Presto News - 26th August 2013
Rachmaninov from Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker
A really exciting new disc this week from Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker, with two works by Sergei Rachmaninov: the Symphonic Dances and the choral piece, The Bells.
Sir Simon Rattle
Written in 1913, The Bells is a setting for three soloists, chorus, and orchestra of Edgar Allan Poe's poem of the same name, freely translated into Russian by the Symbolist poet, Konstantin Balmont. I always think Rattle is at his interpretative best when he's conducting music that is full of interesting orchestral colours, and this is certainly the case here. Rachmaninov employs numerous imaginative touches of orchestration to depict the various bells, and the passages involving quicksilver glockenspiel and celeste in the opening Silver Sleigh Bells movement are especially strongly realised by Rattle and the Berlin players.
There's really fine choral singing on offer throughout: thrilling in the more dramatic moments of The Loud Alarum Bells, and beautifully expressive in the closing bars of The Mellow Wedding Bells (following on from a fantastic soprano solo by Luba Orgonášová). The very end of the piece, where the bass soloist (Mikhail Petrenko on top form) informs us that The Mournful Iron Bells are “spreading the news that all is peaceful in the grave”, is really rather moving, particularly when it includes an orchestral coda as exquisitely played as on this recording. The closing bars must rank as some of the most ravishing in Rachmaninov's output, and I don't think you could ask for more luxurious playing than we are treated to here.
Completed in 1940, the three-movement work entitled Symphonic Dances is Rachmaninov's last orchestral composition. It's fairly rare that a recording actually has me open-mouthed in astonishment, but that was definitely true as I was listening to this: I've had it on repeat for most of the weekend! Without doubt, my favourite bit of the piece is the passage about a minute from the end of the first movement, where everything slows down, and the string section plays a major-key version of a theme actually from the composer's First Symphony. With a twinkly accompaniment from flutes, glockenspiel, piano and harp, it's a magical moment, and for my money Rattle judges it to perfection. It's such a gorgeous melody, and the Berlin string section give it their all in terms of expression and beauty of sound.
What I like about Rattle's interpretation is the amount of space he allows, not only in the passage I've just talked about, which is reasonably slower than one normally hears, but also in the extended alto saxophone solo earlier in the movement. I can't remember having heard such a tender, lyrical performance of this solo before, and all of these factors add up to an absolutely stunning account of this movement.
Fortunately the other two movements keep up this exceptional standard: Rattle brings an extraordinary amount of melancholy to the husky, veiled waltz for strings in the second movement; it's a real Valse triste. The brass aren't given all that much to do in terms of solo moments, but they are impressively powerful in their muted exclamations at the opening of this same movement, which also has some virtuoso playing from principal flute and clarinet in their whirlwind solos. There's no shortage of excitement in the last movement either, with some great percussion playing (especially some pleasingly prominent tambourine and side drum, and the piece's final tam-tam stroke, left to ring on after the rest of the orchestra has finished, just as marked in the score).
So, as you may have noticed, I really liked this disc! With first-rate performances of two wonderful pieces, this is easily one of my favourite recordings of the year so far; thoroughly recommended!
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances & The Bells
Luba Orgonášová (soprano), Dmytro Popov (tenor) & Mikhail Petrenko (bass), Rundfunkchor Berlin, Berliner Philharmoniker, Sir Simon Rattle
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
26th August 2013
Mahler: Orchestral Songs
Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Kent Nagano
This is Christian Gerhaher’s second orchestral album, with Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal conducted by Kent Nagano. Gerhaher has never recorded the Mahler songs in their authentic orchestral versions before, although these works have been cornerstones of his repertoire for many years.
Rivals: Arias for Farinelli & Co.
David Hansen (countertenor), Academia Montis Regalis, Alessandro de Marchi
Countertenor David Hansen explores and celebrates the music of Farinelli and his castrato rivals: Caffarelli, Carestini, Bernacchi and others, including nine world premiere recordings. The choice of arias demonstrates the remarkable breadth of his phenomenal technique, musical versatility, and expression.
Berlioz: Complete Orchestral and Sacred Works
Sir Colin Davis (conductor)
The complete orchestral and sacred works of Hector Berlioz, conducted by the renowned interpreter of his music, Sir Colin Davis. Featuring orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with soloists including Dame Janet Baker, José Carreras, Sir Thomas Allen, and Nicolai Gedda.
Mozart: La Betulia liberata, K118
Christian Zenker (Ozia), Margot Oitzinger (Giuditta), Marelize Gerber (Amital), Markus Volpert (Achior), L’Orfeo Barockorchester, Michi Gaigg
One of Mozart’s early stage works performed by L’Orfeo Barockorchester led by Michi Gaigg. La Betulia Liberata is probably the least known of Mozart’s stage works, composed when he was 15. The text is from a drama by Metastasio, based on a story from the Old Testament book of Judith about the siege of the city of Bethulia by the Assyrians.
Britten: War Requiem - 2013 HD Remaster (CD & Blu-ray Audio)
Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), Peter Pears (tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Benjamin Britten
For the Britten centenary, Decca has gone back to the original tapes from this classic 1963 recording and used the latest techniques to present the definitive audio version of Britten’s iconic masterpiece. As well as a single 81-minute CD, the recording is offered in Blu-Ray Audio fomat, allowing it to be heard at 24-bit.
Morgenlicht (Kirchenlieder & Choräle)
Rundfunkchor Berlin, Simon Halsey
In their first complete disc for Deutsche Grammophon, the Rundfunkchor Berlin impresses with astonishing clarity and beauty in a programme of carefully-selected and researched hymns, featuring the famous Morning Has Broken, arranged by John Rutter and sung in German. Two new choral arrangements have been especially written for this CD: Bewahre uns Gott and Ich lobe meinen Gott.
Artists include: Boris Christoff (bass), Sergei Leiferkus (baritone), Nicolai Gedda (tenor), Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Igor Markevitch (conductor)
This 14-CD collection is the most complete set ever assembled of music by one of the most original composers in the Western canon. Includes recordings of Night on Bare Mountain and Pictures at an Exhibition conducted by Igor Markevitch, and a legendary recording of Boris Godunov featuring Boris Christoff in the title role.
Wolfgang Rihm: Dionysos - An Opera Fantasy (DVD)
Mojca Erdmann, Elin Rombo, Virpi Raisänen, Julia Faylenbogen, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Matthias Klink & Uli Kirsch, Deutsches Symphonieorchester Berlin & Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Ingo Metzmacher
Wolfgang Rihm is one of the world’s most acknowledged contemporary composers. The 2010 Salzburg Festival opened with a performance of his opera, Dionysos, featuring soloists such as Mojca Erdmann, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher. Rihm had carried this work with him for more than 15 years before committing it to paper in a matter of weeks; rehearsals began only one week after the composition was completed.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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