classical-music.com | Sun, 20 Jan 2019 10:20:05 +0000
Ceremony of Carols
Composed in 1942 while Britten was crossing the Atlantic from America, its unusual scoring of treble voices and harp present a range of serene, exhilarating and ecstatic settings of medieval carols.
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/David Willcocks
Classics for Pleasure 968 9492
Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings
This was Britten’s first major work on returning to England. The calm pastoral of its opening song revealed a new vein in his music.
Peter Pears (tenor), Barry Tuckwell (horn); English Chamber Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
Decca 436 3952
The première secured Britten’s international fame and the opera testifies to Britten’s masterful sense of drama.
Peter Pears; Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
Decca 467 6822
Written for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, Britten juxtaposed the Requiem Mass with poems by Wilfred Owen.
Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Bach Choir; LSO/Benjamin Britten
Decca 475 7511
Suite on English Folk Tunes
Britten admired Grainger more than Vaughan Williams, and this is evident in his by turns quirky and brooding suite.
Bournemouth SO/Richard Hickox
Chandos CHAN 9221
classical-music.com | Fri, 18 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000
The BBC Music Magazine Awards are the biggest annual celebration of the best recordings from the world of classical music, and you can join us on the evening for only £20 a ticket.
The evening takes place at London’s Kings Place on Wednesday 10 April 2019 and begins with a champagne reception, where you’ll have the chance to meet the magazine’s editorial team, music industry professionals, artists and celebrities.
You’ll then move into Kings Place’s main hall for the awards ceremony, which will feature performances by award-winning artists from across the world. The Awards will be hosted by editor Oliver Condy, with a star-studded line-up of guest presenters. Previous guests have included Simon Callow, Gok Wan, Ed Balls and Anneka Rice.
To buy tickets, click here.
To vote in the 2019 BBC Music Magazine Awards, click here.
classical-music.com | Thu, 17 Jan 2019 00:30:17 +0000
The nominations for the 2019 BBC Music Magazine Awards have now been revealed, with 21 of the best classical recordings from over the past year chosen by an expert jury.
The discs were selected from the 200 recordings awarded five stars by our critics in the last 12 months. Voting is now open to the public, so you can choose your favourite recordings from seven categories: Orchestral, Instrumental, Chamber, Choral, Vocal, Opera and Concerto.
There were a huge number of Debussy recordings released in 2018 in celebration of the composer’s centenary, and the best of these are reflected in this year’s Awards shortlist. In the Instrumental category, Alexander Melnikov is nominated with his recordings of Book 2 of Debussy’s Préludes and the much-loved La Mer, in which Melnikov is joined by Olga Pashchenko. Melnikov appears again playing Debussy in the Chamber category, alongside other leading musicians including Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras in a selection of late works by the French composer.
Contemporary composer John Adams also appears in two categories in this year’s Awards: he conducts his thrilling Doctor Atomic in the Opera category, and his Naïve and Sentimental Music and Absolute Jest are performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Peter Oundjian in the Orchestral category.
Old classics have been given new life in several of this year’s Awards nominations, including new recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony by MusicAeterna and Teodor Currentzis, and Mahler’s First Symphony by the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra under Adám Fischer.
New discoveries include Michael Collins’s recordings of Crusell’s fabulous clarinet concertos and a set of recordings of ‘Moralizing Songs in the Middle Ages’ from the Sollazzo ensemble in the Choral category.
Rising stars of the classical music world are heralded in this year’s Awards, with 25-year-old composer Owain Park’s choral works performed by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge in the Choral category and 26-year-old guitarist Sean Shibe’s disc SoftLOUD nominated in the Instrumental category, following his entry in the same category last year with his debut album.
Familiar faces in the BBC Music Magazine Awards this year include previous winners Mark Elder, who conducts Rossini’s Semiramide in the Opera category, and the Gabrieli Consort under Paul McCreesh, who are nominated in the Choral category with their A Rose Magnificat album.
