Gramophone Magazine Editor's Choice

October 2014

Disc of the Month

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Bach, J S: Partitas Nos. 1-6, BWV825-830

Awards:

Gramophone Magazine

Disc of the Month - October 2014

Label:

Sony

Catalogue No:

88843036822

Discs:

2

Release date:

18th Aug 2014

Barcode:

0888430368224

Length:

2 hours 30 minutes

Medium:

CD (download also available)
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Bach, J S: Partitas Nos. 1-6, BWV825-830


Igor Levit (piano)

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Igor Levit has recorded Bach's Partitas BWV 825-830. It is the second release by the 27-year-old pianist, whom many regard as the greatest talent of his time, on Sony Classical. With his debut album, featuring the late Beethoven sonatas, Levit received critical acclaim and awards from international publications and organisations.

After Beethoven, Levit now turns his attention to Bach:

"It's simply amazing what Bach could do!" Levit exclaims "He had a command of form second to none. Take the long slow movement of Partita no. 6: at the end it's not a sarabande any more, but a crazy, radical free fantasy – incredibly emotional, it stands no comparison. It really shakes you up. This is music of the utmost perfection!"

And of the minuet from Partita no. 5, BWV 829 Levit says: "this is a humorous piece, not a minuet! And then suddenly it is one. And then it isn't."

Igor Levit has worked his way meticulously towards the famous Bach partitas. He read, studied and played music that came before Bach. While he was pursuing his research, he didn't play Bach at all. And then he spent three or four years on the partitas without performing them in concert until he had the feeling he had finally mastered the scores and could do them justice.

In the intervening period since his first album was released, the young pianist has become more laid-back, and that is immediately apparent from a comparison of the two albums. When he recorded the Beethoven sonatas, Levit seemed to be hurling all his strength at the keyboard, battling the elements, as it were. In the Bach partitas, a relaxed distance can be felt; a happy calm that makes it easy for the pianist to enjoy performing the music to the full.

"For the first time in my life, I have the feeling that the way I play now is just right for me" he says. "Everything comes together, inwardly and programmatically. I can see light at the end of the tunnel, and that's where I want to go. Since then, I've felt immensely relaxed. It's true that I had to struggle with every note from the Bach just like with Beethoven – but this time I enjoyed the struggle."

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 1 in B-Flat Major, BWV 825

I. Praeludium

II. Allemande

III. Corrente

IV. Sarabande

V. Menuet I & II

VI. Gigue

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 826

I. Sinfonia

II. Allemande

III. Courante

IV. Sarabande

V. Rondeaux

VI. Capriccio

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828

I. Ouverture

II. Allemande

III. Courante

IV. Aria

V. Sarabande

VI. Menuet

VII. Gigue

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 3 in A Minor, BWV 827

I. Fantasia

II. Allemande

III. Corrente

IV. Sarabande

V. Burlesca

VI. Scherzo

VII. Gigue

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 5 in G Major, BWV 829

I. Praeambulum

II. Allemande

III. Corrente

IV. Sarabande

V. Tempo di Minuetto

VI. Passepied

VII. Gigue

Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 6 in E Minor, BWV 830

I. Toccata

II. Allemande

III. Corrente

IV. Air

V. Sarabande

VI. Tempo di Gavotta

VII. Gigue

Sunday Times

24th August 2014

“Hearing the six partitas played by the Russo-German pianist Igor Levit is a total and joyful experience. He skilfully varies the touch and colour of his masterful playing according to the varied character of these marvellous works. Authentic in the most profound meaning of the word.”

The Observer

24th August 2014

****

“Every note in these six Partitas crackles with life: this may not please lovers of "objective" Bach: the sound is bright and brilliant but can be hard, and some speeds are eccentric...What won me over is a rhythmic flexibility that reflects the structure of these wonderful movement.”

