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David's Review Corner - February 2006


HANDEL: Rinaldo. Marion Newman (Goffredo), Laura Whalen (Almirena), Kimberly Barber (Rinaldo), Jennifer Enns Modolo (Eustazio), Sean Watson (Argante), Barbara Hannigan (Armida), The Aradia Ensemble, Kevin Mallon (conductor). Naxos 8.660165-67. (3 CDs). (179' 46").

Even in today's age of 'pop' superstars London could hardly be more awash with excitement than that generated by the arrival of Handel in the Autumn of 1710, inflamed by rumours that he might be tempted to remain in the city. He had probably already been commissioned to write an opera for the King's Theatre in Haymarket before his arrival, for he soon set to work on Rinaldo, a visual spectacular. Ever commercial, he reduced the amount of work necessary by including much he had written for previous works, relying on the expectation that no one in London would ever have seen his previous operas and would not guess they were being sold short. The opera was ready in two weeks and cast so as to put Haymarket's available singers to their best use. Today the story is preposterous, but at the time women born away on black clouds and trips to enchanted palaces was quite acceptable and made for the great display Handel had intended. Basically a love story with a happy ending, the 'bad' people finding pardon and salvation by turning to Christianity. Over the years Handel made many changes to the score, mainly to take account of the singers and instrumentalists available in performing locations. I am not about to delve deeply into which version is here used by Kevin Malone, save only to say that as male castratos are now singularly in short supply, those original parts are sung by females rather than the oft substituted counter-tenors used in Decca's highly regarded recording. At face value this new recording sounds authentic Handelian, the singing of very good quality, with my attention particularly drawn to Laura Whelan's superb Almirena, her second act aria, Lascis ch'io piango, being the jewel in the performance. Kimberly Barber's Rinaldo is reliable and nicely focused; Jennifer Enns Modlo a warm voiced Eustazio, while Sean Watson offers a more pleasing Argante than the character deserves. Nice playing throughout by the period instrument group, Mallon adding percussion to reflect the mass of stage effects used in the first performance. Sound quality is all we could wish for and at this price it is an ideal way to experience a seldom-staged work.

HARTY: Piano Concerto. A Comedy Overture. Fantasy Scenes (from An Eastern Romance). Peter Donohoe (piano), Ulster Orchestra, Takuo Yuasa (conductor). Naxos 8.557731. (55' 09").

Hamilton Harty spent almost his entire working life in England, but his soul belonged to his native Ireland, a fact reflected in much of his music. Composing was no more than a 'spare time' part of his busy life as one of the great conductors of his era and a tireless champion of new music. He gave countless UK premieres, including Mahler's Ninth Symphony, yet that forward looking mind was not reflected in his own music that was steeped in tradition and heavily laced with Irish folk music. That Harty could move outside of this Irish mode comes in the four scenes from An Eastern Romance, its roots in the exotic world we normally associate with Russian music. The happy opening Laughing Juggler is followed by a seductive Dancer's Reverie, the score ending with the scene In a Slave Market. The disc opens with the bright and breezy Comedy Overture, a work that in 1907 brought the composer his first public acclaim, the ends with Peter Donohoe taking a new look at the Piano Concerto. Dating from 1922 it has enjoyed some international success, the easy tunefulness and lightweight attractiveness readily making new friends. There have been previous recordings but none to equal this, Donohoe toying with tempos and rhythms, the music becoming Saint-Saens seen through Irish eyes, with a frothy opening and a flood of virtuosity to the happy finale. Superbly supported by the Ulster Orchestra, the playing throughout showing they are in superb form, with many exquisite woodwind solos. The sound has plenty of reverberation that well suits the music. An absolute winner and a top of the list 'must have' for all Anglophiles.

ALWYN: Symphony No. 4. Sinfonietta for String Orchestra. Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, David Lloyd-Jones (conductor). Naxos 8.557649. (55' 03").

I wish this Alwyn symphony series would never end, and though revisiting old friends runs the danger of being nostalgic, David-Lloyd Jones has proved such a perfect advocate that I am hearing the music afresh. Here in the final disc we have the symphony that many - including myself - regard as the finest of the five. The composer has already placed on disc his thoughts on the music, and I have lived with that performance since its LP days. Lloyd-Jones's approach is different by making the brass more fulsome and rounded, and adding an extra dimension of drama in the opening movement. He sees Walton in the scherzo (an ideal sampling point being track 2), and Malcolm Arnold in the finale, particularly in the way he brings a sugar and cream feel to the string passages. In total it is a wonderful account that continues with the seldom heard Sinfonietta, a late work from 1970, the Adagio second movement using Elgar as its starting point, but ending with an explosive third movement. As I have remarked in previous releases, the RLPO is currently in the European super league, secure in every department and well able to bring off the big virtuoso passages. The sound here is a distinct improvement on Alwyn's recording of the symphony, the engineers appearing to have used a different microphone placement for the two works, the strings in the Sinfonietta being more forward in perspective. This cycle is another major Naxos triumph and offers at a price that we can afford symphonies from an important 20th century composer. Please buy it.

LINDE: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 18. Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 29. Karen Gomyo (violin), Maria Kliegel (cello), Gavle Symphony Orchestra, Petter Sundkvist (conductor). Naxos 8.557855. (56' 18").

I have never understood the neglect of the Swedish composer, Bo Linde, whose early death at the age of 37 robbed us of music that is modern yet so readily attractive. Born in Gavle in 1933, his major studies were with Lars-Erik Larsson in Stockholm. He remained there for three years teaching music before returning to his native city, dividing his time between music journalism and composition. Working in the world of tonality and a rich tapestry of colours, his best-known score, the Violin Concerto was completed in 1957. The strong and often dramatic violin writing of the opening movement, with a massive cadenza, is set within a peppery orchestral accompaniment. A change of mood finds the violin singing ecstatically at the opening of the second movement, its quite jolly central section evaporating as the work ends in peace. It is Elgar who springs to mind in the soloist's opening statement to the finale of the Cello Concerto, a work that came eight years after the violin concerto. Opening with a Moderato and the cello in proactive mood, it embarks on happiness in the scherzo, a virtuoso solo role with a short and mercurial cadenza. Like the violin work, this concerto also ends in peace. Of course audiences do not warm to quiet endings, but you feel that is the only logical conclusion to the shape of each score. It would be difficult to imagine more outgoing, persuasive and technically accomplished soloists both playing as if their lives depended on it. The Gavle orchestra is in the same frame of mind, and with a realistic recording you have a major addition to the catalogue. I eagerly recommend.

MOZART: Sonata No. 35 in A major, K526. Sonata No. 36 in B flat major, K547 Variations on 'La bergere Celimene' in G major, K359/374a. Takako Nishizaki (violin), Benjamin Loeb (piano). Naxos 8.557664. (67' 40").

It is so long ago since the previous volume I had forgotten that Naxos is issuing Mozart's complete mature violin sonatas. Now comes the fifth instalment in time to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth. You may feel a little confused that Naxos's sleeves describe these as numbers 15 and 16 using the system that ignores the composer's early scores in this genre, so my heading gives the numbers used in major disc catalogues. The two sonatas date from around 1787 and are among the compositions towards the end of Mozart's life. He was an accomplished violinist, but here we are well within the scope of an amateur of modest attainments, the piano having the most interesting and challenging part. Indeed their place in the repertoire - together with that of the simple Variations - relies entirely on geniality. Takako Nishizaki is an elegant player of impeccable taste who resists the temptation, as we hear in some other recordings, of inflating the music beyond its modest stature, while Benjamin Loeb musically dances around her in decorative arabesques, his neat and nimble playing proving a constant delight. Recorded balance is very natural.

GUILMANT: Grand Choeur triomphal, Op. 47/2. Caprice Op. 20/3. Allegretto in B minor. Lamentation in D minor. Offertoire sur deux Noels. March on a Theme by Handel. Scherzo Symphonique in C major, Op. 55/2. Noel Languedocien. Finale in D minor. Robert Delcamp (organ). Naxos 8.557614. (70' 24").

It is surprising that a person so important to the history of organ music in France has become sidelined, the record industry showing little appetite for his output. Felix-Alexander Guilmant was born in 1837, his father the leading organist in Boulogne and his son's first teacher. Almost self-taught as a composer, the younger Guilmant was to create, alongside Widor, the big and expansive organ symphonies, described by Guilmant as 'sonatas'. Coming to widespread attention in Paris with the inaugural concert at the organ of Saint-Suplice in 1862, Guilmant was later closely linked with the creation of Cavaille-Coll organs, and thereby helped found the French school of organ playing that we know today. He was highly regarded as a teacher, his pupils included Dupre, Bonnet and Nadia Boulenger. The present disc provides some of his shorter works, from the red-blooded thrill of the opening Grand Chorus, through the charm of the Allegretto to the imposing Finale. Robert Delcamp ideally captures the style of the French Romantic era, greatly helped by a fine Casavant Organ in All Saints' Chapel at the University of the South in Tennessee. I don't have details of its specification, but in the expansive moments it is mighty impressive, yet can sing like a beautiful bird in the happy Caprice. Good sound adds the final ingredient to one of the most enjoyable organ discs I have heard for a long time.

FUKAI: Quatre mouvements parodiques. Chantes de Java. Creation. Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Dmitry Yablonsky (conductor). Naxos 8.557688. (41' 09").

Shiro Fukai, born in Japan in 1907 and dying at the early age of 52, was a disciple of his mentor, Meiro Sugahara, the leading Japanese authority on French music. A long illness that overtook Fukai as a young man further allowed him to become deeply involved in the study of music by Ravel and Stravinsky. He was later to renounce all other influences than the French school, and largely ignored Japanese tradition. It was a move much in line with a large part of music lovers that came from Tokyo's urban intellectuals, and he was eagerly accepted among them. Composing music for the cinema and television provided his major financial career, to which he then added his symphonic output. Quatre parodiques was dedicated to Falla, Stravinsky, Ravel and Roussel, though you need to read the enclosed booklet to fully understand the relationship. In mood it much reflected his cinematic work with some unusual and quirky rhythms. Very different is the noisy music for the ballet, Creation, composed to a detailed scenario that has some influence from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, the score showing Fukai's effective orchestration. My favourite piece is the Chantes de Java, its repetitive thematic material having Ravel's Bolero as its background. He seems particularly at home in seductive oriental sounds, and if you want to sample Fukai's music start here (track 8). The Russian Philharmonic's playing is deeply committed, with some excellent piano playing in Parodiques. I just wish we had been given more than we have, for Fukai is a significant addition to the catalogue.

BAX: Two Russian Tone Pictures. Nocturne (May-Night in the Ukraine). Gopak. What the Minstrel Told Us. Toccata. Legend. In the Night. A Mountain Wood. Mediterranean. The Princess’s Rose Garden (Nocturne). A Hill Tune. Ashley Wass (piano). Naxos 8.557769. (65' 57").

Having given us the sonatas of Arnold Bax, Ashley Wass now turns his attention to the composer's shorter pieces in this third volume of his piano music. Written as a reflection of music by other composers, mainly from the school of French Impressionism they are rather more pleasing than memorable. If you are coming to Bax's piano music do start with Wass's earlier volumes, for here the often gentle pieces were written with an eye on the market for the gifted amateur pianists. There is the delectable Mediterranean, rather better known in its orchestral garb, and the gently lyric, What the minstrel told us. Fortunately we have Wass shaping the music with much affection; the limpid passages perfectly realised. Compared with a disc issued some years ago with Eric Parkin as soloist, Wass does more to give the music a sense of forward momentum, and Naxos's recording quality is also to be preferred.

PLEYEL: String Quartets Op. 2, Nos. 4-6. Enso Quartet. Naxos 8.557497. (58' 38").

The young Enso Quartet complete Ignace Pleyel's opus 2 quartets began with a highly desirable release last December. At that time I spoke at length about the composer, a musician who seemingly turned everything he touched into financial gold. Our earliest detailed knowledge of his life dates from the late 1770's by which time he was turned twenty and on the verge of a life that would see him as a composer, conductor and the most famous maker of pianos. In his lifetime his music was as popular as that of Haydn, his publishing house making his music available throughout Europe and North America, and it was said libraries had more Pleyel available than any other composer. Derived from early Haydn, he had expanded the string quartet's horizon to the point where Beethoven was to take over, as you will hear in the intensely beautiful Adagio of the Fourth Quartet. He also had the ability to compose in a much lighter mood as we hear in the Sixth Quartet where the finale is pure joy. I speak of the Enso Quartet in glowing terms, their leader, upon which so much rests, commanding spotless intonation, his many solo passages always shaped with care while retaining a feel of spontaneity. The engineers have balanced the musicians to perfection, and though I would not make any extravagant claims on Pleyel's behalf, it is music that asks you to enjoy it, and it is hard to resist.

AVISON: Six Concertos, Op. 3. Eight Concertos, Op. 4. The Avison Ensemble, Pavlo Beznosiuk (director). Naxos 8.557905-06 (2CDs). (131' 17").

Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the far north of England in 1709, Charles Avison devoted almost all of his working life to music in the city, his presence elevating it to a place of eminence. Described as 'the most important English concerto composer of the 18th century', it must have been the presence of one of the largest organs in the country in St. Nicholas Church that weighed heavily in his decision to stay there. Certainly contemporary reports would show people travelled large distances to hear him play the instrument. As a young man he may have received instruction from Geminiani in London, but otherwise all of his education took place in Newcastle. The orchestral works do, to a degree, reflect an Italian influence, the four-movement layout of the opus 3 concertos becoming more adventurous in opus 4, with experiments in the layout and juxtaposition of fast and slow movements. Both groups of concertos do, however, share a gentle character, the orchestral colours more muted than we would find in the outgoing Italian school, while Avison's affection for Largos does bring a sombre feel to the music. The Avison Ensemble has already given us the opus 6 concertos on Naxos back in July 2004, and again I am deeply impressed by the grace and elegance of the playing. The music is in the safe hands of the period expert and virtuoso violinist, Pavlo Beznosiuk, so I would hesitate to question his choice of tempos, though at times I wanted him to push the fast movements with more urgency. Sample track 14 of the second disc - the finale of the third concerto - for a representative taster, the smooth texture very different to the pungency we hear in many other period groups. Technically everything about the playing is immaculate, the engineers providing transparency throughout the ensemble, though the harpsichord could have done with help.

CLEMENTI: Piano Sonatas in G minor, Op. 34 No. 2; A major, Op. 50 No. 1; E flat major, Op. 41. Tanya Bannister (piano). Naxos 8.557453. (62' 36").

Born in Italy in 1752, Muzio Clementi made his home in England at a time when few composers of merit were living there, and soon found himself in demand as a keyboard exponent and conductor. His growing fame was to take him on extensive tours as a highly acclaimed virtuoso, resulting in a Vienna contest with Mozart in 1781 to settle the issue as to who was the leading performer, an event generally regarded as a Mozart victory. As a composer his success in England was cut short by the triumphant first visit of Haydn, and the emphasis of his career changed to that of the most successful music publishing house and piano making firm. That did allow his large output of piano music widespread circulation included around seventy sonatas written over much of his long life. They were said to have influenced Beethoven, though on the evidence of this disc that would be surprising, Clementi being a skilled practitioner who could write some pretty music, the Adagio from opus 51 being a moment of particular charm. Tanya Bannister takes everything at face value, with that admirable aim of allowing Clementi to speak for himself, though at times I feel he needs help. The music was, of course, written for the fortepiano whose particular tonal quality Bannister does not have with a modern grand. In the taxing moments she shows a good command of the instrument, making light of the technical challenges in the first movement of the A major sonata. Recording quality is very good.

FARNABY: Complete Fantasies for Harpsichord: Fantasias: 6/320; 8/323; 5/82; 4/489; 12/343; 13/347; 9/270. Unidentified part-song, arr. Farnaby 7/333. Canzonet (arr. Wilson) 'Construe my meaning'. Unidentified part-song, arr. Farnaby 11/330. Canzonet (arr. Wilson) 'Witness, ye heavens'. Loth to depart. Glen Wilson (harpsichord). Naxos 8.570025. (58' 30").

Giles Farnaby belonged to a group of English composers writing for the keyboard in the 17th century, his importance gauged by the inclusion of his compositions in the definitive guide of the era, the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. If the date of his birth was 1563, as often assumed, he came late to composition having graduated in 1592. To that point he made his living as a joiner, with the possibility that he was producing virginals, the trade followed by his cousin. What we have of his music is slight, and rests largely on keyboard and sacred pieces for voices. Today his fame mainly resides in this group of Fantasias, and he seemed most happy when writing outside of formal structures. From the vivacity of the opening track to the sombre Fantasia 10/313.the content is very different yet obviously from the same hand. Of its era this is music of instant appeal, the happy Fantasia 9/270 being quite addictive. They all greatly benefit from Glen Wilson's clean and agile playing, his harpsichord sounding more French than of English origin. The recording quality is all you could wish for.

PAVLOVA: Monolog. Sulamith (Ballet Suite). The Old New York Nostalgia (Suite).

Yaroslav Krasnikov (violin), Leonid Makarevich (piano), Aleksey Volkov (alto saxophone), Michail Poroshin (tenor saxophone), Andrey Chernishov (percussion), Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Rossen Milanov (conductor). Naxos 8.557674. (73' 56").

Regular readers will know I have a strange relationship with the music of Alla Pavlova, trying to come to terms with a composer who seemingly changes her style with every work I hear. Born in Russia in 1952, she studied at the Gnesin Academy of Music in Moscow before moving to Sofia and Moscow, making her eventual home in New York in 1990. Previous releases have taken us into her abstract world of atonality, which I have respected but found little to like. This latest edition you simply cannot fail to enjoy, the disc opening with Monolog for violin and orchestra, a piece much in the style of Tchaikovsky and very beautiful in content. Though purposely using pastiche in The Old New York Nostalgia Suite she includes elements of jazz and saxophones to create her idea of the New World. By contrast the ballet suite, Sulamith is robust and strong, rhythms often spiky, and with a rhapsodic Duet for King Solomon and Queen Astis. The work comes to an end with a big and sombre scene between Solomon and Sulamith. It receives a potent account from Rossen Milanov and the Moscow Philharmonic, Yaroslav Krasnikov's smoothly played violin having already brought distinction to the opening track. Maybe the typical Russian trumpet sound is wrong for the picture of New York, but the Muscovites do there best to swing along American style. Good and honest sound technology.

YUN: Chamber Symphony 1. Tapis pour cordes. Gong-Hu for harp and strings.

Rana Park (harp), Korean Chamber Ensemble, Piotr Borkowski (conductor). Naxos 8.557938. (61' 03).