'Drawing up our shortlist has been, like every year, a huge challenge', says BBC Music Magazine editor Oliver Condy. 'The quality of recordings in all genres throughout 2018 was remarkable. But now the power is in the hands of the music-loving public, and I'm excited to find out who they choose as the ultimate winners!'
In addition to the shortlisted recordings, there are four jury awards – Premiere Recording, Newcomer of the Year, DVD of the Year and Recording of the Year – all of which will be announced at the awards ceremony on 10 April.
The full list of nominees can be seen below, and the public vote is now open at www.classical-music.com/awards. You can also listen to audio clips from all the nominated discs here.
Voting closes on Tuesday 19 February 2019, and the winners will be announced at a ceremony at London’s Kings Place on Wednesday 10 April. For full details of the nominees and how to vote, go to our Awards page here.
Symphony No. 6
Naïve and Sentimental Music; Absolute Jest
Doric String Quartet; Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
Chandos CHSA 5199 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Symphony No. 1
Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra/Adám Fischer
Violin Concertos Nos 1 and 2
Christian Tetzlaff (violin); Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
Piano Concertos Nos 2 and 4; excerpts from JS Bach’s Partita in E for solo violin, arr. Rachmaninov
Daniil Trifonov (piano); Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Deutsche Grammophon 483 5335
Clarinet Concertos, Op. 1 and Op. 11, Grand Concerto, Op. 5, Introduction et air suédois, Op. 12
Michael Collins (clarinet/conductor); Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Chandos CHSA 5187 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Acis and Galatea
Soloists; Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn
Chandos CHSA 0404(2) (hybrid CD/SACD)
Soloists; BBC Singers; BBC Symphony Orchestra/John Adams
Soloists; Opera Rara Chorus, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Sir Mark Elder
Opera Rara 9293800572
A Rose Magnificat
Works by Leighton, Tallis, Warlock, White, MacMillan, Sheppard, Park, Wylkynson, Howells, Lane and Martin
Gabrieli Consort/Paul McCreesh
Signum SIGCD 536
Parle Qui Veut
Moralizing Songs of the Middle Ages
Linn CKD 529
The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/Stephen Layton
Hyperion CDA 68191
Works by Messager, Debussy, Delibes, Delage, Stravinsky, Thomas, Berlioz, Massenet and Koechlin
Sabine Devieilhe (soprano); Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth et al
Schumann • Mahler
Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 39; Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister; Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
Florian Boesch (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Linn CKD 511
Works by Rameau, Rebel and Gluck
Stéphane Degout (bass-baritone); Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902288
Piano Quintets Nos 1 & 2; Quartets for Four Violins & Four Cellos
Silesian Quartet et al
Chandos CHAN 10976
Deux Works by Bartók, Poulenc, Ravel and Dohnányi
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Polina Leschenko (piano)
Alpha ALPHA 387
Debussy The Late Works
Isabelle Faust (violin), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Xavier de Maistre (harp), Antoine Tamestit (viola), Magali Mosnier (flute), Alexander Melnikov, Javier Perianes, Tanguy De Williencourt (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902303
Works and transcriptions
Vikingur Ólafsson (piano)
Deutsche Grammophon 483 5022
Works by Oswald, MacMillan, Reich, Wolfe, Lang; 17th-century Scottish lute pieces
Sean Shibe (guitar)
Delphian DCD 34213
Préludes, Book 2; La mer (transcr. Debussy)
Alexander Melnikov (piano), Olga Pashchenko (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902302
classical-music.com | Thu, 17 Jan 2019 00:00:53 +0000
Welcome to the 2019 BBC Music Magazine Awards. This is your chance to vote for the best classical recordings from the past year.
Our expert jury has selected 21 of the finest recordings from a longlist of nearly 200 discs that our critics had awarded five stars in the last 12 months.
Now it's your turn to vote for the best in each category.
Click on the categories below to see the nominated discs and cast your vote.
How to vote:
Once you have entered the Awards site, you can move between the categories using the toolbar on the left.
Click on the disc you would like to vote for. You will then be asked to log in or create an account. A confirmation email will then be sent to you, on which you will need to click the link.