Gramophone Magazine

October 2014

“The distinction of this set of the Partitas...will establish him in the minds of many, I'm sure, as a major artist...Above all, they are fresh and joyous...Levit's achievement is to miss nothing of their scope and variety as compositions while conveying what it is that makes each one a unity, not an anthology, demanding to be performed complete...Levit doesn't miss a trick.”

The Telegraph

27th October 2014

****

“These partitas, all six of them, are conceived individually by Levit as organic structures, with speeds held in judicious proportion...Ornamentation is crisp and apt; the artistry is of an order that amply reflects Bach’s own suggestion that these partitas are “for music lovers, to delight their senses”.”

BBC Music Magazine

Christmas 2014

****

“This is Bach at his most commanding...as fine a set of Bach's complete partitas as you will find in the catalogue, but it lacks the individuality which I had hoped for”

Classical Music

*****

“Ornamentation is sensitive and apt and, while this may be too ‘big-boned’ for some listeners (it is uncompromisingly ‘pianistic’), it is nevertheless a very impressive achievement.”

International Piano

*****

“[Levit's] keen sense of enjoyment is very evident and fuels a performance that sounds consistently fresh and engaging…he’s alert to Bach’s abstruse whimsy in the tricky C minor Capriccio and elusive G major Tempo di Minuetto. He brings out the logic in the intricate counterpoint of the G major and E minor Gigues, maintaining both clarity of line and rhythmic panache. He’s sensitive to Bach’s poeticism, from anguished soul-searching in the E minor Sarabande to the dreamy enchantment of the D major Allemande...it works beautifully.”

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Moulinie: Meslanges pour la chapelle d'un prince

Moulinie: Meslanges pour la chapelle d'un prince


Boesset, A:

Jesu nostra redemptio

Popule meus quid fecit tibi

Pie Jesu

Chancy:

Allemandes

Constantin:

La Pacifique

Moulinié:

O bone Jesu

Lauda Sion salvatorem

Caro mea vere est cibus

Magi videntes stellam

O dulce nomen

Ecce video

Ne reminiscaris Domine

Ego flos campi

Veni sponsa mea

O salutaris hostia

Litanies à la Vierge

Flores apparuerunt

Dum esset rex


Sébastien Daucé (harpsichord, organ, direction)

Ensemble Correspondances

For more than 30 years, the career of composer Étienne Moulinié was inseparably linked with the patronage of Gaston d'Orléans (1608-60), brother of Louis XIII. Moulinié provided the music for the prince’s family from 1627 to 1660, leaving a varied and original oeuvre. Although his secular music is well known, his sacred output, most of it contained in a collection published in 1658 from which this recording presents some of the finest pieces, is still neglected, despite its great beauty, its individuality, and its importance for the development of mid 17th-century French music.

Despite several announcements, Moulinié was never to carry out his intention of publishing further volumes, probably hindered from doing so by the death of his patron in 1660. 'The Mélanges de sujets chrétiens' (Anthology of Christian subjects, canticles, litanies, and motets, set to music in two, three, four, and five parts, with a figured bass) is therefore all the more precious in the insight it gives into the music of one of the most original composers of the Grand Siècle at the height of his artistry.

Excellent booklet note by Thomas Leconte of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles.

“persuasively performed by Ensemble Correspondence with a flavoursome depth and texture to supremely lively sound quality.” Choir & Organ, Autumn 2014

“a homogenous sound in which the voices that make up his [Moulinie’s] often dense textures are clearly heard and beautifully shaped.” Early Music Today, October 2014

“Assured soloists are drawn from the ranks of the dozen-strong choir, and their fluent solo passages and glorious choral textures combine sumptuously with a compact yet sonorously varied instrumental group of recorders, viols, lute, theorbo and organ...such miniature pieces are capable of real grandeur in the right hands.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“The style is both unprepossessing and full, the piercing vocal expressiveness and glowing instrumental resonances of these new performances emphasizing its hearty soulfulness.” Irish Times, 13th November 2014

