ALC 1217 Weelkes Anthems & Madrigals Consort of Musicke, Anthony Rooley
This is a reissue of a disc recorded in 1994 at Forde Abbey in Dorset, with the Consort of Musicke directed by Anthony Rooley (also on lute). The small group of singers includes Emma Kirkby, and all voices blend beautifully --although I'd personally single out the bass Simon Grant for particular mention, providing very rich sounds. The music in question is a selection of Thomas Weelkes's best-loved anthems and madrigals (such as Hosanna to the Son of David). An excellent range of material encompasses the more joyful and uplifting to the mournful and melancholic. Texts are reproduced in the (also good) notes, making this a pleasing re-release overall.
ALC 1210 Purcell Dido and Aeneas English Chamber Orchestra, Anthony Lewis
An historic performance of Purcell's masterpiece, Dido and Aeneas, this recording dates from 1961, with the St Anthony Singers and English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Anthony Lewis, and a cast that includes Janet Baker as Dido and Raimund Herincx as Aeneas. The recorded sound is good, and the engineers have captured a particularly rich and radiant sound from the English Chamber Orchestra. I was, however, disappointed by the balance in Dido's Lament, which seems to feature the violin too prominently, and fails to give the listener enough bass, which needs to be brought forwards far more in order to emphasise the chromatic backfall (a standard musical device at the time for indicating lamentation). I was also unconvinced by the witches, who are rather uneven and seem to deem it suitable to croak and cackle a little from time to time but not consistently, as if they occasionally forget that they are witches and let the characterisation slip. On the other hand, there are good distancing effects in "Stay prince..."; we have superb drive in "Come away," with a splendidly swinging, dancing feel and good propulsion; and there is an excellent sense of drama throughout. Janet Baker is, as one might expect, deeply moving.
BMS442CD Frank Bridge & Cyril Scott Piano Quintets Raphael Terroni, Bingham String Quartet
I was disappointed by this release, in which the performances do not do justice to the wonderful music that they are meant to be communicating. The recording -- which was made in 1990 but was released shortly after the sad death of pianist Raphael Terroni last year -- features quite a hard recorded sound. The disc opens with Bridge's glorious Piano Quintet and although Terroni himself conveys passion and commitment in the piano part, we have rather anaemic playing from the Bingham Quartet, whose sound is unappealingly shrill, shrieky and thin. Pacing seems very leisurely, especially in the first movement, yet this is partly due to the fact that the playing is rather directionless: in the adagio in particular, the melodic line is not sustained by the quartet. The third and final movement Allegro energico is lacking in drive entirely (one notes, for example, that the quartet are not giving enough zest to the short notes, resulting in a lethargic and lazy feel). The ensuing Cyril Scott Quintet also has fine playing by Terroni, let down by his colleagues in the Bingham String Quartet. The ensemble here is notably lax, and it is also unbalanced, with too much emphasis placed on the first violin.
CACD77015 English Fantasy Peter Cigerlis, Antony Gray
Here we have a fine disc of works for clarinet and piano, opening with the atmospheric Sonata for Clarinet and Piano by William Alwyn, and containing the really rather beautiful Fetes Champetres by John Carmichael, the Aria and Finale by the same composer, Clive Jenkins's Five Pieces for Clarinet and Piano and Armstrong Gibbs's Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano. The programme concludes with the Fantasy-Sonata by John Ireland. These works may be unchallenging for the listener, but they are without exception extremely attractive, and all superbly played by Cigerlis and Gray. This disc was a true delight to listen to.
CHSA 5121 Grainger Works for Large Chorus and Orchestra Melbourne Symphony Chorus, Sir Andrew Davis
Many world première recordings, or première recordings of these particular versions for large chorus and orchestra, are presented on this excellent Chandos disc, with its superb sound. Sir Andrew Davies conducts the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with two different choirs - the Sydney Chamber Choir and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus. It is very noticeable indeed that the former is far more secure, powerful and technically capable than the latter. In the opening King Solomon's Espousals, for example, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus are under-powered and their ensemble leaves something to be desired (the women are also really quite shrieky indeed). The chorus seems to cope better when given something to characterise or when are allocated a great tune. Thus they are quite good in the wonderful Danny Deever, where a suitably menacing air is captured by the here appropriately rough and coarsely-accented chorus, whilst the brief and jolly Hunter in his Career is also good. On the other hand, in the Marching Song of Democracy the chorus are again under-strength and the words are inaudible; likewise in The Bride's Tragedy we cannot hear what the chorus are singing (which is a shame, given the all-important storyline about a couple who elope only to be drowned crossing a river). The final Thanksgiving Song also comes across as slightly lethargic and in need of an injection of energy. By contrast, the works sung by the Sydney Chamber Choir (The Wrath of Odin; Sir Eglamore and The Lads of Wamphray) are superb: this group has a far better ensemble, alongside suitable power and control and proper enunciation. The soloists are all good, especially in the weird and wonderful Tribute to Foster, in which Grainger opens with an arrangement of the American songwriter Stephen Foster's Camptown Races and moves on to a lullaby section with verses of his own set to Foster's scansion, before returning to the opening jaunty tempo. Despite the under-par performances from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus, this is a fantastic disc, with drive and commitment evident from Sir Andrew Davis and the orchestra, and it is wonderful to have the opportunity to hear these sometimes rather wacky but nevertheless intriguing and compelling works.
