Browsing: CD and Book Reviews

Mstislav Rostropovich commissioned more than 100 works for his instrument and performed some of them more than once. Aside from the two Shostakovich concertos and the symphony-concerto by Prokofiev, only the Britten Cello Symphony and the concertos by Lutoslawki and Dutilleux get heard much these days. The latter pair are performed by Johannes Moser on a new Pentatone release and the gulf in quality between them is striking. Lutoslawski opens with several minutes of cello meditation, as if he has bought the complete TM package or forgotten he booked an orchestra. The concerto does not get much more communicative, dickering…

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Another themed album, but for once a timely theme. Ian Bostridge has chosen sets by two composers who fell in the First World War and two who knew the terror of war without having experienced it. George Butterworth’s setting of A. E. Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad captures at once the timelessness of English landscape and the hopelessness of young men in the trenches. Bostridge wrenches the heart with his falsetto lines in ‘Is my team ploughing?’, the appeal of a fallen soldier. Butterworth fell on the Somme to a sniper’s bullet in August 1916. Rudi Stephan was 28 when he…

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The trouble with international competitions – apart from widespread jury corruption, too many events and an uneven entry level – is that they are under pressure to produce winners.  Common sense will tell you that there can’t be that many geniuses in the world for two dozen major contests to find them year in, year out, and commonsense is right. But competition audiences demand a clear result and contestants need to be assured that they have not entered for nothing. So, year in, year out, every competition must give prizes. Eric Lu, 20 years old, won the Leeds International Competition…

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On the strength of last year’s production of Nicandro e Fileno by Le Nouvel Opéra and Les Boréades, ATMA Classics has now released this Italian pastoral opera, never issued on record before. Composed by Paolo Lorenzani to a libretto by Phillipe-Julien Mancini, Duke of Nevers, the opera was premiered in September 1681 at the Château de Fontainebleau, a retreat occasionally used by Louis XIV and his loyal subjects. For its time, the Italian style of the work was quite subversive. So much so that the king’s personal secretary Lully forbade its use. And if that weren’t enough, the subject matter…

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In an avalanche of theme albums – it’s what record execs dream up these days instead of fresh talent – the Canadian diva’s release feels like she really means it. Not the cover picture, which shows her snogging some bloke in the woods, but the content, which embraces songs by Schoenberg, Webern, Zemlinsky, Berg and Hugo Wolf, with one politically correct aberration whom we’ll come to in a moment. Four early songs by Schoenberg, opus 2, are so close to Mahler they feel sentimental to the point of self-indulgence. Webern’s plinks are saved from the nuthouse by Reinbert de Leeuw’s…

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There was a year or so when it was touch and go whether Gianandrea Noseda or Simon Rattle was going to be the next music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. In the end the LSO got the best of both worlds, with Rattle as #1 and Noseda, now in Washington DC,  flying in three or four times a year with hair-raising performances. This account of Shostakovich 8, which I regret having missed in April, is one of the most pungent and idiomatic on record. Noseda, who cut his baton as house conductor at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg, is…

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I struggle to describe my joy at hearing two unknown works by Berthold Goldschmidt, a brilliant composer who fled to London in 1935 and lived in obscurity until a late burst of recognition in the 1980s. I saw a lot of Berthold in his final decade, when he was flying around the world for performances and I remember how he wore acclaim with the same wry modesty as he had endured oblivion. The Comedy of Errors overture is a piano trio he composed for his parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, before turning it into an orchestral prelude. At the 1928 premiere…

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Three composers are involved in this first co-production between Analekta and the Azrieli Music Prizes: Brian Current and Wlad Marhulets, winners of the 2016 Azrieli Commissioning Competition and Azrieli Prize in Jewish Music, respectively, and the American Lukas Foss. The Czech National Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Steven Mercurio, the choir by Miriam Nmcová. Soloists are soprano Sharon Azrieli, clarinetist David Krakauer and tenor Richard Troxell. In The Seven Heavenly Halls, Current offers his musical vision of the Zohar, the fundamental text of the Kabbalah. Tension in the orchestra, a tumult of voices, mystical flights of fancy and dense textures…

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Jan Ladislav Dussek could have been a contender if only Mozart had been born somewhere else and at another time. Dussek (1760 to 1812) has the wrong dates and the wrong skill sets. Two bars into every movement he picks a note that you know Mozart would have declined for a better choice and, while Dussek may recover quickly and deliver a passage that could pass for Clementi at his best, your ear is already tensed for the next false turn. Of the three concertos on offer here, two are contemporaneous with late Mozart in 1787 and 1791 yet have…

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Chansons d’amour d’Acadie et de France – Chœur Louisbourg, dir. Monique Richard ; Skye Consort This album offers a happy musical reflection of publications of recent decades. The Acadian folk songs are from compilations published in 1988 and 1996. Musical style range from the languor of Écrivez-moi to the light touch of Moine Simon. The Louisbourg Choir, directed by Monique Richard, lends rich tone and consistency to these songs, whose harmonies have been carefully chosen to give them a traditional sound, complemented by the instruments of the Skye Consort: recorder, chalumeau, rauschpfeife, cittern, violin, nyckelharpa and cello. Jacotin Le Bel’s songs complement a…

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