Gramophone Magazine Editor's Choice

January 2008

Disc of the Month

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Barber - Songs

Awards:

Gramophone Awards 2008

Best of Category - Solo Vocal

Gramophone Magazine

Disc of the Month - January 2008

BBC Music Magazine

Choral & Song Choice - December 2007

Label:

Hyperion

Catalogue No:

CDA67528

Discs:

1

Release date:

29th Oct 2007

Barcode:

0034571175287

Medium:

CD

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Barber - Songs


Barber:

There's Nae Lark

Beggar's Song

In the Dark Pinewood

Bessie Bobtail

Hermit Songs, Op. 29

Rain has fallen

Sleep Now

I hear an army

Mélodies passagères (5), Op. 27

The Daisies

With rue my heart is laden, Op. 2 No. 2

Four Songs, Op. 13, No. 4 (Nocturne)

Dover Beach, Op. 3

Sure on this shining night, Op. 13 No. 3


Gerald Finley (baritone) & Julius Drake (piano)

The Aronowitz Ensemble

The wonderful Gerald Finley, described recently as ‘the best living baritone currently at the peak of his powers’ (The Globe and Mail), brings his ‘glorious sound and great dramatic instinct’ to this fascinating selection of songs, sensitively accompanied by Julius Drake.

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Gramophone Magazine

“This is a pretty stunning achievement. At his most mellifluous and focused, Gerald Finley has beauty of tone to spare. But he is also at his most expressive – hollowing out the voice for the hopelessness of the song “Bessie Bobtail”, letting it splinter with anger at the climax of the brief, furious “Sea Snatch”. Throughout, Julius Drake proves a predictably accomplished, thoughtful partner. The pair move easily and logically from the prettiness of the very early songs through the complexities of the Hermit Songs and the pensive Mélodies passagères. It’s a canny move to place Dover Beach as the final track. The introduction of the string quartet to close the disc shifts the mood, sending us off in another direction. It comes as a hopeful reminder of the wonder of love, even with a sting in its tail. Entirely appropriate for a bittersweet, marvellous collection.”

Gramophone Magazine

Janurary 2008

“Performances of this calibre emphasise Barber's stature in the mainstream… The immediate comparison is with the Gramophone Award-winning Thomas Hampson… Most I prefer Finley, and the recording is warmer.”

BBC Music Magazine

December 2007

*****

“As on his 2005 Ives collection, the Canadian baritone Gerald Finley is golden in tone, persuasive in phrasing, and unfailingly responsive to the sound and sense of the words. Julius Drake once more proves a strong and imaginative partner, and a quartet from the Aronowitz Ensemble makes a promising recording debut.”

Gramophone Classical Music Guide

2010

“Performances of this calibre emphasise Barber's stature in the mainstream of 20th-century song composers. The tradition is Anglo-American and There's nae lark, written when Barber was 16 to a poem by Swinburne in imitation Scots, could even be by Quilter.
But Barber soon gets into his stride and by the time he reached his Three Songs, Op 10, there's a rare kind of intensity as impressive as anything on this CD. The poems are from James Joyce's Chamber Music; Barber set a few more, such as Inthe dark pinewood included here; but what a tragedy he never set the whole cycle that could have been an American Winterreise. The Hermit Songs, fey and whimsically amusing, are probably the best-known set.
'Sure on the shining shore' is vintage Barber, and Finley and Drake are impeccable (as are the Aronowitz Quartet in Dover Beach). The French songs, to poems by Rilke, who did write in French, have less character, but the single songs are all gems. An outstanding release.”

Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.

Editor's Choice

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Mr Abel’s Fine Airs

Mr Abel’s Fine Airs

Music for solo viola da gamba


Abel, C F:

Adagio WKO189

Vivace WKO190

Allegro

Tempo minuetto WKO154

Adagio WKO209

[Arpeggio] WKO205

[Tempo di menuet con variazioni] WKO203 & WKO204

[Moderato] WKO208

[Adagio] WKO187

Fuga WKO196

Sonata in G major for viola da gamba

Allegro WKO198

Tempo di menuet WKO202

Andante WKO191

[Arpeggio] WKO194

Allegro WKO207

Tempo di menuet WKO188

[Andante] WKO199

[Allegro] WKO195

Allegretto WKO211

Allegro WKO212


Susanne Heinrich (viola da gamba)

Carl Friedrich Abel (1723–1787) was a contemporary of J C Bach, and a fashionable performer and promoter in London in the eighteenth century. By that time the viola da gamba was a rarity, but Abel’s performances sparked a revival of interest among performers and audiences. The works recorded on this disc (six of which have never been previously recorded) can be seen as musical expositions of sensibility, inhabiting the same tragic world as the gamba solos in J S Bach’s Passions. Abel’s contemporary Charles Burney commented on the musician’s ability to ‘breathe’ the notes as he played them, and this extraordinary sensitivity is present too in the beautiful playing of Susanne Heinrich.

