Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

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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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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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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A critic’s dilemma. The cellist Steven Isserlis is a pal. He lives around the corner and we bump into each other at local amenities. He knows I have received his latest release for review. He will be disappointed if I ignore it and grumpy if I find fault. To review or not to review? If I ruled out reviewing friends I’d have to turn down half the record output. By the same token, if I mentioned a friendship every time I reviewed, readers would switch off. So what to do? I made a rule a while back that I would…

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Amid the excitement over a rediscovered rehearsal tape of the composer playing Symphonic Dances, there arrives a new account of two concertos with Rachmaninov’s favourite orchestra and the living pianist who most resembles him. Deutsche Grammophon has titled the album Destination Rachmaninov. Departure and furnished the cover with a portrait of the soloist, Daniil Trifonov, sitting in the kind of railway compartment that went out with shellac records. Do not be distracted by these marketing tricks. Trifonov opens with C minor concerto with quiet authority, each chord darker than the one before, Rachmaninov at his most morose. If this concerto had a…

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Camille Saint-Saens was the first Frenchman to compose piano concertos. Of the five that he wrote between 1858 and 1886, only the second gets much play and one hears few claims that the rest are scandalously neglected. Some connoisseurs consider the fourth his best. Most agree that the fifth, a pastiche of tunes supposedly sung by Egyptian boatmen at Luxor, falls somewhere between embarrassing and irredeemable. The Canadian pianist Louis Lortie and the young Frenchman Bertrand Chamayou have kicked off cycles of the concertos on their respective labels. Lortie, vastly experienced, plays 1, 2 and 4 on his release, never…

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The one thing that keeps me from awarding this album the full five stars is that it is upside down. It opens with a perfectly decent performance of Bela Bartok’s first violin concerto by the Norwegian virtuoso Vilde Frang, with the Radio France philharmonic orchestra conducted by Mikko Franck. Frang, who is 32, has been performing since she was ten years old. Everything she does is perfectly lovely and agreeable. The first Bartok concerto, a youthful effusion of innocent love, is not going to change our lives. The octet, on the other hand, might. George Enescu was one of the great…

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