Gramophone Magazine Editor's Choice

March 2008

Editor's Choice

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Bach, J S: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-6 BWV1046-1051 (complete)

Bach, J S: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-6 BWV1046-1051 (complete)


European Brandenburg Ensemble, Trevor Pinnock (director)

“With the Brandenburg concertos, it will be like your regular walk in the park – the path is mapped out for you and you know the way – but the light is always different” – Trevor Pinnock

Trevor Pinnock first recorded the Brandenburg Concertos some twenty-five years ago. This new recording is a product of Mr. Pinnock’s deep fascination with Bach’s ground-breaking concertos and in the working process and interaction of musicians in ensemble. Eager to cut through any narrow conceptions of period style, players from different countries and of different generations were invited to join this new voyage of exploration. In the early eighteenth century there was no fixed concept of the orchestra; these pieces could be performed on single instruments to a part or with parts doubled. This fine recording demonstrates a variety of approaches.

“Like Pinnock's earlier set with the English Concert, the newcomer… displays Pinnock's seemingly unassailable ability to choose an effective, just tempo for each movement, and his infectious rhythmic energy both as director from the harpsichord and as accomplished soloist in the Fifth Concerto... In summary, this is a splendid achievement.” BBC Music Magazine, February 2008 *****

“…the players of the European Brandenburg Ensemble include some of the finest of today's Baroque chamber players, and there is a relaxed expertise about their performances which seems to allow them to communicate directly and without technical or ideological hindrance. This is not a Brandenburg set that sets out to score points, and all that is needed from us is to sit back and enjoy its relaxed, celebratory spirit.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2008

“When Trevor Pinnock first recorded the Brandenburgs with The English Concert for Archiv in 1982, period performances of these works were relatively rare; today they abound, and it has become harder to make a mark in music that does not readily admit a wide range of interpretations.
Not that Pinnock need worry about that at this point in his career. This new recording, made with an ensemble hand-picked for the job, is a 60th-birthday present to himself, and is just what such a project should be: talented musicians relishing each other's company in music of truly inspiring greatness.
Unsurprisingly, it reflects the increased playing standards of 25 years of period-instrument growth. Only Pinnock himself remains from that first line-up, and while the players then were a high-class team, the players of the European Brandenburg Ensemble include some of the finest of today's Baroque chamber players, and there is a relaxed expertise about their performances which seems to allow them to communicate directly and without technical or ideological hindrance. A hint of over-exuberant thickness in the texture of Concerto No 1 is perhaps a reflection of this, but elsewhere it is good to hear playing from the likes of violinist Kati Debretzeni, flautist Katy Bircher and the excellent David Blackadder on trumpet that is bold and confident without straying into coarseness. The clarity achieved in Nos 4, 5 and 6 also has a more natural air than the 'studio-y' balance of the Archiv set, no doubt helped by the decision to use a violone at pitch rather than the more usual octave below. The pensive violin improvisation which links the two movements of No 3 is surely a miscalculation, feeling like more of a hold-up than it need be; more lastingly refreshing to my ears were the subtle relaxations of tension in the first movement of No 6, these days so often given the hard-drive treatment.
This is not a Brandenburg set that seeks to score points, and all that is needed from us is to sit back and enjoy its relaxed, celebratory spirit.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Awards 2008

Best of Category - Baroque Instrumental

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - March 2008

Avie - AV2119

(CD - 2 discs)

$25.25

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Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Mahler: Symphony No. 9


Simon Rattle began recording the Mahler symphonies for EMI Classics in 1987, the first foray being Symphony No. 2 with the CBSO, and the subsequent cycle has seen great critical success.

Gramophone said of Sir Simon’s earlier recording of Mahler 9 with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for EMI: “How thrilling it is to hear the score projected at white heat! This is at various times the loudest, softest, fastest and slowest Mahler Ninth on disc.” And the magazine commented on his Mahler 10 recording with the BPO, which was his first Mahler with the orchestra: “Rattle makes the strongest possible case for an astonishing piece of revivification that only the most die-hard purists will resist. Strongly recommended.”

“Rattle and the Berliners are capable of taking one's breath away. It's in the final Adagio that Rattle and his orchestra make the most powerful impact. The strings sound gorgeous, of course, yet there's grit as well as radiance in their tone. And it's only in the final pages that the earthy impurities are leeched, leaving a breath-like purity that ebbs into rapt silence.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2008

“Sir Simon Rattle has once again demonstrated his great affinity for this music and his ability to recreate it in the most thrilling fashion.[...] It is hardly possible to imagine a realization of this music at once more moving and more menacing. The finale was heavenly, with the Berliners pulling out all the stops. Outstanding solo playing, subtly savoured colours, saturated and warmly sonorous wind chords and a pianissimo that died away into utter oblivion – all these contributed to making this a sensational concert.” Oberösterreichische Nachrichten

