Martyn Brabbins


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Howard Skempton: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Howard Skempton: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Only the Sound Remains

Christopher Yates (viola)

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Roderick Williams (baritone)

Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

Perfectly crafted, deceptively simplistic and distinctively individual, Howard Skempton's compositions have a soundworld all of their own. This new full-length album on NMC perfectly displays his experimental, yet sonorous and tonal music.

Skempton takes on Coleridge's epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and brings it to life, using just solo voice (baritone) and small chamber ensemble. The result is a stunning, dark and hypnotic journey led by the almost constant, magnetic presence of Roderick Williams, for whose voice and dramatic capabilities the piece was conceived.

Only the Sound Remains takes its name from the opening line of The Mill-Water by English poet Edward Thomas. The piece is an evocation of loss and decay, where textures, and melodies mysteriously recur, while others simply fade beautifully out of aural reach. It is written for for sixteen players, including solo viola. This is a stunning premiere recording of two recent works by one of Britain's finest living composers.

“Williams is, as ever, the most spellbinding of of the many things I love about this work is the curious synergy between composer and performer in that both resist the temptation to gild the lily, and in the recording session I attended it really did seem as if Coleridge’s ‘Wedding-Guest’ was conjuring both text and music into being for the very first time.” Katherine Cooper, Presto Classical, 5th May 2017

“[Skempton's] deceptively simple setting of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (almost all of it!) is hypnotically effective...If at times it’s reminiscent of the sea-voyage movement in Britten’s oratorio St Nicolas, it’s also marvellously evocative.” The Times, 14th April 2017

“The vocal line [in Mariner] is necessarily dominant, given the wealth of imagery to be conveyed, though it helps when Roderick Williams has a clarity of enunciation second to none...[in Only the Sound Remains] Yates is naturally attuned to his concertante role, while Martyn Brabbins secures audible finesse from BCMG...this is a valuable addition to Skempton’s expanding discography.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2017

Presto Disc of the Week

5th May 2017

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - June 2017

Released or re-released in last 6 months



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The Romantic Violin Concerto 21 - Bruch

The Romantic Violin Concerto 21 - Bruch


Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 44

Konzertstück, Op. 84

In Memoriam, Op. 65

Adagio appassionato Op. 57

Read Presto's complete review of this disc here

The ‘justly celebrated’ Jack Liebeck (as described by The Strad) follows in the footsteps of Heifetz and Perlman in championing Bruch’s now neglected Violin Concerto No 2, originally written for Sarasate. Three shorter concertante works for violin and orchestra complete the album (Bruch thought the Adagio appassionato one of his best works) which marks volume 21 in our highly regarded Romantic Violin Concerto series.

“as Jack Liebeck’s nicely restrained performance shows, [Bruch's Second Violin Concerto is] a piece that’s perfectly capable of standing on its own musical feet. His fine-grained playing gets exemplary support from Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who never overdo the menace that underlies the first movement especially” The Guardian, 23rd December 2016 ****

“Liebeck is certainly equal to all the challenges, moving from impeccable double-stopping one moment to the sweetest, most ardent of tones in some of the more impassioned passages.” Presto Classical, 23rd December 2016

“There’s much to admire in Jack Liebeck’s patrician account of Bruch’s D Minor Violin Concerto. His playing is virtually flawless in its technical ease, scintillating articulateness and purity of tone.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2017

“Throughout the Second Concerto, with its unforgettable soaring opening, Liebeck combines a beguiling silvery sound with tantalising interpretative restraint, free of heart-on-the-sleeve rhetoric…rarely has Bruch’s melodic genius been sounded with such chaste sweetness as here, ideally complimented by Liebeck’s captivating narrow-fast vibrato” BBC Music Magazine, January 2017 ****

“Impressive performances of the Concerto and of the ‘lesser’ pieces.” MusicWeb International, 1st February 2017

Presto Disc of the Week

23rd December 2016

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Hyperion - The Romantic Violin Concerto - CDA68055



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Elgar: Enigma Variations

Elgar: Enigma Variations

& other orchestral works


In the South (Alassio), Op. 50

Enigma Variations, Op. 36

Carillon, Op. 75

Florence Daguerre de Hureaux (narrator)

Une Voix dans le Désert

Kate Royal (soprano)

Le Drapeau Belge

Florence Daguerre de Hureaux (narrator)

Pleading, Op. 48 No. 1

Yann Ghiro (clarinet)

Two much-loved orchestral favourites representing the summit of Elgar's maturity are coupled with three of the lesser-known wartime works, here receiving their rst recordings with the original French texts. Kate Royal is the soprano soloist in 'Une voix dans le désert', a hauntingly tender masterpiece which every Elgarian should know.

“Both [In the South and the Enigma Variations] are well known and given impressively emotional and dramatic performances by Brabbins...The entire disc is a collector’s item.” Sunday Times, 30th October 2016

“fine, firmly unsentimental, bracingly muscular performances.” The Guardian, 3rd November 2016 ****

“Exceptional Elgar. ‘Nimrod’ has the grandeur of a Bruckner slow movement.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2016 *****

“Brabbins masterminds an expansive, ideally flexible and notably unflustered reading of Elgar’s In the South, one which quarries this evocative score’s plentiful reserves of noble grandeur, pantheistic wonder and vulnerability…[he] proves a comparably unhurried, affectionate and cannily observant guide through Enigma, the friends pictured within springing to life with unforced naturalness…an enjoyable and stimulating anthology that Elgarians everywhere should try and hear” Gramophone Magazine, November 2016

“Splendidly performed and recorded versions of Enigma and In the South, plus some fascinating rarities.” MusicWeb International, 1st December 2016

“Every work is recreated with penetrating musicianship and skilled empowerment from the podium. Every performance is of superlative calibre” Classical Ear, January 2017 *****

“Brabbins’ Enigma is a delight: tempi and tone perfectly judged, a feeling of freshness throughout which is lacking from a number of high-profile recent accounts” Classical Music, January 2017 *****

BBC Music Magazine

Disc of the month - December 2016

Hyperion - CDA68101



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Ralph Vaughan Williams: Discoveries

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Discoveries

Vaughan Williams:

Three Nocturnes for Baritone and Orchestra

Numbers I and III orchestrated by Anthony Payne

Roderick Williams (baritone)

A Road All Paved with Stars

arranged by Adrian Williams

Four Last Songs

orchestrated by Anthony Payne

Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano)

Stricken Peninsula

arr. P. Lane

“Three Nocturnes is the stand-out for me – performance, music itself, everything” BBC Music Magazine, January 2017 ****

“Roderick Williams and Jennifer Johnston are on stellar form, while Martyn Brabbins and the BBC SO give of their very best both here and in two purely orchestral offerings…exemplary production values bolster the appeal of [this Albion release] which can be cordially recommended to all RVW acolytes” Gramophone Magazine, November 2016

“An important collection of Vaughan Williams discoveries. The Three Nocturnes make it a mandatory purchase.” MusicWeb International, 28th November 2016

Albion Records - ALBCD028



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Francis Chagrin: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2

Francis Chagrin: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2


Symphony No. 1

Symphony No. 2

Francis Chagrin described himself as ‘Romanian by birth, British by nationality and cosmopolitan by inclination’. A student of Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger, Chagrin wrote prolifically for films but composed for most genres. The two symphonies are among his most important orchestral works. Both are dramatic, even passionate—not least in the beautiful slow movements—and full of contrasts, both within and between movements. Undeservedly neglected, they reveal Chagrin’s mastery of form and colour.

“Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra remain excellent guides to the score's closely-worked wonders…you can only regret that life didn't allow Chagrin any time for a Symphony No. 3” BBC Music Magazine, April 2016 ****

“the First Symphony impresses by dint of its solid craftsmanship, tasteful restraint and enviable sense of purpose…[the Second] proves another sinewy and rewarding utterance, skilfully orchestrated, uncompromisingly defiant in spirit…collectors with a fondness for, say, Alan Rawsthorne [or] Lennox Berkeley…should waste no time in investigating these two compositions” Gramophone Magazine, April 2016

“As the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s fiercely engaged performances under Martyn Brabbins show, both symphonies are thoroughly worthwhile…there are some echoes of French music, particularly of Roussel in the First Symphony, but much more of that work sounds close to Walton’s music of the postwar period…together, [these symphonies] define an intriguing creative figure, whose music needs to be explored further.” The Guardian, 3rd February 2016 ****

Naxos - 8571371



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The Romantic Violin Concerto 19 - Bruch

The Romantic Violin Concerto 19 - Bruch


Serenade in A minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 75

Romance in A minor for violin & orchestra, Op. 42

Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26

Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1 is the daddy—the most popular ever written. Much recorded, Jack Liebeck turns in a dazzling performance of youthful vigour, prefacing the Concerto with the gorgeous Serenade and a Romance.