“Susanne Heinrich rises ably to the challenge of understanding this 18th-century Jekyll-and-Hyde figure, heightening to fine effect the music's light and shade, energy and indolence. Her readings are effortlessly poised and imbued with an almost vocal lyricism...” BBC Music Magazine, February 2008 ****

“Heinrich brings… exactly the right blend of emotional involvement and earnest good taste, and find pleasing resonance and smoothness in her instrument… An unsuspected and atmospheric gem…” Gramophone Magazine, Janurary 2008

“The first time I put this disc in my player, I  wasn’t in the mood. I  tried again a few days later and was absolutely entranced. Carl Friedrich Abel was a pupil of Bach’s and the influence shows, but the younger composer’s own breadth of invention is breathtaking. As are the dark, velvety colours that viola da gamba player Susanne Heinrich finds in his long lines. A  really special album, this.” Gramophone Magazine

“Until the release of this new recording the fascinating world of Abel’s gamba music has been pretty much a closed book … Abel inclined towards simplicity and elegance, and Heinrich is always at pains to bring out the singing quality of the melodic lines … from the outset Heinrich confidently masters the multiple stopping and the wide range of the music … throughout, Heinrich succeeds triumphantly in crafting each piece individually— creating a special atmosphere for each work” International Record Review

“Carl Friedrich Abel is usually thought of as a genial symphonist much in the mould of his London concert-promoting business partner JC Bach, but this delightful release shows that anyone considering on that basis not to delve further into Abel's output is missing not only an important side of the man, but indeed his very core. Abel was one of the last masters of the viola da gamba, and in these unaccompanied pieces he reveals an intimate art which instantly makes sense of the affection and reverence in which he was held by his friends, they being the ones who got to hear him improvising at home in front of the fire and left touching accounts of his power to stir their emotions. 'He was the Sterne of music' is how one described him, which is saying something.
Susanne Heinrich has chosen 24 solo gamba pieces from the 30 contained in a manuscript in the New York Public Library which surely represent the kind of music Abel played in those domestic musical occasions. Unencumbered by showy virtuosity, they are never less than supremely elegant, yet at their best exhibit profound sentiment in the word's exquisite 18thcentury sense. Four of the pieces are grouped together to make a sonata, but the others are free-standing and range from deeply felt adagios to lightly arpeggiated preludes, and from suave minuets to the occasional faintly rustic dance. Heinrich brings to them exactly the right blend of emotional involvement and earnest good taste, and finds pleasing resonance and smoothness in her instrument, such that even nearly 80 minutes of solo gamba never tires the ear. An unsuspected and atmospheric gem.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Abel’s pieces are reminiscent of J S Bach’s solo cello suites, so if you like them then you’ll like these...Sensibility, or the practise of articulating direct and strong emotions, was all the rage in the arts world at the time, and Suzanne Heinrich beautifully draws this out of Abel’s writing.” Charlotte Gardner, bbc.co.uk, 5th October 2007

GGramophone Awards 2008

Editor's Choice

GGramophone Awards 2008

Finalist - Baroque Instrumental

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2008

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The Songs of Robert Schumann - Volume 10

The Songs of Robert Schumann - Volume 10


Schumann:

Liederkreis, Op. 39

Schön Hedwig Op. 106

Vom Heideknaben Op. 122 Nos. 1 & 2

Drei Gedichte, Op. 29

Die Nonne, Op. 49 No. 3

Was soll ich sagen? Op. 27 No. 3

Frühlingsgruss Op. 79/4

Drei Duette Op. 43

Mein Garten Op. 77 No. 2

Sommerruh WoO7

Mädchenlieder Op. 103

Bei Schenkung eines Flügels


Kate Royal (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano) with Felicity Lott (soprano), Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano) & Christoph Bantzer (reciter)

Kate Royal is the soprano of the moment, at the start of her career yet an acknowledged great artist, and her performance here of the Eichendorff Liederkreis Op 39 is one where ‘imagination, intellect and vocal technique are inextricably fused in the single moment of a song’, as The Times wrote of her Wigmore Hall recital in January this year.

