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Together with its companion Volume 2, these CDs contain all Bach’s extant concertos that feature a solo keyboard. Most were written in the 1730s and are thought to be arrangements of earlier concertos, many of which are now lost (though two will be recognized as Bach’s E major and A minor violin concertos and the sixth is an arrangement of the fourth Brandenburg). The fifth Brandenburg Concerto, with harpsichord, flute and violin soloists, dates from 1721 and is generally regarded as the first concerto for a solo keyboard instrument ever written. Bach made the keyboard part particularly brilliant and included a huge cadenza; he certainly knew how to establish a genre with a bang!
Hewitt’s Bach is by now self-recommending but only after playing Bach across the world with numerous ensembles did Angela decide that the Australian Chamber Orchestra were the perfect collaborators. After a month of concerts across Australia these recordings were set down in Sydney in February of this year and the frisson of artists operating at the peak of their form is clear for all to hear. One is immediately struck by the quality of chamber-music playing as phrases are passed from soloist to orchestra and, in the case of Brandenburg Concerto No 5 and the Triple Concerto, between all three soloists. Rhythms are buoyant, tempos lively, the spirit of dance is never far away in the fast movements and a perfectly vocal quality pervades the sung lines of the slow movements.
These CDs will surely be the jewels in the crown of Angela Hewitt’s magnificent Bach series.
“These are not entirely modern-instrument performances. Angela Hewitt includes, as she says, 'a harpsichord in its traditional role as continuo'. Combining old and new isn't unusual because in the early years of period performing practices, the likes of Thurston Dart, Raymond Leppard and George Malcolm married a harpsichord to modern strings and wind. What's unusual here is the melding of two different types of keyboard, one sharply transient, the other ductile; and just how their functions dovetail with one another may be heard in the slow movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No 5. Hewitt also adds a cello to the continuo while contributing notes inégales, appogiature and other embellishments to her own line. The result is a potent artistic synergy between the musicians. Hewitt doesn't slavishly follow a formula, though. In the Adagio of No 1 and the Adagio epiano sempre of No 3 (where she is most intense because both remind her of Passion music), she omits the keyboard's bass notes for the exposition of the theme but only in No 1 does she play them for its return at the end. In these instances, in the Andante of No 7 and elsewhere, she also varies the prominence of her left hand to give the ripieno string bass a strong presence too, while delineating the right hand melody most feelingly. Interpretative decisions are intelligently applied; and Hewitt is at her best in the slow movements, all of which are played with the finest sensibility. If a more sinewy approach to a few of the outer movements might not have come amiss, her ability to gauge the critical notes of phrases so as to maintain an elastically accented rhythm offers ample compensation; and the consummate Australian Chamber Orchestra is with her every step of the way. The flute is placed backward in BWV1044 but otherwise recorded balance and sound ensure unimpeded concentration on the performances. Small changes in level between some works are easily adjusted. A superb pair of discs.”