“this may seem to be obscure repertoire but it is significant in the overall development of the French motet which was to culminate in those huge settings by Rameau. With such cultured, sensitive and beautifully moulded performances this is a notable and delightful disc that is well worth investigating.” MusicWeb International, 22nd December 2014

“The performances are of breathtaking beauty. As a group, the Ensemble is lithe and supple, reacting sympathetically to every nuance of Moulinie’s expressive, text-driven writing. Individually, its 12 voices are remarkably fresh and secure…this disc presents a perfect marriage of sublime music and outstanding musicianship” International Record Review, January 2015

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Arvo Pärt: Choral Music

Arvo Pärt: Choral Music


Pärt:

Peace upon you

Morning Star

The Woman With The Alabaster Box

The Deer's Cry

Virgencita

Solfeggio

Beter (2)

Rachel Ambrose Evans (soprano)

Tribute to Caesar

Richard Bannan (bass)

Summa

Memento

Alleluja Tropus for choir and string orchestra

Da pacem Domine


Stephen Layton and Polyphony have a long and fruitful relationship with the music of Arvo Pärt. Their recording of Triodion and other choral works (CDA67375) won a Gramophone Award and became a cult classic. The extraordinary purity of Polyphony’s singing is the perfect vehicle for music of such clean, elemental simplicity, such cathartic calm.

This third Pärt album from Stephen Layton and Polyphony reaches right back, intriguingly, to the composer’s youthful modernist phase and spans nearly five decades—from 1963 to 2012—in the process. As with the album Triodion, it reflects an increasingly broad spread of languages and sources in Pärt’s chosen texts. Latin, German and English are joined here by Church Slavonic and Spanish. A range of biblical texts are set alongside ancient prayers.

“this one is something special. In part this is because of the choice of repertoire, which mixes the familiar and the less-often heard, and includes two first recordings, and in part it is because of the exquisite sound produced by Polyphony...Highly recommended.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“the choir fully conveys the extraordinary sense of atemporality that makes this piece so prescient of the later tintinnabuli style. The choir demonstrates crystal-clear articulation and remarkable dynamic control in Zwei Beter...while the slow-moving, syllabic declamation of Tribute to Caesar is movingly done.” International Record Review, December 2014

“Alleluia-Tropos (2008) originally included eight cellos (a favourite sonority for Pärt has always loved cello ensembles) but Polyphony's sound is, as always, so rich and beautiful that there is no sense of anything missing.” BBC Music Magazine, Janaury 2015 *****

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Perla Barocca

Perla Barocca

Early Italian Masterpieces


Bertali:

Chaconne

Castello, D:

Sonata seconda

Cima, G:

Sonata a due, Milano 1610

Fontana, G B:

Sonata seconda

Frescobaldi:

Toccata Prima

Toccata per Spinettina e Violino

Gabrieli, A:

Ricercar del primo tono (III/1)

Leonarda:

Sonata duodecima

Marini, B:

Sonata quarta per sonar con due corde

Mealli:

Sonata Sesta (Op. 4, 1690) La Vinciolina

Uccellini:

Sonata over Toccata Quinta a violino solo 'detta la Laura Rilucente'


Rachel Podger (violin), Marcin Świątkiewicz (harpsichord & organ) & Daniele Caminiti (theorbo)

Fresh from winning the Instrumental category in the BBC Music Magazine Awards 2014 for “Guardian Angel” (CCSSA35513) Rachel Podger is back with this beautiful collection of masterpieces of the early Italian Baroque.

By the mid-seventeenth century, musical composition had reached a point where invention had converged with technical mastery. Composers embraced a bass line lively with linearity, often entering into dialogue with the upper voices. Exploratory harmonic schemes were encompassed within larger unified tonalities. Through rhetorical structures, such as motive, imitation and sequence, composers instilled logic into their musical arguments.