“The prime attraction for many here… Kate Royal in the popular Eichendorff Liederkreis… Royal's pure, pellucid tone, free-soaring top notes… and refined musicianship give constant pleasure.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2008

“In this cycle of dusk and shadows there are two or three songs that always seem to elude a bright, lyric soprano; and for all her beauty of voice and care for phrasing, Royal doesn't quite catch the fear and eeriness of 'Zwielicht' (which here sounds merely melancholy) or the sudden sense of isolation and dread at the end of 'Im Walde'. Other singers, too, have made 'Waldesgespräch' more scary, though Royal does touchingly suggest a human sadness in the spooky woodland drama.
But these are minor quibbles. Abetted by Johnson's ever-sentient keyboard-playing, Royal reveals a true understanding of Schumann's Innigkeit, whether in the suppressed passion of the opening 'In der Fremde' (the notorious phrase beginning 'Und über mir rauscht' taken effortlessly in a single breath) and 'Die Stille' (where she avoids the trap of ingénue coyness), the exquisite poise of 'Die Mondnacht' or the tremulous excitement and sense of imminent revelation in 'Schöne Fremde'. In the final 'Frühlingsnacht', often rushed off its feet, she and Johnson catch the elusive mix of secretiveness and ecstasy to perfection.
The remainder of the disc is given over to curiosities and rarities. Despite the eloquent declamation of actor Christoph Bantzer, it's hard to work up much enthusiasm for three 'melodramas' which too easily suggest silentmovie music. But there are innocent, Biedermeier delights in assorted duets, sung with bright-eyed eagerness by Felicity Lott and Ann Murray, and in three settings of Emanuel Geibel, beginning with a duet in Schumann's most cosy-comfy vein and ending with a mildly exotic ensemble evoking the gypsy life.
Among a clutch of young singers making cameo appearances, the virginal-toned Lydia Teuscher is true and touching in 'Die Nonne' and in the virtually unknown 'Frühlingsgrüsse', whose shy, halting lyricism is so typical of late Schumann.
Collectors of this revelatory series will need no reminder that Johnson writes about the music as discerningly and eloquently as he plays.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2008

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Elgar: Violin Concerto & Serenade for Strings

Elgar: Violin Concerto & Serenade for Strings


Elgar:

Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61

Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20


Recorded live and at rehearsals at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 17 and 20 May 2007

“Even before the review was in, a well-meaning soul placed this disc on my desk. This, my benefactor assured me, was not just “another Elgar” for the anniversary – it was something special. So it proves. Ehnes finds glowing tone and inspiration throughout in a beautiful yet penetrating reading. Will it displace my beloved Kennedy or Kang? Time will tell.” Gramophone Magazine

“Not since Nigel Kennedy's 1997 remake with Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO (EMI, 1/98) have I heard an account of the Elgar as thrillingly combustible, imaginative and involving as this. Davis's utterly unforced and ravishingly moving account of the entrancing Serenade makes a cherishable pendant.” Gramophone Magazine, Janurary 2008

“James Ehnes has a lovely ripe vibrato and an expressive openness that touches the heart from his first entry. It's when it comes to the balancing of confessional intimacy with symphonic purposefulness that I'm not so convinced. Ehnes does try to drive the music forward in places, but the impression is more of spurts of activity amidst long stretches of dreamy lyricism.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2008 ***