You can vote for one disc per category, and you cannot change or revoke your votes.
Your votes will be saved automatically, so once you have voted all you need to do is log out.
Voting for the BBC Music Magazine Awards opens on Thursday 17 January and will close on Tuesday 19 February at 11.59pm.
To view previous winners of the BBC Music Magazine Awards, click here.
Terms and Conditions
Voting for the BBC Music Awards 2019 is open until 11.59pm on Tuesday 19 February.
One vote per person, per category. Bulk voting will not be permitted.
The winners of the BBC Music Awards 2019 will be announced on 10 April.
classical-music.com | Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000
The best recording
Junge Deutsche Philharmonie/Péter Eötvös
To perform The Rite of Spring with any degree of conviction or accuracy demands total dedication. Of the many recordings available, most of the leading versions can claim at least that.
However, the score for The Rite is too eventful for any one record to capture everything that’s going on. To gain a pretty comprehensive understanding of what The Rite of Spring really does sound like, it’s worth trying one choice, living with it for sixth months or so and then having a change.
That top choice, at least for the moment, is the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie under Péter Ëotvös. Right from the expressive bassoon playing at the outset, this recording has imagination, it charts the various climaxes with energy but never a hint of vulgarity, and Ëotvös avoids what Stravinsky labelled self-glorification… his is the thoughtful, guiding approach of a genuinely creative mind.
Notice how he traces the architecture of the ‘Dance of the Earth’ that closes Part I, plus the dark ominous thumping of bassoons, timpani and basses in the passage immediately before it, as the sage blesses the earth – Ëotvös keeps the heat in while letting us hear virtually everything. There is also considerable sensitivity in the Pagan Night that opens Part II while, in the next episode where the young girls mark a circle where the glorified one will dance, the line is always kept mobile and fluid.
Above all, though, Ëotvös never lets us forget that The Rite of Spring is a ballet – but with a difference: this is dirty dancing.
Three more great recordings
Kirov Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Philips 468 0352
Valery Gergiev is the conductor to choose if it’s raw primitivism you’re after and blow the detail. There’s plenty of red mist, and at times you can almost smell the sweat and tribal greasepaint, but it’s also unkempt in places and not for all moods.
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Simon Rattle
EMI 749 6362
Conversely, go for Rattle if it’s detail you’re after and blow the raw primitivism. Very texture-sensitive and atmospheric, for sure, but occasionally also rather indulgent.
Testament SBT 1076
Even after almost 50 years, Igor Markevitch and the Philharmonia orchestra hit the spot, burning from the inside and sounding genuinely live. The downside, though, is the recorded sound which is showing its age just a little.
classical-music.com | Tue, 15 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000
'The whole reading has a pleasing impulse, balance and bloom'
This week's free download is the third movement from Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A, K581. It is performed by the Carducci Quartet with clarinettist Julian Bliss and recorded for Signum Records.
This is Mozart's only completed clarinet quintet and was written for the clarinettist Anton Stadler, who Mozart also wrote his Clarinet Concerto for. It was written at the end of Mozart's life, in 1789.
If you'd like to enjoy our free weekly download simply log in or sign up to our website.
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classical-music.com | Mon, 14 Jan 2019 16:52:26 +0000
Classical music consumption in 2018 increased by more than a tenth on the previous year, as stated by the BPI in new figures released this week. Sales and streams of classical music have grown by 10 per cent in the past year, outperforming the overall 5.7 per cent rise in UK music consumption as a whole.
The rise in classical music consumption was primarily driven by a 6.9 per cent increase in the sales of CDs, which account for nearly 60 per cent of the UK’s classical music. Streaming now accounts for 25.2 per cent of classical music consumption, which is an increase on previous years but is still lagging behind other musical genres. The BPI has suggested that this could be as a result of the difficulties in search functions on streaming platforms.
The combined sales of the top-30 albums increased by 69 per cent on 2017, showcasing the wide-reaching success of albums including Andrea Bocelli’s Si and In Harmony by Aled Jones and Russell Watson, which were the two best-selling classical recordings this year.
Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s appearance at the Royal Wedding helped put classical music on a wider stage, with his debut album Inspiration reaching the top of the classical charts for 14 weeks.
Ludovico Einaudi was the most popular classical artist on streaming platforms, accounting for 8.6 per cent of all classical music streams. This was closely followed by a handful of film music composers.
classical-music.com | Mon, 14 Jan 2019 14:05:46 +0000
Every Monday, the BBC Music Magazine team choose their favourite new recordings of the past week. The tracks are compiled into The Playlist, which can be accessed via the BBC Music Magazine's Apple Music page.
This week's playlist:
The listings for previous playlists are featured below.
Saint-Saëns Ascanio, Acte I, Tableau 1: Scène 1 ‘Très bien!’ (Jean-François Lapointe, Joé Bertili, Chœrs de la Haute École de Musique de Genève/Guillaume Tourniaire
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 III. Allegro con fuoco (Xiayin Wang, Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
Purcell Come Ye Sons of Art (Birthday Ode for Queen Mary): ‘Strike the Viol, Touch the Lute’ (Tim Mead, Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien/François Lazarevitch)
Aleksander Sedlar Savcho 3 (Nemanja Radulovic, Double Sense, Stéphanie Fontanarosa/Aleksander Sedlar)
Barbara Strozzi Arie, Op. 8 No. 2: ‘Che si può fare’ (Emoke Baräth, Il Pomo d’Oro/Francesco Corti)
Josef Suk 6 Piano Pieces, Op. 7: No. 1, Liebeslied (arr. for violin and orchestra) (Eldbjørg Hemsing, Antwerp Symphony Orchestra/Alan Buribayev)
Scheidemann Pavana Lachrymae in D minor (Yoann Moulin)
Beethoven String Quartet in E minor ‘Razumovsky’: III. Allegretto (Elias String Quartet)
Mozart Violin Sonata in D Major, K306: III. Allegretto (Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov)
Moteverdi Vespro della Beata Vergine: VIII. Paslmus 126. Nisi Dominus a dieci voci (Bruno Boterf, Ludus Modalis)
Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Act 1 (1877 Version): No. 8, Danse des coupes. Tempo di polacca (State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia ‘Evgeny Svetlanov’/Vladimir Jurowski
John Harbison Requim, Pt. 1: II. Sequence I. Dies irae (Nashville Chorus, Nashville Symphony/Giancarlo Guerrero)
Richard Strauss 5 Lieder, Op. 41: No. 1, Wiegenlied (Arabella Steinbacher, WDR Symphony Orchestra/Lawrence Foster)
Parry English Lyrics, Set 12: No. 7, The Sound of Hidden Music (Sarah Fox, Andrew West)
Andrzej Panufnik I Kwartet smyczkowy: III. Postlude (Apollon Musagete Quartett)
Chopin Piano Sonata No. 2: II. Scherzo (Live) (Eric Lu)
Szymanowski Nocturne & Tarantella in E minor, Op. 28: II. Tarantella (Jennifer Pike, Peter Limonov)
Einaudi Life (Live) (Angèle Dubeau, La Pietà)
Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli 6 Sonatas for Violin and Continuo, Op. 3: Sonata No. 2 ‘La Cesta’ (Elicia Silverstein, Mauro Valli)
Dvořák Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor: II. Poco adagio (Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt)
Florence Price Symphony No. 4: III. Juba Dance (Fort Smith Symphony/John Jeter)
Mozart Piano Concerto No. 16: III. Allegro di molto (Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Manchester Camerata, Gábor Takács-Nagy
Haydn Piano Sonata in G major, Op. 30 No. 5: I. Allegro con brio (Roman Rabinovich)
Johann Strauss I Radetzky-Marsch, Op. 228 (Christian Theilemann, Vienna Philharmonic
Arvo Pärt Passacaglia (Victoria Mullova, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi)
Michael Higgins The Angel Gabriel (Sonoro/Neil Ferris)
Debussy Cello Sonata in D minor: I. Prologue. Lent. Sostenuto e molto risoluto (Jean-Guiden Queyras, Javier Perianes)
Massanet Hérodiade, Act 1: ‘Celiu dont la parole efface… Il est doux, il est bon’ (Salomé) (Elsa Dreisig, Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie/Michael Schonwandt