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“Too many mediocre stage productions are being preserved for vocal, not visual, reasons. All the more important, then, is a release like this where a skilled (and musically literate) film director uses state-of-the-art computer technology to sculpt a multi-dimensional portrait of Stravinsky's gorgeous pre-First World War opera-pantomime. Christian Chaudet bases it on the well-received EMI recording of 1999, reuniting the major soloists in front of blank blue- and green-screens to act their hearts out to imaginary scenery, effects and people that the computer will supply later. This technique, long used in feature films, has a range and flexibility that might have been created for 20th-century opera. The film begins with a fairly traditional dream frame: a little boy 'sees' his father's pottery turn into a Chinese landscape introducing all the story's characters and events. Later, the Emperor who so desires the Nightingale's singing is seen to live in a forbidden city made of chinaware. This image of communication via images coming to life is developed to include the presence of mobile phones (with the Nightingale's image and song), webcams and computer screens – a modernisation that works through seamless integration with more traditional references. Relevant instruments of the orchestra are also frequently dropped into view as part of the digital landscape. Wearing a selection of T-shirts that almost suggest a 1960s Bond girl, Natalie Dessay gives a mesmerising but never indulgent or twee performance as the Nightingale, sometimes with a real bird in the hand. Marie McLaughlin's Cook (who steers the Child through the dream) is equally comfortable and subtle on close-up camera, while Schagidullin, Mikhailov and Naouri exhibit much presence and facial dexterity. From all his players Chaudet has secured that deliberately unemotional and real acting that so distinguishes French (and American) cinema and is such an asset in music-theatre of this genre. The DVD is of a high visual and sonic quality and (another rarity in opera releases) there are some worthwhile 'extras' not devoted to company promotion. These 'making of' features really show you something of how the film was technically achieved. On the soundtrack (as we may now call it) James Conlon goes all out for a colour and bite that binds Stravinsky's 1908-09 Debussian Act 1 more closely to the 1913-14, post-Rite of Spring final acts than a trenchant, Boulezian approach might have done, although it is not the only way. The singing is first-rate (as was the languagecoaching), seeming almost to have been achieved in anticipation of this outstanding film.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“…Stravinsky… would surely have been intrigued, occasionally irritated and ultimately spellbound by Christian Chaudet's vision. Using singers from the original 1999 recording, Chaudet has drawn fine mimes from them; Dessay's nightshirted soul of the nightingale and Marie MacLaughlin's wide-eyed cook are especially convincing. Inevitably they're dwarfed by the computer-generated animation: in this haunting dream of a Chinese boy... It works surprisingly well. Love it or hate it, Chaudet's world will haunt you long after viewing.” BBC Music Magazine, September 2005 *****
“Anderszewski out-classes his rivals in his Szymanowski recital” BBC Music Magazine, Proms Issue 2005
“Here Anderszewski turns his attention away from well-tried classics of the repertoire to Szymanowski and to 'an aura of extreme fin de siècle opulence' (John Ogdon). Szymanowski's neurotically questing imagination was fired by his travels in Africa and the Mediterranean; and leaving earlier influences of Chopin (the Op 1 Preludes) and a lengthy dalliance with Reger and Richard Strauss (the Second Piano Sonata) far behind, he turned to impressionism, to Debussy and the glittering, mosaic-like structures he inherited from Scriabin. Yet despite such influences his music achieves a unique fragrance and character and both Masques and Métopes shed a new and scintillating light on the myths of ancient Greece. Such music calls for a pianist of unlimited, superfine virtuosity and a complete temperamental affinity for such exoticism, and in Anderszewski it has surely found its ideal champion. Under his astonishing mind and fingers the chains of trills at the climax of 'Schéhérazade' take on an incandescence that transcends their Scriabinesque origins and Anderszewski's razor-sharp clarity and stylistic assurance make you hang on every one of the composer's teeming notes. Here and in Métopes every hyper-nervous fluctuation of mood is judged to an uncanny perfection and in the Third Sonata, where Szymanowski returns from his richly programmatic sources to a more objective if no less intricate utterance, every aspect of the music's refined and energetic life is held in a blazing light from which it is impossible to escape. Visceral and superhuman, all these performances have been superbly recorded.