Presto News - 2nd December 2016
Bach's Christmas Oratorio from John Butt and Handel's Messiah from Andrew Davis
This week, as we round the corner onto the final straight towards Christmas, two completely contrasting approaches to Baroque authenticity seem to present themselves as a natural chalk-and-cheese pairing. Earlier in the year we spoke to John Butt about the Dunedin Consort’s marvellous Christmas Oratorio – bringing the Consort’s signature small-choir sound to the six Advent and Christmas cantatas that make up this most festive of Bach’s works.
Having heard their Matthew and John Passion and Magnificat, I was expecting a similarly polished performance, and I wasn’t disappointed. The opening has just as much drive and energy as a more “usual” large-choir performance, and benefits hugely in terms of the clarity of the vocal lines. This clarity and precision isn’t limited to the singers, either – the flurries of scales in the first movement are neatly executed (including some excellently pointed staccato playing from the bassoon).
One thing that’s frequently said in the context of authentically performed Bach – to the extent that it’s almost a cliché – is that much of his music has its roots in the dance genres of his time. This is, of course, true, but often it’s only true “on paper” – one doesn’t really feel it in performance. Not so with Butt’s interpretation here – there’s a sense that everyone involved in the music is taking their tempo and phrasing from those innately-felt pulses or dance-steps, rather than simply observing a beat.
Although the vocal soloists, as always, acquit themselves magnificently (particularly considering their doubly heavy duties in singing the chorus parts as well!), I would be remiss if I didn’t also single out the trumpet playing for particular praise. The opening and closing movements of the first and last cantatas require supreme agility and lightness of touch, and that’s exactly what we get – the icing on the cake, for me at least.
If you are a devotee of authentically-performed music, you may (as I hinted above) wish to stop reading now, as the other half of this week’s double bill gleefully tears up the last fifty years of historically-informed scholarship and dances a merry jig on the scraps. Andrew Davis’s new orchestration of Messiah is either, depending on your point of view, an act of unpardonable musical blasphemy or a gloriously tongue-in-cheek tribute to a well-loved masterpiece.
To give you some feel for the changes made, not only are horns, clarinets and trombones present; so also is the entire percussion department, kitchen sink and all. Side-drum, marimba, harp and xylophone all make appearances, and the crowning glory is the tam-tam crash that opens Worthy is the Lamb. This scoring might sound excessive, but I should stress that these extras are not over-used – the “bonus” percussion is used sparingly, and the overall effect is just of a lush, Romantic orchestration rather than of forced aural gimmickry.
This album divided opinion in the Presto office more sharply than anything I can remember, musical or otherwise, but in a few short paragraphs I feel I ought to fight its corner. Quite apart from being gloriously fun (the only album released all year that made me grin like the Cheshire Cat while listening to it), I am convinced that it’s actually a valid and significant musical work. The point of Messiah is surely to portray the Christmas (and indeed the Christian) story colourfully, dramatically and joyfully, and Davis simply capitalises on the fact that the orchestral palette has expanded enormously since Handel’s time.
I have a strong suspicion that for every authenticist who may pour scorn on Davis’s sacrilege, there’ll be a carefully-hidden, guiltily-enjoyed copy of this disc on a shelf somewhere. This full-fat banquet of festive camp is entirely true to the celebratory spirit of the original; it’s absolutely as much fun, and absolutely as legitimate, as the supremely authentic Dunedin Christmas Oratorio. Give it a go!
Bach, J S: Christmas Oratorio, BWV248
Mary Bevan & Joanne Lunn (sopranos), Ciara Hendrick (mezzo), Clare Wilkinson (alto), Nicholas Mulroy & Thomas Hobbs (tenors), Matthew Brook & Konstantin Wolff (basses), Dunedin Consort, John Butt
Handel: Messiah - New Concert Edition by Andrew Davis
Erin Wall (soprano), Elizabeth DeShong (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Staples (tenor), John Relyea (bass-baritone), Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Davis
Presto Discs of the Year 2016 – The Winners
After some really agonising decisions about what to keep and what to 'drop' from the cream of November's shortlist, we've managed to pick our top 10 discs of 2016 - if you don't listen to anything else this year, listen to these!
We've also put them all, plus the other 90 finalists, into a special offer lasting until 30th January 2017, so you can get your hands on these amazing performances for even better prices!
Sheet Music Special Offer – 25% off Eulenburg Scores
Over on our sheet music site, we are now offering 25% off the entire range of Eulenburg miniature and study scores. In 1894 Ernst Eulenburg published his kleine Partitur-Ausgabe (Eulenburg's Edition of Miniature Scores), laying the foundation for the editions known throughout the world today and easily recognised for their distinctive bright yellow covers.
