Presto News - 14th April 2017
Previously unreleased cello recital by Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten
This year has seen a treasure trove of releases in celebration of the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (who died ten years ago, and who would have turned ninety last month), not least lavish boxes from Warner Classics and Deutsche Grammophon. Just when we thought there couldn't possibly be anything left to add to his extensive discography, along comes this gem of a disc from the archives.
Rostropovich had met Benjamin Britten in 1960, having been introduced by Shostakovich after a concert in London. Britten promised to write a piece for Rostropovich, and the resulting work was premiered in the Jubilee Hall at the Aldeburgh Festival on 7th July 1961, with Britten himself at the piano, alongside Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata, Schumann's Fünf Stücke im Volkston, and Debussy's Cello Sonata.
Mstislav Rostropovich and Benjamin Britten
This recital has now been made available courtesy of the Testament label, and what a find it is. Later that month, the pair made celebrated studio recordings of the Schumann, Debussy, and Britten (they also recorded the Schubert together in 1968), but these performances should in no way be considered a mere dry run for the recording sessions, and the fact that this release presents the first performance of Britten's own Cello Sonata is exciting enough in itself!
The first thing that struck me as the Schubert began was what a sensitive pianist Britten was; his phrasing of the opening bars is expressive without being mannered. This is echoed in Rostropovich's playing, particularly in places such as the contemplative recapitulation of the main theme in the first movement. Actually, what I found myself marvelling at the most throughout the whole recital was the magnetism of Rostropovich's pianissimo playing: he really draws you in and makes you listen.
After the Schubert comes a virtuoso performance of Britten's own sonata. The last movement especially is a veritable tour de force; both performers are on fire, and it's no surprise that this closing movement is immediately encored. If I had to sum up this recital in a single word, it would be freedom. Every phrase is elegantly elastic, and there's some pleasingly delicate playing by Britten, especially in the final Schumann piece. The range of attack and articulation on offer from Rostropovich is quite extraordinary: listen to the first movement of the Schumann, or the way that he changes his tone completely between phrases at the beginning of the last movement of the Schubert, to hear his exquisite variety of colours.
Amongst the closing encores comes a surprise: the pair are joined by Peter Pears to perform the tenor aria from Bach's Cantata No. 41, Jesu, nun sei gepreiset, which includes a substantial obbligato cello part. Although more stately in tempo than we might perhaps be used to nowadays, it still has an elegant tread to it that suits the plaintive qualities of Pears's voice.
As if even that were not enough to be getting on with, there's a final bonus: three days before this recital, Rostropovich performed two of the Bach Cello Suites in the Aldeburgh Parish Church, and the surviving recording of the Third Suite in C major is presented here. Again, Rostropovich made a famous recording of the complete suites fairly late in his life, but to my ears this is an equally fine interpretation, and movements such as the Bourrée and Gigue are even more energetic than in the later version.
As I said at the start, even if you own the studio recordings of these pieces, there's nothing redundant about these accounts, and I'm sure you won't be disappointed in this absolute delight of a recital!
Rostropovich & Britten: Recorded live at the 1961 Aldeburgh Music Festival
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) & Benjamin Britten (piano)
Rostropovich: Cellist of the Century (Complete)
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
Mstislav Rostropovich: Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello/direction)
Presto Interview – David Temple on recording Bach in English
Although English-language performances of Bach's Passions are less common than they were a few decades ago, they're still popular among choirs and choral societies all over the English-speaking world. It's astonishing, then, that the most recent major recording of the St John Passion in English was made in 1971 with Benjamn Britten conducting!
This year, a new recording has been released, with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Bach Camerata, and featuring an impressive lineup of soloists including Sophie Bevan, Robin Blaze and Ashley Riches. Conductor David Temple gave us some of his thoughts on the unique challenges and rewards of approaching the work in this way.
Presto Interview – Manfred Honeck on Spring in Vienna
As Vienna gears up for this weekend's Easter celebrations from the Wiener Symphoniker, Katherine spoke to Manfred Honeck (whose delightful and insightful 'Spring in Vienna' programme from last year was recently released on Solo Musica) about the special atmosphere of these events and the story behind the little-known Richard Strauss ballet-suite at the heart of the programme.