Isang Yun was born in Korea in 1917 to an artistic family, and having studied in Japan, was awarded a grant to travel to France and Germany where his compositional mentors included Boris Blacher. It was in Germany that Yun's music received its first performances and he was particularly well received in Berlin, but was forced to return under duress to Korea. After international pressure had been placed on the Koreans, he was allowed to return to Germany where he made his home. Teaching and composing shared his working life until his death in Berlin in 1995, and even in exile he was to have a great influence on modern Korean composers. Throughout the disc you feel a composer who would have been very happy composing in traditional tonality, but remembering the time in which he was living went down the path expected of an adventurous 20th century composer. The Chamber Symphony, which dated from 1987 and scored for strings, two oboes and two horns, is certainly admirable, its sombre opening sections eventually giving way to bright shafts of light, a sense of wellbeing invading the score. It is extensive, here lasting not much short of half an hour, in which Yun shows his mastery of scoring to create a very personal synthesis of East and West. A short central track of Tapis, from the previous year, is more in the mould of Western traditions, not a million miles from a British idiom. Gong-ho, a harp concerto in one movement divided into several sections, was dedicated to the Ursula Holliger who gave the first performance in 1985. It is largely of the rippling harp variety set against high strings - a favourite tool of Yun, Rana Park a nimble figured soloist. In sum a significant disc, the Korean Chamber Ensemble, under the young Polish conductor, Piotr Borkowski, sounding a high-class group. Sound quality is realistic.

MORAVEC: The Time Gallery. Protean Fantasy. Ariel Fantasy. Eighth blackbird, Peter Sheppard-Skaerved (violin), Aaron Shorr (piano). Naxos 8.559267. (56' 06").

Given the ultimate stamp of status when presented with the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Music, Paul Moravec is a new and very individual voice in America, embracing both tonal and atonal idioms characterised by unusual sonorities. Born in 1957 and educated at Harvard and Columbia Universities he spends his time teaching and composing. To date his catalogue contains more than eighty scores that embrace orchestral, chamber and choral genres. The Time Gallery is a series of four pictures that Moravec turns into music. Bells in their various formats opens the work; the second, Time Machine, reflecting the sound of clocks, while the regular heartbeat that opens the third, Pulse, moves to a complexity of jazz orientated rhythms, The finale, Overtime reflects the previous movements but in rather sad nostalgia. It is a work that fascinates in terms of sound, its introspective conclusion a foil to the happiness of the following Protean Fantasy, a work of outgoing virtuosity for violin and piano. Ariel Fantasy continues where Protean left off and brings the disc to a potent conclusion. Without the benefit of seeing a score, the performances to me sound brilliantly coloured, oozing with virtuosity and very well recorded. I will certainly look forward to hearing more of this obviously gifted composer. .

RAMIREZ: Missa Criolla. Navidad Nuestra. ANON (arr. Haazen): Missa Luba. Christal Rheams (alto), Manuel Melendez (tenor), Jose Sacin (tenor), Pablo Talamante (tenor), The Choral Arts Society of Washington, Joseph Holt (conductor). Naxos 8.557542. (56' 54").

Reviewing the disc last month when it was released in North America, I commented that today a new look is coming into church music with the object of embracing popular music of the younger generation. It is not universally welcomed, but here we have the Missa Criolla from the Argentinean composer, Ariel Ramirez, mixing Spanish derived folk idioms with today's populist culture. The traditional Latin text of the Catholic Mass is translated into Spanish, the result more akin to the show music we enjoy on holiday in Spain or Latin America, with dance rhythms, clicking castanets, strumming guitars and a 'pop' rhythm group. That the result will be readily enjoyed in the mass media music market is never in doubt, as it contains every ingredient for success, the catchy tunes and vivacious rhythms quickly drilled into the memory. The worthy people of Washington's Choral Arts Society enter into the trendy music with enthusiasm, though you feel they are on more familiar ground when they reach the harmonies of Missa Luba. The soloists have a rustic folk music quality with a feel of improvisation in their freedom of rhythm and pitch. Sound quality complements the style of music with solo voices well forward.

WUORINEN: Trio for Brass. Horn Trio (1981). Horn Trio (1982). Trio for violin, cello and piano. Double Solo for Horn Trio. Trombone Trio. The Group for Contemporary Music. Naxos 8.559264. (64' 57").

Charles Wuorinen has been at the cutting edge of contemporary composition in the United States for four decades. A student at Columbia University he is a convert from tonality who in more recent times has become an uncompromising modernist. Teaching and work as an outstanding pianist occupied his early life, his prolific output of compositions including the six trios for diverse instruments dating from the early 1980's. They are as challenging for the performer as they are the listener, and those attuned to the era will be delighted with the big and virtuoso Trio for Brass that opens the disc. By the time the two Horn Trios ended I found myself desperately searching for something to take hold of. If you want to make a start in understanding Wuorinen's world, then go to track 4, the Trio for violin, cello and piano, a score that makes a reasonably easy entry point, the athleticism of the performers having its own attraction. The six trios are completed with a big showpiece for trombone that takes the instrument to its boundaries. Wuorinen co-founded The Group for Contemporary Music back in 1962, the ensemble helping to establish many American composers. Each time I hear them in their many permutations I am filled with enthusiasm, and here the playing bristles with brilliance while the sound quality is admirable. An adventurous addition to Naxos's invaluable American Classics series.