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Weill's Symphony No 2 is one of his most important works but it is not music calculated to cheer one up. Commissioned by the Princesse de Polignac in 1933, Weill completed it during the months immediately following his flight from Germany, after the Nazi seizure of power. Coming just after Der Silbersee and Die sieben Todsünden, it has a number of thematic similarities to those works but also seems to hint at some of Weill's later music, composed in America. A deeply pessimistic piece in its first two movements, it nevertheless ends on a questioning note that may express hope, or at least the energy to continue. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop give a satisfying performance. For those who already possess versions of the ballet-chanté or the concerto, Alsop's programme may be more alluring. She achieves quite a triumph with the very early single-movement First Symphony, a student work never performed in the composer's lifetime: it's rarely played as confidently as here. The suite from Lady In theDark is just a curiosity; without Ira Gershwin's lyrics the tunes don't sound particularly enticing. At least, though, it lightens the mood after some pretty relentless gloom. Excellent clear sound, at Naxos's price an easy recommendation.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Sergey Taneyev composed his three piano chamber works in the years 1902-11, on either side of his 50th birthday, when his days as director of the Moscow Conservatoire were well behind him but when he still commanded nationwide respect for his gifts as pianist, administrator and craftsman-composer. These pieces were in the first instance vehicles for his own concert performances, and the piano parts are accordingly massive. Compositionally the writing is unfailingly well wrought and resourceful: by no means entirely confined to middle-ofthe- road tastefulness, yet rarely, if ever, touched by the kind of distinction evinced by his great pupils, Rachmaninov and Scriabin. At times, especially in the Piano Quartet, it is like being in the presence of a very large and likeable student, who has never quite found his own voice but who remains intent on getting higher and higher marks for the same type of exercise. Yet at the same time the music has an undeniable sweep, and some of the ideas evidently lodged in the minds of future generations – compare the opening bars of the Quintet with Prokofiev's First Violin Sonata, for instance, or the opening of the Piano Trio with the third movement of Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto. There is a certain Elgarian gruffness here and there, and a liking for fulminating, lowlying textures that may be off-putting at first encounter but which exerts its own particular charm on closer acquaintance. The Piano Quintet is the latest and grandest of the three works, its structural layout and textures being indebted in just about equal measure to Tchaikovsky and César Franck. The initially consoling second subject is destined for heroic things in a grandstand résumé at the end of the finale, and on repeated hearings it's a pleasure to discover its unassuming beginnings. In between, the Scherzo has that touch of fairytale magic that came so naturally to most of the great Russians while the slow movement daringly strips down to a passacaglia theme on the cello before dressing up impressively again. Pletnev and his dream-team string colleagues are passionate advocates, as they are for the more classically conceived (or at least more Schumannesque) Trio. The strings are placed rather far forward, and the acoustic is a fraction too dry for comfort. It's a tribute to the Barbican Piano Trio that they hardly ever find themselves outdone in crusading passion, or indeed outplayed technically, by their bigger-name rivals. James Kirkby is as sensitive as Pletnev to the oases of calm in the slow movement of the Trio, where the piano holds the stage in moments of quiet rapture. By contrast, the Piano Quartet launches immediately into its ecstatic stride, risking anticlimax but rescuing itself by constant renewed initiatives. Violist James Boyd makes his presence strongly felt in the dark-hued slow movement. The Dutton recording strays a fraction the other side of the ideal from DG by giving us a little too much of the room acoustic of St George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol; but once again it is perfectly serviceable.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Of available recordings this set has the edge, for its greater dramatic urgency and richer characterisation.” BBC Music Magazine, August 2007
“Alan Curtis has done more than most to prove that many of Handel's 42 operas are first-rate music dramas – his Admeto, from 1979 (see page 465), was one of the first complete recordings of a Handel opera to feature period instruments and all voices at correct pitch without transpositions – but it is surprising to note that this is his first recording of an undisputed popular masterpiece. Rodelinda, first performed in February 1725, is a stunning work dominated by a title-heroine who remains devoted to her supposedly dead husband Bertarido and scorns the advances of his usurper Grimoaldo. The potency of Handel's score was enhanced by the complexity of the villain, whose lust-driven cruelty gradually crumbles into a desire to abdicate in order to find spiritual peace. The scene in which the