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.
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Georges AURIC Film Music Caesar and Cleopatra*; The Titfield Thunderbolt; Dead of Night*; Passport to Pimlico; The Innocents*; The Lavender Hill Mob**; Moulin rouge**; Father Brown*; It Always Rains on Sunday*; Hue and Cry*. (* - Premier recording ** -Premier recording in this version.) Rumon Gamba conducts the BBC Philharmonic CHANDOS CHAN 9774 [72:50]
The Film Music - new recordings - suites from:-
Caesar and Cleopatra 1945
The Titfield Thunderbolt 1952
Dead of Night 1945
Passport to Pimlico 1949
The Innocents 1961
The Lavender Hill Mob 1951
Moulin Rouge 1952
Father Brown 1954
It Always Rains on Sunday 1947
Hue and Cry overture 1946.
Georges Auric was a member of the celebrated rebellious group of French composers known as Les Six (the others were: Darius Milhaud, Francois Poulenc, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger and Germaine Tailleferre). Under the influence of Jean Cocteau and Eric Satie, they achieved notoriety for their advanced ideas. Honegger and Auric (and to a lesser extent, Ibert) were prolific writers of screen music, mainly for the French cinema. [Jean Cocteau was famous not only as playwright and librettist but also as a screenwriter and director, with films like La Belle et la Bête and Orphée to his credit.]
In a forty-year film career, Auric composed well over a hundred French film scores and in the latter part of his career scored a succession of big-budget, pan-European co-productions aimed, presumably at the American market. It is, however, with his music for British films that this new Chandos album is concerned.
Auric composed nearly thirty British scores. It has been rumoured that Walton, Britten and Prokofiev all turned down the scoring of the 1945/46 Gabriel Pascal production of Caesar and Cleopatra, starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh, after Sir Arthur Bliss resigned form the project. The film was a mess due to the wayward excesses of Pascal who was something of an early Michael Cimino. Auric's music was one of its few saving graces. The nine-minute suite, recorded here, begins with the Main Titles that evoke the glittering waters of the Nile, the sultry atmosphere of Cleopatra's court and her own sensuality plus the majesty and might of Ancient Rome. 'At the Sphinx' is a fine impressionistic piece with very colourful orchestrations including piano, celeste, xylophone, bells, harp, saxophone, tuba, chirping woodwinds, and sultry strings all contributing to a hot house atmosphere of heady seduction and intrigue. 'The Battle' is another colourful and exciting extravaganza that, in places, is reminiscent of Respighi in his Roman trilogy mode.
While Caesar and Cleopatra ground on in post-production, Auric was contracted to score a very different film - the first great British horror film - Dead of Night (1945). This was a portmanteau film that included the story of the demented ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) and his devilish dummy. Auric's roller-coaster ride of a score is suitably nighmarish and spectral, but not without a wry sense of humour (ghostly horse-laughs and ghoulish glissandos suggesting passing wraiths). There is also a poignant edge to the music suggesting the ventrolioquist's plight and an appealing sugary Ravelian waltz.
Perhaps Auric's best known British score is that for John Huston's 1952 production of Moulin rouge, the story of the disabled artist Toulouse-Lautrec. Auric's music superbly captures all the brilliance and decadence of the legendary restaurant-cum-cabaret, the 'Moulin rouge' with its scandalous can-can dances - and polkas and quadrilles all heard in this nine-minute suite. The film was famous for its waltz song, 'April again, beside the river Seine,' sung endearingly here by Mary Carewe.
It is probably forgotten that Auric scored some of the best-remembered and best-loved British comedies filmed in the famed Ealing Studios. Here they are. The short suite from 'The Titfield Thunderbolt' (1953) is jolly and high-spirited. Just as his colleague, Arthur Honegger, had perfectly captured the essence of the huge locomotive Pacific 231, so Auric marvellously portrays the lumbering and puffing old steam engine of the title. He also brilliantly portrays the colourful characters who champion the threatened railway against the threat of the unscrupulous bus company. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) is another high-spirited romp. It begins with an imposing, pompous fanfare/march before the music lampoons itself and we are into quieter music of plotting and stealth before the comic-caper robbery music. Auric has a theme of glittering incandescence to portray the gold which is melted down and cast as miniature Eiffel Towers for the French tourist market. The hectic-paced 'The Eiffel Tower' cue music is a mercurial Gallic tour-de-force. Gallic charm pervades the suite from Passport to Pimlico (1949) which again begins self-importantly before Auric's irreverent high spirits take over as the cheeky cockney inhabitants cock a snook at authority and declare themselves the independent state of Burgundy. The score is suitably French-flavoured with some subtle London song colourings. A delight this score. Another merry bustling score came from Auric's pen for Hue and Cry ((1946) which was another light-hearted romp of penny dreadfuls and hordes of children chasing villains across war-scarred London.
In contrast to his comedy scores, Auric composed altogether darker material for the 1961 production of The Innocents a subtle but harrowing horror story, starring Deborah Kerr, and based on the Henry James story, The Turn of the Screw. Auric takes the innocuous old English folksong 'O Willow Waly' and gives it a chill disturbing twist. It is sung here, unaccompanied, by soprano Anthea Kempston. The Main Titles music is equally disturbing beginning with solo oboe and flute singing mournfully in a remote key and other woodwinds joining in with brushed cymbals and eerie high strings circulating around the sound stage to create an opaque and mysteriously threatening atmosphere. More cheerful music underscores the coach ride but the atmosphere chills as Bly House is reached.