“what Liebeck seems to be saying is that Bruch needs no additional sweeteners. His playing is unpretentious and strikingly introspective, resulting in an Adagio of quiet dignity. And even if the first movement doesn't quite match the grandeur of Julia Fischer's or the sweaty passion of Vadim Gluzman's, it stands out for its poise and clarity.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2016

“Liebeck is a red-blooded, eloquent advocate throughout.” The Guardian, 21st January 2016 ***

“Liebeck certainly has the technioque and the temperament...Brabbins doesn't let the music sit down in the first movement [of the Concerto], which has energy and direction from all concerned...[Liebeck] doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, letting the music speak for itself, but I can't helping feeling that the orchestra carries the main emotional burden.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2016 ***

Hyperion - The Romantic Violin Concerto - CDA68060



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Birtwistle: Slow Frieze/Antiphonies

Birtwistle: Slow Frieze/Antiphonies


Antiphonies for Piano & Orchestra

first recording of revised version

Nicolas Hodges (piano)

WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, Stefan Asbury

Slow Frieze

first recording, supervised by the composer

Nicolas Hodges (piano)

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Martyn Brabbins


Marcus Weiss (saxophone) & Christian Dierstein (percussion)

Windkraft Tirol, Kasper de Roo


first recording, supervised by the composer

Antonia Schreiber (harp)

Harrison Birtwistle celebrated his 80th birthday in 2014, and has for many years been lauded as one of Britain’s greatest composers, perhaps the greatest since Purcell. This recording contains major works from the 1990s - Antiphonies, Slow Frieze and Panic - with Crowd, a solo harp work written in 2005, as an epilogue. My first performance of Antiphonies, with BBC Scottish SO and Martyn Brabbins in 1999, marked the first time Harry and I worked closely together. I had also heard the first performance of Slow Frieze, and it was clear to me that the two works should be presented together. Since these recordings were made, my working relationship with Harry has continued with the premieres of two new solo works, the Gigue Machine (2011), and Variations from the Golden Mountain (2014). The collaboration is, happily, ongoing.

“A timely reminder that Birtwistle is no mere local hero: WDR Symphony Orchestra tackles the complexities of Antiphonies, while Windkraft Tirol deliver Panic with tremendous panache…Slow Frieze [is] a superb premiere recording by the BCMG…Crowd, Birtwistle's only work for solo harp, is a tour de force of fearless questioning in an atmosphere of aqueous luminescence” BBC Music Magazine, December 2015

“The ever-impressive Hodges is commanding in Antiphonies, more assured than Joanna MacGregor, and its pairing with Slow Frieze makes perfect sense…harpist Antonia Schreiber is excellent in the sparse, brooding Crowd.” Classical Music, December 2015 ****

“Antiphonies…projects a large-scale drama which veers between dance and dirge…all three performances are as well characterised in their teeming details as they are assured in overall formal precision…the music in this spellbinding performance still comes across as a celebratory lament.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2015

“it is the recording of Antiphonies...that provides the biggest revelation here...The score was revised in 2005 and that is the version that Nicolas Hodges plays here, the revision making it more structurally convincing, and intensely, involvingly dramatic than I’ve ever heard it before, turning the climactic manic section – a Boulez-like toccata – into a virtuoso tour de force.” The Guardian, 12th August 2015 ****

Metronome - METCD1079



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The Romantic Piano Concerto 65 - Albéniz & Granados

The Romantic Piano Concerto 65 - Albéniz & Granados


Piano Concerto No. 1 (Concerto fantastico), Op. 78

orchestrated with Tomás Bretón

Spanish Rhapsody, Op. 70


Piano Concerto in C minor 'Patético'

adapted & reconstructed for piano and orchestra by Melani Mestre

Volume 65 (have you got them all?) of Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series journeys to Spain and the heart-on-sleeve world there to be found. The Albéniz Concierto fantástico owes much to Schumann and Chopin, albeit with an added drizzle of the Iberian peninsula; the perennially popular Rapsodia española, on the other hand, throws all such classical models to the wind.

