Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Selected CD Reviews

The Van Baerle Trio met while they were studying at the Amsterdam Conservatory in 2004.  They have since worked with Menahem Pressler, pianist in the Beaux Arts Trio, and their debut CD is very impressive.  They perform two great French works – the first of Saints-Saëns’ two piano trios, and Ravel’s single work for the combination.  In between, they play a single movement work by the Dutch composer Theo Loevendie (b.1930), called Ackermusik.  This provides an interesting interlude between the two French works, although stylistically it isn’t a great fit.  However, they tackle its extremes of dynamics and rhythmic difficulties well.  But in the two main works, they really shine.  They capture the lightness and spirit required in the Saints-Saëns, yet also show great sensitivity in the delicate slow movement.  The Ravel is a beautiful piece, full of richness, almost orchestral colours, and their performance is suitably intense and full.  Pianist Hannes Minnaar produces beautifully sonorous playing in the third movement Passacaille, and this is matched by touching, delicate playing from violinist Maria Milstein and cellist Gideon den Herder.  Definitely an ensemble to keep an eye on.
Various. Piano Trios. Van Baerle Trio. 2012. Compact Disc. Et'Cetera. KTC 1438.

The Doric String Quartet garnered wonderful reviews for their recording of the String Quartets by Erich Korngold (1897-1957).  Following further excellent CDs of Schumann and Walton, they return to Korngold, joined by friends for performances of the Piano Quintet and the Sextet.  First, in the Piano Quintet they are joined by the great pianist Kathryn Stott, and clearly have a great time.  They avoid over-sentimentalising the already highly romantic music, yet still manage to provide the necessary nostalgic warmth and youthful spirit (the composer was still just 23 when this was composed).  In the Sextet, the Dorics are joined by an extra viola (Jennifer Stumm) and cello (Bartholomew LaFollette).  This is an even earlier work, from 1914 – yet the child prodigy had already been composing for 8 years by now.  If anything, it is even more intense than the Quintet, and the musicians work well together here.  Unlike some string sextets, Korngold avoid a heavy, dense texture, and rather chooses to use the instruments contrapuntally much of the time.  The slow movement here is particularly tenderly performed.  Overall, another impressive release to add to the Dorics’ growing catalogue.
Korngold, Eirch Wolfgang. String Sextet, Piano Quintet. Doric String Quartet, Jennifer Stumm, Bartholomew LaFollette, Kathryn Stott. 2012. Compact Disc. Chandos CHAN 10707.

Ola Gjeilo (b.1978) is a young Norwegian composer, specialising predominantly in choral music, and he is currently the composer in residence with the excellent Phoenix Chorale from Arizona.  I was looking forward to this CD, as I had read good things about it.  The performances can’t be faulted – the Phoenix Chorale are spot on, with a warm and well blended sound, and perfect intonation throughout.  It is the music that is rather beneath their considerable talents.  In the whole disc (which includes eleven different works), there is not a single unexpected harmonic change, and the cumulative effect of the saccharin harmonies and relentlessly slow (even turgid) tempi leave one longing for some dissonance and rhythmic interest.  Choral music has become trendier of late, with the likes of Eric Whitacre, and Paul Mealor (made popular by the Military Wives).  But Whitacre does achieve variety and produces a range of interesting choral effects in his inventive music.  Here, the sound world of each piece is pretty much identical, the only interest being the works with added string quartet (the Harrington String Quartet), piano (the composer himself) or tenor saxophone (Ted Belledin).  We’re two thirds of the way in before there is a piece with any real drive (Prelude), but this is in fact the shortest track, and then we’re straight back into soporific ‘atmospheric’ territory.  A real disappointment.
Gjeilo, Ola. Northern Lights, Choral Works by Ola Gjeilo. Phoenix Chorale, Charles Bruffy. 2012. Hybrid Super Audio Compact Disc. Chandos CHSA 5100. 

French baritone Gérard Souzay died in 2004 aged 85.  He was recognized as one of the foremost singers of French mélodie but also one of few French singers to excel in German repertoire too.  His voice had beautifully rounded quality, never harsh, yet still full of character.  The Schwetzingen Festival have been releasing recordings from their archives, and this is a real treat, from a recital in 1960, when Souzay was accompanied by Dalton Baldwin on piano.  He performed several Schubert songs (including An die Musik), the Six Monologues for Everyman by Frank Martin, and ended with a set of Strauss songs.  In the middle was the French repertoire – Ravel’s Cinq melodies populaires grecques, and Deux mélodies hébraiques, which are particularly touching.  His voice was truly in its prime, and this is a wonderful selection to whet your appetite if you don’t already know this truly great singer.
Various. Gérard Souzay, Liederabend 1960. Gérard Souzay, Dalton Baldwin. 2012. Compact Disc. Hänssler Classic CD 93.717.

Next, works by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) performed by the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Juanjo Mena.  First comes the ballet ‘El sombrero de tres picos’ (The Three-cornered Hat).  This is great fun, with real atmosphere and folk spirit, energetically performed, with a lovely contribution from soprano Raquel Lojendio.  Next comes a wonderfully atmospheric and lively performance of ‘Noches en los jardines de España’ (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet on piano.  They finish the programme with ‘Homanajes’ (Tributes), a suite for orchestra written late in his life, and containing tributes to Debussy, Dukas, and lesser known (to us) influences on Falla – the Catalan composer Felipe Pedrell and the conductore Enrique Fernández Arbós.  This is very enjoyable, and excellently recorded – a little more abandon in places would have made this a perfect addition to the catalogue, but it’s definitely up there, particularly Bavouzet’s performance in the Noches.
de Falla, Manuel. Nights in the Gardens of Spain, etc. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Raquel Lojendio, BBC Philharmonic, Juanjo Mena. 2012. Compact Disc. Chandos CHAN 10694.

Finally, in brief – an excellent re-release of a remastered recording from 1989 of the late, great Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, with Raphael Wallfisch playing the Dvořák Cello Concerto, and also Dohnányi’s Konzertstück.  Surprisingly fresh recorded sound, combined with assured interpretations from both conductor and soloist, at mid-price this is worth snapping up.
Various. Dvořák Cello Concerto, Dohnányi Konzertstuck. Raphael Wallfisch, London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras. 2012. Chandos. CHAN 10715X.

(An abridged version of these reviews first appeared in GScene)

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