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 Recording of the Week  Robin Ticciati and Brahms' Choral Works

Last week I extolled the virtues of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Mozart performances under their Conductor Laureate, Sir Charles Mackerras. Well this week I’d like to tell you a bit about their new Principal Conductor, Robin Ticciati, who has just made a fabulous recording of Brahms’ choral works with the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Bamberger Symphoniker (an orchestra with whom he will also be principal guest conductor from the autumn).

Aged just 27, Ticciati’s rapid rise in the classical music world has been remarkable. As a teenage timpanist and violinist in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, his conducting skills were spotted by Sir Simon Rattle, and since then both he and Sir Colin Davis have taken active roles in Ticciati's musical development. Equally comfortable with opera as he is with orchestras, Ticciati is the youngest to have ever conducted at the Salzburg Festival and at La Scala and last summer made his New York debut.

Robin Ticciati
Robin Ticciati

I’ve read a few commentators who have compared him to Gustavo Dudamel – both very young but already with impressive résumés, powerful supporters, boyish looks and even dark curly hair, but while Dudamel clearly has remarkable communication and inspirational gifts, and is clearly well suited to the intense media attention marketing people love to direct at him, Ticciati seems much quieter and thoughtful. Their repertoire is quite different as well, as while Dudamel seems to prefer the high-octane symphonies of Mahler and Shostakovich, Ticciati seems to prefer late romantic and classical repertoire, which in my view is actually much harder to make a really strong impression with, especially when you’re still very young. Ticciati’s comments to the Los Angeles Times last week about what qualities make a good conductor are also encouraging to read in that he clearly has his head firmly sewn on:

"The only thing that makes one a good conductor is if the notes are in your body, they're in your soul... The thing we mustn't forget is that music is hard. I'm convinced of this."

Anyway, back to the new Brahms disc I mentioned at the outset. When you think of Brahms’ choral works, the German Requiem is such a towering musical achievement that I sometimes think that his other compositions suffer by comparison, particularly as all being about 15 minutes long they’re more difficult to programme in concerts. Just like the Requiem though they all contain some absolutely sublime music. This disc contains four of Brahms’ choral works, the most famous undoubtedly being the Alto Rhapsody, in which soloist Alice Coote sings beautifully and with a lovely honeyed voice. The other three - Nänie; Gesang der Parzen and Schicksalslied - all reveal Ticciati’s impressive ear for style, detail and musical shape.

These performances are wonderfully alive and dramatically sensitive, but I’d say the most impressive aspect of Ticciati’s conducting (especially at such a young age) is his control and restraint. He keeps complete control over the dynamics, and there is some wonderful and magical quiet singing and playing. The music is overwhelming only because of its beauty and power, never volume alone, which sets this recording apart from many others. The Bamberg orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Choir know this music backwards, and there is a wonderful Brahmsian glow throughout. I can’t give you a whole movement to listen to as they’re all too long, so instead I’ve opted for the opening four or five minutes of the Schicksalslied with its wonderful subdued opening and long flowing themes (and also my personal favourite amongst them). Enjoy!

Brahms: Choral Works

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Chor de Bayerischen Rundfunks & Bamberger Symphoniker, Robin Ticciati

“Ticciati's performances are wonderfully alive and dramatically sensitive...while the Bamberg orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Choir have this music in their bones.” The Guardian, 25th February 2010 ****

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC