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Britten: Violin Concerto & Piano Concerto

Britten: Violin Concerto & Piano Concerto


Britten:

Violin Concerto in D minor Op. 15

Tasmin Little (violin)

Piano Concerto, Op. 13

1945 version as well as original third movement, ‘Recitative and Aria’

Howard Shelley (piano)


The prolific nature of Benjamin Britten’s operatic and vocal output makes it is all too easy to forget that prior to the phenomenal success of Peter Grimes in 1945, he was primarily known as a composer of vividly orchestrated instrumental music. Tying in with the 100-year anniversary in 2013 of the composer’s birth, we here present two such works, performed by the BBC Philharmonic under Edward Gardner. Tasmin Little and Howard Shelley are the soloists in the Violin Concerto and Piano Concerto, respectively.

These concertos reflect two very different sides to the composer’s character. The Violin Concerto, which Britten completed in 1939, is essentially tragic and weighty in tone, perhaps reflecting his growing concern with the escalation of war-related hostilities. On the other hand, the Piano Concerto, written the previous year, is generally lighter and brighter, more transparent and simpler in style.

On this disc we have recorded the Piano Concerto in Britten’s familiar revision of 1945, but we also include the original third movement, ‘Recitative and Aria’, which Britten replaced with a new and extended movement entitled ‘Impromptu’. Howard Shelley writes of the decision Britten made to revise the concerto: ‘Why he found it necessary to replace the slow movement, I cannot quite understand – as far as I am concerned both options are masterpieces, and with this in mind we have also recorded the original version, which is fantastical and fabulous, jazzy and endlessly dramatic.’

The Violin Concerto was the first composition Britten completed after arriving in the US in 1939. Our soloist, Tasmin Little, writes of the work: ‘One of the miracles of the piece is the way that the structure is conceived as an ongoing journey. Britten does not conform to the usual pattern of the classical concerto... rather the shape of the work emerges organically as each thought leads invariably to the next. A favourite moment of mine is near the end of the first movement where the violins play the opening melody and I weave in and around them with delicate pizzicato.’

“A rapturous disc” Financial Times, 18th May 2013

“This is a desirable Chandos release of two marvellous Britten concertos that deserve to be far better known. The playing from soloists Shelley and Little is exemplary. They are accompanied by the outstanding BBC Philharmonic under Edward Gardner’s sensitively controlled baton.” MusicWeb International, 20th May 2013

“Little’s interpretation strikes me as one of the finest committed to disc...Even though her partnership with Gardner is new in the work, their dramatic and emotional conception is unified — and particularly arresting in the sizzling central movement’s vivace” Sunday Times, 26th May 2013

“Shelley and Edward Gardner create something more mercurial [than Britten's own reading], Gardner conjuring that lithe, high-tension drama he has so successfully achieved with Britten's stage works...We also have a very special reading of the Violin Concerto...Little and Gardner plumb its emotional heart in a performance of great passion and spontaneity.” BBC Music Magazine, July 2013 ****

“Gardner's BBC Phil leads the rough-and-tumble with its sharp-edged wind and brusque brass, and the exuberant Howard Shelley matches then every inch of the way...Little has fewer emotionally warm sounds at her disposal than she does energy and commitment...another strong Britten release from Chandos.” Gramophone Magazine, July 2013

“Gardner starts Britten’s Piano Concerto with amazing ferocity and drive...Shelley relishes the fast tempo when he makes his entrance...white-hot playing from the BBC Philharmonic and close-up, widescreen Chandos sound.” The Arts Desk, 20th July 2013

GGramophone Magazine

Disc of the Month - May 2013

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Delius: Orchestral Works

Delius: Orchestral Works


Delius:

Paris - Song of a Great City

Piano Concerto in C minor

original 1897 version

Howard Shelley (piano)

Idylle Printemps

Brigg Fair


Of the works performed here by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the prominent Delius interpreter Sir Andrew Davis, the first three (Paris, the Piano Concerto, and Idylle de printemps) offer a fascinating insight into the early years of the development of Delius as a composer, when he was slowly and painstakingly honing his craft, and assuming the characteristic personal voice that is evident in more mature works such as Brigg Fair.

