labelled volume 1. No doubt Chandos will be watching the sales - which deserve to be good - even allowing for the one hour playing time.
The Fantaisie et Toccata was written during the Martinus' flight from Paris with Rudolf Firkusny. That sense of the hunt and loss pervades the music even during those irresistible passages where Martinu's hallmark of air-lofted energy takes wing. The driven and steely-eyed glint of the toccata is most impressive.
The preludes come from another and less turbulent world: the Paris of the early 1930s. The first of the eight is a capsule of time-slowed clocks. The second is a nervy stalk through the jungle. The third inhabits the dream-world of the opera Julietta. The fourth hops and skips like a gerbil on cinders. The fifth is a meandering capriccio with some nervy Lambertisms. The sixth is a cloudy largo and the seventh a presto étude seeming to have been written for a player piano. The final prelude is a dizzying roustabout dance.
Piano Sonata has considerable meditative power which at 0.58 (in I) almost launches into Medtner. The music is often ripplingly changeful with a vivid sense of fantasy. The second movement's initially quiet music is followed by a mix of buzzing activity and Beethovenian moonlight. The finale is stern and harsher-toned; plagued with dissonant alarm bells rung from Martinu's childhood church clock-tower. The work ends rather conventionally.
Finally three characterful bonne-bouches. Dumka 3 breathes innocence and simplicity rather like an uncomplicated piece by Fauré. The Fifth Day's has an agreeable hint of Chinoiserie paralleling the work of Constant Lambert in his Li Po settings. The Bagatelle reels with Bachian chimes.
Ms Bekova seems completely engaged by this music and is alive to the Martinu's imagination and articulates his dream. All we need to do is to listen and that is no hardship at all. warmly commended.
NICOLAI MEDTNER (1880-1951) The complete (14) piano sonatas (1901-37) Forgotten Melodies Opp. 39 and 40 Geoffrey Tozer (piano) recorded 1991, 1992, 1997, 1998 CD1 [74.50] CD2 [76.50] CD3 [77.15] CD4 [75.21] CHANDOS CHAN 9723 4 CDs £25.99
After years of drought we now, and blessedly, move into an era of plenty where fine performances of the music of Nicolai Medtner abound. What do we lack? The greatest omission is a complete set of the songs. This would be a natural for Hyperion (who already have various song cycles to their credit) or for Chandos who have already started the proces with one disc (Ludmilla Andrew - am, I the only one to recall her very fine Sibelius Luonnotar broadcast?).
The present cycle is the second complete set of Medtner piano sonatas. The first, reviewed by me last March, was Hyperion's Hamelin set. This included all 14 sonatas plus the two sets of Forgotten Melodies and Zwei Märchen. That set was very special.
What I have found in listening to the two sets, the Hyperion for more than six months, is that Medtner's art is supple and open to varying approaches. Deeply rewarding, disciplined music with a fine sense of melody and fantasy are in this case channelled into sonata-form. His German blood no doubt warmed to the discipline of the sonata although the fences are pretty widely cast.
Tozer's boundless energy in this enterprise (bear in mind his complete set of the piano concertos, and discs of the songs and violin sonatas - all on Chandos) coupled with a sensitive and fresh approach, which could not have been guaranteed in such a project, mark this set out as warmly rewarding.
The pianist's feeling for the music cannot be in doubt and communicates time and again in eloquence and fantastic spirit. This is heard to very best advantage in the Sonata-Triad (surely one of the wonders of Western music). Examples of Tozer's sense of pacing, halting and pressing forward, leap from each bar. He is lucid but not so analytical that ideas and textures are deconstructed. Medtner's introspection however does not mean somnolence and the storm (listen to the Sonata Minacciosa) can be unleashed just as convincingly as the spinning of a lyrical line.
The obvious question is which of the two almost identical sets (Hyperion or Chandos) you should opt for. Both are glowingly recorded. Both are well documented. The truth is that both are glowingly romantic documents brimming with pianism of the highest order. Neither has a single routine performance. Everything is put across as an 'event' in its own right. The choice comes down to personal taste. Tozer will appeal if you warm to the extremes of sensitivity and the gloriously just sense of pacing and flow. He always has 'le mot juste'. Hamelin's performances are somehow more dangerous and the sense of fantasy streams off the concentric circles of the disc in a starry torrent worthy of that fine illustrator Virgil Finlay.