Another darker score was penned by Auric for It Always Rains on Sunday (1947). This 14-minute suite is the most extended selection on this album and it is powerful material that should have been recorded long since. Auric cleverly suggests the teeming rain, and not only a sense of tragedy and foreboding, but also Cockney fun, in his Main Titles and Opening Scene music with its stabbing staccato chords suggesting gunfire. There is poignant romantic music for 'Tommy and Rosie' which suggests a hopeless passion. This cue and 'Farewell' have a Debussy-like intensity. 'The Getaway' music underscoring the life-or-death chase of the escaped convict, John McCallum, through the railway marshalling yards is exciting indeed. Younger film music composers could learn a thing or two from this inventive chase music.
Finally there is another great and cheerful Auric score that should have been recorded ages ago - that for the Ealing-like Father Brown (1954). This film starred Alec Guiness as the mild provincial Catholic priest who has phenomenal powers of detection. Very appositely the Father is pitted against a French master criminal 'Flambeau' allowing Auric, once again, to demonstrate his cross-channel versatility. Auric's colourful, busy score combines an appealing Poulenc-like insouciance with more serene material to suggest Father Brown's piety and 'The Cross of St Augustine.' The Channel Crossing and the cheerfully evocative 'Train Journey to Fleurancy' music are particularly appealing.
This is a very welcome addition to film music enthusiasts' collections. The BBC Philharmonic play with great enthusiasm and conviction under their young conductor Rumon Gamba. The sound is first class too, revealing this music for the first time in all its vibrant colours. [British film music recording techniques of the 1940s and 1950s left a lot to be desired too many scores sounded muffled and thin.]
and Rob Barnett adds
This disc takes us through one aspect of Auric's film music. He wrote only 30 scores for British films. There are 100 or so other continental scores including Rififi (1954) and La Belle et la Bête (1946). As one of the group of French composers known as 'Les Six' he has a reputation as a joker and a bit of a flâneur. This disc shows that he has a wider span of accomplishment.
The Cleopatra music is richly impressionistic and impassioned with a hint of Irishry at least once - a tribute to G.B. Shaw perhaps? The Titfield Thunderbolt score starts jokily but the middle section (Triumph) has a few memories of Honegger's Pacific 231 and indeed I am sure I caught a hint of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as well. The title bars for Dead of Night are out of the same book as Mossolov's Zavod. This is fearsome music of machines - wild and imposingly tempestuous with perhaps a presence from the Valkyries. Passport to Pimlico echoes with memories of rural France and one can speculate that this brightness which I also associate with Canteloube's orchestral Auvergne arrangements had its impact on the young Malcolm Arnold. Respighi's Pines and Mossolov's music of machines meet in the exuberant finale.
The ethereal riches of Anthea Kempston's soprano chimes across the music in The Innocents, catching the slightly boomy effect of a boy alto. The nerviness of machine music is also there in the Coach Ride plus the gracious dip and bow of Ben Frankel's Carriage and Pair. Both machine rhythms and Respighian excess hit you between the eyes (ears?) in The Lavender Hill Mob. To this is added an English pastoralism and the rush and scramble of the chase scenes at the Eiffel Tower. The end-titles have a baroque trumpetry grandeur.
Moulin Rouge's minatory storminess soon departs in favour of a sweet tune. This melts into the Belle Epoque celebration and flouncy petticoats which returns in the final Quadrille. Mary Carewe's Waltz Song is sweetly sung and fortunately escapes the operatic style which would have killed this song stone dead. Whoever was responsible for selecting Mary Carewe should take a bow. This is touchingly done. An instant hit and must son catch the attention of Classic FM as should all of the tracks on this collection.
Father Brown's music is dashing - catching the spirit of Dickensian London (yes, I know the novelist is G.K. Chesterton). The Train Journey (interesting that trains played a part in Auric's life rather like Goossens and Moeran) and the finale are much affected by railway beats and machine rhythms.
There is a substantial suite from It Always Rains On Sunday initially rosily sentimental but this soon fades into a mechanistic nightmare like a great steam engine with pistons out of control and the governor broken. The overture (all the other films are represented by suites) from Hue and Cry is a champagne gambol through the alleys of London. From the music the locale could just as easily have been Paris. In this mood Satie (Parade), Milhaud (Boeuf sur le Toit) and Ibert all jostle each other.
I was not surprised to see that this collection had been restored by the redoubtable and heroic Philip Lane who had the full cooperation of Mme Michèle Auric.
This is a comprehensively enjoyable collection and will appeal, given half a chance, well beyond the confines of the film score enthusiasts. Do please get it. The collection has a generous playing time and recording quality of the finest.
J.S.BACH Lutheran Masses (Vol. one) Susan Gritton, Robin Blaze, Mark Padmore & Peter Harvey with Purcell Quartet & instrumentalists Chandos Chaconne CHAN 0642 (59 min)
These delightful works have been relatively unavailable of late so it is good to have them in this splendid Chandos Chaconne issue with some of the most exciting English soloists on the scene. The occasionally nasal voice of Robin Blaze adds colour and polish to the intimacy of Bach's Lutheran settings whilst the reinforced string sections of the Purcell Quartet make for a highly enjoyable musical experience. Of course, one cannot expect the grand rhetoric manner of the great B Minor Mass here but there is much to enjoy in terms of Bachian counterpoint especially in the flowing 'Gloria' movements of both masses.
Susan Gritton is also quite accomplished in her soprano parts although I was not totally comfortable with Peter Harvey but these are relatively minor quibbles compared to the general excellence that informs this enterprise. As stressed earlier, these Masses are quiet, rather chamber like settings, more in the mould of small parish performance and they receive exactly the right performances here with a ten member ensemble complete with the pre-requisite oboe that provides the contrapuntal 'line', always a delightful feature in Bach.
BWV 235 is slightly longer than its predecessor but there is no fundamental difference in either of the works, in fact one can almost replace entire movements from each mass and not notice any changes, I tried this little comparison experiment with gusto! Chandos have secured a delightfully clear sound with crisp treble roll-offs and a smooth midrange. In the meantime, Volume 2 is eagerly awaited but this first issue will do for the present, sumptuously performed and presented, it deserves the highest possible recommendation. Incidentally, the Bach flood that is dashing at the gates of this century is getting rather out of hand!
Bach's four "user friendly" shorter masses, which omit the Credo and take around half an hour each, have always been over-shadowed by the B minor Mass, even though they contain some of the finest music of his Leipzig years. They involve re-cycling of earlier music on German texts. Such self-plagiarism was common at the time (Handel often did it) and was perfectly respectable.
Intimate performances, with solo singers for the choruses and one player to a part, have become commoner since research by Joshua Rifkin and his advocacy of this approach. These are all highly rated musicians on the British early music scene and there is an admirable immediacy in this attractive CD of the A major (BWV234) G minor (BWV235) Masses. There is no named director, but the instrumentalists include such stalwarts as Catherine Mackintosh and Stephen Preston. The dance source of so much of Bach's music is evident from the first Kyrie, which sets the feet tapping. However, it does sound like a studio CD rather than a real performance and I find the voices a little too forward. There is full, learned, documentation including details of each instrument used.
Peter Grahame Woolf
J.S.BACH Lutheran Masses (Vol. one)
Agnes Mellon, Gerard Lesne, Christoph Pregardien & Peter Kooy with Collegium Vocale Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Phillippe Herreweghe
Virgin Veritas 7595872
The same two masses are included in a recording by Phillippe Herreweghe and his Collegium Vocale of 18 singers and a similar number of instrumentalists from Ghent, which I acquired after they gave the four Lutheran masses and the B minor in London. Whilst I do not want to enter into controversy or embark upon detailed comparisons, I prefer Herreweghe's approach and his use of a small orchestra and soloists to contrast with choir, as is more traditional - though in Bach's day they would probably have come forward from the ranks of the choir to sing their solos. The recording conveys a hard to define feeling of long and deep association with his regular team of collaborators, nurtured through numerous live concert performances. Herreweghe finds room for an additional Sanctus (BWV 238) which helps to tip the balance. Recording is excellent and background information fully sufficient.
Peter Grahame Woolf
J.S.BACH Lutheran Masses (Vol. one) Agnes Mellon, Gerard Lesne, Christoph Pregardien & Peter Kooy with Collegium Vocale Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Phillippe Herreweghe Virgin Veritas 7595872
EDGAR BAINTON (1880-1956) Symphony No. 2 (1940) [27.21] HUBERT CLIFFORD (1904-1959)) Symphony (1940) [42.49] JOHN GOUGH (1903-1951) Serenade for small orchestra (1931) [2.14] BBCPO/Vernon Handley CHANDOS CHAN 9757 [72.30]
The CD era from 1983 onwards and particularly over the last ten years has seen a positive explosion of musical riches. Works known only from lists in music dictionaries have become auditory reality. The chance to explore and discover has been extended to anyone for the cost of a CD.
This disc marks yet another step forward in documenting what can loosely be called the British musical renaissance. Some may quibble at that word 'British' as Clifford and Gough were Australians (though both spent significant amounts of time in the UK) and Bainton emigrated to Australia in 1934.
For those fortunate (as well as tolerant) enough to have discovered the symphonies from private archival or off-air tapes these works will not come as a total revelation. For most people this music will be completely unfamiliar so a few words of orientation and musical triangulation may well help.
Everything here is melody-centred. Clifford wrote film music and several lighter orchestral works. Bainton's language is similarly tonal but with lashings of Baxian impressionism.
The Bainton Symphony is the second of his three. Its Baxian language is sultry and mixes in a cool Finzi-like pastoralism and perhaps reaches towards Frank Bridge's Summer and two Jefferies Poems. The eruptive flute figure is typical of Bainton. It appears also in the Third Symphony. The language flickers into Debussy (La Mer) territory as well. The Track 4 Maestoso recalls Bax in warlike Rosc-Catha mood as well as cross-referencing to Bax's Fifth Symphony in triumphal mood and this can also be heard in the piu lento of track 10. The hushed rush and shiver of the molto vivace is strikingly memorable and returns for the allegro vivace. The poco piu mosso slides in and out of woodland ecstasy. The rippling woodwind and harp of the adagio might almost have come from the pages of Bax's Spring Fire or Summer Music or Happy Forest. The lento section (track 11) takes much from Bax's Garden of Fand. The tolling molto maestoso might well have been inspired the spine-chilling music Franz Waxman wrote for the animator scene for The Bride of Frankenstein and this returns to close the work with a sense of horror and victory; the last element twisted with an Irish accent.
The Gough Serenade is the briefest of opalescent gems. Its easy relaxation coasts along in leafy repose - a chip off George Butterworth and RVW Dives and Lazarus.