“In his previous recording of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, made live with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1993, Simon Rattle tapped into the music's emotional extremes to produce a surprisingly volatile reading full of precipitous accelerandi and wrenching ritardandi. There's some of that volatility in this new account from Berlin, too, though it's certainly less pronounced.
There are places, too, where more tenderness wouldn't come amiss: the entrance of the solo violin in the first movement's recapitulation is so much sweeter in Vienna. But Rattle and the Berliners are also capable of taking one's breath away. Listen later in the same movement, as they gather the seemingly chaotic tangle of melodic filaments together, creating a single, gigantic, darkly radiant chord.
The rustic dances in the second movement have a strong, rough-hewn quality, even if they sound slightly dour when compared with the more gemütlich charm of, say, Abbado's Berlin recording. Rattle doesn't push hard in the Rondo-Burleske until the end; instead, he aims for clarity and articulateness, and scrupulously observes all the dynamic twists and turns. It's an effective approach, though less adrenalin-pumping than Karajan.
It's in the final Adagio, however, that Rattle and his orchestra make the most powerful impact. The strings sound gorgeous, of course, yet there's grit as well as radiance in their tone.
And it's only in the final pages that the earthy impurities are leeched, leaving a breath-like purity that ebbs into rapt silence.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

Presto Disc of the Week

3rd March 2008

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - March 2008

Warner Classics - 5012282

(CD)

$10.75

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Bach, J S: The Art of Fugue, BWV1080

Bach, J S: The Art of Fugue, BWV1080


“…what Aimard offers is perhaps one of the most intellectually rigorous piano versions available. No contrapuntal density defeats his forensic brain or articulate fingers. He does find lyricism and exhilaration, but there is an evenness of purpose which is both a strength... and a weakness when set against the pronounced poetry of Koroliov or MacGregor.” BBC Music Magazine, February 2008 ****

“This is Bach-playing to listen to every day, Fresh, spry and well modulated. If spirituality is to be found in The Art of Fugue, Aimard seems to say, it will not be through slow tempi, dynamic extremes or the quasi-religious trappings… Perhaps no pianist since Charles Rosen has no persuasively demonstrated that this contrapuntal encyclopaedia is to be heard as well as read.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2008

“Staggering technique, searching intellect and fantastical imagination” New York Times

“This is Bach-playing to listen to every day, fresh, spry and well modulated. If spirituality is to be found in The Art of Fugue, Aimard seems to say, it will not be through slow tempi, dynamic extremes or the quasi-religious trappings arrayed by the likes of Sokolov, Kocsis, Koroliov and Nikolaieva. The tripping, French swagger of Contrapuncti 2 and 6 and the smart Italian cut of No 9 fit neatly under the fingers. Freedom is found within the interplay of voices rather than any fancy phrasing: in fact the mirror fugues and canons are so unfussily done that you'd never guess without a score to hand how much a single musician can look and sound like Mr Messy while playing them.
This is not to imply dryness or inflexibility on Aimard's part. He follows Tovey in finding No 3 to be 'one of Bach's most beautiful pieces of quiet chromatic slow music', after which the extraordinary cadences of No 4 are necessarily pedalled and clipped, even chirpy: the envoi of a true Kapellmeister. The great unfinished fugue is especially fascinating, gradually accumulating kinesis until the surge of B-A-C-H pulls us towards its unattained apotheosis with colossal force. Applied with more plain-spoken authority, such emphatic strength of wrist and will rather chews up the Tenth's preludial bars and the expansive, chorale-fantasia conclusion of the Fifth, though with equal force one senses that, in this case, they had to be so.
Perhaps no pianist since Charles Rosen has so persuasively demonstrated that this contrapuntal encyclopedia is to be heard as well as read.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - March 2008

DG - 4777345

(CD)

$14.00

(also available to download from $8.25)

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Mozart, Salieri & Righini - Arie di Bravura

Mozart, Salieri & Righini - Arie di Bravura


Mozart:

O zittre nicht (from Die Zauberflöte)

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (from Die Zauberflöte)

In un instante... Parto, m’affretto (from Lucio Silla)

Basta, vincesti… Ah, non lasciarmi Didone K468

Righini:

Il natal d’Apollo: Ove son? Qual’aure io spiro Erifile

Il natal d’Apollo: Ombra dolente Alceo

Salieri:

Cublai, gran Khan dei Tartari: Fra i barbari sospetti Alzima

L’Europa riconosciuta: Numi, respiro… Ah, lo sento Europa

Cublai, gran Khan dei Tartari: D’un insultante orgoglio Alzima

Der Rauchfangkehrer: Basta, vincesti… Ah non lasciarmi Fräule Nannette

Semiramide: Sento l’amica speme Semiramide

L’Europa riconosciuta: Quando più irato freme Semele

La finta scema: Se spiegar potessi appieno Vanesia


Diana Damrau (soprano)

Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Jérémie Rhorer

“If some ears might detect an occasional harshness in Damrau's upper register, criticism is all but silenced by her virtuosity and histrionic flair, evident even without the benefit of her vivid stage presence. Under Jérémie Rhorer's alert direction, the Parisian period orchestra match the singer all the way in style and gusto.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2008

“Mozart's Queen of Night is as subtle and intelligent in recitative and inflection as in stratospheric virtuosity.” BBC Music Magazine, February 2008 ****

“Diana Damrau is the most thrilling high soprano of our day. She is a peerless Konstanze, delivering "Martern aller Arten" (including the sections usually cut) with venom and precision, and a superbly neurotic Elvira. Her amazing, stratospheric command is best demonstrated in the unearthly beauty of "Vorrei spiegarvi" and the brilliant "No, che non sei capace", both written by Mozart for Aloysia Lange to sing in someone else's opera. If Damrau moves on to record Mozart's true concert arias, I hope she has an orchestra which doesn't sound as if it was recorded in a nearby bathroom.” The Observer, 15th February 2009

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - March 2008

Erato - 3952502

(CD)

$11.50

(also available to download from $10.00)

Usually despatched in 3 - 4 working days. (Available now to download.)

Spanish Love Songs

Spanish Love Songs


Chabrier:

España

Granados:

Tonadillas: No. 8, El mirar de la maja

Descúbrase el pensamiento

Lamote de Grignon:

Larirà-Abril

Luna, P:

El Niño Judío: De España vengo

Mompou:

Damunt de tu, nomes les flors

Montsalvatge:

El lagarto esta llorando

Ravel:

Vocalise-étude en forme de habanera

Rodrigo:

Nani, nani from Cuatro canciones sefardíes

Una pastora yo ami from Cuatro canciones sefardíes

Roussel:

Le Bachelier de Salamanque

Schumann:

Romanza from the Spanische Liebes-Lieder

Sondheim:

Barcelona from Company

Torroba:

De este apacible rincón (from Luisa Fernanda)

Turina:

Farruca (from Triptico, Op. 45)

Wolf, H:

Liebe mir im Busen zundet (No. 17 from Spanisches Liederbuch: Weltliche Lieder)

Alle gingen, Herz zur Ruh (No. 21 from Spanisches Liederbuch: Weltliche Lieder)

Auf dem grünen Balkon (No. 5 from Spanisches Liederbuch: Weltliche Lieder)

Komm, O Tod, von Nacht umgeben (No. 24 from Spanisches Liederbuch: Weltliche Lieder)

Yradier:

La Paloma


Spanish Love Songs takes a whirlwind tour of Iberian culture, from the mystically introspective to the opulently romantic.

Decades before Spain had its own repertoire of classical songs, French and German musicians mined Spanish themes and folklore for their newly burgeoning canon of art songs. On Spanish Love Songs we hear the great masters Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf and Maurice Ravel, fascinated by the beauty of Spanish culture, along side the music of Spain's greatest composers of song.

“The Bridge CD is a live performance from the 2004 Caramoor Festival. Its star, without a doubt, is the great mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who died less than two years later. ...Hunt Lieberson is utterly memorable.” BBC Music Magazine, March 2008 ****

“Lieberson's continually finding that extra gear of emotion that makes a song a three-dimensional staging rather than a platform recital. Her partner, is the fresh, versatile tenor of Joseph Kaiser… Tight, well works accompaniments… complete a little gem of an issue.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2008

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - March 2008

Bridge - BRIDGE9228

(CD)

$16.00

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Cyril Scott - Sonata Lirica

Cyril Scott - Sonata Lirica

and other works for violin and piano


Scott, C:

Sonata Lirica

Deux Préludes

Lotus Land, Op. 47 No. 1 (W183)

(transcribed for violin and piano by Fritz Kreisler)

Valse Triste, Op. 73, No. 3

Tallahassee Suite, Op. 73, No. 4

Andante Languido (no.2 from Three Little Waltzes Op. 58)

(arranged for violin and piano by Richard Lange)

Fantasie Orientale

Romance, Op. 73, No. 2

Danse nègre, Op.58 No.5 (W89)

(transcribed for violin and piano by A. Walter Kramer)

Elégie Op. 73, No. 1

(arranged for violin and piano by Richard Lange)

Lullaby

(transcribed for violin and piano by Ethel Barns)


Clare Howick (violin) & Sophia Rahman (piano)

Recorded at The Wathen Hall at St Paul’s School, 10 & 17 June 2007

“The disc contains five transcriptions, of which the most famous is Lotus Land (1905), arranged by Kreisler in 1922. it was always a mesmeric piano solo with its oriental inflections but the violin version is ecstatic. The whole collection is a most attractive expression of Scott's highly characteristic style, all wonderfully played. Clare Howick and Sophia Rahman are both superb.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2008