“Not since Nigel Kennedy's 1997 EMI remake with Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO has the Elgar received a recording as thrillingly combustible, imaginative and involving as this.
James Ehnes brings to this great concerto a rapt identification, tingling temperament and glowing ardour. Not only is Ehnes's technical address impeccable and intonation miraculously true, his contribution is remarkable for its intrepid emotional scope, athletic agility and (perhaps above all) jaw-dropping delicacy (nowhere more heart-tuggingly potent than in the finale's accompanied cadenza).
Ehnes is also fortunate in enjoying the support of Sir Andrew Davis, a proven Elgarian whose wonderfully perceptive conducting has authoritative sweep, elasticity and fiery passion to spare as well as a very special understanding of those moments of aching intimacy in which this of all scores abounds: what a ravishing backcloth he provides for the ineffable appearance of the 'Windflower' theme in the same movement; and how affecting are the strings' songful sighs in the ensuing Andante. One or two unruly timpani thwacks aside, the Philharmonia's response exhibits polish, grace and dedication.
Some might take issue with the sound which is a little shrouded and lacking something in alluring bloom (the actual balance is otherwise very much as you would hear from a seat in the stalls).
No matter, this remains a performance of conspicuous pedigree and insight guaranteed to make you fall in love all over again with this sublime music and which can only boost Ehnes's standing as one of the most gifted and charismatic fiddlers around. Davis's utterly unforced and ravishingly moving account of the entrancing Serenade makes a cherishable pendant.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“[an] excpetionally subtle and understand account of the Elgar Violin Concerto. [Ehnes's] half-tones are ravishing, and though he uses a wide vibrato the result is anything but sentimental..Andrew Davis's lilting account of the Serenade for Strings makes an excellent fill-up.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

“ The fiendish passagework of the third movement seems to cause Ehnes no trouble at all, and there is playing of great poise in the second movement.” James Longstaffe, Presto Classical, May 2014

Presto Disc of the Week

29th September 2008

GGramophone Awards 2008

Best of Category - Concerto

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2008

Onyx - ONYX4025

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The Film Music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Volume 2

The Film Music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Volume 2


Korngold:

The Sea Hawk

(ed. Rumon Gamba)


“The suite leaves no doubt as to the giddy fecundity and awesome architectural sweep of Korngold's exhilarating canvas. …the orchestral playing under Gamba's judiciously paced lead has a sophisticated sheen, appropriate sense of spectacle… whole-hearted commitment that testify to the BBC Philharmonic's unimpeachable credentials in this repertoire...” Gramophone Magazine, January 2008

“Rumon Gamba's 77-minute suite in six parts from Korngold's towering score for The SeaHawk (1940) sensibly follows the action and will leave no listener in any doubt as to the giddy fecundity of top-flight invention and awesome architectural sweep of Korngold's exhilarating canvas. All the big set pieces are here, not least the unforgettable choral recapitulation of the main title ('Strike for the shores of Dover!'), while the gorgeous love music for Thorpe and Dona Maria is always most touchingly attended to (for a taster try track 14, 'Rose Garden').
Suffice to say, the orchestral playing under Gamba's judiciously paced lead has a sophisticated sheen, appropriate sense of spectacle (stellar brass contribution, as ever from this source) and whole-hearted commitment that testify to the BBC Philharmonic's unimpeachable credentials in this repertoire.
Apart from one jarringly audible page-turn, Chandos's production values leave nothing to be desired; indeed, the sound is gloriously wideranging, sumptuous and detailed. Throw in a particularly handsome booklet and it will by now be clear that every true Korngold fan should make haste to this terrific release.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2008

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Handel: Semele

Handel: Semele


Rosemary Joshua (Semele), Hilary Summers (Juno/Ino), Richard Croft (Jupiter), Stephen Wallace (Athamas), Brindley Sherratt (Cadmus/Somnus) & Gail Pearson (Iris), David Croft (Apollo)

Early Opera Company (on period instruments), Christian Curnyn

3 CD set for the price of 2 CDs

“…Rosemary Joshua, radiant of tone, dazzling in coloratura, makes Semele far more than an over-sexed airhead. …a clear first choice for an over-enticing work.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2008

“In the title role, soprano Rosemary Joshua applies light and graceful tone and conveys Semele's wilful, pleasure-seeking nature. As her immortal lover Jupiter, tenor Richard Croft is equally lucid and nimble. This is the first Semele… recorded complete with period instruments. But it's not enough to match John Nelson's vividly theatrical version on modern instruments.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2008 ***

“A most satisfying and enjoyable account of Handel’s sex-centred oratorio. Rosemary Joshua catches all of Semele’s vanity, her sensuality and her ambition while still managing to make her likeable. If the rest of the cast is a notch below her lead, the whole thing has a wonderful freshness and vitality.” Gramophone Magazine

