Russian Orchestral Works: GLAZUNOV: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 55; TCHAIKOVSKY Hamlet; BORODIN: Prince Igor – Overture; In the Steppes of Central Asia – BBC Philharmonic Orch./ Vassily Sinaisky – Chandos BB 028 [24/96 download] 69:03 *****:
Vassily Sinaisky has been such a mainstay of music-making in Manchester, having been Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra from 1996 to the beginning of 2012. While his excellently-received recordings for Chandos have been largely of Russian music, he has in concert shown a far wider range of repertoire. Highly regarded Proms performances of Moeran and Elgar spring to mind, and, in Russian music, an unforgettable Gliere Symphony No. 3 crying out for release by the BBC Music Magazine.
This concert of Russian orchestral works was recorded in Studio 7, Manchester in 2008 and hasn’t seen a CD release. The BBC Philharmonic is quite capable of producing a big, fat orchestral tone and that is used to the full here in a thoroughly enjoyable collection of Russian Romanticism. The high resolution sound is first-class, too, making this release a rather special audiophile delight. If ever there was a sleeper in the catalogue, this one’s a Rip van Winkle. Superb in all respects!
ARTHUR BENJAMIN & LEIGHTON LUCAS Film Music – Abigail Sara (mezzo-sop.)/ Catherine Roe-Williams (piano)/ Rob Court (organ)/ Côr Caerdydd/ BBC Nat. Orch. of Wales/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos CHAN 10713 [24/96 download] 66:49 *****:
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: The Film Music, Vol. 3: Bitter Springs; The Loves of Joanna Godden; The Story of a Flemish Farm – BBC Philharmonic/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos 10368 [24/96 download] 66:16 ****:
Rumon Gamba, a British conductor not (as far as I know) related to Piero Gamba, has carved out quite a reputation for his recordings for Chandos of film music, all vibrantly presenting the music as far more than an accompaniment to action. Then again, the composers selected were not given to musical doodling and knitting, and the scores produce big and little gems which stand on their own very well indeed.
Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote for more films than just Scott of the Antarctic though most are somewhat neglected now, more so than the film scores themselves. A Flemish Farm was a wartime propaganda film the music from which is collated into a seven movement 25 minute suite of some variety, while The Loves of Joanna Godden is presented as a 15-minute piece of music, more tone-poem than incidental music. The bleakness of Romney Marsh is well-caught, the music written around the time of the Sixth Symphony. Bitter Springs is set, like The Overlanders in the Australian Outback and was a collaboration between RVW and Ernest Irving.
The second collection is shared between two composers. Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960) was an Australian composer, conductor and teacher; his Everest recording with the LSO of piano concertante works with Lamar Crowson at the keyboard still sounds very well indeed and it’s a shame it didn’t have a high resolution release in the series from Classic Records. [But those Everest CDs were so good—better than the Mercury CDs—that they’re practically hi-res…Ed.] Grand and imposing scenes from The Conquest of Everest, which appeared very smartly after the actual conquest, open the recital. From a much earlier era, Hitchcock’s 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much had some but not a great deal of music, the Storm Clouds cantata being just about it. It was reused as part of the score for Hitchcock’s 1956 remake – Bernard Herrmann said it could not be improved upon. Benjamin’s charming pieces from Korda’s 1947 film An Ideal Husband conclude his share of the programme.
Leighton Lucas (1903-1982) was a well-known conductor, mainly for ballet, who also composed a good deal of music, some of it for the cinema. Several of the films represented remain popular today, especially in Great Britain, and these include The Dam Busters and Ice-Cold in Alex, both telling of exploits during the Second World War, the former starring Richard Todd (1919-2009) as Guy Gibson, with effective music to accompany the Lancasters of 617 Squadron. The latter had a small cast whose inter-relationships are as important as the action: Harry Andrews, Sir John Mills, Sylvia Sims (still happily with us) and Sir Anthony Quayle. The end minute or so still appears as a TV advertisement for Heineken Lager. Yes, it was real beer they used, and the cast ended up quite drunk. This sort of war-time action was well-known to Tony Quayle; he had been a member of SoE during some of the War, based in Albania with the partisans. Lucas’s material shows fine craftsmanship and strong ideas.
Rumon Gamba and his orchestras bring these scores to life, bathing them in energy, careful attention to detail and plain old joie-de-vivre. I would also recommend Gamba’s fine survey of orchestral music of Vincent D’Indy, with the Iceland SO, of which he was principal conductor infusing the music with Mediterranean warmth.