The Clifford work is simply glorious and the recording conspires to give it the best chance of registering with us catching the throaty woodwind and the abrasive punchy brass. The musical reference points include Walton's First Symphony, the Rootham Symphony (No. 1), a dash of Bliss and Prokofiev. The first movement beats with romantic life darting and vigorous. Handley gives the work an estimable voltaic charge which propels it forward. The Scherzo (II) is similarly restless. The Adagio is the longest movement (over 15 mins) although not for a moment is there a hint of creative sprawl. Concentration is never in doubt and this is well caught in the performance. The finale bustles along with a syncopated confidence that recalls Bliss in the Colour Symphony and Sibelius 2 and 5. The Clifford Symphony can be loosely grouped with dramatic contemporaneous works such as the Arthur Benjamin Symphony and Goossens' No. 1.
All the works on these discs are recording premières. They have never been commercially available in any medium. Both the Bainton and the Clifford exist in private recordings but their circulation has been very slender.
Now, Chandos, what about turning your attention to Bainton's 'chef d'oeuvre', his Third Symphony. This was recorded commercially during the dawn of the LP preserving a concert performance with the Sydney SO conducted by Sir Bernard Heinze. It is a work with a visionary mien and a power encountered in the sixth symphonies of Vaughan Williams and Bax. It is also a work that demands utter commitment from its conductor and orchestra. I can think of no better match than Handley and the BBCPO.
Two previously unrecorded wartime symphonies flanking an even lesser known serenade recorded in excellent sound and in no-compromise performances.
AMY BEACH (1867 - 1944) Piano Trio Op150, Piano Quintet Op 67, Theme and Variations for flute and string quartet Op 80 The Ambache CHANDOS CHAN 9752 [64.16]
There is something highly commendable about Amy Beech as a person. She married a prominent Boston surgeon in 1885 and always wished to be known as Mrs H.H.A. Beach and not Amy Cheney. Although a contemporary of Dame Ethel Smyth, the two women could not be more different in character. Smyth was bellicose, argumentative and dangerous in her eccentricities whereas Beach was a contented woman who had a tremendous moral stance and was very compassionate. She was widowed at 43 and found inspiration in the Episcopalian church. She studied in Germany for three years before the outbreak of the First World War. In fact it is the Germanic seriousness and romanticism that infuses her work.
Clearly her Piano Quintet owes a great deal to Brahms' F Minor Quintet and it is a competent and pleasant work, and beautifully played here but it is not original and could have been written by anyone with Brahms as a model before them. Occasionally, the music has a sort of Palm Court sound. There is no music of this time that is original such as Max Roger for example ... but we must 'balance the scales' and not dismiss Beach as merely old-fashioned although she was. I always find it difficult when a composer dismisses the work of Bartók and Hindemith, two giants of the 20th Century ... which Beach did.
On the other hand, her music is well structured and has a coherence as well as an obvious appeal. It is vastly better than some British Victorian and Edwardian composers.
The Theme & Variations comes from her partsong, An Indian Lullaby. It is another piece with a 'warm' sound; it is very pleasant and again has a coherence, and these features are most welcome, but there is really no memorable material. It is almost 'mood' music. It is easy on the ear and, as a result, becomes tedious.
A little expansiveness is an asset to the Piano Trio but, again it is very pleasant if not much else. All the harmonies are predictable; there is nothing neither new nor compelling. One can be bored with bland pleasantness. Music needs bite!
ERNST VON DOHNANYI (1877-1960) Suite in f sharp minor (1909) [28.42] Variations on a Nursery Theme * (1913) [24.31] The Veil of Pierrette suite (1909) Howard Shelley (piano) * BBCPO/Mathias Bamert CHANDOS CHAN 9733 [69.52]
After hearing this superbly varied celebration of the artistry of Ernst (or Ernö) von Dohnanyi I am enthusiastic about exploring further. I am intrigued by the possibilities offered by his two violin concertos (perhaps to be coupled in Hyperion's romantic violin concerto series). And the two symphonies - the latter already available from Chandos (CHAN 9647+9455)
This is music of sheer delight and the BBCPO and Bamert must take a deep bow. The suite mixes the playful Brahms (St Anthony Variations and Academic Festival) with super velour work for the wind instruments. The drama of Brahms 1 also gerts a look in as does the innocent exaltation of Nutcracker. Listen to the mellifluous flute at 6.13 and the pre-echoes of Franz Schmidt's Hussar Song Variations in the scherzo. In III a sinuous slave girl dance winds exotically in and out. The final rondo is a Brahmsian helter-skelter scurry.
The well-known variations are witty and again mercurially varied. The influences include the torment of Brahms 1, flickering and floating waltzes, a boosy bassoon and piano duet (9), a Viennese Sugar Plum Fairy arranged for miniature hurdy-gurdy, grandeur and amusement. The moods melt and sweep along and Howard Shelley is as alert as we would expect from such a masterly player whose artistry has never been restricted to the box-office standards.
The Pierrette music is again bursting with variety. Gloom and charm bruise shoulders. The affluent ballrooms of Vienna rub along with a distinctly Mahlerian (although also merry) funeral march. The young Sibelius is also there - not such a strange thing bearing in mind that a number of Sibelius's early triumphs were in Germany. The wedding waltz finale's grand strings may well have been influenced by Elgar's Introduction and Allegro of four years previously However this is just a scene-setter for an over-top luxury waltz - all done with breathless élan.
The sound quality is typically superb and well up to the usual house standards. Arachnophobics may like to approach this disc with care. Odilon Redon's smiling but hungrily leering spider decorates both the disc and the cover! Recommended.