Purchase of either of these sets is unlikely to leave you disappointed. The choice is yours. Either way you will be granted a seat at the edge of a dream.
SERGEI RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Piano Concertos Nos 1-4 Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Earl Wild (piano) RPO/Jascha Horenstein recorded Kingsway Hall, May 1965 CHANDOS ENCHANT CHAN 7114 (2 CD) [67.46] [65.45]£17.00
Here, in one single-width case, you have one of the paradigms of the catalogue. For years this was a sleeper resting in the obscurity of the Reader's Digest subscriber archive. Wild's performances are now easily available via this set and the differently coupled three discs available in the USA from Chesky (variously coupled with Macdowell Piano Concerto No. 2 and most missed in the present company Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead).
Ardour and darkly glowing passion light up these works with uncommon muscularity. Wild's standing as a virtuoso is well and truly affirmed by these eloquent performances. Every moment is alive to dynamic subtlety as well as the pliant ebb and flow. Horenstein, much associated with the Mahler and Bruckner, still seems a strange choice as conductor but the chemistry worked and the enchantment is complete.
There are details to be regretted such as the decision to use the shorter version. The recording is getting on for 35 years old and no doubt greater refinement is on tap in technical terms from more recent digital performances but once again the music making excels all and Chandos have drawn on the deep pile luxury of the original analogue spools to extract a splendid sound. Wild's self-intoxicated yet still taut performances banishes all regrets while the music is playing and long after silence has settled on the loudspeakers. If you are looking to be further convinced try sampling the last movement of the second piano concerto where astounding solo playing is complemented by whip-crack playing from 'Beecham's orchestra'. The ecstatic moaning of the orchestra in the climactic third movement of the third concerto is also notable. Both the unfashionable first and fourth concertos yield up new glories in the hands of these artists. The Paganini set is done with uncommon brilliance although I thought that the famous string anthem did not ring as sumptuously as it might have done in other recordings.
Design, as with all the Enchant series, is matchless: rich, dark and brooding. Trilingual notes are by John Cox.
For a single set at mid-price and allowing for a shorter version third concerto, there is no true competition. I confidently recommend this set which contains so many memorable and deeply moving and viscerally exciting moments. It beggars belief that these sessions in the now demolished Kingsway Hall can have been so consistently successful. They will be enjoyed down all the years.
ALFRED SCHNITTKE (1934-1998) Cello Concerto No. 2 (1990) [42.00] (K)ein Sommernachstraum (1974) [10.37] Alexander Ivashkin (cello) Russian State SO/Valery Polyansky CHANDOS CHAN 9722 [52.50]
Schnittke's concerto is blackly and bleakly rhapsodic with a pretty assertive vein of dissonance. Alexander Ivashkin's flammable playing reminded me of the young Arto Noras (his Sallinen, Kokkonen and Bliss performances are treasure-house material). One cannot help but be impressed. In addition Ivashkin also wrote the liner notes.
The concerto is a disquieting nightmare. Notable snapshots include the abrasive ghoulish whinnying of the cello at 1:22. A hair-raising sound. The cello is recorded very forwardly. I would have liked a more commanding presence for the orchestra especially as it positively heaves with detail. The slow-stepping grave is overwhelming and Schnittke's beloved harpsichord puts in an appearance here. The final passacaglia is longest of the five movements at 16.05 and draws on a theme from his music for the film Agony. The film score is recorded on OLYMPIA OCD606 and is well worth seeking out (Schnittke's film music is not to be dismissed). All in all, in this concerto, Schnittke beats the Scandinavians at the gloom game. This is a depressive compelling whirlpool of a work.
The brief Sommernachtstraum's dislocated clockwork rains down dissonant drifts of notes. This is Mozart (often unfiltered) slipping backwards and forwards in time, melting through mirrors and windows and lost in some crazed inner-world circus.
