Presto News - 18th September 2015
Robin Ticciati conducts Haydn Symphonies
When my colleague David interviewed Robin Ticciati a year ago regarding his recording of Schumann's symphonies, his responses gave me the impression of a deeply thoughtful musician who takes time to ponder exactly what he wants from every bar. This quality is very much evident in a new disc of three Haydn symphonies with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
First up is Symphony No. 31, known as the Horn Signal. As you might expect from the nickname, the horns are fairly prominent! Although it wasn’t the first time Haydn had written for a quartet of horns (Symphony No. 13 also has four rather than the usual pair), they are very much in the spotlight here, not least their robust call to attention in the first bar. The use of natural horns adds a piquancy that you can’t really replicate with modern, valved horns. However, they're certainly not blasting all the way through, and Ticciati has clearly thought about when to let them dominate and when they should be more in the background.
He also varies their dynamics on repeats, so whereas a phrase might be played forte the first time round, on the repeat it is heard pianissimo. Speaking of repeats, I should note that Ticciati is fastidious about observing them: not only are first-movement exposition repeats included, but also those normally ignored such as the second halves of movements. The potential danger with this is sheer Haydn fatigue, but luckily this is completely avoided by the inventiveness of Ticciati's interpretation, aided by some tasteful ornamentation. Furthermore, Ticciati makes interesting choices of articulation; for instance, a flute phrase may be tongued the first time but slurred later on.
Although a modern-instrument ensemble, the players apply aspects of period performance practice, not least in the strings, where vibrato is kept to a minimum and used as an expressive device rather than a default position. This is most apparent in the slow movement, which includes a florid solo violin part, played mainly straight by leader Henja Semmler but with vibrato coming into play on long notes. There’s also some wonderful use of fortepiano continuo, subtly improvising along to the strings. It could easily have become annoying, but its sparing and sensitive use is just right, usually in the background but occasionally filling in some semiquavers to great effect: towards the end of the movement where a solo cello joins the violin, it's almost like a miniature piano trio has arrived, or perhaps a smaller-scale version of Beethoven's Triple Concerto. It's a delightful touch that raises this recording to another level of enjoyment.
I must also single out the penultimate, seventh variation of the last movement, which has an extended solo for violone (essentially a double bass viol), these days performed on a double bass. Principal bass Nikita Naumov does a phenomenal job of performing with a Baroque-like, ‘antique’ flavour to his sound.
I’ve spent a lot of time on this symphony, mainly because it displays everything I admire about this disc, but that’s not to imply that the other two symphonies are any less successful. In Symphony No. 70, the addition of trumpets makes for a blazing sound, and the timpani have a pleasing thwack to them. Ticciati’s attention to dynamics is still on display, with the extreme pianissimo of the symphony’s penultimate bars contrasting with the final fortissimo.
The disc concludes with a splendid reading of Symphony No. 101 (one of the London symphonies, also known as The Clock). There are some energetically springy rhythms on offer in the first movement, and some nicely fruity bassoons as they perform their ticking quavers that earn the symphony its nickname. As it happens, all three symphonies are in the same key, and I was worried that I would be a bit fed up with D major by the end of the disc, but luckily this never became an issue. I understand there will be a second release next year featuring some more of the London symphonies, and I can’t wait to hear them!
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 31, 70 & 101
Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati
Presto Interview – Harp Concertos from Anneleen Lenaerts
Belgian harpist Anneleen Lenaerts' latest disc comprises three broadly varied concertos for her instrument, ranging from the well-known - Gliere's melodious favourite - to the little-heard Joseph Jongen, via Rodrigo's own harp arrangement of his famous Concierto de Aranjuez.
David spoke to Anneleen about the challenges of approaching these very different works, and about the circumstances that gave rise to them.
Gramophone Awards 2015 – Disc of the Year and Category Winners
The late Claudio Abbado's magisterial account of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony - recorded at what turned out to be his final concert - scooped Disc of the Year, while Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi is this year's Artist of the Year after producing several acclaimed recordings of Shostakovich, other Russian composers and Bruckner. Full details of the winners can be found here.
Our special offer on all the category winners is still running - so there's still time to pick up some bargains on these great recordings.
And Channel Classics is this year's Label of the Year - so we're offering up to 30% off the whole label until 23rd November, too!
Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor
Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado
David Willcocks (1919-2015)
Sir David Willcocks, former Director of Music at King's College Cambridge, has died at the age of 95. An accomplished conductor, organist and composer, he held several positions at English cathedrals and choirs - but it is for his ever-popular arrangements and harmonisations of Christmas carols, immortalised in the Carols for Choirs series, that he will mostly be remembered.
A full obituary can be found here.
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
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