Gramophone Magazine Editor's Choice

April 2003

Editor's Choice

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Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1-5 (complete)

Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1-5 (complete)


“The freshness of this set is remarkable. You do not have to listen far to be swept up by its spirit of renewal and discovery, and in Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist Harnoncourt has made an inspired choice. Theirs aren't eccentric readings of these old warhorses – far from it. But they could be called idiosyncratic – from Harnoncourt would you have expected anything else? These are modern performances which have acquired richness and some of their focus from curiosity about playing styles and sound production of the past. Harnoncourt favours leaner string textures than the norm and gets his players in the excellent COE to command a wide range of expressive weight and accent; this they do with an immediacy of effect that's striking. Yet there's a satisfying body to the string sound, too.
The playing seems to have recourse to eloquence without having to strive for it, and that's characteristic of Aimard's contribution as well. Strong contrasts are explored and big moments encompassed as part of an unforced continuity in which nothing is hurried. The big moments do indeed stand out: one of them is the famous exchange of dramatic gestures between piano and orchestra in the development of the E flat Concerto's (No 5's) first movement; another the equally dramatic but very different exchange when the piano re-enters at the start of the development in the first movement of the G major Concerto (No 4). At these junctures, conductor and pianist allow the gestures to disrupt the rhythmic continuity. Over the top? No, but risky maybe, and if you've strong views about what Beethoven's rubrics permit, or have swallowed a metronome, you may react strongly. For make no mistake, Aimard is as intrepid an explorer here as Harnoncourt – by conviction, not simply by adoption.
Technically he's superbly equipped. This is evident everywhere, but especially in the finales, brimful of spontaneous touches and delight in their eventfulness and in the pleasure of playing them. The finale of the Emperor tingles with a continuously vital, constantly modulated dynamic life that it rarely receives; so many players make it merely rousing. And among the first movements, that of the G major Concerto is a quite exceptional achievement for the way Harnoncourt and his soloist find space for the fullest characterisation of the lyricism and diversity of the solo part – Aimard begins almost as if improvising the opening statement, outside time – while integrating these qualities with the larger scheme.
It's the most complex movement in the concertos and he manages to make it sound both directional and free as a bird.
The first movement of the E flat Concerto is nearly as good, lacking only the all-seeing vision and authority Brendel brings to it, and perhaps a touch of Brendel's ability to inhabit and define its remoter regions. In general, Aimard imposes himself as a personality less than Brendel. In spite of being different exercises, their distinction touches at several points and is comparable in degree. What Aimard doesn't match is the variety of sound and the amplitude of Brendel's expressiveness in the first two concertos' slow movements. Balances are good, with the piano placed in a concerthall perspective.
This set balances imagination and rigour, providing much delight and refreshment, and playing that will blow you away.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“there are the kinds of insights that made Harnoncourt's Beethoven Symphonies such a pleasure a decade ago: the crisp articulation, the attention to detail, the impeccably moulded phrasing, the carefully applied vibrato...And Aimard? Cut from the same cloth: intelligence, a sense of theatrical drama, and real curiosity as he alternately leads and follows” Andrew McGregor, bbc.co.uk, 10th April 2003

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - April 2003

Teldec - 0927473342

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Beethoven: String Quartets Vol. 6

Beethoven: String Quartets Vol. 6

The Lindsays 'New Beethoven Cycle'


Beethoven:

String Quartet No. 11 in F minor Op. 95 'Serioso'

String Quartet No. 12 in E flat major, Op. 127


“Distinctive and deeply satisfying...” Gramophone Magazine

“The prospect of actually listening to Beethoven never loses its appeal. It's also clear that The Lindsays approach Beethoven's quartets with undiminished enthusiasm. This is immediately apparent in the physical energy with which they attack the opening of Op 95. Along with enthusiasm comes a deep understanding, expressed most strikingly in the way their fine internal balance is adapted to allow important subsidiary lines to make their effect. Nothing as crude as making a decision to 'bring out' an inner part; just the feeling that each player knows how much pressure is needed to fulfil a line's potential.
Such expressive detail allied to a lovely dolce sound makes a contrapuntal movement like Op 95's Allegretto especially memorable.
The Lindsays aren't the smoothest, slickest ensemble to have recorded this music. In the Scherzo of Op 95 the Quartetto Italiano's tone is more blemish-free, and the fast coda to this quartet's finale sees the Emerson Quartet create a more brilliant, sparkling impression. But such things only become noticeable with comparative listening; if you stick with The Lindsays what will impress you is the splendid rhythm and drive of the Op 95 Scherzo, the magnificent, rich sound, without any sense of aggressiveness or strain, at the start of Op 127, the way the expression is sustained throughout the great adagio variations of Op 127, and the delicate, magical atmosphere established at the beginning of this quartet's final section. A hugely compelling set.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - April 2003

