Presto News - 1st September 2014
Andrew Davis conducts orchestral works by Bax
A disc of firsts and lasts this week, with a new CD of orchestral works by Arnold Bax, conducted by Andrew Davis and featuring the BBC Philharmonic. It happens to be the last instalment in Chandos's project to record the complete orchestral works of Bax, and is also the first time Andrew Davis has recorded a disc of Bax's music.
More than that, though, it contains a premiere recording, namely of the Four Orchestral Pieces. First performed in March 1914, the pieces were then apparently forgotten about, and were specially edited and prepared from the manuscripts for this recording. Typically for Bax, the four pieces have wonderfully evocative titles: Pensive Twilight, Dance in the Sun, From the Mountains of Home, and The Dance of Wild Irravel.
I think my favourite movements are the first and third, being the more lyrical ones of the set. Pensive Twilight in particular has some beautifully sweeping moments, and Davis draws some delightfully husky sounds from the strings, perfectly conjuring up twilight. Similarly, in From the Mountains of Home, there's a majestic flow to the piece that could easily make one think it was the slow movement of a lost Elgar symphony!
The set finishes with the aforementioned Dance of Wild Irravel, an energetic waltz that seems to look forward to Ravel's La Valse of a few years later (I'm also convinced I heard a nod to the waltz from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in there fairly early on!). It makes for a highly spirited conclusion to this set of pieces, and the BBC Philharmonic perform magnificently and effortlessly throughout, sounding as if they have had this music in their repertoire for years!
They are joined by violist Philip Dukes for the Phantasy for Viola and Orchestra, a piece written for the celebrated English viola player, Lionel Tertis. Dukes's tone is quite lovely: rich and full in the lower register, confident and singing up top. The slow movement, Lento semplice, is really quite exquisite, and shows Bax's great gift for composing long, soaring melodies. Bax had a great affinity for Ireland, visiting there extensively, and this movement in particular seems to me like an extended lilting folksong. It's very beautiful, and shows off the wonderful capabilities of the viola as a solo instrument.
Bax's Irish affection is shown even further in the final movement, which briefly quotes the opening phrase from a melody known as “The Soldier's Song” (the chorus of this song was later to become the Irish national anthem). As in the Orchestral Pieces, the BBC players are on top form, and Davis makes for the most persuasive advocate of this music.
The final piece on the disc is also the latest work chronologically, the Overture, Elegy, and Rondo from 1927. I seem to be drawn to Bax's slow movements, as my favourite part is the central Elegy, which features a dolorous lament for trombones and tuba, with some expert playing from the BBC brass.
Overall, then, I must say what a pleasant surprise this disc has turned out to be. I've very much enjoyed listening to all three pieces several times. Of course, with the allure of a previously-unrecorded work, it will be of great interest to Bax aficionados, but I hope that all lovers of English music will want to explore this disc, and will delight in its many musical treasures!
Sir Arnold Bax: Four Orchestral Pieces & Phantasy
Philip Dukes (viola), BBC Philharmonic, Sir Andrew Davis
Gramophone Awards 2014 – Category Winners & Free Digital Sampler
It's a mixture of familiar faces (Riccardo Chailly's Brahms symphony cycle deservedly scooping the Orchestral category, for example) and relative newcomers (such as Mahan Esfahani, whose CPE Bach keyboard sonatas won him the Baroque Instrumental crown).
We've put together a free sampler of tracks from the winning discs, so you can see for yourself why the judges were so impressed!
We've also got together with Gramophone to produce a special digital magazine with full reviews of all 72 contenders. You can read it for free here – and the original shortlist is still available here.
Sheet Music Special Offer – Up to 25% off Barenreiter
The first choice for scholars and musicians alike, Bärenreiter produces editions that offer the latest in musicological research together with an excellent layout and high quality printing.
The offer runs until the end of October, and includes more than 8,500 titles from the Bärenreiter range. Click here to view the promotion, sorted either by instrument/forces or by composer.
