Presto News - 20th October 2014
John Eliot Gardiner conducts Mendelssohn and Schumann
We’re taking a trip up to Scotland this week, with two Caledonian-themed works by Felix Mendelssohn forming the basis of the latest disc from the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
We kick off with one of Mendelssohn’s more popular overtures, namely The Hebrides (sometimes known as Fingal’s Cave), composed in 1830 and inspired by his visit to the cave on the island of Staffa. It’s a lovely work, and the LSO strings respond beautifully to the many opportunities Mendelssohn gives them to depict the surging of waves; the cellos in particular are full of ravishing tone for the second, cantabile theme.
John Eliot Gardiner conducting the LSO
As you would expect from the LSO brass section, the trumpets soar and blaze when appropriate, but it’s really the woodwind who excel here: about three minutes from the end of the overture, the turbulence subsides, and there’s the most magical clarinet solo from principal clarinettist Andrew Marriner, who treats us to an almost superhuman pianissimo that’s truly sublime.
The LSO are then joined by Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires for a delicate, poised performance of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Pires seems to focus on lyricism over drama, and that’s no bad thing here: it makes for a nicely serene central Intermezzo especially. She never sacrifices tone, even in the faster passages, and although some may wish for a bit more heft, for me it’s a nicely understated account that sits well between the two Mendelsssohn pieces.
It’s back to Mendelssohn then, for the main work, his Symphony No. 3, known as the Scottish. Personally I think this is a wonderful symphony, and this is an equally wonderful performance: there’s such energy, most notably in the first and last movements. The very end of the symphony is particularly rousing: once that great chorale-like melody launches the final section of the piece about two minutes from the end, the LSO give us some of their most excitingly glorious playing, and I feel obliged to mention the horns, who are even more resplendent than usual!
It’s in this symphony that Gardiner’s credentials as a proponent of so-called historically-informed performance are most evident: strings and woodwind play with a minimum of vibrato, which gives everything a clean sound. More than that, though, you may have noticed something peculiar about the LSO’s violins and violas in the picture above: Gardiner makes them perform standing up! This might look odd to modern audiences, but was much more common in Mendelssohn’s time, and it’s interesting that Gardiner has enforced that particular practice.
As a bonus, alongside the usual CD/SACD version there’s an extra Blu-Ray disc. Not only does this include everything in 24bit Pure Blu-Ray Audio, there’s also the amazing addition of the entire concert from the Barbican, as Blu-Ray Video, filmed on 21st January of this year. It’s fantastic to have this as well, and you can of course see the impact of the upstanding strings and the freedom this introduces into their playing as a result. In fact, you actually get more music than on the CD, as this video includes Pires’s post-concerto encore, a performance of Vogel als Prophet, movement seven from Schumann’s Waldszenen.
I believe this is the start of a complete cycle of Mendelssohn symphonies with Gardiner on LSO Live, and on the basis of this initial disc, I can’t wait to hear the others!
Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducts Mendelssohn & Schumann
Maria João Pires (piano), London Symphony Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner
Presto CD – DG Recordings
Chris introduces another batch of Presto CDs – this week we’re bringing back a whopping 56 great albums from DG’s archives, featuring some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. There are brilliant performances here from Leonard Bernstein, Rudolf Serkin, Gidon Kremer and many more!
Presto Interview – Daniel Hope's Escape to Paradise
Violinist Daniel Hope’s latest album, Escape to Paradise, chronicles the fates of some of the composers who fled the Third Reich in the mid-Twentieth century to forge new careers in Hollywood during its Golden Age. It’s a fascinating window into how different individuals adapted and developed their compositional style in a very alien artistic environment.
You can read the full interview here.
Presto Recommends – Gerald Finzi and Herbert Howells
David picks out some recordings of two great English composers of the Twentieth century – Gerald Finzi, known for his evocatively spiritual, if not always conventionally religious, choral works as well as melodious, lyrical solo vocal and instrumental works; and Herbert Howells, a thoroughgoing Anglican musician whose fame and reputation rests in large part on his sacred choral works both large and small.