“Of a handful of previous recordings of Semele, none was entirely satisfying. Which makes this new version – complete save for an aria for Cupid that Handel later pilfered for Hercules – all the more welcome. Christian Curnyn understands the unique tinta of this gorgeous score, and directs his spruce period band with a nice blend of nonchalant elegance and dramatic energy. Tempi are shrewdly judged, rhythms light and supple, and recitatives tumble inevitably into arias. The tragic dénouement in Act 3 has due weight and intensity, whether in the tenderly inflected accompanied recitatives for Jupiter and Semele, or the awed chorus of Thebans after the heroine's incineration.
As at the English National Opera, Rosemary Joshua, radiant of tone, dazzling in coloratura, makes Semele far more than an over-sexed airhead.
She is trills ethereally in 'The morning lark', distils a drowsy, erotic languor in 'O sleep, why dost thou leave me?', and ornaments her 'mirror' aria, 'Myself I shall adore', with dizzy glee. She is imploring and fiery by turns in her exchanges with Jupiter, and brings real pathos to the haunting siciliano 'Thus let my thanks be paid' and her sublime death scene. As Jupiter, Richard Croft fields a honeyed, sensuous tone (heard to advantage in a seductive 'Where're you walk') and formidable agility, though he could learn a thing or two about diction from Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (on Gardiner's Erato set).
Like Handel himself, Curnyn assigns the virago Juno and Semele's gentle sister Ino to the same singer. Hilary Summers, a true, deep contralto, characterises both roles well. Brindley Sherratt, with his oaky bass, offers vivid, witty cameos as Cadmus and Somnus, while Stephen Wallace sings Athamas's arias with smooth tone and a nimble florid technique, though a suspicion remains that the role lies a bit low for him.
With excellent recorded sound and balance, and an informative essay from David Vickers, this becomes a clear first choice for an everenticing work.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Rosemary Joshua, with her crystal-bright soprano, sings brilliantly in her famous big aria 'Myself I shall adore', crisply pointed with neat triplets. Richard Croft as Jupiter sings with a pleasant light tenor...Christian Curnyn directs the whole opera stylishly and his cast is uniformly strong.” Penguin Guide, 2010 ***

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2008

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Britten: War Requiem, Op. 66

Britten: War Requiem, Op. 66

Recorded 1963, 90 min., B&W


Phyllis Curtin (soprano), Nicholas Di Virgilio (tenor), Tom Krause (baritone)

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf

An outspoken pacifist, composer Britten combined texts from the Latin Mass for the Dead with the sharply poignant writings of the World War I poet Wilfrid Owen to create one of the most gripping works of the modern classical repertoire. This video presents the historic 1963 American premiere of the War Requiem, as performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of its Music Director, Erich Leinsdorf. The soloists are Phyllis Curtin, soprano; Nicholas Di Virgilio, tenor; and Tom Krause, baritone. The DVD boasts a magnificent stereo soundtrack drawn from the Boston Symphony archives.

“Although visually showing its age, the stereo sound on this broadcast of the American premiere of the War Requiem sounds remarkably fresh and vivid, and Leinsdorf is authoritative.” BBC Music Magazine, April 2008 ****

“'It makes criticism impertinent,' thought Peter Shaffer of the War Requiem, and for all Stravinsky's grousing that any such criticism would be 'as if one had failed to stand up for God Save theQueen' the piece still carries as much sense of occasion as it evidently did at this, its American premiere in 1963, a year after its fraught first performance. What a contrast. The al fresco acoustic of the Tanglewood Music Shed may have been no more favourable in its way than that of Coventry Cathedral, though, you might think miraculously, there is no trace of indistinctness or inadequacy about the stereo sound preserved by WGBH Boston to accompany its telecast.
Nor is there about the performance, which was evidently prepared with all the care that such an occasion merited. The hero of the hour is preeminently Leinsdorf, who picked the work as the centrepiece of his first season as Tanglewood's music director. Whatever else the WarRequiem stands for, its performance here serves as a conducting masterclass. Leinsdorf stands ramrod-straight, no baton, and his timing and pacing are equally impeccable, honed by his years in the pit at the Met. When he raises his left hand, infrequently, it is either to conduct the chamber ensemble to his left or to indicate 'too loud'. When both arms are aloft and the eyes blaze at the climax of the Sanctus, on the upbeat to the 'Hosanna', the response is electrifying, as though all heaven's angels had joined the already excellent Chorus Pro Musica.
It would be easy but misleading to equate the unyielding body language with the interpretation: a strict, dry-eyed tempo for the 'Lacrymosa' makes all the more sense when it eventually contrasts so poignantly with the tenor's desperate cry of 'Was it for this the clay grew tall', as though the ancient liturgy was cracking under the strain of expressive necessity.
The booklet-note accurately summarises Nicholas Di Virgilio's contribution as having 'a robust and honest American style', though he rises to the challenge in the brief but crucial Agnus Dei and is less troubled by the passaggio between D and F than many Britten tenors past and present. As Di Virgilio does elsewhere, the Finnish baritone Tom Krause perhaps responds more to Britten's setting than to Owen's poetry in 'Be slowly lifted up', though the trumpet obbligato is something of a highlight, and the singer ratchets up the tension for the apocalyptic recapitulation of the Dies irae. Phyllis Curtin's soprano matches Leinsdorf for unobtrusive clarity – and she never scoops, despite every Verdian invitation to do so. A one-off event invites excuses for slips of all kinds, but there are none, and the breathless hush from the 11,000-strong audience suggests that the stoic power latent in Britten's testament affected them as it might anyone watching 44 years hence.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“A relative once told me of being in Israel for the national premiere of Britten’s War Requiem. There was a hush at the end, nobody seeming quite sure how to react to such an original, startling work. Then, as they say, the roof came off. Some of that same sense of amazement can be felt in this thrilling film of its US debut. It doesn’t hurt that the performance itself is electrifying.” Gramophone Magazine