The element of dissonance is strong in these works but an underlying sense of melody is never far away.
Articulate music meet for hardier ears ready for a challenge.
and another view from Peter Grahame Woolf
This huge and important cello concerto (1990) is in five movements, the slow finale more than a quarter of an hour long. It is full of conflict, with massive orchestral climaxes, characterised in the soloist's interesting liner notes as a prolonged fight, with confrontations between hero and mob, etc. Very dramatic and gripping music, pessimistic in feel - it ends with the soloist playing in a high register until he becomes inaudible, "killed" by the orchestra, it may be thought.
Impressive, strong playing, totally committed. The orchestra is the former Soviet Philharmonic Orchestra which had been formed by Rozhdestvensky, the present conductor in post since 1992. They have made many records of Schnittke's music for Chandos.
The fill-up (Not) A Midsummer Night's Dream (1985) starts with a delicious conceit, a sweet little Mozartian tune for violin and piano, the violinist specified to be at the back desk of the second violins, giving food for thought about the orchestral life and a moment of glory for the lucky player. to be played by with comes as a welcome relief, but beware, you have been warned - this is Schnittke! It all gradually curdles, proliferating polyphonic lines develop in the composer's polystylic manner and you are taken for a ride into strange, disturbing and sometimes banal territory with fairground music and a catastrophic climax with massive orchestral dissonances, all built upon the original little tune which is never far away. Some of this reflects Mahler's way with popular ingredients in his symphonies, but Schnittke has his own bitter, ironic flavour. Back afterwards to the innocent tune in simple C major and the nightmare is over, all in 10 minutes. This is a great piece to play to unsuspecting friends without advance warning what it is.
Peter Grahame Wolf
P.S. I agree with Rob Barnett that the cello is too forward in the Chandos recording of the Schnittke 2nd Concerto; there is a more natural balance in the BIS version (Thedéen/Malmö S.O. on BIS CD-567) which is coupled with the far more substantial Concerto Grosso No 2, 32 mins. The BIS series, recorded with the composer's involvement, is indispensable. (Not) A Midsummer Night's Dream is included with Ritual, Passacaglia and the Faust Cantata. All the BIS CDs are highly recommendable.
Peter Grahame Woolf
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphonies Nos. 3*, 5* and 8 *Northern Sinfonia conducted by Heinrich Schiff Ulster Orchestra Conducted by Vernon Handley Chandos Enchant CHAN 7126 [78:09]
This is one of those rare occasions where Chandos strayed into the standard core repertoire and, of course, they faced considerable competition from the major recording companies employing first class conductors and world-renowned orchestras. Nevertheless, the Gramophone Good CD Guide listed these Heinrich Schiff recordings of Schubert's 3rd and 5th symphonies amongst those that they recommended (alas they do not figure in the 1999 list). Schiff indeed scores highly in the lighter 3rd symphony which recalls both Beethoven and Mozart. Schiff offers a crisp, springy-rhythm reading which has great appeal and the rustic quality of the opening Adagio is most charming. However, if I had to live with one recording of this symphony, then it would have to be Beecham and the RPO for its delicate beauty and grace. Turning to the Fifth Symphony, although Schiff has plenty of turbulent drama and energy I much prefer the old Karl Böhm recording with the VPO for a more sympathetic performance, full of warmth and humanity - for me, this is one of the great Schubert recordings. Vernon Handley offers a stalwart Eighth with depth and insight but the competition is intense and he is outranked by too many heavyweight competitors. Günter Wand and Abbado particularly impress. Summing up if you prefer these three symphonies on one CD at an attractive price, this is a safe recommendation otherwise shop around.
ALEXANDER SCRIABIN (1872-1915) Prometheus: Poem of Fire (1904) 19:43 * Fantasy (1902) 39:59 ** Piano Concerto (1904) 46:46 *** Viktoria Postnikova (piano) Residentie Orchestra, the Hague/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky CHANDOS CHAN 9728 [60.53]
Every Rozhdestvensky disc is an event. He is a most joyous communicator and I still deeply lament his decision to leave the BBCSO all those years ago (1982?). His years with the BBC were ones of enterprise and new experiences: exploration of the old and the new. As I have said before, BBCTV broadcasts of his concerts lit up our understanding of what ignites his interest. That factor is a sense of revealed joy in music making; not that the music he champions has to be happy but he is able to find the spark for the combustible material in all works whether Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Delius or Sibelius (when oh when will someone license his set of the Sibelius symphonies?).
