Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

Do not be put off by the cover, which shows two Victorians of different gender having a pre-Raphaelite snog. What they look like post-Raphael is left to the imagination, as is any thematic connection between Gilbert Baldry’s The Kiss and a set of Schumann pieces that evoke male friendships. Not long ago, record companies employed picture researchers and their covers bore some relevance to the music inside. These days, the images seem to be picked by a computer linked to the Amazon sales chart. Do not be put off either by the coupling of Schumann with a record newbie whose…

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Never a big Easter bunny, I generally receive the springtime festival releases with the same excitement as I’d feel about a Placido Domingo Christmas record. What comes round, comes round. This one, however, is pure class. The international Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak opens with a Litany to the Virgin Mary that is slow, devout, soulful and twenty shades lighter than one might expect from a Polish Catholic ritual. Kurzak has never sounded sweeter or more comfortable on record. The little-known Litany is followed by the more familiar Stabat Mater and capped with Szymanowski’s third symphony, the ‘Song of the Night’…

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It’s raining Rachmaninov concertos and I’m not sure the roof can take any more. The past couple of weeks have brought Vanessa Benelli Mosell on Decca, Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion and now the exuberant Khatia Buniatishvili on Sony. Benelli and Hamelin both play with London orchestras, neither sounding on peak form. Khatia is seriously challenged by the Czech Philharmonic, who are in terrific shape under Paavo Järvi’s baton. Benelli’s pairing for the C minor concerto is the Corelli Variations, which she does rather well. Hamelin matches the D minor concerto with Nikolai Medtner’s long-neglected second concerto, a curiosity that falls…

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The Barbican’s season opener last September was one of the great Requiems of my life. The London Symphony Orchestra had a spring in their step as they came on stage, the chorus had been seriously souped up by director Simon Halsey and the conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, waited at least half a minute until complete silence prevailed before he began. And silent it stayed. I have seldom sat among a more rapt London audience, not a cough in eighty minutes. Every individual in the orchestra displayed ferocious concentration. And, best of all, the quartet of soloists – Erika Grimaldi, Daniela Barcellona,…

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Hard to know whether to give this confection one star or five. The dominant voice is the mandolin of Chris Thile, an instrument probably unknown to J S Bach who never wrote for it, but used often in modern transcriptions of his works. It sits more comfortably in a Bach score than, say, a tenor sax, but that does not make it remotely authentic. The other instruments at play here are a cello and double bass. What hits the ear from the off are clever, virtuosic trio adaptations of anything from a solo keyboard fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier to…

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This is one of those treasurable major-label releases, made with the best of intentions, in which everything turns out wrong. Mahler wrote The Song of the Earth for high tenor and alto, singing alternate movements. It can also be sung by tenor and baritone if no alto sounds right. The chief requirement is a tenor who needs to sing high and very loud – a Siegfried kind of voice that can surmount the force of full orchestra. This is as much a competition for two soloists and orchestra as a composition. Jonas Kaufmann tells us he has loved the work…

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In the Hollywood walk of composing fame, Hanns Eisler is the forgotten man. Erich Korngold was the founding father, Waxman and Newman the busy bees, Rosza and Herrmann the atmosphere merchants. Eisler, who wrote the first book on composing for film and treated the craft as an art in its own right, is all but pushed off the sidewalk. A Hitler refugee, Eisler landed in New York in 1938, taught for three years at the New School, then moved to Los Angeles to work with Bertolt Brecht. In 1948, he was forced to leave the US during Senator McCarthy’s witch-hunt,…

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In half a century of listening to records, I cannot recall ever hearing music by the noted French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. Revered by a stream of American (Copland, Harris, Carter, Glass) and British (Berkeley, Musgrave, Maw) pupils, the formidable Mademoiselle deferred to the music of her short-lived sister Lily and barely spoke of herself as a composer. Two releases, newly landed, may help to adjust that misperception. On Delos, an outpouring of early songs betray an uncritical adoration of Debussy, with touches of Saint-Saëns, Franck and a hint of the Russians. Nicole Cabell, Alek Shrader and Edwin Crossley-Mercer make the…

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Try as I might, I can’t stop listening to these late works of a Russian composer who was close to Shostakovich but never tried, as others did, to imitate him. The eighth symphony, written in 2008 when Tishchenko was mortally ill, draws the ear into an eerie landscape of ghosts, trolls and spooks, weird and possibly political. The composer thought it might make a good companion piece to Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony. He was right: it would. But where is the conductor or orchestra manager that dares to do such a thing in timid 2017? Unlike Schubert, there are expressions here…

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The unique selling point of this release is what appears to be the first recording of Bartók’s piano quartet in C minor, an unpublished work that the composer began in high school in 1898 and his publishers somehow forgot. The gushing sleeve note says nothing about where this work was found, or what state it was in. We have to judge from the performance why Bartók and his publishers considered it unworthy of inclusion in his mature output. The reason, by my best guess, is lack of originality. The Allegro and Scherzo sound like warmed-over Brahms, while the Adagio could…

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