These characteristics, though rooted in vocal practice, were being cultivated for the first time in musical history for instrumentalists. In other words, the Baroque was born.

The featured composers showcase sublime examples of the early Italian Baroque. Some composers dominate the repertory; others have left behind only a handful of works. Here, they come together to convey the diverse musical landscape at such an excitingly rich and creative era.

“It would be hard to imagine a more enticing introduction to the delights of 17th-century Italian violin music...Podger and her accompanists enjoy bringing out these pieces' sense of discovery, of excitement and intense feeling, yet without doing violence to the substance of the music.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“there's the sense of music in possession of a free spirit and keen to test boundaries both expressive and virtuosic...Predictably there's an unfailing eloquence to everything Podger does, whether scampering over the strings with irrepressible insouciance, tracing the airborne curve of a rhetorical flourish, or tucking in a discreet yet telling embellishment.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2014 *****

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Editor's Choice - October 2014

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Chamber Choice - December 2014

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Channel - CCSSA36014

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Janacek: Glagolitic Mass & The Eternal Gospel

Janacek: Glagolitic Mass & The Eternal Gospel


Janacek:

Glagolitic Mass

The Eternal Gospel


Prague Philharmonic Choir & Prague RSO, Tomáš Netopil

Brand new recording of a Janacek masterpiece, along with a lesser know gem!

In the wake of the highly acclaimed recording of Janáček’s symphonic works (SU41312) which was an Editor’s Choice in Gramophone, August 2013, Tomáš Netopil and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra have focused on the composer’s choral pieces.

The Glagolitic Mass is a well known work, yet not in the composer’s original “September 1927” version, as it was performed at the premiere in Brno, which has been recorded for the very first time for this CD. It is fascinating to observe how many distinct traits of Janáček’s expressive musical language have vanished from the work as a result of its later modifications.

The Eternal Gospel, on the other hand, is a piece virtually unknown worldwide (the only previous Supraphon recording was made almost fifty years ago). Janáček was inspired by, and created the libretto on the basis of, Jaroslav Vrchlický’s poem about the medieval monk Joachim de Fiore, to whom an angel appeared, bringing tidings of the arrival of a realm of love. Janáček worked on the piece concurrently with the opera The Excursion of Mr. Brouček to the Moon and completed it in the spring of 1914, a few months prior to the outbreak of World War I.

Netopil’s new recording may facilitate bringing the remarkable work back to concert stages. A premiere recording of the Glagolitic Mass’s original version.

“Raw and thrilling, this is Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass in its never-before-recorded original 1927 version, later toned down by the composer for practical rather than aesthetic reasons. It’s performed with suitably full-throated vigour by Czech forces under Tomas Netopil.” The Times, 4th October 2014 ****

“Netopil's performance seethes with nervous energy, his soloists are dedicated, and so are his chorus and orchestra...The Eternal Gospel hasn't been recorded in aeons...Again, the performance is excellent.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“Elements of drama and complex discourse that had to be toned down in the interests of performers also assert themselves with a special impact here, with chorus and soloists fearless and forthright in expression and the orchestra dynamic and propulsive. The Eternal Gospel of 1914 makes for a radiant coupling.” The Telegraph, 4th November 2014 ****

“It’s rawer, more stringent, and more confrontational than what we are used to hearing now, and even more difficult to perform; many of the revisions that Janáček made were to reduce the demands on the singers and players, and he took away some of the piece’s wildness in the process. The performance is a nicely detailed one, with adequate rather than outstanding soloists.” The Guardian, 5th November 2014 ***

“Netopil directs an excellent performance which, appropriately enough, reflects the operatic world of The Cunning Little Vixen and the Excursions of Mr Broucek...[the Credo] is beautifully shaped and genuinely thrilling. If not entirely perfect, this reading, along with a fine performance of The Eternal Gospel is well worth investigating.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2015 ****

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Medtner & Rachmaninov: Piano Sonatas