This quality of vividness and concentration at the service of a fellow Russian is again to be heard here. The Residentie Orchestra play in style and share the conductor's and the pianist's sense of communicative vitality. Prometheus plays for 20 minutes. Its mysteries and exaltation are plain for all those who give themselves up to the music. Some will remain obdurate but I found the sense of concentration and the utter conviction which burns in this performance completely compelling. The Fantasy, in a version orchestrated by the conductor, is given its recorded premiere. It is a work of Lisztian delicacy and Postnikova's rolling and quietly glittering harp-like playing sent me right back to the work to hear it again. Finally we have the one work which makes Scriabin a composer worth coming back to again and again. This is the early piano concerto. This is a work you have to hear. If you don't know it already you have a treat in store. Do you enjoy Rachmaninov, Liszt and Chopin? Do you like tunes you can sing along to? This work has memorable tunes in each of its three movements and the plum is surely the Rachmaninovian melody that dominates the middle movement tema con variazioni.
DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH The Complete String Quartets - Vol. 1: String Quartet No. 6 (1956) [27.16] String Quartet No. 7 (1960) [13.44] String Quartet No. 10 (1964) [27.07] Sorrel Quartet CHANDOS CHAN 9741 [68.24]
The Sorrels are a young all-female quartet early in their recording career. They were founded in 1987. They have a well-received Britten quartet disc to their credit and this is also on Chandos.
The present disc makes a promising overture to their quartet cycle. It is to their credit (and that of Chandos) that they are not launching the n'th Mozart or Schubert cycle. Although Shostakovich cycles are not exactly rare they are still seen as outside the safe middle ground.
Their advocacy reflects a big-boned intensity which is evidenced in the 3rd movement of No. 6. I am quite sure that the desperation of this music of howling tocsins must have benefited from the coaching the young quartet received from Rostislav Dubinsky. Dubinsky has been a staple of the Chandos catalogue for some years now and as a founder member of the Borodin Quartet his influence must be taken as authoritative. Intensity and concentration are here in plenty.
The Sixth Quartet's urbane Viennese and classical manner (written as a relaxation after the very different rigours of the Fifth Symphony) is filtered through the composer's usual harsh Russian winter clouds. Such is the lightness though that on occasions Shostakovich seems to reach back to Prokofiev's Classical Symphony.
Finally we come to Quartet No. 10 (dedicated to an unjustly neglected composer - Moshei Vainberg). This explores the elusive dream territory of Shostakovich's coolly enigmatic second violin concerto. The Adagio is rather approachable catching the shadows and light of some Russian monastery. Certainly it has a sense of being at emotional ease. The Quartet comes across in this music as musical actors.
The drama is rounded off in a rather fine disc (by a finale whose rhythmic life struts gamely from the same source as the finale of Shostakovich's second glorious piano concerto. Good notes by Eric Roseberry.
Recording excellent. Recommended.
Hugo WOLF 33 Songs from the Italian Songbook Ileana Cotrubas, Thomas Allen and Geoffrey Parsons CHANDOS CHAN 7127 53 mins
This live recording from a 1984 recital at the Royal Opera House is released as a tribute to the much-loved accompanist Geoffrey Parsons, whose untimely death shocked the musical world. Hugo Wolf composed these songs in groups from 1890 to1896, so it is not inappropriate to perform selections, although recitals of the Italian Songbook, always shared by two singers, often comprise all 44 songs in the two volumes. There are, of course, many fine studio recordings by the greatest lieder singers, but there is a particular charm in a live performance as well captured as this, even though it is short measure at 53 mins.