penitent tyrant's life is saved from assassination by the fugitive Bertarido is among Handel's greatest dramatic moments. Simone Kermes is full of feisty courage, an assertive woman for whom Bertarido would credibly risk death to be reunited with. She takes no prisoners in some extravagant cadenzas, and sings 'Morrai, si' with thrillingly viscous venom. At the other extreme, 'Ritorna o cara' is simply gorgeous. There are some weaknesses. Marijana Mijanovic's Bertarido often slips under pitch on long notes and uses indiscriminate vibrato instead of singing through phrases. Her deficiencies with tuning and idiomatic expression are highlighted in two duets with Kermes (one not recorded before), particularly when Handel demands that they sing sustained notes in unison. There is a good case for using a fruity female contralto in castrato roles instead of an angelic countertenor but why Archiv seems keen to record Mijanovic's inadequate performances of Handel roles for his star castrato, Senesino is incomprehensible. A cursory comparison of Mijanovic's bizarrely unattractive 'Dove sei' with any of the impressive contributions from fellow contraltos Marie-Nicole Lemieux or Sonia Prina indicates that either would have better suited the role. Otherwise, this has an abundance of good things. Il Complesso Barocco have sounded undernourished on some previous recordings but here play with admirable vitality and dramatic subtlety. Curtis has obviously worked hard to encourage his string players to understand what the singers are communicating: each aria is impeccably interpreted and intelligently paced. On the whole, Curtis's passion and experience ensure another typically persuasive and theatrical vindication of Handel's genius.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Kermes copes splendidly with the enormous range demanded and the feats of coloratura, if with a slight edge at the top...[Mijanovic and Lemieux are] both excellent, with Mijanovic singing nobly in the most celebrated number, Dove sei. Outstanding even in this cast is the Australian tenor, Steve Davislim” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***
“Alwyn (whose centenary year fell in 2005) is a composer of strong communicative gifts and the best of his music exhibits a disarming emotional candour, generous lyricism, powerful sense of argument and superior craftsmanship. If not as tautly constructed as, say, the Second, Third or Fifth Symphonies, the Second Piano Concerto undoubtedly makes pleasurable listening. It was commissioned for the 1960 Proms, where its big-boned theatricality and unabashed ardour would surely have gone down a treat had the dedicatee, the Dutch virtuoso Cor de Groot, not been struck down by sudden paralysis of his right arm. As a consequence, the work remained unheard until Howard Shelley's passionate 1993 Chandos recording with Hickox and the LSO. If anything, Peter Donohoe proves an even more dashing soloist and he is supported to the hilt by James Judd and an audibly fired-up Bournemouth SO. An airy, tastefully balanced production, too. Similarly, these accomplished newcomers set out a most persuasive case for the much earlier, single- movement First Concerto, a likeable offering with echoes of Ireland and Walton, written in 1930 for Alwyn's fellow RAM graduate and good friend, Clifford Curzon. Canny programming allows us to hear the bustling 1960 overture Derby Day that Alwyn fashioned as a replacement for the ill-starred Second Concerto. Judd's spry performance is in every way the equal of both its fine predecessors, and the disc concludes with the exuberant Sonata alla toccata. This was composed in 1945- 46 for Denis Matthews and Donohoe dispatches it with purposeful aplomb and dazzling technical prowess. Yet another Naxos winner.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“This lively companion-set to the multi-layered symphonies (reviewed in July) balances the Romaniana for which Enescu was famous with a very individual neo-classicism. Drily-recorded but dedicated accounts.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2005
“Enescu's three suites stand in relation to the symphonies rather as Tchaikovsky's suites relate to his symphonic works. The First opens with a striking prelude for strings in unison which in turn gives way to a gorgeous Menuet lent. The more formal Second Suite (which falls between the First and Second Symphonies) is based on Baroque models, while the relatively 'late' Third Suite, named Villageoise (it dates from 1938), overflows with invention, whether imitations of birdsong and children at play, or exquisite tonepainting of nature by day and night. Foster also offers us the early, 23-minute Symphonie concertante for cello and orchestra, his soloist Franco Maggio-Ormezowski unfolding its generous stream of melody with a warm, fluid tone. Lawrence Foster's performances of these fascinating if occasionally over-effusive works provided a fitting tribute for the 50th anniversary of Enescu's death (1955). Do give this music a try. It combines the freshness of Dvorák with the earthand- spirit daring of Bartók; and while not quite on a level with either, it comes pretty damned close.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010