Katherine's April 2017 'Best of the Rest'!
With so many worthy contenders for attention each month, we often have a tough time settling on which recording to review in full as our main Disc of the Week. To go a little way towards rectifying this, we've decided to introduce a monthly round-up of the best of the rest, picking out ten 'near-misses' and giving a brief summary of what we think makes them special.
Browse through this month's selections...
James Longstaffe - email@example.com
14th April 2017
New on Naxos - April 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 this month include recordings of Ravel, Shostakovich, Vítĕzslav Novák, and guitar concertos by Torroba alongside a 30-CD collection released as part of Naxos's 30th Anniversary celebrations! (As usual, the 'Buy Now' links will bring you back to the recording on the Presto Classical website.) Find out more...
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé
Les Siècles & Ensemble Aedes, François-Xavier Roth
The orchestral forces in Daphnis et Chloé are the largest Ravel ever employed, including a chorus that sometimes hums and sometimes sings. François-Xavier Roth has gone through the score with a fine-tooth comb to offer a performance with all the transparency and stylistic precision one could wish for in Ravel’s masterpiece.
Graun: Opera Arias
Julia Lezhneva (soprano), Concerto Köln, Mikhail Antonenko
With 11 world premiere recordings, this is a journey of discovery for Julia Lezhneva, who spent days in a Berlin library unearthing these arias by Carl Heinrich Graun (1704-1759), one of the most important German composers of Italian baroque opera but almost unknown today. This is music of great virtuosity: vibrant, joyful and fiery arias contrast with tragic and deeply felt laments.
Vaughan Williams: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Manze
This second volume in Andrew Manze’s cycle of symphonies by Vaughan Williams features two works influenced by the Great War and its aftermath. A repressed rage and sorrow at the futility of war pervades No.3, whilst the 4th is a turbulent work, reflecting the post-war world and the political turmoil of the 1930s.
Haydn 2032 Volume 4 - Il Distratto
Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
The fourth volume in this series thrusts into the limelight one of the most important stock characters in the theatre of sounds and words, the Kapellmeister. It features three symphonies by the "Shakespeare of Music" - one of which is even associated with an actual play. Also on this release is a large-scale scene by his colleague Cimarosa.
Bach, J S: St John Passion, BWV245 (sung in English)
Sophie Bevan (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Benjamin Hulett (tenor), Robert Murray (Evangelist), Andrew Ashwin (Pilate, Peter), Neal Davies (bass-baritone), Ashley Riches (Jesus), Crouch End Festival Chorus & Bach Camerata, David Temple
The Crouch End Festival Chorus presents a landmark recording of J.S. Bach’s St John Passion sung in English – the first for over forty-five years. The narrative is immediately understood, and the power of the storytelling imbues Bach’s music with extra freshness and meaning.
Simon Holt: a table of noises
Colin Currie (percussion) & Chloë Hanslip (violin), Hallé, Nicholas Collon
This album showcases Simon Holt's narrative orchestral compositions, including his Violin Concerto depicting the life and gruesome death of St Eulalia of Merida. The other concerto is a much more upbeat and quirky affair, written for percussionist Colin Currie. Finally, the short, dazzling, orchestral work St Vitus in the kettle depicts the grisly of this saint in a cauldron of boiling hot lead!
Mahler: Symphonies 1-9 (15 CDs)
Philharmonia Orchestra, Lorin Maazel
Led by Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonia Orchestra are captured at their best in these live performances of Mahler’s symphonies. Recorded in concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall, the symphonies include performances by soloists and ensembles including Sarah Connolly, Michelle DeYoung, Philharmonia Voices and the BBC Symphony Chorus.
Donizetti: Olivo e Pasquale (DVD)
Bruno Taddia (Olivo), Filippo Morace (Pasquale), Laura Giordano (Isabella), Pietro Adaini (Camillo), Matteo Macchioni (Le Bross), Orchestra dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala, Federico Maria Sardelli
This sparkling opera buffa, recorded at the 2016 Donizetti Festival of Bergamo, has the part of Pasquale performed in the Neapolitan dialect. It is the story of two rich merchant brothers from Lisbon who habitually weigh everything against its bargaining power. The show is very colourful, thanks to the rich sets and costumes.
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