None of these miniatures lasts much more than two minutes, and the poems are variously romantic, ironical and sometimes witty, often with surprise endings. Lovers worship and revile each other by turns. The Italian Songbook is a good introduction to the world of lieder for the surprisingly many music lovers who listen mainly to orchestral music and shy away from song. Balance is excellent, both singers are in fine voice, and the palpable enjoyment of the audience at some of the humorous punch lines is apparent from time to time. This is a splendid memento of Geoffrey Parsons and I was particularly happy to hear Thomas Allen in his prime.
Peter Grahame Woolf
TAKASHI YOSHIMATSU (1953-) Saxophone Concerto Cyber-Bird (1993) Symphony No. 3 (1995) Nobuya Sugawa (saxophone) BBCPO/Sachio Fujioka CHANDOS New Direction CHAN 9737 [68.15]
The saxophone concerto was written for the present soloist and his friends, pianist, Minako Koyagi and percussionist, Takako Yamaguchi. The style is floridly lyrical, jazzy and fleetingly avant-garde (in a 1960s sense). The first movement's flights of lugubrious ecstasy and energy-suffused danger leap out from the same cliff-edges as Michael Nyman's Where The Bee Dances. The lyricism takes some buffeting from a few ironclad passages of wild dissonance offset by dashes of Delian relaxation. The second movement is echoingly warm and coaxing with the 'ticking' of the piano holding the music up - frozen in eternity. The finale is just as inventive with more of the jazzy Nyman atmosphere. This is a major discovery.
The third symphony 'liberates those melodies, harmonies and beats that bear the seal of the twentieth century and unleashes the passions of a composer who was thrilled as a child by the symphonies of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius' (composer). Opening tremulously it soon develops into a collision of En Saga and one of Alan Hovhaness's epic dances. Repetitive it can be, but the explosively unstoppable propulsion which can be sampled at 4:12 is truly awesome without descending into meaningless pattern-making. Sibelius is quite a strong voice in this work and I should not be surprised at the attraction of this Finnish composer to Japanese musician; I have always wanted to hear the lauded Sibelius symphony cycle recorded by Akeo Watanabe. Hovhaness's strange ancient voices call out from broken ancient ramparts on which flames and ancient sunsets play. The second movement's mirror fragments dance away with a mosaic life of their own: little piano rushes and scampers here, an oboe dance there and a jazziness that has also settled on the sax concerto. The third movement's two cellos rhapsodise evocatively like the prominent cello solos in Sibelius's 4th symphony. The finale's opens with defiant Bernard Herrmann's mountain-top fanfares. Colour and heat gusts out like a door opened from a Bessemer furnace. The blast is distinctly Sibelian with percussive raps, Latin-American rhythms and whipcrack shots out of the William Schuman vocabulary. This is a big and exciting symphony of grinding and flaring triumphs, hammering, shimmering and thrumming.
Two substantial works from Chandos's composer-in-residence (and what a good idea to have one). Yoshimatsu's voice is one for today and tomorrow. Please do not ignore him. You will like this music.
La Guitarra Latina (Latin American Guitar Music) Eleftheria Kotzia CHANDOS CHAN 9732
Roland Dyens (b.1955)
Tango en skaï
Hector Ayala (b.1914)
South American Suite
Ernesto Cordero (b.1946)
Three Cantagas negras
Edmundo Vasquez (b.1938)
Joäo Teixiera Guimaräes (Pernambuco) (1883-1947)
Sons de Carrihões (Sounds of Bells)
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Verano Porteno (Summer in Buenos Aires)
Rio Sena (River Seine)
La Muerte del Ángel (Death of the Angel)
Dilermando Reis (1918-1976)
Xödó da Baiana (Sweetheart of Bahia)
Se ela perguntar (If she should ask)
Eleftheria Kotzia certainly sounds a confident guitarist with a wide dynamic range, quite aggressive at times, but refined and lyrical when required and a fine sense of the use of tone colour.
There are moments of slight hesitation but on the whole she is secure rhythmically, which is imperative given this type of repertoire. The recording itself is a little noisy, possibly due to the closeness of the microphone to the instrument, so string squeaks and Miss Kotzia's breathing are audible. But through it all comes an undeniable enthusiasm and enjoyment of playing the guitar.
