Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

Geraldine Mucha: Macbeth (ArcoDiva) Late in the Second World War, a Scottish girl in London fell in love with a Czech journalist. Geraldine Mucha was a rising talent at the Royal Academy of Music. Jiri Mucha was the son of a world-renowned artist, the man who had remade the fin-de-siecle image of Sarah Bernhardt in a style as unmistakable and widely imitated as Gustav Klimt’s. Newly married, the Muchas returned in autumn 1945 to Prague where, with Rafael Kubelik, they organised the first Prague Spring Festival. When the Communists seized power, Jiri was arrested as an enemy of the people…

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William Sterndale Bennett: piano concertos (Hyperion) In half a century of listening to music, I have never attended a work by the foremost English composer of the Victorian era, a man who lived and died a few streets from my London house. Bennett (1816-1875) was acclaimed in his teens as the next Mendelssohn for a D minor piano concerto that Mendelssohn himself, sitting in the audience, found promising. Two more concertos followed before the lad was twenty, the third being praised in Leipzig by no less a contender than Robert Schumann. Bennett, on the strength of these successes, became the…

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Fanny Hensel, ‘the other Mendelssohn’: Complete Songs (Champs Hill) I’m uncomfortable with the album title. Rather than being ‘the other Mendelssohn’, Fanny was the heart of the Mendelssohn family and a fine composer in her own right – despite patriarchal suppression by her father and angry resentment from her brother, Felix. Fanny, married to a Berlin artist, kept her works in a drawer until her late 30s, when she went out and got them published, to Felix’s amazement and grudging admiration. Sadly, there was little time for her to enjoy the reviews. Fanny died of a stroke at 41 and…

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Fridrich Bruk: Symphonies 17 and 18 (Toccata) Some 15 years ago I was asked by one of the London orchestras to curate a series titled Other Russia, looking at the composers who fell or were pushed off the wayside under the Soviet Union. We were going to focus on the likes of Karamanov, Kancheli, Knaifel, Roslavets, Tishchenko, Ustvolskaya, Firsova and more. The scheme hit a brick wall when prominent conductors balked at unfamiliar repertoire and the orchestra feared a box-office frost, but it was a worthwhile exercise and one that some braver spirits should still take up. Among the names…

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Deux (Alpha-Classics) I can’t remember when I last heard a violin-piano recital that was as ingenious and exhilarating as this. On the sleeve, the Franco-Hungarian programme looks a bit odd – the Poulenc sonata written for Ginette Neveu in 1943, a Dohnanyi setting of a waltz from Delibes’ Coppélia, the full-on Bartok sonata of 1922 and Ravel’s Tzigane to close. What do these pieces have in common? Check this: On April 8, 1922, Bela Bartok gave a recital in Paris with his compatriot Jelly d’Aranyi. Ravel was the page turner for Bartok and Poulenc for d’Aranyi. In the audience were…

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The Mirror with Three Faces Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2. Lera Auerbach: Piano Trios No. 1 and No. 2. Delta Piano Trio. Odradek Records ODRCD350. Total Time: 63:40. The Delta Piano Trio call their new disc The Mirror with Three Faces. Their account of Shostakovich’s second piano trio, dated 1944, leaves no doubt as to the composer’s state of mind in the closing stages of World War II. Ostensibly a tribute to a late friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, the work ripples with anger and frustration at pointless deaths and ruined lives – the appalling legacy of the Stalin-Hitler era. The last…

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Stravinsky: Chant Funèbre, Fireworks, Scherzo fantastique, Le Faune et la Bergère, The Rite of Spring. Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Riccardo Chailly, conductor. Sophie Koch, mezzo. Decca 028948325627. Total Time: 70:35. This premiere release of a lost Stravinsky has a fabulous back story. In 1908 the young Igor, unknown and in his mid-20s, wrote a funeral ode for his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The music was played at Rimsky’s obsequies and then apparently lost, until the parts turned up in 2015 in a St. Petersburg archive. Valery Gergiev won the rights to give the first modern performance, while Decca won the recording rights.…

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Haydn: Symphonies No. 26 and No. 86. Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3. Handel and Haydn Society. Harry Christophers, conductor. Aisslinn Nosky, violin. Coro COR 16158. Total Time: 69:15. The British conductor Harry Christophers has his own record label, Coro, which turns out a stream of fine performances, mostly with his own group The Sixteen. This release, however, is with Christophers’ other group, the venerable Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, America’s oldest performing arts organization. It presents two Haydn works written 20 years apart with Mozart’s G Major Violin Concerto sandwiched in between. It shows Haydn looking both to past…

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Woefully Arrayed : Sacred & Secular Choral & Polychoral Works Jonathan David Little, Navona Records NV6113 Woefully Arrayed by the Australian-born composer Jonathan David Little is dedicated to choral music. Recorded for the most part in churches in 2016, the six pieces have been performed by various ensembles, including Vox Futura, the Thomas Tallis Society Choir and The Stanbery Singers. As the title suggests, Little’s musical manner is in line with such Renaissance polyphonic composers as Palestrina and Josquin des Prés. However, Little does not just imitate the language of his predecessors. If he accepts the formal general characteristics, such as contrapuntal…

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Subduction Julie Thériault, Audiogramme 19075801072 Inspired by geology, the pianist, composer and arranger Julie Thériault last November launched her second album, Subduction. This term refers to the slow and inexorable movement of two overlapping tectonic plates. Seemingly benign, these underground movements can have dramatic effects at the surface. The metaphor is quite appropriate to describe Thériault’s music: the 11 pieces unfold and follow each other slowly and steadily, gradually increasing in dramatic intensity before reaching the cataclysmic paroxysm of the last track, Magma. Thériault’s delicate and serious articulation introduces the main melodies as accompanying instruments appear, thickening the sound as…

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