Also included in the offer is Eulenbrug's complete "Audio+Score" range, which includes with the score a Naxos CD recording of the complete work so that you can follow along with the music as you listen.
Presto Interview – Lucie Horsch on Vivaldi
The recorder often seems to languish at the periphery of the classical world - it doesn't produce superstar soloists in the way that the piano, violin and cello do. That may be about to change, though, as for the first time ever Decca have signed a recorder player - the immensely promising sixteen-year-old Lucie Horsch from the Netherlands, whose debut album is now out.
The disc features Vivaldi concertos written and transcribed for the recorder, as well as other favourite excerpts by him. Katherine spoke to Lucie earlier in the week about her passion for Vivaldi's music.
In the Studio – Diana Damrau releases for 2017
Coloratura soprano Diana Damrau has a bumper set of releases already lined up for the coming year. An operatic recital-disc is due out in March, featuring arias by Meyerbeer, and later in the year she's starring in not one but three complete operas on DVD - Bizet, Salieri and Donizetti.
David Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
2nd December 2016
New on Naxos - December releases
Our dedicated Naxos New Release Brochure returns this week, where you can browse, read about, and listen to excerpts of all the exciting new Naxos releases out this month.
Highlights include choral works by Donizetti and Mayr, world premiere recordings of works by Boris Tishchenko, and a round-up of this year's Christmas releases. (The 'Buy Now' links will bring you back to the recording on the Presto Classical website.) Find out more...
Mozart: Mass in C minor, K427 'Great'
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Olivia Vermeulen (alto), Makoto Sakurada (tenor), Christian Immler (bass), Bach Collegium Japan Chorus & Orchestra, Masaaki Suzuki
Mozart's 'Great' C minor Mass is a work of unusual proportions – or would have been, had Mozart completed it. This performance includes the sections for which extensive sketches left by Mozart provided a basis for completion. The disc closes with Exsultate, jubilate in which soprano Carolyn Sampson glitters in the virtuosic solo part.
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Wiener Philharmoniker, Gustavo Dudamel
Gustavo Dudamel's latest recording, made with the Wiener Philharmoniker at Vienna’s Musikverein in April 2016, is an all-Russian album, coupling two works by Mussorgsky with the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Dudamel gives this perennial ballet highlight a fresh, vibrant new reading - a perfect introduction to the festive season.
Prokofiev: Piano Sonatas Nos. 2, 6 & 8
Alexander Melnikov (piano)
In this first volume of a complete cycle of the Prokofiev sonatas, Alexander Melnikov reveals three emblematic works. The brilliant Second Sonata dates from 1912, when its composer was still a student at the St Petersburg Conservatory; with the Sixth (1939) and Eighth (1944) we meet the master in his full maturity, plunged in the darkest years of the Great Terror and the war.
Italian Lute Virtuosi of the Renaissance
Jakob Lindberg (lute)
On this disc Jakob Lindberg, one of the great lutenists of our time, pays tribute to three Renaissance colleagues from 600 years ago: Francesco da Milano, Marco dall’Aquila and Alberto da Mantova. Lindberg has selected twenty-six pieces, ordering them in seven suites for the greatest possible variety.
Adeste Fideles: Christmas Carols from Her Majesty's Chapel Royal
Choir of the Chapel Royal, Huw Williams
Huw Williams leads the choir of Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal in a festive new recording of Christmas carols old and new from St James’s Palace, London.
Puccini: Manon Lescaut
Anna Netrebko (Manon Lescaut), Yusif Eyvazov (Des Grieux), Armando Piña (Lescaut), Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Marco Armiliato
This outstanding concert performance of Manon Lescaut with Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov was the highlight of the 2016 Salzburg Festival – a moment of operatic glory, captured live for this release.
The Complete Chopin (Deluxe Edition - 21 CDs)
This luxurious set features recordings by legendary Chopin interpreters such as Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini, Krystian Zimerman, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Maria João Pires and many more. It also includes over eighty minutes of brand-new recordings with Jan Lisiecki and Daniil Trifonov, as well as a DVD of Rubinstein performing the Second Piano Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and André Previn.
Boito: Mefistofele (DVD)
René Pape (Mefistofele), Joseph Calleja (Faust), Kristine Opolais (Margherita), Karine Babajanyan (Elena), Bavarian State Orchestra, Omer Meir Wellber (conductor)
Best-known today as the librettist of Verdi’s Shakespearean masterpieces, Otello and Falstaff, Arrigo Boito was also a fine composer in his own right. Some twenty years in the making, his first (and only completed) opera, Mefistofele, sets out to encompass nothing less than the whole of Goethe’s vast poetic drama Faust. Director Roland Schwab plays devil’s advocate by setting the opera in a nightmarish atmosphere.
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