GGramophone Magazine

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Handel: Esther

Handel: Esther


A world premiere recording of Handel’s Oratorio “Esther” to be released in the 1732 revised version

“The all-round excellence of this live concert performance from Handel's parish church, St George's, Hanover Square, makes it an essential treat for Handelians.” Gramophone Magazine, Janurary 2008

“Lawrence Cummings emphasises the music's dramatic quality and generally paces it well… Rosemary Joshua in the title role sings the text as vividly as she does the notes. Christopher Purves is striking as the genocidal Haman.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2008 ***

“Handelians will be flocking to this one, but so should everybody. The first of two Rosemary Joshua Handel outings this month (see Semele, below) is also a world premiere. A remarkable job of musical excavation has given us Handel’s second version of Esther, the oratorio that made his name in London. An exciting, important and touching recording.” Gramophone Magazine

“This is a particularly welcome and important world-premiere recording. Handel composed Esther in about 1718-20 for James Brydges, the Earl of Carnarvon (and later Duke of Chandos), using a libretto that was anonymously adapted from Thomas Brereton's English translation of a play by Racine. This slender work, containing only six scenes, lays a strong claim to being the first English oratorio, but Handel seems not to have considered performing it for a public audience until 1732, when the entrepreneurial composer thoroughly revised the score to fit his company of Italian opera singers (including Senesino, Strada and Montagnana, who all sang in English), and enlisted the aid of the writer Samuel Humphreys to expand the drama with additional scenes. This is the historic version of Esther that launched Handel's oratorio career in London, but it has remained inexplicably neglected in modern times.
Laurence Cummings is one of our finest and most natural Handelian conductors. The Israelite Woman's sensuous opening number 'Breathe soft, ye gales' (featuring recorders, oboes, bassoons, harp, theorbo, five-part strings and organ) is neatly judged by the impressive London Handel Orchestra. The superb choir is enthusiastic and masterful, and the two inserted Coronation Anthems My heart is inditing and Zadok the Priest (the latter given a parody text) are both performed magnificently. James Bowman sounds a little fragile in the most extensive coloratura passages written for Senesino in 'Endless fame', and the part of Mordecai seems uncomfortably low for Susan Bickley (which is not helped by the dragging speed of 'Dread not, righteous Queen, the danger'), but in general the soloists form a consistently solid team.
Christopher Purves is marvellous as the scheming and bullying evil minister Haman, and is equally good at singing the pitiful and lyrical 'Turn not, O Queen, thy face away' when the villain fears his deserved doom.
The all-round excellence of this live concert performance from Handel's parish church, St George's, Hanover Square, makes it an essential treat for Handelians.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2008

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Wagner: Parsifal

Wagner: Parsifal


Jon Vickers (Parsifal); Hans Hotter (Gurnemanz); Thomas Stewart (Amfortas); Gustav Neidlinger (Klingsor); Barbro Ericson (Kundry); Heinz Hagenau (Titurel); Anja Silja, Dorothea Siebert, Liselotte Rebmann, Rita Bartos, Else-Margrete Gardelli, Sylvia Lindenstrand (flower maidens) & Ruth Hesse (voice from above)