Paris, sub-titled ‘The Song of a Great City’, is strongly inspired by the composer’s many years of living and working in Paris. With large-scale orchestral forces, Delius paints opulent pictures of a city that he obviously loved. The slow opening portrays the still darkness falling over Paris; then the music changes pace and takes us through the teeming and intoxicating nightlife of the city, with impressions of exuberant dance music coming from the many cafés and music-halls. The opening material returns, culminating in the sounds of the awakening streets.

Until recently Delius’s Piano Concerto has been know exclusively in its final, one-movement form, which was first performed in London in 1907. The version recorded here, however, represents the composer’s earlier thoughts, from 1897. Performed by Howard Shelley, the work is brimming with full-bodied romanticism while showing the influences of Grieg and Liszt throughout.

The airy mood of Idylle de printemps points to later depictions of nature in Delius’s music, as in Brigg Fair, which Delius categorised as ‘An English Rhapsody’. Cecil Gray, the Scottish music critic and composer, described the opening of Brigg Fair as ‘evoking the atmosphere of an early summer morning in the English countryside’. The work is based on a folk-tune which came to light in a competition instigated by Percy Grainger in 1905 to find ‘the best unpublished old Lincolnshire folk song or plough song’. Grainger was immediately taken with the folk-tune, and having arranged it himself for solo tenor and chorus, he approached Delius to write orchestral variations on it – urging him on as the only composer worthy of the task. Delius was soon persuaded, and Brigg Fair became one of his best-loved works.

“Shelley and Sir Andrew Davis bring rather more in the way of epic ambition and romantic ardour to this likeable music [the Concerto] than do their Hyperion rivals, though at times greater rhythmic snap would not have gone amiss...As for the remainder, Davis makes a lovely job of the early Idylle de printemps.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2012

“Delius's piano writing isn't that of a natural virtuoso, but here Shelley transforms it with some really sensitive phrasing and an ability to make the patterns of the figuration sound idiomatic...Davis proves himself an instinctive Delian in the way he delineates the shifting moods and colours of Paris and Brigg Fair: these must be among the best current accounts of both works.” BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2012 *****

“I believe that Andrew Davis is possibly the greatest conductor of this music since Beecham. Davis is so in touch with the unique qualities of Delius's genius as to cause one to stop and reconsider the music...I cannot image any of the works on this eminently desirable disc being better performed than they are here” International Record Review, December 2012

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Hummel: Piano Concerto & 2 Rondos brilliants

Hummel: Piano Concerto & 2 Rondos brilliants


Hummel, J:

Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 34

Rondo brillant, Op. 56

Rondo brillant, Op. 98


“Shelley's playing throughout is dazzling, clean and precise in all the cascades of virtuoso fingerwork, and with beautifully inflected decorative lines in the slower music, reminding us of Hummel's influence on Chopin. And Shelley somehow manages to combine this with purposeful direction of the orchestra - which responds with first-rate playing, notably from the woodwind.” BBC Music Magazine, September 2004 *****

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Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony

Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony

rev. 1990


Howard Shelley (piano), Valérie Hartmann-Claverie (ondes-martenot)

BBC Philharmonic, Yan Pascal Tortelier

“a number of excellent accounts exist. For me, the balance tips in favour of Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic for the light-hearted abandon that they bring to movements 5 and 10.” David Smith, Presto Classical, June 2014

Building a Library

First Choice - May 2002

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Dohnányi: Orchestral Works

Dohnányi: Orchestral Works


Dohnányi:

Symphony No. 1

American Rhapsody Op. 47 (1953)

Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 5

Howard Shelley (piano)

Ruralia hungarica

Violin Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 43

James Ehnes (violin)

Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 42

Howard Shelley (piano)

Concertino for Harp and Chamber Orchestra, Op. 45 (1952)

Clifford Lantaff (harp)

Symphonic Minutes Op.36

Symphony No. 2 in E major Op.40

Suite for Orchestra Op. 19 (1908-09)

Variations on a Nursery Tune, Op. 25

Howard Shelley (piano)

The Veil of Pierrette, Op. 18


Ernst von Dohnányi was for many years a little-known and unjustly neglected composer.

