Presto News - 1st June 2015
Claudio Abbado conducts Schubert's "Great" C Major Symphony
It might seem odd that this week I'm talking about a new recording conducted by Claudio Abbado, given that the great Italian maestro sadly died in January last year, and I already wrote glowingly last July about the recording of his final concert of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony, but it turns out that there are other concert recordings that exist, one of which we are treated to here.
This live recording of Schubert's Great C major symphony (either the Eighth or the Ninth depending on your numbering system!), comes from concerts in Bologna and Bolzano from September 2011, and features Orchestra Mozart, of which Abbado had been Artistic Director since its inception in 2004. As it happens, the first half of the same concerts (a delightful account of Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 27 with Maria João Pires as soloist) had already been released on disc back in 2012, so it's wonderful now to have the second half as well.
I must admit that I've never really got on terribly well with this symphony: in the wrong hands it can very easily become stodgy, plodding, and seemingly interminable (I'm fully aware that this is much more my problem than it is Schubert's: I've probably just been unlucky and attended some bad performances!). Not here, however: I must have listened to this recording at least a dozen times over the weekend, and never once did I even start to get bored or feel that the pace was sagging. I was pondering how it was that Abbado managed to achieve this: it's not especially a matter of tempo, as Abbado's speeds aren't particularly fast (although to be fair the first movement is perhaps slightly more flowing than usual), but it's more to do with his expert ear for clarity and balance. Rhythms are kept springy, and there's a freshness and vigour to it that kept me enthralled throughout.
This is perhaps best exemplified by the very opening of the symphony: it begins with eight bars of horns gently intoning the main theme of the movement. On the page it doesn't look like very much at all, and indeed I've heard performances where it becomes a kind of bland nothingness, but just listen to the way Abbado carefully crafts and shapes each bar, helped by some sensitive horn playing (including an audible difference between piano and pianissimo). The string sound, both at their first entry and throughout the symphony, is really quite beautiful: they glide in gently with the most expressive of tone, aided in no small measure by an exquisite viola sound.
I shouldn't leave out the woodwind either: the oboe solo at the start of the second movement is full of poise and refinement, and there's some highly characterful bassoon playing elsewhere too. In fact, the whole orchestra is on top form, with the trumpets and trombones helping to add excitement to the last movement especially. So, all in all, this is a delight of a recording, and it certainly caused me to change my mind about a piece that I had previously thought was a bit too long and heavy. Abbado's years of experience, coupled with playing of the highest quality, make this a captivatingly polished recording that I thoroughly recommend!
Schubert: The "Great" C major Symphony
Orchestra Mozart, Claudio Abbado
Presto Interview – Mark Bebbington on the piano music of Arthur Bliss
Mark Bebbington has become something of a champion of the English Romantic piano repertoire, with acclaimed series on Somm of Bridge, Ireland and others. Now he is turning his attention to the works of Arthur Bliss, whose writing for the orchestral and particularly for the screen has tended to eclipse his chamber and instrumental works.
David talked to Mark about his second volume of Bliss, and asked him why he thinks the piano music is so little-heard.
In the Studio – Two Imminent Escapes from the Seraglio
Two venerable Mozartians are preparing to record Die Entführung aus dem Serail - Yannick Nézet-Séguin in the company of Rolando Villazón, Diana Damrau and Anna Prohaska, and René Jacobs' Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, whose cast of relative newcomers includes Robin Johannsen, Maximilian Schmitt and Julian Prégardien (whose surname suggests he may have inherited his father's Mozart gifts!)
Presto CD – 78 more DG titles
A mixed bag from Deutsche Grammophon, with chamber music from the Hagen Quartett, Beethoven sonatas from Martha Argerich and Gidon Kremer, Brahms Lieder from Andreas Schmidt and much more!
Obituary – Peter Cropper (1945-2015)
We were all extremely sad to hear of the passing of one of the most eminent violinists of our time, Lindsay Quartet founder-member and leader Peter Cropper.
The Quartet indeed initially bore his name on its foundation in 1965, only later acquiring the name that would become legendary in chamber music circles as the Lindsays dominated the next four decades with their performances and recordings, many of which won major awards. Their readings of Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn were particularly renowned.
Upon the Quartet's dissolution in 2005, Cropper continued to perform chamber music, turning particularly to the piano trio in the company of Moray Welsh and Martin Roscoe.
He also developed a significant connection with the city of Sheffield, teaching at the University and founding Music in the Round, an organisation that exists to promote chamber music in intimate settings.
This short tribute cannot really do justice to Peter Cropper's extensive musical legacy and impact; the string world, and indeed the musical world at large, has lost not only a consummate musician but a passionate advocate for chamber music. A full obituary can be found here.
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
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