“The vividness of the music owes much to these electrifying performances. Amazingly impressive”
“The Zehetmair Quartet's coupling focuses the music's alternating wildness and fragility with altogether unique perception. Theirs is an agitated, combustible and loving view of Schumann, a credible trip into his troubled world that reflects older playing styles not by exaggerating or abandoning vibrato but by constantly varying tone, tempo, bow pressure and modes of attack. Aspects of this trend are usefully exemplified by their handling of the pensive second section of the Third Quartet's third movement, and by the way they negotiate the sudden, bloodless moderato passage that forms the coda of the First Quartet's finale. In the less consistent but more challenging First Quartet, minute variations in pulse and emphasis are consistently engaging, ie they enjoy maximum freedom within the law of the page. Contrapuntal passages that other quartets present as dry or self-conscious – at 2'36" into the first movement of No 1, for example, where the viola takes the initial lead – assume newfound meaning. These aren't comfortable performances. They pass on cosmetic appeal and would rather grate and rail than pander to surface 'gloss'. So be warned. But they're profoundly beautiful in their truthful appropriation of music that can be both poignant and aggressive. Delicate, too, in places (Mendelssohn with added fibre); in fact more comprehensive as musical statements than most of us had previously suspected. That realisation is due almost entirely to the persuasive powers of these supremely accomplished, and realistically recorded, performances.”
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“When you hear the ominous first chorus of Bach's St John Passion sung and played like this, liturgical ritual and visceral human drama make for an unusually intense experience. The bass line pulsates, the boys articulate the words with supreme clarity and the steady speed provides the movement with just the right length – a consideration too often neglected. Recorded in New College, Oxford, the resident choristers, choral scholars and lay clerks appear to be entirely at ease with the special juxtaposition of quicksilver action and warm reflection which Bach demands in his choruses and chorales. Edward Higginbottom delivers a palpable sense of narrative, unfussy, as if habit lies at the root of its being. Just listen to the searing choral chromaticisms as Christ is brought before Caiaphas, the startlingly urgent declamations as the crowd bays for blood or the distraught tenderness of James Bowman in 'Es ist vollbracht'. The Evangelist is the established tenor James Gilchrist, whose alert and straightforward singing makes his performance wholly believable. Of the current generation of choristers, Joe Littlewood reminds us that English choirboys can sing German music beautifully and convey the emotional essence of the text with maturity and purpose. His 'Ich folge' is a delight. There's the odd strain in Matthew Beale's testing tenor arias but a pleasing timbre, as indeed there is in John Bernays' proud but unblustering Christus. If there's a general tendency, it's to allow the music to speak in its own time within a relaxed beat. The rest is instinct, experience and letting what will be, be. In such light comes this refreshing and captivating new interpretation.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
““Edward Higginbottom is one of those rare musicians who can balance projects of genuine popular appeal with the key masterpieces of the choral repertoire. With this Naxos set of the St John Passion he could potentially reach his largest audience yet… especially with the glorious singing of the now world- renowned Choir of New College, Oxford.” Gramophone Magazine
“an outstanding period performance which can stand comparison with any in the catalogue...The choir itself is fresh and bright, singing incisively, with the crowd choruses vividly adding to the drama...Gilchrist is a superb Evangelist, fluent and expressive, and the main quartet of soloists makes a sensitive team.” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***
“Composed in 1898-9, Amy Beach's ambitious, singularly impressive Piano Concerto is at long last coming in from the cold. An expansively rhetorical Allegro moderato launches the work before a playful perpetuum mobile Scherzo and moody Largo (described by its creator as a 'dark, tragic lament'); the finale goes with a delightful swing. In fact, it's a rewarding achievement all round, full of brilliantly idiomatic solo writing (Beach was a virtuoso pianist herself and performed the work many times) and lent further autobiographical intrigue by its assimilation of thematic material from three early songs. Alan Feinberg brings more charisma to bear than Joanne Polk on her rival account for Arabesque, without any loss of delicacy or poetry, and his collaboration with Kenneth Schermerhorn and the Nashville Symphony undoubtedly generates greater thrust and spontaneity. The recording, too, is more pleasingly spacious, if a little lacking in body. Following the success of her 1889 Mass in E flat, Beach knew that she needed to produce a large-scale symphony to cement her reputation; it was the Boston premiere of Dvorák's NewWorld that finally spurred her into action. Responding to the Czech master's exhortation that American composers should turn to spirituals, plantation songs and minstrel-show music for inspiration, Beach selected four Irish melodies of 'simple, rugged and unpretentious beauty', moulding any additional themes 'in the same idiom and spirit'. That the Gaelic Symphony (1894-6) won golden opinions from the outset comes as no surprise, given its big heart, irresistible charm and confident progress. Schermerhorn and his eager Nashville band give a convincingly paced, tidy performance with real fire in its belly and plenty of character. A thoroughly enjoyable issue.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales, Chamber Choir of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Richard Hickox
“Like so many British composers Dyson, even before he died in 1962, suffered neglect through writing in a conservative idiom that critics were all too ready to label 'out of date'. Originally written for the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford in 1939, its first performance was-cancelled because of the outbreak of war, and it was only given its premiere in Hereford a decade later. Dyson draws on the widest array of sources, boldly picking out passages from such poets as Campion, Vaughan, Herrick, Shelley, Newman and Bridges in an elaborate kaleidoscope, mixing them together in all but one of the nine substantial movements, even rearranging individual lines from Wordsworth's Intimations ofImmortality. He also includes such well-known hymns as God be in my head and New every morning without hinting at the respective hymn tunes. Such a scheme might be expected to sound disjointed or bitty, but Dyson's response to each section of his text gives a seamless quality to each movement, with ecstatic choral climaxes designed to exploit the all-embracing acoustics of a great cathedral. The warm but well-defined recording helps to heighten the impact of the singing of the Welsh choristers. All four soloists are in superb voice, each of them strong, firm and characterful; and both choruses sing with fresh, incandescent tone. Dyson's idiom may not be as distinctive as that of those other 'agnostics at prayer', but with its lyrical warmth and fine control of texture, the result will delight all devotees of the English choral tradition.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010