Recording quality is as one would expect from Chandos, the VW collection finely recorded in Manchester in 2005. The sonic splendour of the Benjamin/Lucas collection recorded in 2011 trumps that – Hoddinott Hall and perhaps recent techniques produce very fine sound indeed.
TrackList CHAN 10714:
Suite from The Conquest of Everest
The Storm Clouds Cantata from The Man Who Knew Too Much
Waltz and Hyde Park Gallop from An Ideal Husband
Portrait of the Amethyst from Yangtse Incident
Dedication from Portrait of Clare
Prelude and Dam Blast from The Dam Busters
Stage Fright Rhapsody from Stage Fright
Suite from Ice Cold in Alex
This Is York
March-Prelude from Target for Tonight
KORNGOLD: The Sea Hawk; Deception – Irina Romishevskaya, sop./ Alexander Zagorinsky, cello/ Moscow Sym. Chorus/ Moscow Sym. Orch./ William T. Stromberg – Naxos 24/96 download [eclassical.com] 8570110-11 – 02:24:55 ****½:
It’s good to see high definition releases from Naxos’s back catalog being offered on various download sites. This generous release includes the world premier recordings of the substantial score Korngold wrote for The Sea Hawk and the half hour he wrote for Deception.
The Sea Hawk is one of a series of hugely successful Hollywood swashbuckling stories, a Michael Curtiz vehicle for Errol Flynn and co-starring Claude Rains, Flora Robson, Henry Daniell (those were the days when British actors played both goodies and baddies) involving pirates, an armada, the Spanish Main, an English queen and a beautiful Spanish princess. Pure escapism and possibly something of a morale-booster for British audiences at the time. Painstakingly restored by John Morgan, the score is pretty well through-composed and is, I found, as highly enjoyable as a complete ballet score of similar vintage; it survives magnificently without the pictures.
Deception is altogether darker fare. Appearing after the War, in 1946, this Irving Rapper directed film starred Bette Davis, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid in a tale of the appearance of a previously missing cellist, his former girlfriend and her current lover, and the production and performance of a cello concerto. Even by Korngold’s standards, this short score oozes quality. The concerto itself, included separately at the end is a short one, but highly effective, and it’s very well played here by Alexander Zagorinsky.
The Moscow Symphony Orchestra under William T. Stromberg are on excellent form. They had worked together for several years before this recording was made in Mosfilm’s Studio 5 in 2005, and continue to do so on their own label, Tribute Film Classics. Recording quality is very good indeed but, in The Sea Hawk a little more warmth and open-air in the sound would have allowed more of an al fresco feeling. On the other hand, the engineers have recreated in high fidelity that taste of the sound from those Hollywood years, before reverberation became the acquired taste.
At a reasonable price for a newish and very good recording of excellent performances, and with the complete and excellent 24-page booklet included, this is recommended with enthusiasm.
Benjamin Grosvenor, piano = SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto No. 2; The Swan (Godowsky); RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G; Prélude in A minor (1913); GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue; Love Walked In (Grainger) – Benjamin Grosvenor, p./ Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orch./ James Judd – Decca 24/96 download UNI019 [Linnrecords.com & other suppliers] 65:43 ****½:
Very recently recorded (16-19 April 2012 at The Friary, Liverpool) and hot off the press, Benjamin Grosvenor’s debut recording with orchestra is highly impressive. His combination of thorough preparation and on-the-spot inspiration is a winning one. And what an excellent idea it is to have a short piece for solo piano between the concertante works.
Only the other week, Grosvenor played the Saint-Saëns works at the Proms and he’s been on tour with it in U.S., too. Decca’s studio recording sounds remarkably alive compared with the concert performances. The Bachian first movement is fluid and sufficiently relaxed without being pulled about too much, the lightly tripping second movement a masterly example of control, and the last movement has Grosvenor straight out of the box like a greyhound. What marvellous and uplifting energy! Godowsky’s transcription of “The Swan” is exquisite.
Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G was written during the time several composers were introducing for the first time elements of what they heard in traditional jazz performances. Undeniably French and Basque with a hint of New Orleans or New York, the concerto is very finely performed by Grosvenor. Jessica Duchen’s excellent, generously extensive essay (in the booklet accompanying the CD, and not included with the download)—really an interview with Grosvenor about the composers and their music—throws light on the pianist’s tastes and thoughts, quotes him on French music which he feels “… is underrated or that it’s judged as no more than opulent mood music….”. Grosvenor brings out so much more than that and this recording deserves, I feel, to sit proudly beside Martha Argerich’s, and among many other fine performances.
James Judd and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic are spot-on playing their part, with sensitive accompanying along the way, shimmering strings in the Saint-Saëns, chamber-music style answering by the wind, warmth in the Ravel, and all with that magic touch of spontaneity.
The introduction to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the 1924 arrangement for Paul Whiteman, begins with an extremely impressive clarinet flourish and glissando (will he, won’t he get to the top smoothly?). Like Freddy Kempf in his new recording for BIS, Grosvenor doesn’t hesitate to be reflective when needed, and he pulls out the stops for the more wildly acrobatic parts. While the orchestra struts its stuff with aplomb for the most part, it could do with a bit more swagger in a couple of places, something Wild and Fiedler in Boston and Siegel and Slatkin achieve in their earlier recordings of later arrangements. The excellent percussion are well caught.
The recording quality is very good, intimate, fairly close-in without being claustrophobic, and isn’t terrifically wide or deep. The tone of Grosvenor’s Steinway Model D is very well captured, with sufficient acoustic of the location to let it sing. The Friary seems to have a relatively short reverberation time and, while the recording isn’t dry, it lacks the sumptuous acoustic of Boston or St. Louis, Earl Wild’s recording on Living Stereo still packing a considerable audiophile punch. And yet, the intimate quality of the recording suits the intimate quality of the playing, and the engineering does not distract from that.
Benjamin Grosvenor appreciates lighter, jazzier works, ideal for encores, and I hope he’ll include others in due course, more Gershwin, Billy Mayerl, Fats Waller, to name but three. Did I mention “Love Walked In” is utterly magical? A supreme finish to an excellent recording.
ERIK CHISHOLM: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2 – Danny Driver, piano/ BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Rory Macdonald – Hyperion Records 24/96 download CDA67880 68:41 *****:
“I never listen to British pianists” someone remarked a few years ago. There’s no answer to that, as Eric Morecambe said more than once, and the writer has denied himself the opportunity for hearing yet another fine young musician, Danny Driver, well-known now for his recordings of music by York Bowen and Benjamin Dale, CPE Bach and Balakirev. He does play the standard repertoire, too, and it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole him through looking at his recorded repertoire.
And who is Rory Macdonald? He has made even fewer recordings, for this is his first. Readers can download the booklet for this release from Hyperion’s website and read just how busy he has been, and on the strength of this recording I feel sure we will read much more in the future, too.
The music here is a Scottish product almost through and through, composer, conductor and orchestra all from that country. You may already have read Chisholm’s description as the Scottish Bartok (MacBartok) incorporating spiky Scottish folk music into his compositions. This is obvious in the first concerto “Pìobaireachd”. The second “Hindustani” gives a hint that Erik Chisholm travelled far and wide, incorporating this time raga construction to the work, all, as my colleague wrote, played “with energy, brilliance and compassion and Hyperion’s expansive sound stage illuminates the orchestral textures.”
But what of Chisholm? Born in Glasgow in 1904, he left school (with permission) in 1917 to study music. Pianist (Scottish première of Bartok’s first piano concerto, though with organ accompaniment), organist, conductor, pupil of Sir Donald Tovey. From wartime onwards, Scotland became his home less and less; he served in the Far East towards the end of the Second World War and then took over the running of the South African College of Music, associated with the University of Cape Town. His second piano concerto was completed in 1949 as he assumed his post, and its first performance was given by a fine South African pianist, Adolf Hallis, in Cape Town, and broadcast on the SABC the following day. Hallis (1896-1987) was in demand as a teacher right to the end of his life and is renowned for making the first recording of Debussy’s Etudes in 1938 on Decca 78s.
Sir W.H. (Daddy) Bell, brother-in-law of Sir John Blackwood McEwan, principal of the Royal Academy of Music in London, had retired from the South African College in 1935, and had died a couple of years before Chisholm’s arrival, and Chisholm continued to build on Bell’s good work. In his early days in Cape Town, Albert Coates was still conducting the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, to be succeeded during Chisholm’s later time there by Enrique Jorda. Chisholm died in 1965, aged just 61, leaving the College in excellent shape. In the next few years, the fine teachers and pianists, Thomas Rajna and Lamar Crowson joined the staff and produced fine graduates like Steven de Groote, whose father had conducted the university orchestra in Chisholm’s time, and just one of the extended family of De Groote musicians.