Granados never actually got round to writing his piano concerto, so our pianist here—Hyperion debutant Melani Mestre—has done it for him. And it’s a romp. The first movement is pretty much ‘echt’, from Granados’ sketches for a putative piano concerto, but thereafter it’s a hugely enjoyable what-if …

“The ebullience of [the Rapsodia española] is infectious in the playing of Melani Mestre, who has also done the speculative reconstruction of Granados’s C minor Concerto...A sombre start, underlining Granados’s adjective patético, has the stamp of originality and its romantic sweep breathes Spanish air.” The Telegraph, 10th May 2015 *****

“The chief interest lies in the Granados, solemn and declamatory in the first movement before leaving its C minor sense of elegy to recall two earlier 'Spanish Dances' and the composer's one unabashed showpiece, the 'Allegro de concierto'. Musical adventure could hardly go further. Impeccably recorded, all the performances by Melani Mestre and the BBC Scottish Orchestra [sic] under Martyn Brabbins are of an unfaltering fluency and stylistic command.” Gramophone Magazine, June 2015

“Mestre plays [the Granados] with flair and the conviction of an evangelist, and is beguiling in the central allegretto. If neither of these works is a “great” piano concerto, both fall attractively within the rubric of Hyperion’s successful Romantic Piano Concertos series, of which this is a remarkable 65th volume.” Sunday Times, 19th July 2015

“Mestre's playing is limpid and convincing, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra giving discreet support.” BBC Music Magazine, September 2015

Romantic Piano Concertos - up to 25% off

Hyperion - The Romantic Piano Concerto - CDA67918


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Havergal Brian: Symphonies Nos. 5, 19 & 27

Havergal Brian: Symphonies Nos. 5, 19 & 27


Festal Dance

Wine of Summer (Symphony No. 5)

world premiere recording

Roderick Williams (baritone)

Symphony No. 19 in E minor

world premiere recording

Symphony No. 27 in C minor

world premiere recording

More world premiere symphony recordings for Havergal Brian fans! In this programme, Martyn Brabbins and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra continue their Havergal Brian series for Dutton Epoch with one of Brian’s most delightful scores, Wine of Summer, the fifth symphony of 1937. The eloquent baritone soloist is Roderick Williams, the orchestral detail beautifully realised in Dutton Epoch’s recording. Brian’s two more powerful later symphonies, No. 19 (1961) and No. 27 (1966-67), make a striking, even heroic contrast, while the ebullient and tuneful Festal Dance of 1908 completes the programme and receives an irrepressible reading.

“Brabbins and his Scottish forces pounce on every glinting detail and quirk…Roderick Williams squeezes every lyrical drop from the sometimes arid vocal line, though it's the orchestral details that grab the ear as the poet lies in his midsummer wood, contemplating bees, brier roses, and old loves that used to burn like 'fierce red kings'. Fruity stuff.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2015 ****

“This disc is something special. It features some of Brian's most attractive scores…and some of the best playing any Brian works have received, as well as vibrantly clear sound quality…[the] performances are beautifully balanced and idiomatic. Brabbins, who has now become Brian's foremost living exponent, directs with complete understanding of the idiom and the orchestra responds with elan. Roderick Williams is an ideal soloist in 'Wine of Summer', his superbly nuanced rendering of Brian's notes and Lord Alfred Douglas's verses fully the equal of Brian Rayner Cook's pioneering interpretations last century” Gramophone Magazine, June 2015

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Dutton Epoch - CDLX7314


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The Romantic Violin Concerto 18 - Jongen & Lazzari

The Romantic Violin Concerto 18 - Jongen & Lazzari


Fantasia in E major, Op. 12

Adagio symphonique in B major, Op. 20

Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 17

Lazzari, S:

Rapsodie in E minor

The Romantic Violin Concerto series reaches Belgium and the music of Joseph Jongen, a composer more celebrated for his organ music now, but who was equally admired in his day for his orchestral and chamber works. Jongen studied at the Liège Conservatoire where he heard the great violinist Eugène Ysaÿe and composer-conductors Vincent d’Indy and Richard Strauss.

In this new album Philippe Graffin (a welcome and familiar presence in this series) collaborates with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic and Martyn Brabbins in Jongen’s Violin Concerto, one of the composer’s first substantial works. It was described by his contemporary Florent Schmitt as ‘one of the finest violin concertos’; and he admired the ‘outpouring of warm lyricism’ and ‘lush profusion of themes and rhythms’.

Also included are other works for violin and orchestra, and a Rapsodie for the same forces by Italian Romantic Sylvio Lazzari (1857–1944) who was influenced—as was Jongen—by the music of César Franck.

“Strongly tonal and lyrical, Jongen's chief influences seem to be Richard Strauss and Cesar Franck…[Graffin's] tender, slender tone in softer passages is one of the disc's main attractions but is not sufficiently brilliant to match with equal vigour the full might of the orchestra.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2015

Hyperion - The Romantic Violin Concerto - CDA68005



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