Choir and Orchestra of the Bayreuth Festival, Hans Knappertsbusch

Live Recording 13/8/1964

“The (to date) 11 released recordings of Hans Knappertsbusch's Parsifal performances at Bayreuth between 1951 and 1964 constitute a unique record of one conductor's work on a favoured score in a single theatre. By 1942 'Kna' had logged up over 90 performances in a number of venues of a work he first led when he was 25, but after 1951 he would only conduct it in Bayreuth. Technical gremlins in Bavarian Radio's transmission of the 1964 first night led to its being replaced by a recording of the present performance, the last night of the run. It was not only Kna's last ever Parsifal, it was to be his last ever public performance.
Thirteen years of performances saw changes to Knappertsbusch's shaping of the score which were as subtle but as continuous as those taking place in the seminal Wieland Wagner stage production which it accompanied. Compare the original 1951 recording (Decca, now Naxos): if the basic tempi remain slow, the pulse is much more sharply defined and the much-commented weight has been replaced by a colourful plasticity which is almost Debussian. Also, rather like an extended version of Walküre Act 1, there is now only one real climax in the whole interpretation.
'Be off with you now and let's have a good Good Friday Spell', the conductor apparently told Hans Hotter in an interval conversation – and they did, with a monumental strike (shattering timpani, shining brass, thrilling precision from Gurnemanz) at the launch of the scene on the holy meadow.
The performance is also vital for its preservation of Jon Vickers's Parsifal. In his second appearance on the Green Hill the Canadian tenor mixes great strength and great beauty of voice to an almost platonic ideal in the tricky Act 2 dialogue with Kundry. Here what can sound like sermonising becomes passionate, convincing rhetoric. Hotter's Gurnemanz, in its range of inflections and illuminating line readings a close cousin of his Wotan, has ripened too since the widely circulated Philips reading of 1962.
Thomas Stewart took over Amfortas this year from George London, reaching frightening heights of persecution mania in his last confrontation with the brethren in Act 3.
As with the predecessors in their 'official' Bayreuth series, Orfeo has denied us some of the 'live' atmosphere with its scrubbing and cleaning up of the original radio recording. It is also transferred at rather a low volume. However, forced into a ridiculous choice between 'Kna' Parsifals, this stands alongside the 1954 version (Archipel, his return to the Green Hill after an enforced year off) as the ranking interpretations from this maestro.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“The (to date) 11 released recordings of Hans Knappertsbusch's Parsifal performances at Bayreuth between 1951 and 1964 constitute a unique record of one conductor's work on a favoured score in a single theatre. By 1942 'Kna' had logged up over 90 performances in a number of venues of a work he first led when he was 25, but after 1951 he would only conduct it in Bayreuth. Technical gremlins in Bavarian Radio's transmission of the 1964 first night led to its being replaced by a recording of the present performance, the last night of the run. It was not only Kna's last ever Parsifal, it was to be his last ever public performance.
Thirteen years of performances saw changes to Knappertsbusch's shaping of the score which were as subtle but as continuous as those taking place in the seminal Wieland Wagner stage production which it accompanied. Compare the original 1951 recording (Decca, now Naxos): if the basic tempi remain slow, the pulse is much more sharply defined and the much-commented weight has been replaced by a colourful plasticity which is almost Debussian. Also, rather like an extended version of Walküre Act 1, there is now only one real climax in the whole interpretation.
'Be off with you now and let's have a good Good Friday Spell', the conductor apparently told Hans Hotter in an interval conversation – and they did, with a monumental strike (shattering timpani, shining brass, thrilling precision from Gurnemanz) at the launch of the scene on the holy meadow.
The performance is also vital for its preservation of Jon Vickers's Parsifal. In his second appearance on the Green Hill the Canadian tenor mixes great strength and great beauty of voice to an almost platonic ideal in the tricky Act 2 dialogue with Kundry. Here what can sound like sermonising becomes passionate, convincing rhetoric. Hotter's Gurnemanz, in its range of inflections and illuminating line readings a close cousin of his Wotan, has ripened too since the widely circulated Philips reading of 1962.
Thomas Stewart took over Amfortas this year from George London, reaching frightening heights of persecution mania in his last confrontation with the brethren in Act 3.
As with the predecessors in their 'official' Bayreuth series, Orfeo has denied us some of the 'live' atmosphere with its scrubbing and cleaning up of the original radio recording. It is also transferred at rather a low volume. However, forced into a ridiculous choice between 'Kna' Parsifals, this stands alongside the 1954 version (Archipel, his return to the Green Hill after an enforced year off) as the ranking interpretations from this maestro.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“…a great Parsifal from a conductor who had lived with it for years...” Gramophone Magazine, Janurary 2008

