Saturday, 15 September 2012

Selected CD Reviews

Canadian pianist Louis Lortie is now on the second volume of his planned complete Chopin collection, and this disc, as with the first, mixes and alternates Nocturnes with more substantial works – here we have the four Ballades, with the Barcarolle and Berceuse.  This approach makes for a much more satisfying listen, with pieces following in connected keys and flowing together more appropriately than the usual systematic working through of all the Nocturnes, say, in numerical order.  Lortie’s style is less overtly dramatic than some other Chopin interpreters – in fact, he allows the music to speak in a way that many other pianists do not achieve.  That is not to say that these are totally passive performances – virtuosity is certainly on display, and the Ballades in particular receive full-blooded expression.  I think it’s just that you’re left with a sense of ‘this is the wonder of Chopin’, rather than solely ‘this is an amazing pianist’, which is so often the case – and paradoxically, that is the sign of a truly great pianist.

Chopin, Frédéric. Louis Lortie plays Chopin, Volume 2.  Louis Lortie.  2012.  Compact Disc.  Chandos CHAN 10714.

The Gould Piano Trio have just celebrated their 20th year performing together, and to mark this have released a first volume of Beethoven Piano Trios, with the ‘Ghost’ Trio and the Second Trio (Op. 1 No. 2), together with two single movement works – an Allegretto from 1812, and an early Theme and Variations.  These are in fact live recordings from performances at St George’s, Bristol, and it shows – in a good way.  There is a real energy to their playing, with spirited fast movements, and tender and sensitive playing in the slow movements.  The price is the occasional rough edge in the presto sections, and a slightly dry acoustic, but the payoff is a level of energy and immediacy rarely found in studio recordings.  The sign of a great live recording is one that makes you wish you were there, and also one that will survive repeated playing – this scores on both counts.

Following on from complete sets of the songs of Butterworth and Delius, amongst others, baritone Mark Stone has now turned his attention to the rather trickier English composer, Havergal Brian (1876-1971), who ended his days in retirement in Shoreham.  Last year I sang in a performance in the Proms of his mammoth Gothic Symphony, which involves a massive orchestra, four choirs, a childrens choir, and four brass orchestras, as well as soloists – supposedly the largest symphony ever written.  This was certainly an event, but I remained unconvinced by the composer’s ability to maintain any sense of coherency over such a huge work So I was curious to hear how the composer managed the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of scale.  In fact, this disc proved rather a revelation.  I was particularly taken by the delicacy of his writing for the piano, sensitively performed here by Sholto Kynoch.  Little Sleeper is especially delicate and elegiac, with the almost Debussian harmonies in the piano supporting a beautifully wistful solo line.  Kynoch also performs Three Illuminations, and John Dowland’s Fancy for solo piano, as well as accompanying Stone’s brother, Jonathan Stone (violinist with the Doric String Quartet) in an impressively engaging Legend, and in fact these are the works that stand out for me in interest.  Mark Stone’s voice has a beauitful tone, with only an occasional loss of focus at the top of the range, and he performs these songs with great conviction.  He sings Day and Night with particular intensity, and once again, the piano writing here is very atmospheric.  This disc has certainly made me reconsider this underperformed composer anew – I look forward to the next volume!

The Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge, conducted by Andrew Nethsingha, are on fine form at present, as is evidenced in their latest disc of Mozart masses.  They perform the popular ‘Coronation’ Mass, and appropriately separate its movements with two Church Sonatas, where the movements would have been interrupted by the liturgy.  The boy trebles sound secure at the top, and the overall initmate sound, with period instruments (the St John’s Sinfonia), is very engaging.  Soloists Susan Gritton (soprano), Frances Bourne (mezzo), Sam Furness (tenor) and George Humphreys (bass) match the scale of the performance expertly.  The well-known Ave verum Corpus comes next, but unfortunately here they follow the ‘tradition’ of performing this beautiful gem at an incredibly slow speed, which is a shame.  The then follow this with the delightful F major Missa Brevis, and here they are back on form. They end the disc with the popular favourite showcaser for Susan Gritton, ‘Exsultate, jubilate’, and she doesn’t disappoint, providing a suitably joyous finish to and enjoyable programme.
Clarinetist Michael Collins begins his exploration of British Clarinet Sonatas in style, with works from John Ireland (1879-1962), Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), Charles Stanford (1852-1924), Arnold Bax (1883-1953) and Herbert Howells (1892-1983).  Michael McHale ably accompanies him on piano.  As ever, Collins produces an exquisite tone, combined with effortless and fluid virtuosity when required.  Ireland’s Fantasy-Sonata is particularly beautiful, and the slow movement of the Stanford Sonata is dramatically expressive.  Bliss’ Pastoral is typically English, with lilting and rolling lines, once again played here with a warm, liquid tone.  Another great disc from a soloist at the top of his game.

Various.  British Clarinet Sonatas, Volume 1.  Michael Collins, Michael McHale.  2012.  Compact Disc.  Chandos CHAN 10704.

(An edited version of these reviews first appeared in GScene magazine)

No comments:

Post a Comment