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“'What hard things,' wrote Saint-Saëns, 'have been said against virtuosity!… The fact must be proclaimed from the house-tops – in art a difficulty overcome is a thing of beauty.' There are many such beauties in Le Carnaval des animaux, and their difficulties aren't for the faint-hearted or the technically challenged, especially where the two pianists are concerned. On this disc not only are the difficulties overcome, but dispatched with tremendous verve and wit. In the Septet the players rightly refuse to make more of the music than is really there. This light touch allows us to relish Saint-Saëns's professionalism: every part in the texture has its own shape and colour and, if there were compositional difficulties to be overcome, you'd never know. The four shorter pieces on this splendid disc include the delicious Fantaisie for violin and harp, and three arrangements for cello and piano taken from the horn, organ and operatic repertoires.”
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“Kodály's Solo Cello Sonata is among the strongest, most searching of all his works, arguably the finest of all works for unaccompanied cello since Bach's suites, and here it receives a performance of exceptional power, precision and clarity from Jirí Bárta. His command in tackling the most formidable of technical problems means that he's able to keep a steady tempo and clarify textures with clean attack on double stopping, all seemingly without strain. Yet the intensity of his performance never flags, with a rare depth of concentration in the dark central Adagio. In the folk-dance rhythms of the Allegro finale he's volatile and thrusting, again using a formidable dynamic range that's well caught by the recording. The same goes for the accompanied Cello Sonata. Bárta is well-matched by his pianist, Jan Cech: they make light of the problems presented by the many tempo changes in both movements, an opening Fantasia and a weighty finale, by giving an improvisatory feel. The folk element is heightened by an element of rawness, with the players striking sparks off each other. The Supraphon disc has a substantial supplement in one of Vitezslav Novák's late works, a Cello Sonata. Written in 1941 during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, it represented an eruption of hatred against the invaders. Though it may not quite match the two Kodály works in emotional power, the passionate character of this closely argued single movement – bringing together elements of a multi-movement sonata structure – is most impressive, particularly in a performance as commanding as this.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
Andrew Lawrence-King’s virtuoso harp joins the voices of Anonymous 4 in a wealth of Yuletide music, favourite and rare, from the British Isles.
Juxtaposing pagan and Christian traditions, the programme interweaves English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh ballads and carols with well-loved pieces by John Tavener (The Lamb), Benjamin Britten, and a newly commissioned work by Peter Maxwell Davies. Andrew Lawrence-King adds special colour playing a variety of instruments: psaltery, Baroque harp, and a remarkable Irish “Queen Mary” harp which sounds as if it contains its own peal of heavenly bells.
“As a whole, this performance is close to ideal.” (BBC Music Magazine)
“Straight to the top of the list for this one! Even on its best showings – Richter and Carlos Kleiber, Firkušný under Somogyi – Dvorák's Piano Concerto has never quite managed to cast off its Cinderella rags. With this recording, the ball beckons, and there's no time limit. Granted, Brahms is still securely in the background and the concerto is hardly as pianistic as the best of its concerto-peers but the beauty of this performance is its utter naturalness, Pierre-Laurent Aimard easing around the solo part as if he's been playing it all his life, and Nikolaus Harnoncourt's sympathy for the work is obvious from the start. Together they make the most of the score's drama, giving the lie to Dvorák's supposedly ineffective piano writing. Albrecht Gaud's excellent booklet note credits the longprevalent revision by Vilém Kurz as giving the part 'not only a more effective form' but also the virtue of extra clarity. Yet it appears that the original is used here and redeemed. Richter's clarity and Firkušný's knowing accent remain attractive, but Aimard's combination of intelligence and informality win the day. A magnificent CD.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“This new coupling confirms Sergey Khachatryan as among the most compelling players of his generation. … He moves around the [Sibelius] score with what seems like comparative ease, always intense though with a mode of attack that stops short of roughness.” Gramophone
“Sergey Khachatryan is among the most compelling players of his generation. Being the youngest- ever winner of the Sibelius Competition (2000) he was bound to record the Sibelius Concerto. Interestingly, his conductor, Emmanuel Krivine, had already recorded the work with a star player of a slightly older generation, Vadim Repin. Common to both is a mellow, fairly softcore approach to the orchestral score, the new Sinfonia Varsovia recording, probably using a smaller band, warmer overall and with superior sound quality. Khachatryan's approach is smoother and more flexible, especially in the first movement's first cadenza, which he accelerates by stages, and the great leap that launches the second cadenza, which he edges into on a finely calculated crescendo. He moves around the score with comparative ease, always intense though with a mode of attack that stops short of roughness. His sound in the lower registers is rich and fulsome, yet even at piano or thereabouts, he still manages to sustain a full-bodied tone. Similar qualities inform the Khachaturian Concerto with a crisp, lightly articulated opening and seductive handling of the first movement's second set. In the finale Khachatryan knows how to coax a workable ebb and flow, ease his tone, lighten tension to facilitate a change in musical current. Again, Krivine and his team are sympathetic collaborators for a highly commendable performance.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Written in the late 1920s when he was at the height of his powers, The Poisoned Kiss is Vaughan Williams's forgotten opera: this is the first complete recording. The composer chose his friend Evelyn Sharp to write a libretto based on a short story by Richard Garnett about a beautiful princess who lives on poison. But the verse treatment is deplorable. Though the pair had in mind the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, the result is coy and self-conscious, never witty or pointed in a Gilbertian way. Vaughan Williams made revisions in 1936 and 1955, but there are still too many embarrassingly unfunny lines. This recording helps to rehabilitate the opera by eliminating virtually all the spoken dialogue. Neither Vaughan Williams nor Sharp could work out the right balance between comedy and the central romance – the love between Prince Amaryllus and Tormentilla, brought up on poison by her magician father, Dipsacus. Though planned as a light opera, the music has substance. The score is rich in ideas; each number is beautifully tailored, never outstaying its welcome. At almost two hours of music, it has to be said that the opera is too long (and it would be even longer with dialogue), but the inspiration never flags. Charm predominates, with tender melodies like that in the Act 1 duet of Amaryllus and Tormentilla, 'Blue larkspur in a garden', and a surging emotional climax in the ensemble which crowns Act 2, when their love leads to the passionate poisoned kiss. There are direct echoes of Sullivan in the multi-layered ensembles and patter numbers, which come closest to achieving the lightness aimed at. Whatever the shortcomings of the piece, no lover of Vaughan Williams's music should miss hearing this wonderful set, with a strong and characterful cast superbly led by Richard Hickox, and with atmospheric sound enhancing the musical delights. Janice Watson as Tormentilla sings with sweetness and warmth, while giving point to the poisonous side of the character, and James Gilchrist makes an ardent Amaryllus. Pamela Helen Stephen and Roderick Williams are totally affecting in their love music, and Neal Davies is firm and strong as the magician Dipsacus.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010