Medtner & Rachmaninov: Piano Sonatas


Medtner:

Skazki (Fairy Tales), Op. 20

Sonata romantica in B flat minor, Op. 53 No. 1

Rachmaninov:

Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op. 42

Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36


Steven Osborne has become increasingly admired for his performances and recordings of Russian Romantic piano music, playing with a remarkable level of authority and a rare combination of technical ease, tonal lustre and idiomatic identification. Here he presents an impressive selection from two masters who lived and worked contemporaneously. Both were renowned concert pianists, and both wrote superbly for their instrument. Yet their reputations could not be more divergent. Rachmaninov utterly loved; Medtner only now becoming rehabilitated.

Medtner’s ‘Sonata Romantica’ was composed in 1930 in Paris, and first performed by the composer in Glasgow the following year. It was the twelfth of his fourteen piano sonatas. Not only its title but also the expressive content of its four movements, played without a break, make it virtually a manifesto for Medtner’s art. Apart from sonatas, Medtner’s favourite genre was the Skazka (‘Tale’). It has been pointed out that the usual English translation of ‘Fairy tale’ does not do justice to the power and depth of many of these pieces, some of which almost approach Chopin’s Ballades in their expressive scope. The two Skazki of Op 20 recorded here were composed in 1909.

In a recent performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No 2, a great Romantic showpiece, Osborne was described by the Washington Post as ‘a master of momentum and color, a wielder of power and a sure navigator through huge landscapes: his Rachmaninov was both coherent and daringly free’.

“[The Sonata Romantica is] not easy to love (unlike his short, charming Skazki which opens this disc) but Steven Osborne puts a persuasive case. In contrast, Rachmaninov's Piano Sonata No 2 in B flat minor, majestic and lyrical, is immediately rewarding... and Osborne's imaginative playing makes [the Variations on a theme of Corelli] seem only too short.” The Observer, 1st September 2014 ****

“Medtner’s harmonic palette and ways of working out the material are his alone. Osborne’s performance is a true wonder of power, clear definition, sensibility and structural sureness. His ability to immerse himself in Medtner’s musical language is outstanding.” The Telegraph, 15th September 2014 *****

“Osborne has made his performing edition out of love for the [Second Sonata], one of his favourite pieces to play, and has created a fantastically thrilling and ultimately enjoyable version of which one feels that Rachmaninov would have thoroughly approved...While the music speaks for itself Osborne plays everything on the disc magnificently” MusicWeb International, 10th October 2014

“What comes across most winningly is the ebb and flow of the work: the more inward passages are allowed to breathe; the extrovert ones are absolutely fiery. It's not a work that could ever be summed up by a single interpretation...But this is another terrific addition to the shelves, and if it helps the continuing rediscovery of Medtner, so much the better.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

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Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4

Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4


Beethoven:

Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58


Maria João Pires joins ONYX. Her first release for the label is of two Beethoven concertos she has played often, but never before recorded. After giving concerts in Stockholm last October, she went directly into the studio with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. This remarkable recording is the result. These are performances of such passion, poetry and drama - Beethoven as he should sound, just as if you are hearing these great concertos for the first time!

Maria João Pires has provided a personal note on her approach to these works.

“she’s recording the third and fourth piano concertos for the first time — and playing them with such unaffected simplicity that you always feel the notes speaking, never the pianist herself. Turbulent emotions, grandiose gestures and winking gaiety arrive as they should, yet nothing is pushed to extremes.” The Times, 18th July 2014 ****

“Surprisingly, Pires’s beautifully clear singing tone and exemplary articulation, in this set, seem to suit the fiery C minor better than the lyrical G major...the playing of the Swedes is characteristically vivid and sensitive.” Sunday Times, 27th June 2014