Although I do like Villa-Lobos, Lauro and Barrios it is refreshing to hear a disc of Latin American guitar music where they are conspicuous by their absence and not at all missed. To be sure there are some old favourites here but these are more than adequately balanced by some lesser known works and some 'interesting' premier recording especially from Ernesto Cordero whose 'Three Cantagas Negras' incorporates various percussive effects as well as crossed string techniques that shows his modern forward looking approach, which is in contrast to Edmundo Vasquez's view of purity of form in his 'Auzielle'. The diversity of styles is maintained by the jazz tinged tango based music of Piatsollo, whereas Hector Ayala endeavours to capture the main musical characteristics of South America as a whole via his seven movement suite (first made known to me some years ago on a recording by Narciso Yepes). John Duarte supplies the booklet inlay notes which, it goes without saying, are concise and very knowledgeable.
So, disregarding the technique employed by Chandos for this recording, an enjoyable CD of music which deserves subsequent listening.
Guitar Meditations Craig Ogden CHANDOS CHAN 9743
Antonio LAURO (1917-1986)
from Suite venezolana
Agustin BARRIOS (1885-1994)
Una limosna por el amor de Dios
Takashi YOSHIMATSU (b.1953)
Wind color Vector
Two Little Pieces
Heiter VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
from Twelve Etudes
Etude de arpèges
William LOVELADY (b.1945)
Incantation No. 7 'Donegal'
Incantation No. 6
Incantation No. 3 'Hommage to Stanley Myers'
Francisco TÁRRAGA (1852-1909)
Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Eduardo SAINZ DE LA MAZA (1903-1982)
from Platero y yo
Leo BROUWER (b.1939)
Duos temas populares cubanos
Canción de cuna
Jorge CARDOSO (b.1949)
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Stanley MYERS (1934-1993)
Cavatina (arr. John Williams)
Craig Ogden has something of a reputation as one of the leading guitarists of his generation, so high expectations accompany any new release from him; but I doubt whether this latest offering will reinforce his position.
The music presented does include three premier recordings but on the whole the rest of the programme is in the category of the 'rent-a-programme'. I mean before forking out your hard earned cash you must wonder how many more versions of Tárrega's 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra' or 'Capricho Arabe' your collection needs, let alone more studies from Villa-Lobos. Reputably Barrios wrote several hundreds of works so why is it only the same handful seem obligatory in this type of programming.
Of course new recordings of these works are necessary but only when the performance is in some way of an exemplary quality. Sadly Craig Ogden's are not quite in that class. I am the first to say music making should not become a competition but here it invites comparisons. Craig's playing on this disc is competent rather than distinctive, the sound has been treated with a little too much reverb for my taste but without it I fear it would be a little dry. His treatment of expression is a touch erratic. As in the case of 'Capricho Arabe', were the rallentando's and accelerando's seem to alternate with no apparent regard to the music, thus undermining the natural rhythmic pulse of the piece and although his tremolo technique is relatively smooth (there are three pieces on the disc where it is used) I feel it is slightly bass heavy so it intrudes on the melody line.
Of the premier recordings these pieces must be judged on their own musical merits.
Craig Ogden has already recorded Yakash Yoshimatso' 'Concerto for Guitar' (Chan. 9438). These first recordings of 'Wind Color Vector' and 'Two Little Pieces' are for solo guitar. Yoshimatso obviously has an affinity for the guitar but I found my attention wandering during the longer (at 10:47) 'Wind Color Vector' which employed abundant harmonic, tremolo and rasgueado techniques but had no apparent direction, whereas the shorter pieces worked more successfully.
William Lovelady is a new name to me but his 'Three Incantations' touched with an eccentric charm, reminiscent of Eric Satie made them for me the highpoint of the disc.
It seems extraordinary that Eduardo Sainz de la Maza's 'Platero Y Yo', composed in 1960, has never been recorded in its entirety. 'Platero' and 'El loco' are only two of the eight movements (some of which have already been committed to disc). Less well known than the Castelnuova-Tedesco composition of the same name, both are based on Juan Ramón Jimenez's book of prose about a little donkey. De la Maza's view is less episodic than Tedesco's but it bears the distinctive fingerprints of the composer. A fine example of that period of Spanish guitar music.