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904) Symphony No. 8*, Nocturne for Strings*, ,Overture: In Nature's Realm ,Carnival Overture London Philharmonic Orchestra* Ulster Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley Chandos CHAN 7123 [68:07] Reissues from 1983 and 1985
It really must be hard to imagine a more melodic symphony than this full of beguiling tunes that spin around in the head for days especially those two sparkling dances that comprise the Allegretto grazioso third movement. Handley's reading of these is ravishing. In fact this performance is, for my money, as good as any you will hear. He introduces a much-needed sense of dramatic intensity and mystery into the first movement thus pointing up the contrast between the more sunny and joyful elements.
Handley even manages to make the weaker final Allegro ma non troppo with its rather banal military figures sound interesting. There are currently over sixty entries for this popular symphony in the R.E.D. catalogue. The Gramophone 1999 Good CD Guide prefers: Mackerras, Järvi (again on Chandos, recommending his readings of all the Dvorak symphonies - but beware the book wrongly attributes these to Handley!); Masur, Abbado and Ancerl.
Handley also delights in the idyllic pastoral evocation, with its myriad birdsong, that is the Overture: In Nature's Realm with its lovely lilting main melody. He also rejoices, excitedly, in the hustle and bustle of the country fair that is the subject of the Carnival Overture. Yet he does not neglect the voluptuous or the darker more dangerous aspects of this exciting overture. Finally, the elegant string playing of the London Philharmonic Orchestra distinguishes Dvorak's lovely Nocturne for Strings which was one of the composer's first works to captivate British audiences.
A confident recommendation
ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) Symphony No. 1 (1881) Violin Concerto (1903)* Julia Krasko (violin) * Russian State SO/Valeri Polyansky CHANDOS CHAN 9751 [59.12]
I first became a Glazunov enthusiast as a result of hearing the violin concerto in a Decca recording (LP 1970s) of Jose Sivo. After that I pursued every bit of Glazunov I could trace. There is still a great deal more to hear but among the symphonies particular favourites of mine are numbers 5 and 8. The late saxophone concerto is also well worth tracking down.
The present rather fine disc is part of a steadily unrolling cycle. Numbers 4 and 5 came out very recently (I write in September 1999) and Number 2 plus the Coronation Cantata was issued a year ago. Given Polyansky's predilection for broader tempi I am particularly looking forward to the grandeur of his account of the Eighth Symphony.
The present disc gives us his 1881 symphony - the work of a prodigy. The premiere was conducted by Rimsky-Korsakov. It is Rimsky who is credited with having given a strong guiding hand and his influence and that of Balakirev is felt throughout the symphony. Glazunov was a fine colourist as his ballet The Seasons testifies. He had a special sympathy with the Kouchka and his dazzling completion of the Borodin 3rd Symphony is a far more accomplished work than some rather sniffy commentators infer. As for the first symphony the present performance makes for it one of the most successful arguments I have heard. The tempo is usually on the broad side as is often the case with Polyansky. Rozhdestvensky on Olympia has more vibrant pizzazz but the Russian melancholy is better conveyed by Polyansky and the RSSO. The recording, rather recessed but responding well to a volume boost, is the last word in refinement. Chandos have long put behind them the sometimes rather over-rich and congested sound accorded to the Bax symphonies.
The Violin Concerto is probably the market leader at present. Certainly it is close to the top of the league and it is more sympathetically coupled than many. The dancing horns of the opening bars did not at first seem to bode well. They were set so far back by comparison with other favourites. However the moment Juliet Krasko's deft and succulent-toned playing entered the proceedings the impression changes. This is a most vibrant and successful performance. There were times, especially during the flaming finale, where it seemed to me that Krasko was goading the orchestra into a new access of excitement. The orchestra and conductor seem to be bucked and jolted along. The result sets the pulse racing without destroying the poetry of this lovely piece relegated by ignorance to the ranks of the second or even third league concertos.
ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV (1865-1936) Symphony No. 4 (1893) [32.16] Symphony No. 5 (1895) [34.45] Russian State SO/Valeri Polyansky recorded Moscow April and November 1997 CHANDOS CHAN 9739 [67.08]
We too easily forget Glazunov's world-wide success. His symphonies in particular had repeated performances during the 1890s and 1900s in the USA and especially in the UK. Glazunov himself travelled widely to conduct these works. Sir Henry Wood in London was a strong advocate and a staggering number of multiple performances were given conducted by Sir Dan Godfrey at Bournemouth. Gradually in the 1960s through the export of various Melodiya performances Glazunov's star began to rise from the abyss into which it had sunk. Ivanov and Fedoseyev had LPs issued in the UK via EMI. Later a reputedly very fine set (reckoned by the Glazunov Society to be THE reference set and sadly unheard by me) was recorded by Evgeny Svetlanov and these were issued on Melodiya CDs during the early 1990s. Regrettably they seem to have disappeared now. The Rozhdestvensky set on Olympia is well worth hearing but the level of aural refinement is not a patch on the present recordings.
No. 4 is, unusually for Glazunov, in only three movements. The first has a fine rangy oriental romance which meets Tchaikovskian delirium. Indeed Tchaikovsky is often a presence in both symphonies. The second movement is a buzzing and dancing scherzo where icy woodwind chatter in carefree delight. The speed is so fast that I thought that co-ordination slipped in the first couple of moments. These doubts were soon banished as the balletic music self kindled in joyous celebration worthy of Glazunov's more popular ballet The Seasons. The finale's trampling Cossack charge is all excitement and grandeur. The brass echo-effects (horns to trumpets) are truly exhilarating.
