Presto News - 30th September 2013
Steven Isserlis plays Dvořák's Cello Concerto
As soon as this week’s disc arrived, I knew it would be something special – Steven Isserlis has plenty of form for re-invigorating well-established works that might sound “done to death” in the hands of a lesser artist, as the reception of his Bach Solo Suites amply demonstrated. It was therefore a safe bet that today’s pre-eminent cellist would bring something equally fresh and new to the much-loved tragic masterpiece that is Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor; and indeed he does, but not in quite the way one might expect.
The overriding impressions I gained in listening to the concerto, right from the outset, were of a confident and majestic treatment of the music, from both orchestra and soloist. The first solo entry so often sounds like the tortured cry of a soul wracked with grief, but here one gets the distinct feeling that Isserlis is bringing his decades of experience to bear, and those first few spread chords, which can sometimes be brash and abrasive, are instead the measured, assured statement of a mature artist with no need for histrionics to prove his credentials.
The shadow of Dvořák’s sister-in-law Josefina Kounic (with whom he was deeply in love before marrying her sister Anna) is ever-present on this disc. Her death caused Dvořák to revise the original rather abrupt and upbeat ending of the concerto into the pensive backward-looking coda that now closes the work, but Isserlis (whose sensitivity to the historical and personal context of this music is clear from his sleeve notes) includes the original ending on the disc as an appendix, as well as the one that is usually heard. Unfortunately one cannot get a full sense of how the original finale would have worked, since only the different material (the final ninety seconds of the work!) is included – which means it feels more like a historical curiosity than a genuine alternative version of the movement.
The fact that I have automatically been referring to “the concerto” just goes to show how easy it is to forget that the great B minor masterpiece is technically the second cello concerto by Dvořák. His first, in A major, was abandoned by the composer in its form for cello and piano, and this is probably partly why it has remained so relatively poorly-known. Two orchestrations have since been produced; here we hear the less commonly-performed of the two, by Günter Raphael (which dates from the 1920s). Although Isserlis’s notes make much of Raphael’s Modernist style and the extent to which he rewrote the concerto, I can’t say I noticed anything artificial or anachronistic about the orchestration. The work’s reputation has probably suffered from being compared to its sibling (whose emotional punch it indeed cannot quite match), but considered as a work in its own right it is a compelling musical experience in which Dvořák’s gift for melody is abundantly evident.
This may be a disc built around performances by Steven Isserlis, but I must confess that for me the most delightful track is the orchestrated version of Dvořák’s own Lied, “Lasst mich allein”, which lacks a solo instrument. Again there is a connection with Josefina: this was reportedly one of her favourite songs, and it is quoted early in the second movement of the B minor concerto. Despite the title (“Leave me alone” is the literal translation), this is not the lament of someone wanting to be left to their grief, but rather a quietly rapturous miniature recalling the mood of “Seit ich ihn gesehen” from Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben, and for me was definitely the highlight of this exquisite disc.
Dvořák: Cello Concertos
Steven Isserlis (cello), Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Harding
David Smith - email@example.com
30th September 2013
Brahms: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Hélène Grimaud (piano), Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Wiener Philharmoniker, Andris Nelsons
Thrilling, deeply personal interpretations of the dark, passionate sound-worlds of both Brahms piano concertos. Recorded under studio conditions in Vienna’s legendary Musikverein, the 2nd Piano Concerto marks Grimaud’s debut recording with the celebrated Wiener Philharmoniker; coupled with the equally coveted Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks for the 1st Concerto, Grimaud has discovered exemplary musical counterparts.
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Schubert: Death And The Maiden & String Quintet In C Major
Pavel Haas Quartet
Two years on from their Dvořák album, which won Gramophone Recording of the Year in 2011, the Pavel Haas Quartet turn their attention to Schubert’s two late masterpieces. The String Quartet in D minor's title, Death and the Maiden, reflects the quotation from Schubert’s eponymous song in the second movement. The String Quintet in C major was completed a mere two months before his death.
Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge & Ten Blake Songs
Mark Padmore (tenor), Nicholas Daniel (oboe/cor anglais), Britten Sinfonia
Fresh from his triumph in the Glyndebourne Billy Budd, tenor Mark Padmore is joined by members of Britten Sinfonia in three quintessentially British song-cycles: Ralph Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge and Ten Blake Songs, and Peter Warlock’s best-known work, The Curlew. The End by Jonathan Dove receives its world première recording here.
Poulenc: The Complete Songs
Various artists, including: Geraldine McGreevy, Sarah Fox, Ailish Tynan, Felicity Lott (soprano); Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano); Robin Tritschler, Ben Johnson (tenor); Christopher Maltman (baritone); Graham Johnson (piano)
Following his many recordings in Hyperion’s French Song Edition, Graham Johnson turns to the complete songs of Francis Poulenc, released to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the composer’s death. Each of the four CDs presents a programme of songs in an order that is chronological for that disc alone, signifying four different journeys through the composer’s career.
Mozart: Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, K35
Allan Clayton (Christian), Andrew Kennedy (Spirit of Christianity), Sophie Bevan (Spirit of Worldliness), Cora Burggraaf (Divine Justice), Sarah Fox (Divine Mercy), The Orchestra of Classical Opera, Ian Page
The first release in a new partnership between Classical Opera and Signum Records begins with Mozart's remarkable sacred singspiel, composed when he was just 11. This is the second instalment in Classical Opera’s ambitious Mozart opera series (following the release of Apollo et Hyacinthus on Linn Records last year).
Machaut: Songs from Le Voir Dit
The Orlando Consort: Matthew Venner (countertenor), Mark Dobell (tenor), Angus Smith (tenor) & Donald Greig (baritone)
The Orlando Consort performs the music of Machaut, the most significant French poet and composer of the fourteenth century. Livre dou Voir Dit (‘Book of the True Tale’) is Machaut’s masterpiece. By its very title, the tale purports to be autobiographical: it relates a supposedly recent episode in the ageing poet-composer’s life, his love affair with a lady some forty years his junior.
Chopin: Polonaises Nos. 1-7
Rafal Blechacz (piano)
Rafal Blechacz’s way with Polonaises ensures a landmark recording of this highly emotional, popular and poetic music. The recording includes seven Polonaises, one of which is the Polonaise No. 7 in A flat major, op. 61 “Polonaise Fantaisie”.
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Havergal Brian: The First Commercial Recordings
Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra
An important release of the very first commercial recordings of the music of Havergal Brian, made for Columbia and Unicorn in the 1970s. The performances, given by the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra, have been re-mastered and feature the only available recording of the composer’s 21st Symphony.
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Saturday 28th September 2013
Building a Library - Handel: Theodora, HWV 68
First Choice (Download)
Susan Gritton (Theodora), Susan Bickley (Irene), Robin Blaze (Didymus), Paul Agnew (Septimius), Neal Davies (Valens), Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
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First Choice (CD)
(Volume 8 of the Handel Edition, including Acis and Galatea, and other works)
Sophie Daneman (Theodora), Richard Croft (Septimius), Juliette Galstian (Irene), Daniel Taylor (Didymus), Nathan Berg (Valens), Laurent Slaars (Messenger), Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Disc of the Week
Vivaldi: Catone in Utica
Topi Lehtipuu (Catone), Roberta Mameli (Cesare), Ann Hallenberg (Emilia), Sonia Prina (Marzia), Romina Basso (Fulvio) & Emoke Baráth (Arbace), Il Complesso Barocco, Alan Curtis
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