Presto News - 15th December 2014
Iván Fischer conducts Brahms
I very much enjoyed Iván Fischer’s stormy recording of Brahms’s First Symphony with the Budapest Festival Orchestra a few years ago, and so I was looking forward to hearing their new disc of the Second Symphony to see what these same musicians would bring to a work generally thought to be more positive in nature (it’s often described as the sunniest of Brahms’s four symphonies).
One hallmark of this symphony is the prominent role given to the wind section, in particular the horns (Brahms, like Saint-Saëns, having been a devotee of the purer tone of natural horns in an era when valved horns had not yet progressed to the point of being able to compete on sound quality). The symphony’s arpeggiated opening motif, limited to notes available on a valveless horn, is a loving tribute to the traditional form of an instrument for which Brahms wrote many fine works and melodies. The Budapest horns have a marvellously rich tone that is surely exactly what he was looking for, and indeed the wind playing in general frequently takes centre stage; the rich rewards of technical innovations in instrument design are on display in Brahms’ writing, and it's only right that the performance reflects this.
In the face of such an irrepressibly joyous work, it would be wrong (as some have) to try to make mountains out of molehills and impose a dramatic tension on the work that Brahms did not intend for it to contain; and indeed Fischer and his players seem content to let the untroubled optimism of the symphony shine through. The six-minute scherzo, often likened with some justification to Schubert, is a particular delight, with just the right touch of rustic merrymaking! Another wonderful moment (which for me really makes or breaks a performance of this piece) is the cascade of descending scales in the brass near the end of the final movement that drives the work to a triumphant close. Fischer’s brass are, once again, on top-notch form here – neither too timid nor too ostentatiously forceful.
As so often on discs of Brahms’ orchestral works, his twin overtures – the Tragic and the Academic Festival – are pressed into service here to make up the full duration. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Tragic Overture, and indeed both are works in their own right that deserve to be regarded as much more than filler material. While listening to this disc I had the strong impression that the tension and angst largely missing from the symphony have been channelled into these two brilliant performances instead, in particular the first. The Tragic Overture is very well-paced, with subtle rubato and expertly-judged tempi lending it a slight gravitas and a sense of maturity which is often absent from more histrionic performances, but despite this it’s a powerful and turbulent performance – as it should be.
Brahms was relatively dismissive of the Academic Festival Overture – written as a belated gesture of thanks to the University of Breslau (now Wrocław) for bestowing an honorary doctorate on the composer and described by him as ‘a cheerful pot-pourri of student songs à la Suppé’ – but it’s testament to his skill as a composer that even such apparent trivialities are nevertheless well-constructed musical wholes. The interweaving of various student songs comes to a glorious (if slightly camp) conclusion with a hearty rendition of the famous Gaudeamus Igitur, closing the disc in the same smiling spirit that imbues the symphony – a perfect disc, in fact, to drive away any winter blues!
Brahms: Symphony No. 2
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer
Presto CD – Decca and Philips
Chris introduces the latest crop of Presto CDs, a mixture of titles from the Decca and Philips catalogues featuring Berlioz from Colin Davis, Beethoven from Alfred Brendel and much more!
Gramophone Editor’s Choices – December 2014
Chris introduces the Editor’s Choices from December’s Gramophone Magazine.
It’s a varied lineup with a good showing from young artists such as the Doric and Nightingale Quartets, and featuring a striking new production of Berg’s Lulu, Rameau from Mahan Esfahani, a re-issue of John Tavener’s Akhmatova Requiem (a setting of a cycle of poems depicting the height of the Stalinist Terror in Russia) and a Messiaen world premiere!
You can browse through them all here.
Presto Recommends – Mozart Operas
This week Katherine sets herself the pleasant but Herculean task of picking out the best recordings of Mozart’s operas – cornerstones of the repertoire which have been enduring favourites with audiences ever since they were written and are represented on disc by many brilliant recordings.
You can browse through all of Katherine’s choices here.
David Smith - email@example.com
15th December 2014
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Paavo Järvi
Paavo Järvi conducts the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in a collection of overtures by Beethoven, including Fidelio, Leonore No. 3, Egmont and others.
Menahem Pressler & Quatuor Ebène 90th Anniversary Concert
Menahem Pressler (piano) & Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Quatuor Ebène
The Quatuor Ebène was invited by legendary pianist Menahem Pressler to join him in celebrating his 90th birthday at a concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in November 2013. Their programme included Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A major and Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet, which form the CD version of this release. Additional items on the DVD version include the Quatuor Ebène in the slow movement of Debussy’s quartet.
Matthew Rose (bass), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Following on from his hugely successful recording of Winterreise, Matthew Rose has teamed up with award-winning accompanist Malcolm Martineau to produce a recording of Schubert's final cycle, Schwanengesang. Rose produces a dramatic performance of enormous vitality as well as a beautiful, burnished, legato tone, to give a Lieder recital that is a joy to listen to.
Rachmaninov: Music For Two Pianos
Martha Argerich (piano) and others
Martha Argerich’s long career has taken in many outstanding solo performances, but she has often professed to feeling ‘lonely’ on stage. This CD showcases her extensive collaborations with other pianists, including Nelson Goerner, whose collaboration with Argerich in Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances is released here for the first time.
Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 1-9 (Complete)
Bamberger Symphoniker, Jonathan Nott
Jonathan Nott has been principal conductor of the Bamberg Symphony since 2000. Such a lengthy collaboration is rare nowadays, and it has produced unique results, not least with this set of recordings of symphonies by Franz Schubert.
Philip Glass: The Complete Piano Etudes
Maki Namekawa (piano)
Orange Mountain Music presents a two-disc set covering both volumes of Glass piano etudes, 20 pieces in all. In addition to the first book (Etudes Nos.1-10) recorded anew with virtuoso Maki Namekawa, this set contains the world premiere recording of the second book of etudes (Nos.11-20) including the incredibly Romantic 20th Etude.
Robin Tritschler and Iain Burnside: Britten & Schubert
Robin Tritschler (tenor) & Iain Burnside (piano)
Tenor Robin Tritschler and pianist Iain Burnside come together once again for this release of Britten and Schubert, recorded live in concert at Wigmore Hall in January 2014. Robin Tritschler has received numerous awards throughout his career, and this powerful and, at times hauntingly profound, recital stands as a testament to his great artistry.
Bizet: Les Pêcheurs de Perles (DVD)
Patrizia Ciofi (Leila), Dmitry Korchak (Nadir), Dario Solari (Zurga), Roberto Tagliavini (Nourabad), Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo, Gabriele Ferro
Bizet is more than just Carmen. In his opera Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) you find melodies to die for; not only is the vocal music beautiful, but also the orchestral and ballet pieces too. The opera includes favourites such as “Je crois entendre encore”, and the tenor-baritone duet “Au fond du temple saint”.
Blu-ray version also available here.
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Saturday 13th December 2014
Building a Library - Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E Major
Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink
Download - download options available for this item (Download not available in all countries)
(as part of a 5-DVD set of performances by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado
Disc of the Week
Music for Remembrance
Roderick Williams (baritone), Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano), Westminster Abbey Choir & Britten Sinfonia, James O’Donnell
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