Chisholm continued to compose, though of the hundred or so works just seventeen were published. Divine Art has published seven CDs of his music for piano played by Murray McLachlan, and Dutton Epoch some of the orchestral music, his Pictures from Dante and Second Symphony. I hesitate to mention Chisholm’s use of microtonal elements in the second concerto – some assume mistakenly that this means the music definitely unapproachable, and really it isn’t.
The Hyperion release comes with a booklet with an excellent essay by John Purser, author of Chasing A Restless Muse: Erik Chisholm, Scottish Modernist published in 2009. This release was one of the first Hyperion offered in a high resolution format for the first time since not issuing any more SACDs. The sound from the 24/96 FLACs is first class, matching the performances, and the piano is not spotlit. Hyperion has also recently adjusted its pricing policy, reducing all high resolution costs to roughly the level of a full-price CD or SACD. This is an adventurous release which should appeal widely – hugely enjoyable!
DEBUSSY: Complete Works for Piano: Volume 1 – Preludes – Jean-Efflam Bavouzet – Chandos 10421 [24/96 download] 79:31 *****:
Recorded at what seems to be a very busy Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk over three days during November 2006, these performances have carved a large niche among the many recordings of Debussy’s Preludes.
“Admirable masterpieces” is Ravel’s description and Bavouzet treats them exquisitely. Nothing becomes a caricature, Monet-like colours bathe the ear produced with a depth of understanding which makes repeated listening a joy. After three years of enjoying the very fine sounding CD (well, all five volumes of Bavouzet’s cycle) it was interesting to compare the sound quality to the 24 bit download. Good as the CD sound is, the increased focus is immediately noticeable, and the very fine becomes superb.
EDWARD GREGSON: Music for Chamber Orchestra (1968); Trombone Concerto; Two Pictures for String Orchestra (2009); A Song for Chris (2007) – Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra – Peter Moore/ Guy Johnston/ BBC Concert Orch./ Bramwell Tovey – Chandos 10637 [24/96 download] 69:50 *****:
The trombone concerto was issued some while ago on its own; an energetic and witty work it was Peter Moore’s recording debut, he having won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award in 2008 and aged just twelve years. And what a debut! The virtuoso writing is smooth and trouble-free in execution and slow movement displays Moore’s excellent tone.
Gregson’s Cello Concerto – A Song for Chris – is a recent work, commissioned by Ralph Kirschbaum and the Northern College of Music Cello Festival and was dedicated to the cellist, Christopher Rowland (1946-2007) who died from cancer that year. Rowland had been in the Fitzwilliam String Quartet one of whose great achievements was an integral recording of Shostakovich’s String Quartets for Decca. In tribute to this, Gregson quotes a theme from the Third Quartet. Guy Johnston produces most beautiful sounds from his cello. Music for Chamber Orchestra also betrays Gregson’s love of Shostakovich; written in 1967 for the English Chamber Orchestra it was, surprisingly on this hearing, rejected for playing during a tour to South America and the resulting disappointment saw Gregson concentrate on compositional forms other than orchestral for a decade.
Bramwell Tovey encourages the hard-working BBC Concert Orchestra to put in very fine performances. Recording quality is state of the art, the result of a comfortable location, the Watford Colosseum and the 24/96 FLAC produces excellent, go on, say it, “bloom” with a wide and deep sound-stage.
KORNGOLD: Quintet, Op.15 (1921-22); Sextet, Op.10 (1914-16) – Kathryn Stott piano/ Bartholomew LaFollette, cello/ Jennifer Stumm, viola/ Doric String Quartet – Chandos 10707 [24/96 download] 66:45 ****:
This is the second volume of the Doric Quartet’s survey of chamber music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, already reviewed in considerable detail by Gary Lemco, a just a word or two about the sonics of the high resolution option. The Britten Studio at the Maltings, Snape, Suffolk allows a fairly close-in sound, Kathryn Stott’s piano especially well caught in music seeming sometimes itching to morph into the full-blown orchestral. A slightly less immediate sound would allow more expansion at fortes, but the quality, nonetheless, is impressive.
—All reviews: Peter Joelson