Chandos’ series of recordings of his orchestral works, performed by the BBC Philharmonic under Matthias Bamert, with a distinguished roster of soloists, significantly increased his public profile, and is now regarded as benchmarks for the repertoire.

This box set, at Classic Chandos price, features his most famous orchestral works and concertos, with contributions from such prestigious artists as James Ehnes, Howard Shelley, and Clifford Lantaff; a must have for fans of Dohnányi as well as for curious newcomers to the music of this masterly composer.

“An economy set presenting attractive and for the most part rarely heard music with performance, recording and documentation value uncompromised.” MusicWeb International, 1st July 2016

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Bridge: Orchestral Works, Volumes 1-6

Bridge: Orchestral Works, Volumes 1-6

The Collector's Edition


Bridge:

Enter Spring

Isabella

Two Poems for Orchestra

Mid of the Night

Dance Rhapsody

Five Entr'actes

from Emile Cammaert's play 'The Two Hunchbacks'

Dance Poem

Norse Legend

The Sea

Coronation March

Phantasm

Howard Shelley (piano)

Summer

There is a Willow Grows Aslant a Brook

Vignettes de danse

Christmas Dance 'Sir Roger de Coverley'

Oration - Concerto elegiaco for cello and orchestra

Alban Gerhardt (cello)

Rebus Overture

A Prayer for Chorus and Orchestra

BBC National Chorus of Wales

Lament

Allegro moderato - fragment of a symphony for string orchestra

Suite for Strings, H 93

The Hag, H 14

Roderick Williams (baritone)

Two Songs of Robert Bridges

Roderick Williams (baritone)

Two Intermezzi from ‘Threads', H 151

Roderick Williams (baritone)

Two Old English Songs, H 119

arranged for string orchestra

Two Entr'actes: Rosemary, H 68b & Canzonetta, H 169

Roderick Williams (baritone)

Valse Intermezzo à cordes, H 17

Roderick Williams (baritone)

Todessehnsucht

Roderick Williams (baritone)

Christmas Dance 'Sir Roger de Coverley'

Blow out, you bugles, H 132, for tenor & orchestra

Philip Langridge (tenor)

Adoration, H 57

Where she lies asleep, H 114, for tenor and orchestra

Philip Langridge (tenor)

Love went a-riding

Thy hand in mine, H 124, for tenor and orchestra

Philip Langridge (tenor)

Berceuse, H 9, for soprano and orchestra

Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)

Mantle of blue, H 131, for high voice and orchestra

Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)

Day after day, H 164, for mezzo-soprano and orchestra

Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)

Speak to me, my love!, H 164ii, for mezzo-soprano and orchestra

Berceuse, H 8

Chant d'espérance, H 18ii

Serenade,H 23

The Pageant of London, H 98, suite for orchestra

A Royal Night of Variety, H 184, epilogue for orchestra


The complete orchestral works by Frank Bridge are here released in an attractive six-disc box for the first time, as part of the new Hickox Legacy commemorative series on Chandos Records, leading up to (and continuing beyond) the fifth anniversary, in Nov 2013, of the conductor’s untimely death. The box is released on the Chandos Classics label at Mid-Price – 6 CDs for the price of 4.

A couple of orchestral works aside, the repertoire of Frank Bridge was largely ignored until Hickox embarked on the complete cycle of his orchestral music, which revealed to the world what a remarkably varied and imaginative composer he was.

All of Bridge’s orchestral music is about something: there are nature-inspired tone poems, such as The Sea and Enter Spring; there are war-inspired works such as Oration and the Overture Rebus; and there are those pieces with a more ambiguous or elusive ‘emotional’ programme, such as Dance Poem and Phantasm.