Symphony No. 5 is one of Glazunov's most popular symphonies. It has catchy themes and is amongst the most dramatic of the nine. In Polyansky's hands however the broad approach sometimes teeters over the edge into languor. This is noticeable in the first movement and somewhat in the fourth and final movement. At these points the performance would have benefited from a tauter and snappier direction. Tchaikovsky's 5th symphony is a clear influence with its admixture of ballet and drama. The second movement is again balletic resorting to flashy display which conveys sincerity and is not at all meretricious. The big romantic theme may well have inspired Prokofiev's Classical Symphony (1914). Listen carefully you may be surprised. The delicate emotional pastels of the andante are glowingly done. The finale's Russian Easter Festival is as explosive as Tchaik 4 but here is taken with a rather broader pacing. It could have taken more accelerator. That said the lightning flashes and the thunder crashes in a contest in which richly Rimskian darkness meets Tchaikovsky's emotional fever. Another familiar voice (at 2:33) is Rachmaninov's First Symphony (the disastrous premiere of which was presided over by Glazunov). In the crashing finale Polyansky recaptures the nervy invigoration.
Some reservations then but my how Polyansky and his orchestra articulate this music. Chandos have a winner on their hands in terms of the subtly-lit strength of this pair of performances. I restlessly await the remaining symphonies and especially numbers 6 and 8. Will they be on a single disc? A series to follow closely.
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) WORKS FOR CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA Volume IV Including: Danish Folk-Song Suite; Father and Daughter; Kleine Variationen-Form To a Nordic Princess; The Merry Wedding; The Crew of the Long Serpent Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo-soprano); Johan Reuter (baritone) Danish National Radio Choir Danish National Radio Symphony conducted by Jesper Grove Jørgensen and Richard Hickox The Chandos Grainger Edition Volume Eleven: Chandos CHAN 9721 [64:35]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) SONGS FOR MEZZO Including: Died for Love; The Sprig of Thyme; Willow, Willow; Colonial Song; Four settings from Songs of the North; Two settings of Rudyard Kipling Della Jones (mezzo-soprano); Penelope Thwaites (piano) With Mark Padmore (tenor); Stephen Varcoe (baritone); John Lavender (piano) The Chandos Grainger Edition Volume Twelve: Chandos CHAN 9730 [73:49]
WORKS FOR CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA Volume IV
The major work in this programme (some twenty-minutes in duration), and probably the best known is Grainger's Danish Folk-song Suite for orchestra. Hickox and the Danish orchestra turn in a most captivating and exhilarating performance. The work is based on a series of narrative folk songs, themselves often taken from quite grisly fairy tales. The opening movement, 'The Power of Love' begins with solo piano, eerie harmonium and then solo trumpet proclaiming the melody over melancholy comments by the woodwinds and harp ripples plus xylophone colourings. The strings then present the melody in surging Romantic tradition. The second movement, 'Lord Peter's Stable-boy' features the organ, piano and bells strongly and is a rollicking piece with another strong melody. The ravishing third movement 'The Nightingale' and 'The Two Sisters' is quieter and more restrained. A lovely violin solo heightens the mood of romantic melancholy. Immediately afterwards, a most hauntingly beautiful horn chorale leads into heart-felt passionately intense music. The final movement is called 'Jutish Medley' it is a wild extravaganza following the pattern of the opening movement. It is an irresistible swaggering joyful celebration with sweeping romantic melodies adding an appealing touch of nostalgia.
This album includes two premier recordings and three premier recordings in the versions performed. The opening song 'Father and daughter', beginning a capella, with the orchestra creeping in after a few bars, is buoyant but rhythmically complex. Kleine Variationen-Form is a most impressive little orchestral work and is a highly Sibelius-like evocation of a magic winter journey. The chill and swirling snow stirred by gusts of wind is very palpable. An appealing warmer melody, even though threatened by darker figures, seems to promise a thaw. Grainger's lovely choral setting of the popular Swedish folk tune, the romantic melody, 'A Song of Värmeland' follows.
To A Nordic Princess was performed immediately before the wedding of Grainger to Ella Viola Ström. One can imagine the 15,000 to 20,000 audience, at the Hollywood Bowl, being bemused, enraptured or cringing with embarrassment, according to their predilections, by this extraordinary orchestral piece with its huge climactic peroration featuring bells, piano and organ in extravagant late Romantic mode. In similar vein, the lovely lilting 'The Merry Wedding' (Bridal Dance) was dedicated to Karen Holten; it is entirely original not based on folk tunes and is an exuberant celebration of a country wedding. The Danish choir's singing is particularly appealing and refined in this number.
Stalt Vesselil (Proud Vesselil) in the version here for flute, cor anglais and strings is a slighter melancholic reflective work full of regret. The uncompleted song The Rival Brothers is a sturdy sea-story of rivalry in love. 'Dalvisa' is another brief but attractive vocalise. The Crew of the Long Serpent (Seascape) is immensely enjoyable. It has an extrovert adventurous spirit as well as being vividly evocative of sea swells.
The programme is completed by 'Under a Bridge', a song originally intended as a wedding-gift for Grainger's bride-to-be, Ella. It is about a courting couple taunting each other (see review of Volume 12 below). This broader version is most exotically orchestrated with xylophone, vibraphone and bells etc. and Pamela Helen Stephen and Johan Reuter in strong voice as the determined protagonists. The joyful climax as the woman traps her suiter into matrimony is merry and jubilant indeed!
Another brilliant addition to this marvellous series
Volume 12 - SONGS FOR MEZZO
Those who were fortunate enough to attend the Percy Grainger weekend last Autumn, in London's St John's Smith Square, will doubtless recognise not only many of these songs, but also the artists who assembled there under the enthusiastic and dedicated Grainger enthusiast Penelope Thwaites. This twelfth album in the Chandos Grainger Edition is one of the best so far - a complete joy from beginning to end - 31 memorable numbers. Of these, fifteen are premiere recordings and a further thirteen are premier recordings in the versions performed.