BOLCOM: Violin Sonatas 1-4. Solomia Soroka (violin), Arthur Greene (piano) Naxos 8.559150. (76' 52").

William Bolcom's spent most of his mature student days soaking up the pleasures of Paris and studying with Milhaud and Messiaen as his mentors, a very different ambience to his native Seattle. There followed teaching posts at a number of Universities in the United States, including New York and Washington, while writing a very substantial number of works covering a broad spectrum of genres. He took a place on the international scene in the late 1960's when piano rags made a brief resurgence, performing them as a pianist and composer. His four sonatas have appeared over 40 years though stylistically they have remained much the same. At face value they abound with so many ideas that Bolcom is tempted to change tack so frequently that they have the feel of a series of intriguing snapshots. Mostly descriptive, sometimes belying their title, the Nocturne second movement of the first sonata too energising to reflect that name. The music is mainly tonal, occasionally flirting with atonality, the elements of jazz and folk often hovering in the background. I particularly enjoy the second movement of the fourth sonata, violin harmonics set against a backdrop of Christmas carols. Each sonata is shared between the two instruments, and though posing technical hurdles, they are in no way showpieces. In this husband and wife team the violin intonation is in the centre of every note, and I would commend to you as a taster the peaceful Andante to the third sonata (track 3). Balance between instruments is good, the general sound quality is most pleasing. I can find no other recording.

PAGANINI : Grand Sonata in A major. Sonata No. 4 in D major. Ghiribizzi Nos.15, 16, 22, 37 & 38. Sonata No. 30 in A major. Sonata No. 6 in F major. Sonata No. 14 in F major. Three Caprices (transcribed from solo violin). Marco Tamayo (guitar). Naxos 8.557598. (61' 04").

Though the Grand Sonata is a work of substance, the remaining sonata are brief one-movement pieces taken from a large volume of 'Thirty-four Sonatas for Solo Guitar' composed in the early years of the 19th century. Pleasing miniatures mostly within the scope of those who play just for their own enjoyment. Similarly the 'Forty-three Ghiribizzi' are cameos many not even lasting a minute, with number 38 a moment of virtuosity. It is in the three-movement Grand Sonata that Marco Tamayo can demonstrate his prowess, the opening movement full of technical hurdles, and I like his sense of improvisation in the third movement Andantino. Throughout the release his playing is crisp, intonation in the centre of every note, and he perfectly captures the good humour of the Ghiribizzi. Maybe his Sixth sonata is a might too fast for a Minuetto, but elsewhere his choice of tempos is ideal. The disc ends with a crazily difficult adaptation of that famous Twenty-fourth Caprice used so many times, most auspiciously by Rachmaninov. Tamayo is superb. .

THOMPSON: City Scenes. GERSHWIN: Somebody loves me. Liza. Three Preludes. The Man I love. Summertime. Oh, Lady be good! PELKMANS: Slapstick. MORTIER: Rainbow Bridge. The Maid of the Mist. Skylon. Oneida. Clifton Hill. Pyramid Place. BOTSFORD: Black and White Rag. BERNSTEIN: West Side Story - Suite. RODGERS: The Blue Room. Clarinet Quartet of Belgium National Orchestra. Naxos 8.557407. (59' 53").

One for the large army of clarinettists around the world, the music light and pleasing with plenty of those finger-twisting passages they love to play. Most come in arrangements, many taken to the point of extended paraphrases, though not always that well suited to the instruments, with a busy atmosphere at times in danger of swamping the main melodic strand. Though you may not recognise it from the title, the disc opens with the well-known tune in Terence Thompson's City Scenes, one of three character pictures. George Gershwin provides a major part of the disc, and I was surprised at the jerky arrangement of the seductive song, The Man I Love, which is totally out of character. Adventurous in the demands of four extracts from Bernstein's musical, West Side Story, my favourite tracks come in Willy Mortier's six cameos. The recording has the instruments very close to microphones, and maybe a more backward placement for the bass-clarinet would have been an all-round benefit. Technically the playing is accomplished, the choice of tempos well judged, though I do enjoy the quartet rather more in the fast passages, the last of Gershwin's Preludes (track 16) being a good place to take a check as to the disc's contents.

BELLINI: La Ricordanza. La farfalletta. Sogna d’infanzia. Il fervido Desiderio. Dolente immagine di Fille mia. Vega luna che inargenti. L’allegro marinaro. Torna, vezzosa fillide. Malinconia, Ninfa gentile. Vanne, o rosa fortuna. Bella Nice, che d'amore. L’abbandono. Quando incise sul quel marmo. Dennis O’Neill (tenor), Ingrid Surgenor (piano). Naxos 8.557779. (58' 01").