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2008

Orfeo - Orfeo d'Or - Bayreuther Festspiele live - C690074L

(CD - 4 discs)

$45.50

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Debussy - Complete Works for Solo Piano Volume 2

Debussy - Complete Works for Solo Piano Volume 2


Debussy:

Valse romantique (L. 71)

Ballade

Danse - Tarantelle styrienne

Images oubliées (3) for piano

Pour le piano

Estampes (3) (Complete)

Masques

D'un cahier d'esquisses

L'isle joyeuse


“If anything, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet surpasses the high standards he set in his previous Debussy release… with this second instalment. …he focuses upon clarity of textures, rhythmic precision, well differentiated articulation, plus scrupulous balances between the hands and within chords.” Gramophone Magazine, Janurary 2008

“Bavouzet's strengths…to the fore, with glowing colours in the opening Ballade and Valse romantique, followed by sparkling elegance in the Danse.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2008 ****

“No gently meandering Debussy for French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in his second complete works instalment. Structure and clarity are, if not all, then at least to the forefront here, and the composer gains. In a way, by making the textures so clear, Bavouzet reveals (to an extent) how the magician does his tricks – and it just leaves you admiring Debussy all the more.” Gramophone Magazine

“While Bavouzet is no slouch in the tone-colour department, his interpretations do not primarily concern themselves with sound-painting. Instead he focuses upon clarity of textures, rhythmic precision, well differentiated articulation, plus scrupulous balances between the hands and within chords. Timbral variety and tonal allure arise from these elements working together. As you listen to Bavouzet's effortless rhythmic lilt and buoyant sense of line in the Tarantelle styrienne, Masques and 'Jardins sous la pluie', or his firm bass underpinnings and impeccably calibrated arabesques throughout L'isle joyeuse, you don't perceive the 'hammerless' piano of Debussy's dreams. Instead, the piano's innards morph into a finely honed chamber orchestra.
Similarly in 'Pagodes', Bavouzet's sharply profiled melodies shed welcome animated light on a piece that's often interpreted too flaccidly. Some might favour a warmer, more curvaceous way with the Valse romantique but Bavouzet's shapelier urgency proves more convincing in Pour lepiano's central Sarabande, as well as its earlier incarnation in the cycle of 'forgotten' Images.
The recorded sound is never less than pleasing.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Debussy playing does not come any better than this” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

GGramophone Awards 2008

Finalist - Instrumental

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2008

Chandos - up to 40% off

Chandos Bavouzet Debussy Series - CHAN10443

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Yakov Flier - The Igumnov School

Yakov Flier - The Igumnov School


Chopin:

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 'Marche funèbre'

recorded in Moscow c1956

Kabalevsky:

24 Preludes Op. 38

recorded in Moscow c1955

Rachmaninov:

Prelude Op. 3 No. 2 in C sharp minor

recorded in Moscow c1952

Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 in G minor

recorded in Moscow c1952


Yakov Flier (piano)

We continue our comprehensive survey of the many great pianists who worked in Russia in the Soviet era with the first two discs in the Igumnov School. The bulk of the issues will be divided into 'schools' which represent the three main teachers of this period - Neuhaus, Goldenweiser and Igumnov, - and their pupils. Igumnov was the oldest of the thre great teachers we are considering.

“Yakov Flier was a distinguished pupil of Igumnov, and on this disc plays consistently better than his teacher. The Kabalevsky 24 Preludes have phenomenal élan, and everything is fresh, even if sometimes weird.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2008 ****

“Revered as an influential teacher at the Moscow Conservatoire, Yakov Flier is also much revered by his fans as one of the greats of the old-school Russian pianists. Flier never achieved the fame of Richter, but is very much in that line. Here the Kabalevsky and Rachmaninov Preludes are especially good examples of Flier’s idiosyncractic power...Flier's generosity and poetic leeway in Chopin's Second Sonata has little to do with present-day severity. His rubato is personal but never excessive… and the entire performance is exceptionally powerful and eloquent.” Gramophone Magazine, Janurary 2008

GGramophone Magazine

Re-issue of the Month - January 2008

APR - The Russian Piano Tradition - APR5665

(CD)

$10.50

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