Just a word about the sleeve design and title. 'Guitar Meditations' that falls into the '100 great tunes', 'Music of the Night' T.V. advertised style of marketing, which does a label like Chandos no favours.
This record could well appeal to the collector of guitar music simply for the premiered items but the listener who really wants a disc of guitar favourites there are plenty of budget priced collections that would be more appropriate.
VIENNA PREMIERE VOL 3 (first ever recordings of works by the Strauss Family and their Viennese contemporaries). The Viennese Orchestra of London/Jack Rothstein CHANDOS CHAN 9127 (61' 10'')
This extremely attractive compilation provides a welcome antidote to the countless versions of over-familiar Strauss bonbons which fill the shelves of most record shops. Such war-horses are mainly written by Johann Strauss the Second, who is to my ears not quite the equal in terms of melodic invention or skill in orchestration of his father or Josef Strauss, to say nothing of Lanner or Zeihrer. How exciting, then, to come across a compilation of world premiere recordings featuring a strong representation by Josef, Eduard and Johann Strauss I as well as rarely-heard works by Millocker and Fahrbach Jr.
The CD begins with Eduard Strauss's "Loyalty of the Austria's People" March, swaggering with appropriately patriotic pride. Charming rather than bombastic, this makes an impressive start to the programme. The following "Casimir Waltz" by C. M. Ziehrer is typical of its composer, wittily scored (with a quote from "Yankee Doodle Dandy" in its opening section) and full of memorable touches. The Millocker polka "Knock on the Door" is pleasant but unexceptional whilst another Zeihrer delight, the "Dancing Temptress" quick polka proves this underrated composer could write polkas to match the quality of his more famous waltzes and marches (the "Schonfeld-Marsch" is a particular favourite of mine).
A rare opportunity to hear a waltz by Johann Strauss III is afforded by the inclusion of "Under the Linden Trees", a waltz written for Berlin in 1900 and full of turn-of-the-century optimism which now seems tinged with pathos in view of forthcoming events. Johann Strauss II is represented by just one late work - the "Just don't moan!" French polka taken from his last operetta in 1897. Like the opening work on the CD, this piece is arranged (most persuasively) by Edward Peak.
Josef Strauss is featured by his "Walloons March" - a truly original piece with fascinating twists to its melody and orchestration (no wonder it had to be repeated on its first performance). To confirm one's impression that Josef was the most talented of the Strauss brothers, the exquisite "Pauline" Polka-mazurka and the dark but beautiful waltz "Time Pictures" bring undiluted pleasure. His waltzes can be strangely profound, not least in their dark introductions, becoming in many cases mini-tone poems. "Time Pictures" is no exception.
Philipp Fahrbach Junior's "Stork's bills Galop" is jolly but lacking the finesse of say Josef Strauss's "Feurfest" polka to lift its gimmickry out of the realms of curiosity value only. Johann Strauss Senior's "Freedom March" is not quite the equal of its near contemporary - the "Radetzky March" - but it is enjoyable in its own right and reminds us how charming the Viennese march can be in the hands of a master like Johann Strauss I or Ziehrer.
The music of Eduard Strauss deserves more exposure and his "Little Blue Eyes" French polka and, especially, the magisterial "Veil and Crown" Waltz prove that he was more than capable of producing fine melodies to match his brothers. The disc concludes with the sparkling and dazzlingly scored "Carnival in Paris" Galop by Johann Strauss I.
Recorded in vintage 1992 Chandos sound and featuring persuasive and idiomatic performances from the Viennese Orchestra of London under Jack Rothstein, this CD is guaranteed to bring much pleasure. Rothstein coaxes warm and sunny readings from his orchestra. You are not far into the CD before you forget you are listening to rarely heard world premiere recordings and just concentrate on enjoying the tremendous melodic invention on display. Craftsmanship comes in all sizes, as these little jewels demonstrate. Highly recommended.
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