Before Vincenzo Bellini became famous as an opera composer he had charmed in the salons of aristocrats with songs and arias and was throughout life to add to his stock of music in that genre. In nature they were largely lyric and peaceful - much removed from the forceful dramatic emotions of his stage works. At times they return to a more familiar Neapolitan style as we hear in La Farfalletta, and briefly we enter the tormented characters of his operas in L'allegro marinaro and L'abbandono. The songs often go uncomfortably high for Dennis O'Neill who sings much of the disc in a head tone as he concentrates on a smooth quality. The big problem for O'Neill is the strain posed by Bellini when he goes into heroic stance for the final track, Quando incise sul quel marmo. Ingrid Surgenor gives good support, though much of the accompaniment is undemanding. The engineers surround O'Neill's voice with kindly reverberance.

SACRED SONGS AND FOLK MUSIC FROM RENAISSANCE GERMANY

GRENON: Nova vobis gaudia. ANON: Se la face ay pale. DUFAY: Se la face ay pale. ISAAC: Missa Je ne fay plus - Kyrie; Gloria. DESPREZ: Gaude virgo mater Jesu Christe. ANON: Alma Chorus. Se la face ay pale. BARBIREAU: Een wroylic wesen. LUTHER: Komm heiliger geist. SCHEIDT: Komm heiliger geist. Ciaramella Instrumental and Vocal Group, Adam and Rotem Gilbert (directors). Naxos 8.557627. (65' 34").

You have to ignore the disc's overall title as some of the composers were born outside of Germany, the twenty-seven tracks covering sacred works and reconstructions of folk songs from Renaissance Europe. My heading lists just some of the highlights, the disc largely dominated by instrumental pieces played by a mix of shawm, sackbut, recorder and chamber organ, the sounds producing pleasing and often very busy music. For the uninitiated try track 7, the most attractive, War ich ein valk, the catchy tune quickly etched onto the memory, or the more substantial Dies est laetitiae where voices and instruments come together. The tracks are short, generally around two minutes, the music never extended to develop thematic ideas, with the vocal pieces falling under the general heading of carols. It is performed by Ciaramella, a young award-winning group in North America whose smooth tonal quality is very different to the more rustic sound we normally hear from West European performers in music of this period. Nimble and perfect balance between instruments, the singers are seemingly placed well behind with a halo of reverberation placed around them. Different to what I was expecting, but I guess it will prove commercially attractive.

SULLIVAN: Princess Ida. Fisher Morgan, Thomas Round, Leonard Osborn, Jeffery Skitch, Peter Pratt, Donald Adams, John Banks, Trevor Hills, Victoria Sladen, Ann Drummond-Grant, D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, New Symphony Orchestra, Isidore Godfrey (conductor).

The Gondoliers (excerpts): Appleton Moore, William Heseltine, George Baker, Dan Jones, Randall Jackson, Nellie Walker, Alice Lilley, Joan Cross, Sophie Rowlands, Columbia Light Opera Company, Joseph Batten (conductor). Naxos Historical 8.110317-18. (2CDs). (119' 27").

At the risk of repeating myself, Isidore Godfrey's 1950's recordings were the final flowering of the Gilbert and Sullivan style that had been handed down to the D'Oyly Carte company from the librettist and composer. From herein recordings would rely on 'international' singers brought to the studio as individuals rather than a performing company. That said I have to admit that there were members of D'Oyly Carte that vocally were passed their 'sell by date', with old voices trying to be young characters. Princess Ida dates from 1894 when the G & S operettas were enjoying tremendous popularity, though this one was an exception. Even then it was risky to poke fun at the feminist movement in this parody on Tennyson's poem, The Princess. Today it receives few performances, though the melodies will strike you as very familiar, Mackerras having plundered the score to create the ballet, Pineapple Poll. Thomas Round turns in a very enjoyable performance as the leading male singer, with Peter Pratt the true maestro of the patter song. With a degree of irony it was this recording that found the D'Oyly Carte chorus on top form, a lively overture getting the work off to a good start, and if things flag towards the end, it was G & S rather than the cast who were responsible. Recorded without its dialogue, there is room in this reissue for the 1931 recording of highlights from The Gondoliers. The sixteen tracks do cover all of the best-known moments, with Take a pair of sparkling eyes as an absolute gem. The sound is acceptable though surface swish is much in evidence. The 1954 Princess Ida is boxy, but more than acceptable.

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut. Licia Albanese (Manon), Jussi Bjorling (Des Grieux) , Robert Merrill (Lescaut), Franco Calabrese (Geronte/Sargent), Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus, Jonel Perlea (conductor). Naxos Historical 8.111030-31. (2 CDs). (145' 51").