“The Scott revival marches on! The Sonata lirica (1937) was lost for years and this seems to be its first performance. Hearing it without knowing the composer, one might have guessed Delius.
There's the same rhapsodic improvisational approach, if less subtle, where attractive melody is qualified by sumptuous chords. But Scott has his own way of doing this and the violin and piano medium exploits his gift for melody.
The disc contains five transcriptions, of which the most famous is Lotus Land (1905), arranged by Kreisler in 1922. It was always a mesmeric piano solo with its oriental inflections but the violin version is ecstatic. Kramer's arrangement of another evergreen, Danse nègre, creates some odd exchanges but is catchy and vivid. The lovely melodies of the Intermezzo and the Lullaby, also a haunting song, work beautifully in this arrangement.
The Tallahassee Suite (1911) is presumably evocative of the Florida landscape and the final 'Danse nègre' boasts ragtime syncopations.
The whole collection is a most attractive expression of Scott's highly characteristic style, all wonderfully played. Clare Howick and Sophia Rahman are both superb.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - March 2008

Dutton Epoch - CDLX7200

(CD)

$14.75

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Dvorak: Rusalka, Op. 114

Dvorak: Rusalka, Op. 114

Recorded live at the Sydney Opera House in March 2007


Cheryl Barker (Rusalka), Rosario La Spina (Prince), Bruce Martin (Water Sprite), Elizabeth Whitehouse (Foreign Princess), Anne-Marie Owens (Ježibaba), Sarah Crane (Wood Nymph 1), Taryn Fiebig (Wood Nymph 2), Dominica Matthews (Wood Nymph 3), Barry Ryan (Gamekeeper/Huntsman) & Sian Pendry (Kitchen Boy)

Opera Australia Chorus & Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Richard Hickox

3 CDs for the price of 2

“Hickox conducts with real theatrical warmth…” BBC Music Magazine, March 2008 ****

“As music director of Opera Australia… Richard Hickox… has made a bold choice in Dvorák's last and greatest opera, Rusalka, when there is a near-definitive version available on Decca with a mainly Czech cast and the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. Cheryl Baker may not have so creamily beautiful a voice as Renée Fleming but she sounds more aptly girlish and fresh. Tenor Rosario La Spina as the Prince is younger-sounding, more virile and more expressive than the Heldentenor Ben Heppner on decca. As for Hickox, he conducts this magical score with a bite that brings out the elements so closely related to the Salvonic Dances. A final choice must remain marginal, but anyone who wants a new-minted version of one of the most magical of all operas... more atmospherically recorded than on Decca - this new Chandos version makes an excellent choice.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2008

“It is hard to imagine anyone doing the title role better” The Australian

“Richard Hickox has made a bold choice in Dvorák's last and greatest opera, Rusalka, when there is a near-definitive version available on Decca with a mainly Czech cast and the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras (see above). Yet even in face of such competition there is a strong case for his new version from Chandos.
Cheryl Barker may not have so creamily beautiful a voice as Renée Fleming but she sounds more aptly girlish and fresh. Her big Act 1 solo, the Invocation to the Moon, flows far more easily than in Fleming's very beautiful but very expansive version, an obvious advantage.
Tenor Rosario La Spina as the Prince is younger-sounding, more virile and more expressive than the Heldentenor Ben Heppner on Decca. As for Hickox, he conducts this magical score with a bite that brings out the elements so closely related to the SlavonicDances, and the recording, made live in the Sydney Opera House (a difficult venue), is clean and fresh.
The Australian cast, singing in Czech, sounds totally in tune with the Dvorák idiom, with each singer matching up to his or her Decca counterpart.
Bruce Martin as the Water Goblin may not have so rich or well focused a voice as Franz Hawlata on Decca, but his is a strong and characterful performance, and as the witch JeOibaba, Anne-Marie Owens is satisfyingly rich and fruity, where her Decca counterpart is relatively thin-toned.
There is also a gain in that this has been recorded live from a stage production, notably in the thrilling conclusion of the Second Act.
Surprisingly, Renée Fleming in Act 2 is less assured than in the other acts, while Cheryl Barker is consistent throughout, and her performance culminates in a deeply moving account of Rusalka's final solo, with a thrilling build-up.
A final choice must remain marginal, but anyone who wants a new-minted version of one of the most magical of all operas – with the harp signalling the other-worldly magic of Rusalka as Water Nymph, more atmospherically recorded than on Decca – this new Chandos version makes an excellent choice.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - March 2008

Chandos - up to 40% off

Chandos - CHAN10449

(CD - 3 discs)

Normally: $29.75

Special: $25.28

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Usually despatched in 2 - 3 working days. (Available now to download.)

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