Poulenc Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor: I. Andante (Live) (James O’Donnell, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin)
Schumann Fantasiestücke Op. 72: I. Zart und mit Ausdruck (Sol Gabetta, Bertrand Chamayou)
Gurney Since I Believe in God the Father Almighty (Teberae/Nigel Short)
Peter Gregson Bach: The Cello Suites: Recomposed by Peter Gregson – Suite No. 1 in G, BWV 1007: I. Prelude (Peter Gregson, Richard Harwood, Reinoud Ford, Tim Lowe, Ben Chappell, Katherine Jenkinson)
JS Bach Concerto in D minor, BWV 974: III. Presto (Víkingur Ólafsson)
Purcell King Arthur, Act 1: ‘Come If You Dare’ (Robert Buckland, Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier)
Messiaen La Nativité du Seigneur: V. Les enfants de Dieu (Richard Gowers)
George Onslow String Quartet No. 29 in E-flat, Op. 73 Elan Quintet)
Cécile Chaminade Arabesque No. 1, Op. 61 (Mark Viner)
Enescu Strigoii, Pt. 3: Bătrânu-și pleacă geana și iar rămâne orb (Alin Anca, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Gabriel Bebeșelea)
Max Richter Mary Queen of Scots: The Shores of Scotland
Tchaikovsky Swan Lake, Act II (1877 version): No. 13a, Danses des cygnes I. Tempo di valse
Emilie Mayer Symphony No. 4: IV. Presto (Neubrandenburg Philharmonie/Stefan Malzew)
Weber Clarinet Quintet in B-flat Major: IV. Rondo - Allegro giocoso (Julian Bliss & Carducci String Quartet)
John Hess Vous, qui passez sans me voir (Julien Behr, Orchestre de l'Opéra de Lyon/Pierre Bleuse)
John Francis Wade Adeste fideles (arr. M Suzuki for Choir and Organ) (Bach Collegium Japan Chorus/Masato Suzuki & Masaaki Suzuki)
Schumann Fantasiestücke: I. Zart und mit Ausdruck (Sol Gabetta, Bertrand Chamayou)
Domenico Sarro Messa a 5 voci: 'Laudamus te' (Maxim Emelyanychev, Jakub Józef Orliński, Il Pomo d'Oro)
Holst Invocation Op. 19 No. 2 (Guy Johnston, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis)
Dowland Come, Heavy Sleep (Grace Davidson, David Miller)
Schumann Humoreske Op. 20: II. Hastig (William Youn)
RO Morris Love Came Down at Christmas (arr. Stephen Cleobury) (Stephen Cleobury, Henry Websdale, Choir of King's College, Cambridge)
Tchaikovsky The Seasons Op. 37a: XII. December. Christmas (Barry Douglas)
Berlioz Roméo et Juliette: Pt. 3, Finale - Oath of Reconciliation (San Francisco Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Michael Tilson Thomas)
Elgar Chanson de nuit (Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder)
James Burton Tomorrow Shalle Be My Dancing Day (Jack Hawkins, Michael Bell, James Adams, Joseph Wicks, Choir of St John's College, Cambridge)
Julian Anderson Heaven is Shy of Earth: III. Gloria (With Bird) (Susan Bickley, BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Oliver Knussen)
Richard Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1: III. Rondo. Allegro (Live) (William Caballero, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck)
Derek Bermel Murmurations: I. Gathering at Gretna Green (ROCO)
Frank Martin Ballade for Flute & Piano (Bridget Bolliger, Andrew West)
Debussy Violin Sonata in G minor: III. Finale. Très animé (Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov)
Anonymous Now May We Singen (ORA Singers/Suzi Didby)
Rachmaninov Prelude in G minor Op. 23 No. 5 (Live at Philharmonie, Berlin/2018) (Yuja Wang)
James Newton Howard Violin Concerto: II. Andante semplice (James Ehnes, Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Cristian Măcelaru)
Sally Beamish In the Stillness (Sonoro/Neil Ferris)
Parry Suite moderne (arr. J Dibble for Orchestra): III. Romanza. Lento (BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba)
Jonathan Dove A Brief History of Creation: X. Whales Return to the Sea (Hallé Children's Choir, Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder)