Della Jones is a splendid and practised interpreter of Grainger's songs. She has impressive expressive powers and her voice has a most pleasing silken timbre. Space forbids me to mention every one of the songs but I will cover those that particularly impressed me.
The opening number is Grainger's affectionate harmonisation of the popular traditional Welsh song, 'David of the White Rock'. Three lovely folk song settings follow, all hauntingly poignant: 'Died for Love', 'The Sprig of Thyme' and 'Willow, willow'. 'Near Woodstock Town' is a sentimental wordless vocalise setting of another English folksong that offers Penelope Thwaites the opportunity to contrast the predominantly serene accompaniment with some disturbing ripples. She plays a dark accompaniment too to Grainger's version of the popular 'Early One Morning' that emphasises the underlying tragedy of lost love, while Della Jones follows the more traditional and lighter vocal line. For the narrative folk song 'In Bristol Town,'
Della is accompanied by guitarist George Black, so giving a measure of historical authenticity. Della Jones then sings four settings from Songs of the North, which she relishes in sturdy interpretations in broad Scottish dialect. These include the famous 'Skye Boat Song' and 'Weaving Song'. Two more distinctive traditional Scottish folk tunes follow: 'The Bridegroom Grat' and 'The Land O the Leal.'
Della Jones is joined by Stephen Varcoe in two very amusing Danish traditional songs of sexual bickering: 'Under a Bridge' in which the two lovers taunt each other until the woman triumphs (vociferously) when the man commits himself; and 'Hubby and Wife' in which the wife gets the upper hand. How Della rubs this in!
Mark Padmore joins to form a trio in the unusual 'The Lonely Desert-Man Sees the Tents of the Happy Tribe' which forms the central section of The Warriors. Using wordless syllables, Grainger achieves an appropriate feeling of the desert - an eerie remote vastness. Padmore and Jones combine again for the lovely sentimental 'Colonial Song.' Of the two settings of Rudyard Kipling 'The Only Son' is based on the Jungle Books. 'The Love Song of Har Dyal' comes from Plain Tales from the Hills.
Of the remaining songs in the collection, I would briefly mention the captivating children's lullaby, 'Little Ole with his Umbrella'; a vocalise version of Grainger's Handel in the Strand - 'Variations on Handel's 'The Harmonius Blacksmith'; and the hauntingly sweet 'After-word' written by Grainger as an expression of love for Karen Holen.
An outstanding release.
FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) Nelson Mass, Ave Regina, Missa Brevis Collegium Musicum 90 Richard Hickox CHANDOS Early Music CHAN 0640
Of Haydn's last great masses, the 'Nelson' one is probably the most famous. This is in no small measure due to Sir David Willcock's outstanding Decca recording from way back in 1962 that led the way in scoring such works for chamber size forces. Of course, we have come a long way since then and this Hickox recording has been eagerly awaited since his current cycle of these choral works has been of consistently high standard throughout.
The delightful sound of period instruments lends an added urgency to this 'Missa in Anguustis'; indeed the scoring is subtly palpable and highly tense. The opening 'Kyrie' is a case in point with whirling kettledrums and acidic strings making for a splendid cocktail. Hickox's urgent tempo is very much in the mould of the Wilcox version. Susan Gritton's lovely contributions in the 'Gloria' are an added bonus and the theatricality of that movement finds Hickox tickled pink throughout. All the other soloists are impeccable although Varcoe is occasionally too studied. The ominous sounds of the Credo are beautifully portrayed whilst the usual martial overtones in the Agnus Dei are remarkably underlined.
All in all, this recording of the Nelson Mass can claim to be the most satisfying at the moment. A delightful bonus is to be found in the rare 'Ave Regina', not a masterpiece but pleasant nonetheless. The same can be said for the early Missa Brevis, short but quite profound in its choral handling. Excellent Chandos recording and the usual striking presentation should win this disc many admirers and is self-recommending for those who have taken the dip into Richard Hickox's Haydn mass series.
and another view from Peter Grahame Woolf
Composed rapidly during summer 1798 after completing The Creation, Haydn made a virtue of necessity (dismissal of Prince Esterhazy's windband to reduce expenditure) with his theatrical and war-like scoring of the new mass for strings with only 3 trumpets, timpani and organ, which he played himself. (The Nelson association is spurious.) Its opening is arresting and the tension and exceptional beauty of this wonderful music never flags. In earlier decades within my lifetime the Haydns masses were neglected and undervalued in England as being insufficiently solemn.
This recording in Blackheath Halls has all the immediacy and tension of a live performance and rates amongst my most exciting listening of the year. The excellent soloists are well balanced with chorus and the early music orchestra Collegium Musicum 90, whose instruments are detailed in the exemplary notes. The youthful Ave Regina has an Italianate style for the soprano soloist, Susan Gritton. The Missa Brevis, composed when he was about 17, was rediscovered in his old age by Haydn himself, who took pleasure in its "certain youthful fire" with florid parts for two solo sopranos.
An enormously satisfying CD, not to be missed.
