Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

The conductor Hans von Bülow once described Mendelssohn’s music as ‘something to be got over in childhood, like measles’. I feel the same way about much of Mozart and listen to very little, making an exception now and then only when I have a particular purpose to study a piece – in this case, the Jupiter Symphony, Mozart’s last. It so happened that a Pentatone CD with the NDR Radiophilharmonie landed just as I was reaching up the shelf for the unassailable Abbado/LSO on DG and its arrival proved more than just instructive. The Hannover radio orchestra, not always the…

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Ever bought a record just for the opening track? You’d be sorely tempted by this offering from the Gothenburg Symphony and Herbert Blomstedt, a pairing of the second symphony by a pal of Sibelius’s with his orchestral serenade. Swedes regard Stenhammar’s 2nd, dated 1914, as their best symphony after Sibelius and some have argued the case with me alcoholically far into the unbroken winter’s night. I am not persuaded. Stenhammar might have enjoyed a drink or few with Sibelius but the most he got out of these sessions was an imitative gift and a blinding hangover. The first movement of that…

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There are so many misnomers about Ms Clarke that it’s worth taking a sentence or two to put them straight. Clarke (1886-1979) is widely regarded as one of the first English women composers. But her father was an American photographic executive, her mother was German and as soon as she reached 30 Clarke sailed off to the US to spend the better part of her life over there, playing mostly English music in a trio. Her own music is English in rather dated sense of the term, heavily reliant on folk music and simple modulations. Her viola sonata is not…

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To end the year, up pops a Mozart with five stars written all over it. As a matter of course, I do not listen to new Mozart piano releases. There is such an abundance of unsurpassed recordings on my shelves – Ashkenazy, Brendel, Gilels, Haskil, Kempff, Richter – who could ask for anything more? But I slipped on this latest offering as an early-morning tune-up and, before I knew it, I was I heaven. I am sure the good folk at DG had a go at Seong-Jin Cho not to risk Mozart at this stage, but the Chopin competition winner…

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As the year nears its end a pile of albums stares at me pleading for attention. So I dig in a find some that I cannot allow to pass unnoticed. The Alagna-Kurzak recording of Massenet’s rarely-heard La Navarraise (Warner ****). Sumptuous singing and gorgeous sound, recorded in New York wth a pick-up ensemble that sounds like it can play anything sight unseen. If you wanted to hear Bach on the piano, would you go to Iceland? Seriously? And played by the winner of the Iceland Optimism Prize? Vikingur Olafsson is altogether unexpected. His compilation of pieces by Bach, interleaved with…

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We do this so you don’t have to. The flow of Christmas albums has slimmed in recent years but there is still a belief in the music industry that nothing sells at Christmas like an opera singer. Is that still true? I sampled Bryne Terfel’s DG Santa sock which includes duets with Katherine Jenkins and Emma Thompson. Need I say more? I dipped into Renée Fleming’s Broadway disc on Decca and quickly dipped out again. I attended with sadness to the great John Tomlinson’s Schubert Swansong on Signum. And then I heard Nadine Sierra’s debut album and all was light…

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Ever wonder what Henryk Mikolaj Górecki did before he hit the jackpot with that million-selling third symphony? The sage of Katowice never stuck to any doctrine or style, allowing himself to develop from modernism to minimalism and all points between. His first string quartet, commissioned by Kronos in 1988, is titled ‘Already it is dusk’ and appears to lament the dying day in meditative fragments, as if to suggest that nothing is ever finished. The second quartet, written three years later, bears the title ‘Quasi una fantasia’ and emerges slowly, hypnotically, from the simplest of themes. In between the two,…

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Here’s cause for thanksgiving. The Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine has filled an album with music by Black American composers, most of them shamefully little-known. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, for instance, no relation to the British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, but named after him at birth. C-T’s set of blues for solo violin strikes me as having a dual purpose of being truly enjoyable for the listener and perfect warm-up riffs for the player if Bach is too cold to start with on a winter’s morning. William Grant Still is the most familiar name here, probably because he was a cause celebre after…

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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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