“Listening to this comprehensive Chandos set, Bridge’s position as a shadowy transitional figure comes into sharper focus, the early Edwardiana yielding to a much more sharply defined mature style...Despite this being a six-disc compilation, there’s little filler. The lighter pieces charm. The performances are consistently inspired, and the recorded sound is refulgent.” The Arts Desk, 29th September 2012

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Beethoven: Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra

Beethoven: Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra


Beethoven:

Piano Concertos Nos. 1-5 (complete)

Piano Concerto in E flat major, WoO 4

Piano Concerto in D major, arranged by the composer after the Violin Concerto, Op. 61a

Rondo for Piano & Orchestra in B flat major, WoO 6

Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Cello in C major, Op. 56

with Tasmin Little (violin) & Tim Hugh (cello)

Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C minor, Op. 80

with Opera North Chorus


Howard Shelley (piano and conductor)

Opera North Orchestra

The piano remained the main instrument of Beethoven throughout his life, and this specially priced 4-CD box set represents his entire and sizeable output for piano and orchestra, starting with the early Piano Concerto in E flat,

WoO 4 – a work of tremendous energy and great technical demands, which Beethoven wrote when he was just twelve years old – and ending with Piano Concerto No. 5, the only one that Beethoven never performed himself in concert, due to his developing deafness.

Howard Shelley was awarded an OBE for services to classical music at the 2009 New Year Honours. He here conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North from the piano. Shelley has recorded extensively for Chandos over the years, and he has combined the role of solo pianist and conductor on numerous occasions, most recently with the Orchestra of Opera North in Piano Concertos by Schumann, Saint-Saëns, and Grieg (CHAN 10509), but also with the London Mozart Players, recording works by Cramer, Hummel, Mendelssohn, and Mozart. All his recordings have received superb reviews.

Beethoven wrote the Triple Concerto on this disc in 1803 during a lull in the composition of his opera Fidelio. Works for violin, cello and piano were fairly common at the time – but combining them with orchestra was, as Beethoven himself observed, something entirely new, and no other concerto of this kind from this period is known today.

In this work, Howard Shelley is joined by the violinist and exclusive Chandos artist Tasmin Little, who won the Critics’ Choice Award at this year’s Classic BRITS, and by the cellist Tim Hugh, of whom The Times said: ‘Mr Hugh is much more than just a Cellist, he is a musician with a compelling insight into the creative urge behind the notes.’

“this is svelte, affectionate orchestral playing, with a particularly seductive principal oboe. And Shelley knows just when to step back when Beethoven’s solo line slips into note-spinning mode, letting his Leeds players sing....This is a wonderful box. It’s easily the equal of starrier sets from the past - Barenboim, Kempf, Perahia etc. Buy it.” The Arts Desk, 21st January 2012

“there are several reasons to shout about it...there's Shelley himself: a pianist whose quiet musicality and unobtrusive virtuosity shine through everything he touches...Throughout the set, there's a humanity to Shelley's music-making; it's particularly affecting in the B-flat Concerto, which he imbues with warmth as well as wit...this is a major new cycle, an important addition not only to the catalogue but also to Shelley's exceptionally fine discography.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2012

“all concerned seem to be at one with a composer who is often harder to gel with than we like to think...For most listeners, Shelley’s Beethoven-as-is approach, with clarity the hallmark, will be a positive virtue, though that doesn’t mean that there’s any lack of power” MusicWeb International, June 2012

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - January 2012

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Leighton - Symphony No. 1 & Piano Concerto No. 3

Leighton - Symphony No. 1 & Piano Concerto No. 3


Leighton:

Symphony No. 1, Op. 42

Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 57 'Concerto estivo'

Howard Shelley (piano)


This is the third volume in Chandos’ latest championing of the music of Kenneth Leighton, presenting two further premiere recordings. The previous volume, including Symphony No. 2 (Sinfonia mistica), received tremendous critical acclaim, earning a Rosette in the latest Penguin Guide to Recorded Music. It was a Critic’s Choice in the December 2009 issue of Gramophone, Andrew Achenbach writing: ‘Chandos’ most valuable exploration of Kenneth Leighton’s large-scale output continues with this exhilarating coupling… Miss at your peril.’ International Record Review wrote: ‘I cannot do better than urge this new release on all those with ears to hear. For Leighton’s Sinfonia mistica is, I humbly submit, indeed a masterpiece.’