Peter Grahame Woolf
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) Suite de Ballet ; A Song of the Night* ;The Wandering Scholar Chamber Opera in One Act cast below *Lesley Hatfield (violin) Northern Sinfonia conducted by Richard Hickox Chandos CHAN 9734 [53:39]
Alison .Ingrid Attrot (soprano)
Pierre Neill Archer (tenor)
Louis Alan Opie (baritone)
Father Philippe .. Donald Maxwell (bass)
This brief but delightful programme opens with an early work, Suite de Ballet., Op. 10 (1899) which Holst wrote while he was touring with Carl Rosa. It is light music. The opening 'Danse rustique' is just that, a charming little piece with plenty of rhythmic drive, recalling Edward German and Sullivan. 'Valse' has the grace of classical ballet although one or two phrases might disconcert some choreographers into thinking them rather heavy-foooted. The 'Carnival' movement is high-spirited and evokes the hustle and bustle of the crowds and the enticements of the side-shows and fair-ground rides. There is quite a strong Gallic feeling about it yet the slower middle section uncannily pre-echoes Eric Coates's more romantic moments. But the most charming movement, is the sweetly romantic and atmospheric nocturne that is the 'Scène de nuit.'
Another lovely nocturne - Song of the Night (1905) demonstrates how far Holst's talent had progressed. This work has altogether more depth and range and shows much more confident and imaginative writing for the solo violin. Although Holst left no clue as to the specific meaning or influence of the song, we may deduce that it encompasses his enthusiasm for Indian mythology since, at the time, he was deeply immersed in learning Sanskrit and writing music with definite Indian leanings.
The main work in the programme is the brief (25 minute) one-act chamber opera, The Wandering Scholar (1929-30) that was influenced by the writings of Helen Waddell. The comedy is slight with no chorus and just four characters. Holst uses spare orchestral forces, there are no big numbers, no set-pieces, and no overture. It is a simple rural tale, told simply with original music that suggests (but is not) folk music.
The story opens with farmer Louis (a lusty yet reliable Alan Opie) wanting to take his oats with his wife Alison (a scheming, flirtatious Ingrid Attrot) but she has other ideas. As soon as she sees Louis off to market, she entertains randy Father Phillipe hinting - " the heart should have its fling and put forth new love every Spring..." The orchestra amusingly admits the idea but, at the same time, censors it. For his part, Philippe (a really lecherous ill-tempered Donald Maxwell), is keen to get her upstairs (up the ladder anyway) to " exorcise the naughty devil of springtime in your eye " He is just about to have his wicked way, when Pierre enters (a knowing Neill Archer as the not-so-innocent wandering scholar). Pierre is down on his luck and begs food. To Father Philippe's disgust, Alison fancies him and wants to feed him. In a jealous rage, Philippe chases the hapless boy away. Once again, the would-be lovers go towards the ladder, fat Philipe worrying if the rungs will hold him when they hear Louis returning - with Pierre! Hurriedly, Alison hides the food and wine and pushes the fat Father beneath a clump of hay. Louis demands that Alison feeds Pierre. She is adamant that there is no food in the house and tells him to take Pierre into town for a meal. Pierre suggests he tell a tale first. Louis is enthusiastic but Alison, understandably, is not. During his fable, Pierre manages to weave into the story the whereabouts of the food and wine, and, finally. Philippe together with an allusion to his wicked intentions. Louis beats the fat man and chases him from the house then invites Pierre to sit and eat while he takes Alison upstairs
A slight but amusing tale that Holst considerably heightens with his music.
An interesting collection for Holst admirers.
ZOLTAN KODALY Missa Brevis, Jesus and the Traders, Evening, Matra pictures Helen Charlotte Pedersen (sop), Maria Streijffert (alto), Lars Pedersen (ten), Michael W, Hansen (bass), Torsten Nielsen (org)Danish National Radio Choir conducted by Stefan Parkman CHANDOS CHAN 9754 [53.39]
In the 60 CDs that I have reviewed so far for this website this is, without doubt, the finest. Listening to this almost faultless music was a rare experience full of intellectual and emotional significance and a telling spirituality that is second to none. When music can elevate one's spirit to both heights of aestheticism and soul satisfaction, it must be great music. The Missa Brevis is.
And the singing is of impeccable quality. Both the organ and its executant are superlative. And the recording and the engineers must take immense credit. The music is never distant or reverberant.
But it is the equality of Kodály's music that is staggering. Wonderful rich harmonies and a poignancy that has the power to move to therpatic tears. It really is a profound and rewarding experience. There are passages of unequalled beauty and power. Music like this must have the ability to encourage the pagan to think again.
Kodály is a great composer and not merely on this evidence alone. His incredible Sonata for solo cello, Op 8, of 1915 is a masterpiece too, as are his other outstanding works the Palmus Hungaricus of 1923 and the Badavár Te Deum of 1936. His orchestration is excellent as in for example, the rich pastoral shades of Summer Evening and the infectious exhuberance of the Dances of Galánta.
He was a very likeable man and a very brave one particularly during the dark days of the Second World War.
Jesus and the Traders is an unaccompanied choral piece set in Kodály's native Hungarian. It has rich textures, choice harmonies and is another 'must' for students of choral music and composers who want to excel in this genre.
Evening has a compelling evocative sound, an incredible beauty and a controlled nostalgia.The pale beam of evening's star
Is smiling down on the world
Soon, up, up will come the full moon
A glittering, glittering canopy of heaven
Earth's noise has died away.
And so to the Mátra district of Hungary for five choral vignettes which are another example of Kodály's mastery of choral composition. I have a few minor niggles but compared with the overwhelming superlative performances I can only marvel at the sensational experience that this CD has given me. Perhaps it is personal and this CD came to my desk at the right time, but it does not alter the facts of the greatness of the music and genuinely outstanding performances.
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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