Presto News - 9th December 2013
Christmas Carols from Bob Chilcott and others
I’ve got three contrasting Christmas discs to tell you about this week, starting with a beautiful new collection of carols from Bob Chilcott and Commotio. An Oxbridge choir with a difference, Commotio was formed in 1999 by recent music graduate Matthew Berry, with the intention of exploring contemporary choral repertoire: with no college-specific affiliation, the singers are a mixture of ‘town and gown’, and the current line-up of singers includes doctors, lawyers and accountants as well as talented student singers.
Fifteen years later, many of the original members remain, though ‘new blood’ has been acquired along the way - the sense of continuity in the ensemble is palpable, rather like listening to a well-established string-quartet who’ve been revitalised by a new member. (Collegiate choirs, of course, must contend with a much more rapid turn-over as members graduate and move on each year).
This latest collaboration with Oxford-based composer Bob Chilcott proves an ideal showcase for Commotio’s clean, unfussy sound and pristine intonation. Somewhat more accessible than their usual avant-garde repertoire, it all feels unmistakeably ‘Christmassy’ from the first phrase: Chilcott has a happy knack for a memorable melody, and his settings of often familiar texts feel so natural that they’ll feel like old favourites after just one hearing!
I caught up with Bob last week, courtesy of his publishers Oxford University Press, where he gleefully informed me that he is ‘a sucker for Christmas!’ and traced his enthusiasm for all things seasonal back to his time as a chorister and later choral scholar at King’s College Cambridge, where works such as Howells’s ‘Here is the little door’ had a profound effect on his musical imagination. The works on the disc also testify to his love of working with many different types of choir, having been written for ensembles of various sizes and abilities (you can click here to purchase some of Chilcott’s Christmas sheet music, should you feel inspired to try some yourself!).
Chilcott’s former colleagues The King’s Singers also have a new Christmas disc to offer, with a rather unexpected guest-star in the form of Albrecht Mayer, principal oboe of the Berlin Philharmonic. The repertoire is a collection of musical stocking-fillers, classical and not-so-classical: the Evening Prayer from Hansel and Gretel sits cheek-by-jowl with a high-camp arrangement of ‘Jingle Bells’ (though the inclusion of one of the few upbeat songs from Schubert’s Winterreise did seem a little bit too incongruous to me!). More cheese than a Wensleydale-and-cranberry sandwich, then, but it’s all done with bags of panache and good humour – the perfect tree-dressing or present-wrapping soundtrack.
If it still feels a little early for Christmas, I heartily recommend Clare College Cambridge’s new disc of music for Advent: it’s an eclectic collection, and on paper it did look as if some of the stylistic juxtapositions might be a little jarring. I stand corrected: woven into a seamless whole with connecting plainchant, the entire sequence seems to develop organically, so that following a stark, adventurous new work by Roderick Williams (the much-loved baritone, also a fine composer in his own right) with a rapt account of Michael Praetorius’s famous ‘Es ist ein Ros’ seems the most natural thing in the world. As with the famous annual King’s Carol Service, the blend of traditional and contemporary elements is ideally judged: highlights include a luminous setting of ‘I sing of a maiden’ by the choir’s young director Graham Ross and one of the most spellbinding accounts of Warlock’s ‘Bethlehem Down’ I’ve ever heard (the Clare choir do pianissimo to perfection, and indeed the singing throughout is superb).
Bob Chilcott: The Rose in the Middle of Winter
Commotio, Matthew Berry
Albrecht Mayer & The King's Singers: Let It Snow
Albrecht Mayer (oboe), The King’s Singers
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Veni Emmanuel: Music for Advent
The Choir of Clare College Cambridge, Graham Ross
Katherine Cooper - firstname.lastname@example.org
9th December 2013
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, D795
Florian Boesch (baritone) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau continue their journey through the Schubert song cycles with Die schöne Müllerin, composed in 1823 to words by Wilhelm Müller. The words are simple but depict powerful human emotions and vivid images of nature.
Saint-Saëns: Complete Works for Violin & Orchestra & Cello & Orchestra
Soloists Of The Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel, Liège Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Christian Arming
Accompanied by the Liège Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Christian Arming, the young violinists and cellists of the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel present offer a chance to discover such little known works as the First and Second Violin Concertos and the Second Cello Concerto.
Mozart: Horn Concertos
Roger Montgomery (horn) & Margaret Faultless (director/violin), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Under the direction of Margaret Faultless the OAE shine on these new recordings of Mozart’s Horn Concertos, featuring some astounding performances by Roger Montgomery on the natural horn, as well as lesser-known gems of Mozart’s horn repertoire.
R. Strauss: Complete Orchestral Works
Ulf Hoelscher (violin), Max Rostal (viola), Paul Tortelier (cello), Peter Damm (horn), Manfred Clement (oboe), Manfred Weise (clarinet), Wolfgang Liebscher (bassoon), Staatskapelle Dresden, Rudolf Kempe
Rudolf Kempe’s recordings of Richard Strauss have long been prized for their unparalleled clarity and subtlety. This classic set, now remastered from the original East German master tapes to offer a new depth and brilliance of sound, comes complete with a recording new to CD: the Moonlight interlude from Capriccio.
Sharon Kam: Opera!
Sharon Kam (clarinet), Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn, Ruben Gazarian
This varied sequence of arrangements of Romantic music gives the clarinet centre stage, makes the instrument a prima donna, and invests it with a host of different roles. Sharon Kam receives colourful support from the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn under the direction of its principal conductor Ruben Gazarian.
Paul Mealor & Britten: …the flowers have their angels
The Rodolfus Choir, Ralph Allwood
The Rodolfus Choir mark both Benjamin Britten’s centenary year and the 30th anniversary of the choir’s first concert with this new programme of works by Britten and Mealor. The disc includes the premiere recording of Paul Mealor’s Praise, which was commissioned especially for the Rodolfus Choir.
RCO 125 The Radio Legacy
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Willem Mengelberg, Eduard van Beinum, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly, Mariss Jansons
No collection of recordings from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s rich history can offer a truly complete overview, but this 152-CD set comes closer than any before it, featuring the orchestra’s chief conductors Willem Mengelberg, Eduard van Beinum, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly, and Mariss Jansons. Drawing on the wealth of recordings in the Dutch public broadcasting network archives, the selection does justice to the unique history of the orchestra.
Britten: Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh beach
Alan Oke (Peter Grimes), Giselle Allen (Ellen Orford), David Kempster (Captain Balstrode), Gaynor Keeble (Auntie), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Mrs Sedley), Britten–Pears Orchestra, Steuart Bedford
Filmed in June 2013 during three extraordinary performances that took place during the Aldeburgh Festival, in the town that inspired the opera. The cast and chorus, with Alan Oke in the eponymous role of Peter Grimes, sing live with amplification, while the Britten-Pears Orchestra under the baton of Britten expert Steuart Bedford is pre-recorded.
Blu-ray version also available to pre-order here (to be released on the 6th of January).
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