This latest volume includes the very successful First Symphony, completed in 1964, which won first prize in the 1965 City of Trieste international competition for a new symphonic work. It received its British premiere in October 1967 with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Groves. In three movements, it is the only Leighton symphony to employ purely orchestral forces. The composer says that the opening movement ‘sets a mood of elegiac lyricism, and eventually becomes a strong, even desperate protest’, while the second movement, a vibrant scherzo, ‘loosens the reins, and on a spirit of rebellion seeks to arrive at an affirmative answer by sheer force of will’. He describes the final movement as the ‘expressive essence of the symphony… a movement of great beauty’.

The Third Piano Concerto was written in 1968 when the composer succeeded Edmund Rubbra as a fellow of Worcester College, Oxford. Leighton wrote: ‘On the whole the music is more relaxed, more lyrical, and certainly more tonal than that of the previous two piano concertos. And there is also much less emphasis on counterpoint and more on vertical sonorities. Its three movements follow the traditional fast – slow – fast form.’ The central Pastoral evokes ‘the warmth and stillness of a long hot summer afternoon… with a more agitated and dance like central section’. The final movement comprises a set of variations, based on the main theme of the work.

One of the most famous and recorded of pianists in the world today, Howard Shelley receives unanimous critical acclaim for his many recordings, whether on Chandos or other labels. Like the conductor, Martyn Brabbins, he has championed much rarely performed repertoire, this disc being only his his latest example.

“Shelley proves a marvellously stylish, involving exponent and is backed to the hilt by Brabbins and the BBC NOW. Chandos's sound and balance, too, are beyond reproach.” Gramophone Magazine, August 2010

“The admirable soloist Howard Shelley...seems utterly attuned to the whole work, both to its percussive aspects and to its delicate filigree writing.” International Record Review, July/August 2010

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Dohnányi - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Dohnányi - Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2


Dohnányi:

Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 5

Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 42


Ernst von Dohnanyi was for many years a little known and unjustly neglected composer. Chandos' series of recordings of works performed by Matthias Bamert and the BBC Philharmonic significantly increased his profile, and are regarded as best examples of this repertoire.

2010 marks the fifth anniversary of Dohnanyi’s death. To commemorate this anniversary, Chandos has packaged the two Piano Concertos on one album, released on the Classics label.

Fifty years separate Dohnányi’s Piano Concerto No. 1 from his Piano Concerto No. 2. Dohnányi's Piano Concerto No. 1, completed when he was just twenty-one, won the prestigious Bösendorfer Prize. Piano Concerto No.2 is a thoroughly engaging work and notable for being perhaps the last substantial piano concerto written in the grand Romantic tradition.

The irrepressible Howard Shelley performs these virtuosic concertos.

Reviews on original release:

‘Howard Shelley brings breadth and bravura to the Piano Concerto No.2’ The Daily Telegraph

‘Howard Shelley is as elegant and professional as you might expect.’ Gramophone

“Too rarely heard concertos...for Shelley, it's an utterly jaw-dropping tour de force.” BBC Music Magazine, October 2010 *****

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Chandos Classics Dohnányi: Orchestral Works - CHAN10599X

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Grieg, Schumann & Saint-Saëns - Piano Concertos

Grieg, Schumann & Saint-Saëns - Piano Concertos


Grieg:

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16

Saint-Saëns:

Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22

Schumann:

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54


Howard Shelley (piano and conductor)

Orchestra of Opera North

Recently awarded an OBE for his service to music, March’s Disc of the Month sees Howard Shelley conduct the Opera North Orchestra from the piano.