By the time RCA were recording their Manon Lescaut in Rome in 1954, Decca already had their recording featuring Tebaldi, Del Monaco and a fine supporting team scheduled for release, with rumours circulating that Callas and Di Stefano were already contracted to record the opera. It must have seemed to the RCA management they had a lost cause and cut costs by employing three principals with all the other roles sung by three resident Rome singers. It's life in the catalogue was short, which was a pity, as Perlea proved to be a fine conductor who has simply never been surpassed on subsequent recordings of the opera, whipping up every dramatic point, with a blistering end to the second act. Bjorling was an elegant and ardent Des Grieux as he shows in his perfect first aria, his outburst as they fail to release Manon from prison just about as exciting as it gets. He, like Licia Albanese, had already built major careers, yet only in their mid-forties they sounded old for the characters involved, while the supporting cast could not change their voices sufficiently to appear as different people. As we are to hear in the additional tracks featuring arias sung by Albanese, she was not in good voice as the scheming Manon, the popular soprano aria from Catalini's La Wally an example of her in peak condition. The sound quality for Manon is good for its age, and Bjorling's big fan club will now be heading to the nearest store to get this otherwise unavailable reissue.

BORGANOFF: Nar rosorna vissna och do. SYLVAIN: Det ar nagot som binder mitt hjatra vid dig. Dina blaa ogen lovar mar an dina ro. Sag, att du evight hallermig kar. LINDBERG: Bagdad. CARSTEN: Varje litet ord av karlek. SAHLBERG: Aj, aj, aj du. LESSO-VALERIO: Varfor? HEYMANN: Nagonstans pa var jord. BAUMANN: Lappar som le sa roda. TOGNARELLI: Allting som ar vackert. TILLING: Kanske att vi pa samma drommer bar. REIDARSON: Sommarens melodi ar som poesi. LE BEAU: Karlekens sang. RAY: Sag mig god natt. AMANDT: Slut dina ogon. DAHL: Bachanal. NYBLOM: Brinnande gula flod. ARMAND: Var det en drom? CHRISTGAU: Brollopsvalen. ENDERS: Lilla prinsessa. Jussi Bjorling (tenor). Various accompaniments. Naxos Historical 8.110790. (68' 16").

Continuing the complete Jussi Bjorling collection, the sixth disc includes eleven tracks by Erik Odde, the name the great opera singer used for a series of discs as the 'whispering jazz singer'. They were in fact the short vocals used in dance music of the 1930's, where the band briefly gave way to a central singing spot. The remainder of the disc is given to lightweight popular songs of the time. Sung in Swedish, Bjorling proves he was a very versatile singer, but there is little more he has to do than sing smoothly. The dance bands are very good, and of its kind the disc has attractions.

CHOPIN: Waltzes Nos. 1 - 14. Fantasia, Op. 49. Alfred Cortot (piano). Naxos Historical 8.111035. (68' 38").

In June 1934 Alfred Cortot recorded the fourteen Chopin waltzes, the posthumously published waltzes hardly recognised at the time. He was the great Chopin interpreter of the day, and if to modern ears he appears a wilful exponent, he was a product of the Romantic tradition with latitude of expressive freedom that today would seem excessive. Affection is lavished on every note, Cortot concentrating on the shape of passages rather than the whole waltz. Some are taken so dizzyingly fast his fingers fall over themselves, others emerging with the dreamy feel of someone reminiscing. At times so much freedom is used that rubato is added to rubato, the performances so technically compromised, it is strange he authorised them for publication. If all this sounds damming, I should add that the disc has gripped me from beginning to end. I would certainly also want a recording that has basic accuracy, but after so much sterile and faceless perfection in recent times, it is welcome to experience an interpretation that seeks to bring life to the printed page. That they were Cortot's lifelong view is confirmed by five of the waltzes recorded again fifteen years later. Naxos injects new life into old recordings to an extent that after a few tracks I forgot the 'historic' status.

SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54. GRIEG: Piano Concert in A minor, Op. 16. FRANCK: Variations Symphoniques. Walter Gieseking (piano), Preussischen Staatskapelle Dresden, Karl Bohm (conductor), Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Hans Rosbaud (conductor), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Henry Wood (conductor). Naxos Historical 8.111110. (70' 48").

It would be very tempting to describe this as the ideal performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto, Walter Gieseking treading that difficult path of retaining a limpid and lyric approach with a strong and disciplined structure. The result is a perfect facsimile of the printed page just massaging tempos to provide you with that 'I wonder what he will do with this phrase' feeling. Tempos are on the brisk side, particularly in the finale, but his technique is sound even in days before editing was possible. Strangely this recording only appears to have ever been issued in Germany, and though the dull sounding timpani gives the game away, its early 1940's date is difficult to believe in the overall high quality of sound. The Grieg I found less interesting, the playing often impetuous in the first movement, and untidy in detail, the Berlin orchestra less than immaculate as Gieseking's waywardness places his conductor in some awkward moments. The Franck is more controlled but has nothing to set it apart from many other more recent and better-recorded performances. Still at this ridiculous price I would take the disc for a truly magical Schumann.

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