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Pärt: Passio (St John Passion)

Pärt: Passio (St John Passion)


Robert Macdonald (bass) & Mark Anderson (tenor)

Tonus Peregrinus, Antony Pitts

Naxos is proud to present a brand new recording of Arvo Part’s Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem, a major milestone in Naxos’ recording legacy and only the third recording of the work to be released on compact disc. Composed in 1982, it is one of the works in which Part uses “tintinnabulist” techniques – the sound or music of bells. “I build with the most primitive materials – with the triad. … The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation”. (Arvo Part). This new recording by Oxford-based ensemble Tonus Peregrinus offers a radically different take on the music from existing recordings. When recording the work, the ensemble followed all Part’s score markings to the letter. After the recording session, the disc was sent to the composer who listened carefully and decided to clarify exactly what he had intended by the score markings; the present recording was then edited according to his new “rules”. This is therefore the very first recording of the Passio to take account of the composer’s recent clarification of precise note and rest durations.

“surely the bleakest, most ritualistic Passion to be composed since Heinrich Schutz’s settings of the mid seventeenth century” (Gramophone)

“Arvo Pärt's Passio is a shining beacon among countless late 20th-century religious works that confronted the formidable prospect of a new millennium. Put briefly, Passio sets St John's gospel to a simple but powerful triadic musical language, its prescribed forces limited to a small chorus, a handful of solo voices and a chambersize instrumental line-up consisting of organ, violin, oboe, cello and bassoon. Pärt treats the text as paramount and yet there's scarcely a hint of word painting in the accepted sense of the term. Spiritual underlining, yes, with telling support from the solo instruments. There are no written dynamics save for the opening, marked Langsam and forte, and the close, a Largo that blossoms from pianissimo to triple forte. Which doesn't mean that the singers are expected to deliver monotonously uninflected lines. Thankfully, none of them does.
Tonus Peregrinus shape phrases with a certain degree of freedom, just as choirs on rival versions have done before them. And Antony Pitts comes up trumps in his ability to keep lines lively and fluid, blending or clarifying as the text dictates.
His is an excellent reading, always alert to Pärt's shifting harmonic plane and with consistently fresh voices, the women especially. Robert Macdonald's 'inward' portrayal of Jesus is nicely judged and Pitts's instrumental group is more than adequate.
Viewed overall, Tonus Peregrinus and Naxos have done Pärt proud. If this is your first Passio, rest assured that all the essentials are there. And if you want a top-grade specimen of quality music from the past 40 years, you won't find better.
Passio truly is a wonderful work.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - April 2003

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Turina: Sinfonia Sevillana

Turina: Sinfonia Sevillana


Turina:

Sinfonia Sevillana, Op. 23

Danzas fantásticas, Op. 22

Ritmos (Fantasía coreográfica), Op. 43

La Procesión del Rocio, Op. 9


Castile & León Symphony Orchestra, Max Bragado Darman

“Turina was a gentle man who, like Segovia, placed high value on beauty and clarity of thought, and responded to 'programmatic' images; the portrayal of profound tragedy had no place in his music. Although he tried harder than his contemporaries to write in the conventional musical forms, his Sinfonía sevillana is a poetic and colourful tone poem rather than a symphony, a French-influenced depiction of aspects of the city of his birth.
Ritmos was conceived as a ballet but was never performed as such – present-day choreographers please note! The Danzas fantásticas range from the quietly poetic to the energetic, and relate to quotations from José Más's novel Laorgía. Two dances, the Aragonese jota and the Andalusian farruca, frame a dream-like evocation of elements of Andalusian melody and dance rhythm of the Basque zortziko. More specifically focused is La procesión del Rocío, a charming picture of the annual festival procession in the village of El Rocío.
Turina's skill and sensitivity in the art of orchestration shines throughout this programme, as does that of the Castilla y Léon Symphony Orchestra in extracting every good feature the music offers. The recording is clear, with a believably spacious acoustic. There are other recordings of these works, but none that brings them all together – or exceeds the quality of these performances. An outstanding issue.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - April 2003

Naxos Spanish Classics - 8555955

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