Wednesday, 21 November 2012

CD Reviews - November

Flautist Emily Beynon has joined forces with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, to record an interesting selection of British flute concertos.  The disc opens with Jonathan Dove’s (b.1959) The Magic Flute Dances, composed for Beynon.  Dove has taken motifs from Mozart’s opera and woven them into a pleasing set of dances, which go far beyond the obvious ‘flute’ connection, with some fascinating effects of orchestration.  William Alwyn’s (1905-1985) Concerto for Flute and Eight Wind Instruments, arranged by John McCabe (b.1939) for flute and orchestra comes next.  This is more immediately virtuosic for the soloist, perhaps understandable given that Alwyn was an orchestral flautist before turning to composition.  A slight ‘cheat’ next, with French composer Francis Poulenc’s (1899-1963) Flute Sonata, arranged for flute and orchestra by Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989), whose own Flute Concerto closes the disc.  These are both great works that deserve greater exposure, and Beynon does them justice, with a bright and engaging sound throughout.

Various. British Flute Concertos. Emily Beynon, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Bramwell Tovey. 2012. Compact Disc. Chandos CHAN 10718.

The great violinist Ruggiero Ricci died in August, aged 94.  Born to Italian parents in California, he made his debut at Carnegie Hall aged 11.  Often referred to as the ‘Paganini of the 20th Century’, he was the first to record the complete Paganini Caprices in their original form.  This month I’ve been listening to a two CD set of Virtuoso Violin Concertos, with the Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Khachaturian concertos, along with Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise, and various other works.  The recordings date from 1959-1961, yet sound remarkably fresh.  There is a slight thinness to the sound, but my ears soon atuned to this – and the pay-off is hearing a romantic virtuoso at the height of his abilities.  Sadly, he carried on recording long after his technique had begun to wane.  But returning to these recordings, his true talent shines out.  His style, and the orchestral playing (from the LSO and LPO, under conductors including Sir Malcolm Sargent and Piero Gamba), are from a different age, but there can be no doubting he was truly a great violinist.  

Various. Virtuoso Violin Concertos. Ruggiero Ricci, London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Øivin Fjeldstad, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Piero Gamba, Anatole Fistoulari. 2010. Compact Disc (2). Decca Eloquence DECCA 480 2083.

Every cellist must feel obliged to record the Elgar Cello Concerto at some point, yet it must be hard to know how to say something new, with such an iconic piece.  However, Paul Watkins has entered the fray, along with great Elgarian Sir Andrew Davis, and the BBC Philharmonic.  Having performed the work live on many occasions, he manages to make this recording feel fresh and immediate, and Davis and he produce touching sadness without ever wallowing.    The disc also contains the full set of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ Marches, and Davis and the BBC Philharmonic avoid the overblown excesses of many ‘Last Night’ performances, yet bring out the inherent joy in these pieces.  The Elegy is also sensitively performed, emotion barely contained here.  The final piece here is the Introduction and Allegro for solo quartet and string orchestra, and this also receives an outstanding performance.  Overall, a strong offering, with perfect recording sound throughout. 
Armenian pianist Nareh Argamanyan has relased a CD of Rachmaninov, with the Morceaux de Fantasie, the Etudes Tableaux, and the Corelli Variations.  These are well-known show pieces, yet Rachmaninov also demands a great understanding of emotion and lyricism, if they are not to become overblown and sentimental.  Argamanyan is clearly committed to communicating this emotion, as is evident in the interview with her on the bonus DVD (which also contains performances of part of the Corelli Variations, and the great C sharp minor Prelude).  Yet on the whole, she manages to not allow this expression of emotion to become over-indulgent.  These are all fiendishly difficult pieces, yet with playing as confident as this, you are not made overly aware of this.  A whole disc of Rachmaninov can make you feel a bit bloated, but Argamanyan maintains enough interest and lightness of touch to avoid this – in fact, the final (and longest) work on this disc, the Corelli Variations, held my interest the most. 
Rachmaninov, Sergei. Morceaux de Fantasie, etc. Nareh Argamanyan. 2012. Hybrid Super Audio Compact Disc and Digital Versatile Disc. Pentatone PTC 5186 399.

(These reviews first appeared in GScene magazine)

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