Purcell King Arthur, Act 1: 'Come if You Dare' (Robert Buckland, Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier)
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 4 (Live at Kimmel Center, Philadelphia) (Daniil Trifonov, The Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin)
Fagerlund Höstsonaten, Act 1: charlotte Andergast! Vilken konstnär! (Krista Kujala, Mari Sares, Jere Martikainen, Jarmo Ojala, Finnish National Opera Chorus, Finnish National Opera Orchestra/John Storgards
Julian Anderson Heaven is Shy of Earth: III. Gloria (With Bird) (Susan Bickley, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen)
Zemlinsky Albumblatt (Erinnerung aus Wien) (William Youn)
Schreker The Birthday of the Infanta: Suite I. Reigen (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta)
Mozart Violin Concerto No. 1 K.207: III. Presto (Nikolaj Znaider, London Symphony Orchestra)
Tchaikovsky The Seasons, Op. 37a, TH 135: XII. December. Christmas (Barry Douglas)
Holst In the Bleak Midwinter (Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Isata Kanneh-Mason)
Glazunov The Seasons ‘L’été: No. 9, Scène de l’été (Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Kitayenko
JS Bach Prelude & Fugue BVW 855a: Prelude No. 10 in B minor (Vikingur Ólafsson)
Magnus Lindberg Tempus fugit Pt. 1 (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu)
Gurney Since I Believe in God the Father Almighty (Tenebrae/Nigel Short)
Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker Act 1: No. 6 Clara and the Nutcracker (Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel)
Ravel Ma mère l’Oye Suite, M. 60: V. Le jardin féerique (Prague Philharmonia/Emmanuel Villaume)
Eric Whitacre Deep Field: Earth Choir (Eric Whitacre Singers, Virtual Choir 5, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Eric Whitacre)
classical-music.com | Sun, 13 Jan 2019 17:00:29 +0000
Symphony No. 3
Brahms’s finest symphony may not have the fireworks of, say, the Violin Concerto, but its subtle drama and dark atmosphere are magical.
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
DG 477 7159
Brahms employs full symphony orchestra and chorus for this majestic setting of passages from the Lutheran bible written in response to his mother’s death.
Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), Thomas Quasthoff (baritone), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Berlin Radio Choir/Simon Rattle
EMI 365 3932
Piano Concerto No. 2
This deeply humane concerto was written just after the Symphony No. 3. The slow movement’s use of cello as a ‘second’ solo instrument was innovative.
Emil Gilels (piano), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Eugen Jochum
DG 447 4462
Intermezzi Op. 117
Brahms was a supreme pianist and his solo piano music has extraordinary range and variety. His late Intermezzi, however, are stunningly written miniatures.
Nicholas Angelich (piano)
Virgin 379 3022
Full of gypsy inflections and wild virtuosity, the Violin Concerto, written in 1879 for Joseph Joachim, is one of the most popular in the repertoire.
Nikolaj Znaider (violin), Vienna Philharmonic/Valery Gergiev
classical-music.com | Wed, 09 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000
‘The awakening of joyful feelings upon arriving in the countryside’
Beethoven’s sub-title for the opening movement of his Sixth Symphony must have been far from the thoughts of those Viennese citizens who had braved the winter weather on 22 December 1808 to attend a mammoth all-Beethoven concert in the Theatre an der Wien.
His warmest symphony was first heard in joyless conditions as the theatre’s heating had broken down. Whereas the Fifth, also premiered that day, epitomises the defiant side of Beethoven’s personality, the Sixth is its antithesis, both an expression of his love of Nature and a hymn of thanksgiving.
