Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

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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Don’t look away just because the composer’s name is unfamiliar and has too many syllables. Kaprálová (1915-1940) is a vital link in Czech music, her death at 25 the closure of a century of genius. Daughter of a Leoš Janáček student and herself the secret lover of Bohuslav Martinů, Kaprálová flowered in France and Britain in the last years before the Second World War. In addition to composing she was an active conductor, the first woman to raise a baton on BBC television – unscreened, in an experimental studio – and she was widely praised at a London international festival…

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I hope this is not Renée Fleming’s final record. The American soprano, in her late 50s, is closing her stage career with the voice unblemished and the memories fond. It would be a pity if her legacy on Decca was to be concluded by this album, which plays to all her weaknesses. Samuel Barber’s lyric rhapsody Knoxville: Summer of 2015 requires a rich soprano voice and a capacity to articulate James Agee’s achingly nostalgic English text. Ms Fleming has the first quality. Pronouncing the words has never been her forte. The best ears will strain here to catch more than…

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Bernstein’s three symphonies have not enjoyed much exposure on record. Aside from the Sony and DG releases conducted by the composer, my database calls up only three other versions – Leonard Slatkin at the BBC, James Judd in New Zealand and an LA Phil DG download conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. While the composer’s edition must be considered in some sense definitive, his take on the two works has failed to ignite the public imagination. What catches my ear about Marin Alsop’s new recording with the Baltimore Symphony is how strikingly it diverges from her master’s voice. In the Jeremiah symphony,…

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When I first started writing about Weinberg quarter of a century ago, there was no consistent western spelling of his surname (mostly printed Vainberg) and his first name was given as Moisei (pronounced Moshe), consistent with Soviet policy of identifying racial minorities. As for the music, it was unknown beyond the Soviet bloc, where it was more familiar to musicians in private performances than it was to public audiences. Today, thanks largely to proselytism by Gidon Kremer and his friends, Weinberg is no longer obscure but a musical giant, waiting to be discovered. The musician closest to Shostakovich – each…

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