“the Swedish orchestra’s strength, subtlety and sonority establish a good foundation and foil for Pires’s performances here. That wonderfully rounded, opalescent tone that her touch invariably produces is coupled with the insight, poetic sensibility and discreet life-giving force that come from years of experience.” The Telegraph, 31st July 2014 *****

“the present performances are beautiful … immaculate fingerwork, crystalline sonority and natural, instinctive musicianship … the recorded sound is both clear and warm, which suits these performances very well … Collectors who love these two concertos can never have too many versions of them, so this release should certainly be added.” International Record Review, October 2014

“Pires’ fingers caress the keys gently in the first movement [of No. 4] and dance over them playfully in the finale, turning her style to suit every phrase and mood...This disc was both exhilarating and enlightening to listen to. Let’s hope there is more on the way.” MusicWeb International, 20th October 2014

“Never for a moment does she over-reach herself or force pace and sonority...Few pianists have ever been more true to their own lights and it is hardly surprising that her many performances of this concerto in London and elsewhere have become the stuff of legends...It is my dearest wish that this will become a complete cycle.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“Pires’ first disc for Onyx is something very special. This is playing of great poise and depth...Harding coaxes lithe, transparent playing from his Swedish colleagues - there’s an almost ‘period’ feel.” Classical Music *****

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Barry, G: The Importance of Being Earnest

Barry, G: The Importance of Being Earnest


Barbara Hannigan (Cecily), Peter Tantsits (Jack Worthing), Joshua Bloom (Algernon), Katalin Károlyi (Gwendoline), Hilary Summers (Miss Prism), Alan Ewing (Lady Bracknell), Benjamin Bevan (Lane/Merriman), Joshua Hart (Dr Chasuble)

BCMG, Thomas Adès

This release was made possible thanks to the generosity of trusts, foundations and individuals who donated to our 2013 Opera Appeal, the other two releases being Judith Weir's The Vanishing Bridegroom and Harrison Birtwistle's Gawain.

The Importance of Being Earnest was jointly commissioned by the LA Philharmonic and the Barbican in London, and received its world premiere staging at Opéra national de Lorraine à Nancy in 2013.

Two further productions were staged the same year at the Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, and on tour with NI Opera.

The Importance of Being Earnest received a 2013 RPS Award for Large-Scale Composition.

‘The world now has something rare: a new genuinely comic opera and maybe the most inventive Oscar Wilde opera since Richard Strauss's Salome more than a century ago.’

The Los Angeles Times Gerald Barry's riotous opera brings out the savagery beneath the genteel Edwardian manners of Wilde's play: its score includes gunshots, whistling and speaking from the orchestral players, marching boots, and the smashing of 40 dinner plates, while its characters – among them Lady Bracknell sung by a bass and Cecily by a stratospheric soprano – shout at each other through gales, quote Schiller's Ode to Joy (in German) and make polite conversation through megaphones.

'It’s all completely bonkers, but I went in grumping and came out grinning. What more can you ask?' The Telegraph

“Surely this is not only the best operatic treatment of Oscar Wilde since Salome, but also one of the few absolutely essential operas of the last 20 years...This performances features at least three ideal incarnations: Barbara Hannigan's cut-glass Cecily, Peter Tantsits's spot-on Jack and Hilary Summers's true-contralto Miss Prism, who hits every note asked of her.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2015 *****

“Alan Ewing and especially Barbara Hannigan (in plate-smashingly good form) are superb, and conductor Thomas Adès keeps everything moving along at a cracking pace. Buy it for your handbag.” Classical Music *****

“Barry magnifies the fizzing quality into a relentlessly high-wire act that has the audience relishing the stamina of the performers, here under the needle-sharp control of ringmaster-in-chief Thomas Ades.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“The mind boggles as to how any singer can manage to memorise and execute Barry’s fiendish vocal parts, but Adès’ cast more than rises to the challenge. It’s a true ensemble effort, though if pushed to pick a stand-out performance, the pyrotechnics of soprano Barbara Hannigan as Cecily are pretty unbeatable.” Opera Now