Presto Interview – Cheryl Frances Hoad's You Promised Me Everything
We continue our irregular series of interviews with British composers; Katherine talks to Cheryl Frances Hoad about her new disc You Promised Me Everything, which includes a contemporary-themed song-cycle that takes Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben as its model, as well as a setting of the Old English epic Beowulf for solo mezzo-soprano and piano.
You can read the full interview here.
Presto Recommends – Arnold Schoenberg
James explores recordings of the father of Serialism, Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg – though he is often almost a byword for difficult, angular music, there is great deal more to his output than this stereotype would suggest, including pieces of exquisite beauty such as Verklärte Nacht.
You can read through James's choices here.
James Longstaffe - email@example.com
1st September 2014
Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano), The English Concert, Harry Bicket
A tour de force from the supreme mezzo-soprano of today, Alice Coote, accompanied by The English Concert and Harry Bicket. Coote performs a selection of Handel’s greatest arias from opera and oratorio, employing an extraordinary range of vocal and dramatic colour, tone and emotion to produce triumphant and moving interpretations of these masterpieces.
Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol. 2
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner
Edward Gardner and the CBSO present volume 2 in their series Mendelssohn in Birmingham, this time performing Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 and the Overture Ruy Blas. The first volume was roundly praised, with International Record Review commending the ‘powerfully engaging and alert performances’.
Monteverdi: Vespri solenni per la festa di San Marco
Monica Piccinini, Anna Simboli (sopranos), Andrea Arrivabene, Gianluca Ferrarini (altos), Luca Dordolo, Raffaele Giordani (tenors) & Matteo Bellotto, Salvo Vitale (bass), Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini
Unanimously recognised as one of the leading interpreters of Monteverdi, Rinaldo Alessandrini's recordings have become benchmark references. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of his orchestra, Concerto Italiano, Alessandrini returns to his preferred composer, creating, in the magnificent Basilica of Mantua, an imagined Vespers service for San Marco assembled from various parts of the 'Selva morale e spirituale'.
Medtner & Rachmaninov: Piano Sonatas
Steven Osborne (piano)
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.
The Romantic Cello Concerto, Vol. 5: Saint-Saëns
Natalie Clein (cello), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Manze
Natalie Clein adds a remarkable collection of Saint-Saëns’ music for cello and orchestra to her impressive discography. Clein first came to prominence when she won the BBC Young Musician of the Year award in 1994. She meets all of Saint-Saëns’ challenges with marvellous technique, musicianship and the passion for which she has become so well known.
Haydn: The Creation
Camilla Tilling, Mark Padmore & Hanno Müller-Brachmann, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Bernard Haitink
This live recording of Joseph Haydn's The Creation features the masterly Bernard Haitink at the helm of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. The solo parts of the three archangels are sung by renowned soprano Camilla Tilling, tenor Mark Padmore, and bass-baritone Hanno Müller-Brachmann.
The Royal Opera – Great Performances (32 CDs)
Recorded live 1955-1997
This budget-price box set brings together 12 classic live Royal Opera performances, spanning over forty years, from 1955 to 1997. It includes many of the world’s greatest performers from this period, including Joan Sutherland, Janet Baker, Victoria de los Angeles, Robert Tear, Boris Christoff, Tito Gobbi, Geraint Evans, Amy Schuard, Kiri Te Kanawa, Thomas Allen, Anna Tomowa-Sintow and Jon Vickers.
Mozart: Don Giovanni, K527 (DVD)
Mariusz Kwiecien (Don Giovanni), Alex Esposito (Leporello), Véronique Gens (Donna Elvira), Antonio Poli (Don Ottavio), Malin Byström (Donna Anna), Elizabeth Watts (Zerlina) & Dawid Kimberg (Masetto), Nicola Luisotti (conductor)
Director Kasper Holten wanted to shift the emphasis from Don Giovanni’s sex life into a darker place, showing Giovanni’s womanising as an attempt to stave off his own mortality. Each woman he seduces represents a life he could have had. Though it is a dark piece, Holten handles it with a light touch and works with a superb cast – Mariusz Kwiecien, one of the world’s leading Don Giovannis, Alex Esposito, a fresh, vigorous Leporello and acclaimed French soprano Véronique Gens.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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