Musical imitations of rural life include the drone of a bagpipe, a babbling brook, the unlikely trio of nightingale, quail and cuckoo, a rustic dance, a summer thunderstorm and the carolling of a shepherd’s pipe.
The best recording
Philharmonia Orchestra 1957
EMI 567 9652
Otto Klemperer’s radiant recording of the Pastoral Symphony may be over 50 years old, but once the taste for it has been acquired, it’s addictive.
Yes, it has its idiosyncrasies. Take, for instance, his view of the Scherzo – his insistence that it’s a Ländler, a heavy footed Austrian dance, is possibly inherited from his mentor Gustav Mahler, who it is documented conducted this movement at a similarly easy-going tempo.
Never intended as fleet-footed Arcadians, Beethoven’s merrymaking peasants, as portrayed by Klemperer, even more resemble those grotesques found in the paintings of Flemish artist Pieter Breughel. But Klemperer’s tempo for the Allegro ma non troppo first movement strikes one as ideal, measured but purposeful.
In the Andante, the water in the brook flows naturally and the birdsong cadenza shows off the Philharmonia’s woodwind trio to charming effect. Taken at a quickish tempo, the Shepherd’s Hymn is a real Ode to Joy, both euphoric and strong.
There is no noticeable slowing for the Coda, no nostalgic glancing back; the symphony’s spell is finally broken with a peremptory ‘Amen’ from full orchestra. Klemperer, as always, divides his violins left and right, opening up the texture, and the 1957 stereo recording sounds better than it has any right to.
Three more great recordings
Musica Viva Moscow (2010)
Fuga Libera Fug564
Until the 1980s, Beethoven symphony performance was largely the preserve of the standard symphony orchestra. Next up was period instrument performance, removing excess varnish but sometimes risking damage to original paintwork.
But now hear what the 25 players of Musica Viva Moscow – a chamber-sized orchestra playing on modern instruments – can do. Suffice to say, they are a class act. The opening chord is struck rather than gently insinuated: this Pastoral is unique in being kick-started.
In the Thunderstorm of the fourth movement, cellist conductor Alexander Rudin keeps his brass and timpani in check – thus delivering more of a summer shower than an elemental deluge.
Throughout, there are countless wayside details to stop and admire, making this live, imaginative and finely recorded Pastoral, complete with violins divided either side of the orchestra, a hugely enjoyable one.
Basel Chamber Orchestra (2010)
Should the Pastoral Symphony be thrilling? This one certainly is. The sound that this young chamber orchestra produces is dazzling. With fresh, incisive string tone, wonderfully bucolic horns in the Scherzo, vibrant woodwind (the ravishing oboe playing in particular is deserving of a special mention), Giovanni Antonini’s Pastoral is a joy from start to finish.
For those attuned to the Old School of Beethoven Conducting, exemplified by the likes of Bruno Walter or Karl Böhm, Antonini’s tempo for the first movement may sound merely breathless; however, in context and on repeated hearing, it makes perfect sense.
Even without antiphonal violins, this beautifully recorded disc must feature on any shortlist.
Bremen Chamber Philharmonic (2009)
Like Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (Warner Classics, 1992), Paavo Järvi opts for a medium-size ensemble playing on modern instruments. Interpretatively, they are quite similar and both can be warmly recommended, but Järvi’s decision to divide his Bremen Chamber Philharmonic violins ultimately gets him my vote of the two.
In addition, he offers beautifully judged tempos, transparent orchestral textures and a real sense of engagement with the score. This Pastoral really does seem to be lit from within.
Järvi’s marvellously played and recorded account, free of any interpretative quirks, is true both to the letter and spirit of Beethoven – though, ultimately, no single recording can tell us absolutely everything about this inexhaustible score.
And one to avoid
Herbert von Karajan made several recordings of the Pastoral. The earliest and best was in mono with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the 1950s – a beautifully played, invigorating performance with plenty of fresh air in its lungs.
However, his 1970s digital re-make is a dull run-through with a jumbo-size Berlin Philharmonic machine on autopilot. If you crave a BPO Pastoral, it must be André Cluytens’s wonderful 1960 recording.