January 11, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: Symphony No 4, Beethoven: Coriolan Overture (Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique; The Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner)

At first glance, Gabrieli and Schütz, glorious as they are, seem to be at odds with the symphony. Gardiner’s notes are the key to this collation. Using original instruments he has juxtaposed the symphony with some of the composer’s neglected choral music. He argues that as these wonderful works came first they are germane to his orchestral writing. The other composers were selected for their influence on his choral style and the Coriolan Overture represents the defining shadow of Beethoven. This is steely, hard-edged tough as nails Brahms. There will be those for whom this is heaven-sent, yet for all Gardiner’s dedication and well-argued rationale, much of this performance is a tiresome dose of musical political correctness. For example, the scrawny violin tone does not sit well with the composer’s grand phrases and rich palette. However, his approach works well in the lively Allegro giocoso, with its sharp rhythms and bright woodwind writing and also serves the edgy restlessness of the last movement. Musical research will continue and performance practice will evolve, as it should. Tastes will change and change again. I recommend the CD for the extensive interview between Gardiner and Hugh Wood. That alone is worth the price…

January 11, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Goetz, Wieniawski: Piano Concertos (Hamish Milne)

Hermann Goetz spent most of his life under the shadow of TB, which claimed him just before he turned 36. Judging by his letters, Goetz was as polite and charming as this concerto. Thankfully, the orchestration, so often thick and unoriginal, is refreshingly transparent and the melodies fall gratefully on the ear. If I had to guess the composer, I’d say Max Bruch, although there are inevitable echoes of Schumann and Chopin. The first movement ambles along genially and the second is delightful in a sentimental way. Things liven up slightly in the finale but, come on guys, at 41 minutes this work is only seven minutes shorter than your average Brahms Second Piano Concerto, and look at how much he managed to pack into that! The other work, by Józef Wieniawski, brother of the more famous violin virtuoso and composer Henryk, was actually composed almost a decade earlier than Goetz’s, but seems more modern. I can’t agree with the sleeve note writer that the character of this work represents Sturm und Drang, implying a fusion of tension and drama, and a relentless barrage of bravura playing. I found it only slightly more energetic than its companion. Both works are…

January 11, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Prokofiev, Ravel: Piano Concertos (Anna Vinnitskaya)

They were more stunned than impressed, dubbing the composer an enfant terrible, a description Prokofiev liked. His music was the height of aggressive modernism in 1913, although the version of the Second Piano Concerto we know today is a rewrite from ten years later, after the original score perished in a fire. Another young Russian virtuoso, Anna Vinnitskaya, takes a considered and personal approach to the work. In the manic cadenza of the first movement she does not essay the sheer torrent of sound produced by others, but emphasises the musical themes instead. Her steely, relentless scherzo is succeeded by a characterful third movement taken at a steady pace. She launches into the finale with speed and accuracy, making the most of the contrasting episodes. Varga, who has accompanied her before, is supportive of every choice. The score’s wit eludes them, notably in the scherzo, but within their constraints they give a detailed, committed performance. The Ravel concerto is not so individual, but equally well played. This high-spirited divertissement with its jazzy flavour suits Vinnitskaya’s crisply articulated touch – which she softens for the dreamy slow movement. Again, orchestral ensemble is spot on, and the sound is terrific. Recommended in…

January 3, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Sibelius: Symphonies (New Zealand SO/Inkinen)

I was amazed to read one review of this performance of Sibelius’s First Symphony which confidently asserted that Pietari Inkinen was to be congratulated on his achievement in effacing virtually all traces of Tchaikovsky from the music, as if that were a major criterion in assessing it! Inkinen is no young man in a hurry in Sibelius: his account of the First Symphony, at 40 mins, is one of the longest in the catalogue. His certainly doesn’t stint on the Romantic rhetoric either, pace my fellow reviewer. His reading is leisurely and well upholstered – poles apart from, say, Osmo Vänska’s trim, taut and terrific approach. These recordings are quite closely miked, meaning, inter alia, we hear plenty of harp throughout, especially in my favourite passage, the delicate section of the slow movement where sonic magic is made by the harp, woodwinds and triangle. Alas, the string sound is occasionally thin but, in general, the playing is distinguished and the timpani is well captured in the scherzo. In the unjustly neglected Third – just as elusive in its own way as the Sixth – Inkinen inclines toward steady tempos and I particularly like the way he manages the often awkward…

January 3, 2011
CD and Other Review

Review: Bassoon Concertos (Karen Geoghegan, BBC Philharmonic/Noseda)

It is a sweet-sounding instrument, quite emotional and even, in her hands, elegant, but always within a relatively narrow band of expression when compared to the more virtuosic concerto partners, the piano, violin or the unabashed French horn. Mozart’s only surviving concerto for bassoon (he wrote three others, all lost) is a charming work, written when the composer was only 18 years old. It features a particularly beautiful andante, which has a delicious theme anticipating his famous aria Porgi amor from The Marriage of Figaro. The main item on the disc is a recently-discovered concerto by Gioachino Rossini, or at least attributed to him by some scholars. If they are correct, this would be the last piece he wrote for orchestra, before he left Bologna to live the high life in Paris. Sadly, it is a rather perfunctory piece with some pleasing moments but concluding with a rondo in which all high spirits seem assumed. It suggests, more than anything else, that the now-retired Rossini had said all he wanted to say in music. More interest is found in two 19th-century concertos by Conradin Kreutzer and Bernhard Crusell, who ride above the limitations of the solo instrument to provide some…

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