In this latest recording Howard Shelley turns his attention to three popular works of the piano repertoire: Robert Schumann’s only completed Piano Concerto, Grieg’s single Piano Concerto and Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor. This authorative disc sheds new light on these well-loved works and is the first time all three piano concertos have been made available on one disc.

Shelley explains the reasons behind the new elucidations. ‘Ever since I first fell in love with the Schumann Piano Concerto in my early teens, I have been intrigued and slightly puzzled by the tradition of slowing the fourth bar of the Allegro affettuoso first movement to what is effectively no more than an Andante, even though there is no indication of any tempo shift in the score. A metronome marking of 84 to the minim, taken from Schumann’s manuscript, is given in almost all editions of this work, reducing only to 72 to the dotted minim for the central Andante expressivo section. These are extraordinarily fast basic tempos. There are similar issues in the second movement of the Schumann – a surprisingly fast metronome mark, suggesting perhaps a lighter lyricism than we are sometimes used to, especially in the big cello melody - and also in the first movement of the Saint-Seans Second Conceto, which is often taken at about half its marked speed. As for the Grieg Concerto, we are fortunate to have Percy Grainger’s very informative and detailed notes on this piece as he discussed it with the composer. Elsewhere he points out that Grieg’s tempos were generally faster than when others played the piece. These are some of the considerations which have led to the interpretations on this recording. Directing a highly responsive orchestra from the keyboard has also allowed me great freedom in realising my ideas.’

“These are intimate performances, an effect no doubt enhanced by the fact that Shelley directs from the piano. Intimately but also sharply characterised. And when virtuosity is required, Shelley provides it in spades. Technically, the Saint-Saëns is an ideal vehicle for Shelley's fingery kind of pianism and he is exceptional in the Allegro scherzando, the movement that our-Mendelssohns Mendelssohn.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2009

“…a modern version of Schumann's Piano Concerto that actually sounds like Schumann. Howard Shelley's performance is refreshingly free from empty showmanship or narcissistic 'pianism'. The Grieg and Saint-Saëns concertos are also full of lovely things, especially the slow movement coda for the Grieg - this music can touch without being the slightest bit sentimental or oversweet.” BBC Music Magazine, July 2009 *****

“What a good idea to add to that favourite among LP couplings Saint-Saëns's most Bachian concerto, No 2. And the pleasure doesn't stop there.
Howard Shelley is one of those musicians who quietly goes about his pianistic (and now conductorly) business without grabbing the limelight except for the odd award, but who is consistently impressive, unfailingly musical and only goes into the studio when he has something to say about a work. That is certainly the case here.
It's a particular delight to hear a reading odf the Schumann as fleet and joyous as this one.
These are intimate performances, an effect no doubt enhanced by the fact that Shelley directs from the piano. Intimate but also sharply characterised.
And when virtuosity is required, Shelley provides it in spades. Take the finale of the Schumann: textures are wonderfully transparent, the dotted rhythms are perky and precise, and there are plenty of striking colours from the orchestra (which throughout the disc proves itself a fine ensemble, with some particularly outstanding wind-players).
Shelley is just as persuasive in the Grieg, coaxing from the orchestra a real sense of narrative, some lovely oboe-playing and allowing the big tunes due space but never over-indulging them.
The concerto's irresistible yearning quality is well caught too, particularly in the central movement, where he is almost a match for Lipatti. Again, tempi are generally fleet, and Shelley pays attention both to the marcato marking of the finale and its folk tinges without overstatement. These are certainly performances to put alongside the classics.
Technically, the Saint-Saëns is an ideal vehicle for Shelley's fingery kind of pianism and he is exceptional in the Allegro scherzando, the movement that out-Mendelssohns Mendelssohn.
Again, the orchestra is utterly focused. The recorded quality here, as elsewhere, is exemplary.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Outstanding performances” Classic FM Magazine, February 2012

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