“In the Barbican, the sheer size of the hall seemed to dilute the impact of Barry’s fabulously inventive score, with its machine-gun delivery of great swathes of text, ricocheting instrumental lines, and surreal references...On disc, all those can be enjoyed, the sheer virtuosity with which Barry puts it all together appreciated” The Guardian, 25th September 2014 ****

“Barry treats Wilde’s words cavalierly, yet he presents an irresistible portrait of buttoned-up English stereotypes on the edge of madness, panic, rage and despair. Highlights are Alan Ewing’s (bass) Lady Bracknell and Barbara Hannigan’s Cecily.” The Times, 27th September 2014 *****

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Opera Finalist

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The English Song Series Volume 23 - Jonathan Dove Song Cycles

The English Song Series Volume 23 - Jonathan Dove Song Cycles


Dove:

Out of Winter

Cut My Shadow

World Première Recording

Ariel

All You Who Sleep Tonight

World Première Recording


Claire Booth (soprano), Patricia Bardon (mezzo-soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor) & Andrew Matthews-Owen (piano)

Andrew Matthews-Owen talks to Presto's David Smith about the recording here.

Jonathan Dove is one of Britain’s most resourceful and versatile contemporary composers, whose affinity for vocal setting is especially striking. From the operatic canvas of his acclaimed Flight to his song cycles, his acutely perceptive approach to texts is unmistakeable. Out of Winter, written in collaboration with Dove, is the late Sir Robert Tear’s poetic response to Thomas Hardy’s Winter Words. Cut My Shadow is a powerful and harrowing setting of three Lorca texts notable for a sense of constant unease and longing for a homeland. All You Who Sleep Tonight, to poems by Vikram Seth, is elegant, moving, and witty whilst Ariel explores Shakespeare’s elusive character from The Tempest in a rôle for unaccompanied soprano.

“All three singers are very good, particularly Spence, but the star of [the] show is Matthews-Owen. So much of the effectiveness of these songs lies in Dove's inventive piano writing with its cross rhythms and shifting patterns.” American Record Guide

“Matthews-Owen is an immaculate accompanist, showing a particularly clean pair of fingers in the dashing virtuosity of Song III. The unaccompanied Ariel...is like opera without the orchestra, and soprano Claire Booth shows a technical accomplishment comparable to Spence’s in meeting its many challenges…this is a richly stimulating recital.” BBC Music Magazine, September 2014

“It is to the credit of the three singers here and pianist Andrew Matthews-Owen that they completely understand the delicate balance between pushing an object into motion and guiding it throughout the course of its natural vector. Then they pull their hands away; and leave us wanting more. Equally noteworthy is the extent to which pianist and singer create almost orchestral sonorities…” Classical Net, September 2014

“Spence has a beautiful lyric tenor which he uses with great facility and always to expressive ends...The piano playing of Matthews-Owen is full partner in the music writing in this and the other cycles for voice and piano...I cannot imagine anyone with an interest in singing, or music for voice and piano, or young singers, or British music not responding to this.” Fanfare

“[Dove] is one of the most vivid painters of words in music today... That much becomes clear with Out of Winter...Dove's 20-minute cycle, characterfully sung by Nicky Spence, casts a spell - not least in the ecstatic finale, where pianist Andrew Matthews-Owen contributes to the theatrical atmosphere...Claire Booth, unaccompanied, animates Ariel's bewitching narrative, whilst mezzo Patricia Bardon explores the amorous moods, alternately playful and sultry, of All You Who Sleep Tonight.” Financial Times, August 2014 ****

“If you want to find out what has happened to English song since Britten, this is as good a place to start as any...Spence puts [Out of Winter] across with Pears-like point...Matthews-Owen is the supportive accompanist. Here are four highly imaginative new song-cycles, each deserving of a life of its own.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“Apart from his excellent booklet notes, Andrew Matthews-Owen is a superlative pianist, and he is well treated by the resonant recording. Throughout these cycles one is grateful to encounter a composer whose writing for the voice, and his understanding of its technique, is so approachable.” MusicWeb International, 13th October 2014