You can read through David’s choices here.
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
20th October 2014
Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4
New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert
This acclaimed cycle by the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert shows Denmark’s national composer as one of the wildest and most dynamic composers of early modernism. Nielsen’s impressive symphonic debut work is here combined with the epoch-making 4th symphony (The Inextinguishable), written in the midst of the First World War.
Bach, J S: Köthener Trauermusik, BWV244a
Sabine Devielhe, Damien Guillon, Thomas Hobbs, Christian Immler, Pygmalion, Raphaël Pichon
When Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen died in 1728, his former Kapellmeister had not forgotten the five years he had spent in the prince’s service. He dedicated to his memory a mourning cantata almost entirely based on the music of two works of the mid-1720s, the Trauer-Ode and the St Matthew Passion. Although the score is lost, the wordbook and other sources of information have now made it possible to reconstruct the work.
Brahms: Works for Solo Piano Volume 3
Barry Douglas (piano)
The third volume in Barry Douglas’s series of Brahms’s solo piano music. The selected Intermezzi performed here come from the collections of short pieces published in 1892 – 93, Brahms’s last works for piano. The Piano Sonata in F sharp minor is full of a youthful, strident energy. The Waltzes, Op. 39 were originally conceived for piano four hands and were arranged for solo piano soon after.
Visions Fugitives: Music for strings
Camerata Nordica, Terje Tønnesen
The music on this disc spans the years before World War I to a few days before the outbreak of World War II. Bartók, Webern, Prokofiev and Hindemith all illustrated different approaches to modernism in music. This varied programme touches on neo-classical and neo-baroque idioms, folk music, atonality and impressionism.
Claudio Abbado at the Salzburg Festival
Maximilian Schell (speaker), Jeunesse-Chor Wien, European Community Youth Orchestra & Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, Claudio Abbado
For Claudio Abbado, the European youth orchestras he founded and conducted were always an affair of the heart. These concerts of music by Beethoven, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky were recorded at the Salzburg Festival on 13th August 1979 and 27th July 1994.
Mozart: Mitridate, rè di Ponto, K87
Barry Banks (Mitridate), Miah Persson (Aspasia), Sophie Bevan (Sifare), Lawrence Zazzo (Farnace), Klara Ek (Ismene), Robert Murray (Marzio), Anna Devin (Arbate), The Orchestra of Classical Opera, Ian Page
Classical Opera continue their series of Mozart Operas on with Mitridate, re di Ponto. As well as the complete opera, this release includes a bonus disc featuring the original versions of a number of arias from the opera that Mozart subsequently changed in the final version.
KARAJAN 1980s: The Complete DG Recordings
Between 1980 and his death in 1989, Herbert von Karajan recorded the incredible amount of 78 CDs of orchestral and choral music for Deutsche Grammophon. He revisited some of the keystones of his repertoire, such as the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, but also made quintessential recordings of major works he never touched before, such as Nielsen's Symphony No. 4 and Saint-Saëns’'s Organ Symphony.
Dvorak: Rusalka, Op. 114 (DVD)
Myrtò Papatanasiu, Pavel Černoch, Annalena Persson, Willard White, Renée Morloc, La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Ádám Fischer
Antonín Dvořák’s penultimate opera draws its substance from the underwater wonderland of little mermaids, Undines and Melusines. Conductor Ádám Fischer and director Stefan Herheim masterfully present this ‘lyrical fairytale’ at La Monnaie, Belgium. In this widely acclaimed interpretation, the fairytale elements assume frighteningly realistic dimensions making this enchanting production a psycho-analytical study of male fantasies and female archetypes.
Blu-ray version also available here.
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Saturday 18th October 2014
Building a Library - Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K384
Christine Schäfer (Konstanze), Ian Bostridge (Belmonte), Alan Ewing (Osmin), Patricia Petibon (Blonde), Iain Paton (Pedrillo) & Jurg Low (Selim, Bassa), Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Disc of the Week
Nelson Freire: Radio Days
Nelson Freire (piano)
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