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - October 2014

Contemporary Music - up to 25% off

Naxos English Song Series - 8573080

(CD)

Normally: $9.00

Special: $7.65

(also available to download from $7.00)

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

Strauss, R: Elektra

Strauss, R: Elektra

Live Recording, Vienna State Opera December 16, 1965


Regina Resnik (Klytämnestra), Birgit Nilsson (Elektra), Leonie Rysanek (Chrysothemis), Wolfgang Windgassen (Aegisth), Eberhard Waechter (Orest), Fredrick Guthrie (Der Pfleger der Orest), Margareta Sjöstedt (Vertraute), Margarita Lilova (Schleppträgerin), Gerhard Unger (Junger Diener), Herbert Lackner (Alter Diener), Danica Mastilovic (Aufseherin) &Margarita Lilova, Margareta Sjöstedt, Margarete Ast, Gundula Janowitz, Gerda Scheyrer (Fünf Mägde)

Chorus & Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Karl Böhm

Following the scandalous 'Salome', it was with the radical, expressive violence of 'Elektra' in 1909 that Richard Strauss finally cemented his position as the leading German opera composer of his generation. The immense vocal and orchestral demands it makes remain undiminished and few singers have really been able to meet the murderous challenge of singing the title role. In the 1960s and ’70s, however, Birgit Nilsson was one, possessing as she did a powerful voice also capable of much subtlety. This live recording from the Vienna State Opera in 1965, in a production by Wieland Wagner, was conducted by the great Karl Böhm, and was a musical triumph. Not only did Böhm and Nilsson give full rein to the eruptive violence of Strauss’s setting but they also attended to the psychological details that the composer teased out of Hoffmansthal's text. They were aided in this by the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera and a cast that was homogeneous right down to the smallest roles. Leonie Rysanek sang the wistful Chrysothemis, in a role she made her own, and with her luminous soprano she was an ideal counterpart to Nilsson’s tortured heroine. As their adversary, their inscrutable mother Klytämnestra, the dusky-timbred Regina Resnik gave a superb performance. For the adulterous lover Aegisth, the State Opera engaged the legendary heldentenor Wolfgang Windgassen. Eberhard Waechter sang the part of Orest, and with his unmistakeable baritone he offered every possible nuance of this important character, driven by fate.

“[Nilsson] is achingly tender in the recognition scene with Orestes, vividly obsequious as she lures Aegisthus to his death and tireless in her final, fatal dance...like Nilsson, [Resnik] really acts with her voice...[Windgassen] makes a forthright Aegisthus...The conducting is beyond praise.” Gramophone Magazine, October 2014

“the performance proceeds with a coherence and a unity of purpose that bespeak a true ensemble … this Elektra achieves its impact through the completeness of its musicality and technical mastery … With Varnay we get exceptional warmth and womanliness of tone, with Borkh overwhelming fierceness combined with painful vulnerability and a thrilling ‘flame’ in the voice. Both give full value textually, as does Nilsson … Highly recommended.” International Record Review, December 2014

“Böhm was always at his best in live Strauss and this is no exception. Nilsson simply has no equal in the role … the sound is clear enough for us to hear instrumentalists turning the pages of the score.” MusicWeb International, 14th August 2014

“It features one of the most striking casts ever assembled for the work, though some of the individual singers can be heard to better advantage elsewhere...Böhm himself is at his absolute best, attaining almost unbearable levels of frenzy in places, yet also wonderfully detailed, even with the restricted, mono sound.” The Guardian, 7th August 2014

GGramophone Magazine

Re-issue of the Month - October 2014

Orfeo - Wiener Staatsoper live - C886142i

(CD - 2 discs)

$22.50

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