CHSA 5119 Goossens Orchestral Works Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis
This is the second disc of Sir Eugene Goossens's idiosyncratic and highly individual orchestral music on Chandos. The disc presents a range of works, from 1918 through to 1957, some of which appear, to my ear at least, to be more successful than others. I must confess that works such as the substantial Concert Piece (composed as a triple concerto for Goossens's siblings Leon, Marie and Sidonie) left me rather cold despite ostensibly being the focal work of the disc, but on the other hand, the opening Kaleidoscope (a suite for children) is full of enthralling colours and sounds, and I was also particularly impressed by the Two Nature Poems. I'm sure that other listeners will find their own particular favourites amongst the unique sound-worlds that Goossens creates, which are bizarre and attractively lyrical by turns. Performances, with Sir Andrew Davies conducting the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, are of a faultlessly high standard.
CHAN 10758 British Clarinet Sonatas Michael Collins, Michael McHale
Another excellent disc from Chandos, containing British clarinet sonatas performed by Michael Collins and Michael McHale. The disc commences with Malcolm Arnold's Sonatina, which is performed with a tremendous sense of energy (especially in the first and third movements) and excellent snappy rhythms captured in the piano by Michael McHale. The second movement is played with a good sense of lyricism and the piece is, overall, excellently characterised by the performers, who demonstrate an appropriate sense of fun and joie de vivre. The following Arnold Cooke Sonata is an interesting and extremely well-played piece, in which the duo capture a nice sense of line and show a pleasing three-dimensionality of texture. The extremely attractive Tributes by Edward Gregson is a work which pays homage to five twentieth-century composers (Poulenc, Finzi, Stravinsky, Messiaen and Bartok) as well as to the five clarinettists with whom Gregson has worked. There is more sensitive playing from Collins and McHale in Benjamin's Le Tombeau de Ravel, and in Horovitz's Sonatina, with its dreamy central movement and jazzy final section, which rounds off a disc that I have pleasure in commending.
CHAN 10774(4) X York Bowen Piano Works Joop Celis
This boxed set brings together the four volumes of York Bowen's piano music previously released by Chandos and performed by Joop Celis. The informative booklet notes for each disc have also been reproduced in full (although still in their individual booklets rather than one complete booklet). The music is striking--highly accomplished, individual, powerful and virtuosic--and the excellent performances match. This is definitely a set to be recommended for any lover of piano music.
CHAN 0795 The Unknown Purcell: Sonatas by Daniel Purcell Hazel Brooks, David Pollock
Daniel Purcell--long identified as the younger brother, but more likely to have been the cousin, of Henry Purcell--was, like his relative, a prolific and accomplished composer, who wrote in a variety of genres. This disc presents a number of sonatas for violin and harpsichord, suites and pieces for solo violin or harpsichord, as well as some arrangements of songs. The music is thoroughly attractive and engaging, although towards the end of the disc the listener is ready for a change of composer. It might have been better programming to intersperse works by Purcell with those by his English and/or foreign contemporaries, although one suspects that Purcell's music could be overshadowed if juxtaposed with the more flamboyant and extrovertive music of, for example, Corelli. The works are well-performed, with good contrasts in terms of dynamics, articulation and voicing, although the sound of the harpsichord could have been better captured.
dda25109 Of Times and Seasons Lesley-Jane Rogers, Jennie-Helen Moston
A selection of songs and anthems by Peter Lea-Cox, this disc includes Six Songs of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Eight Seasonal Anthems, the piano solo Cathedral at Night and, at the end, Collected Songs. The songs themselves are all interesting, attractive, and beautiful, firmly set within the English solo song tradition. I was less convinced by the performances, however: the soprano, I am sorry to say, seemed to struggle somewhat with less-than-perfect control, uneven tone and some shrieking in the upper register.
HLL 7533 Vaughan Williams Symphonies 5 and 8 The Hallé, Mark Elder
A new recording of Vaughan Williams's wonderful Fifth and Eighth Symphonies from the Hallé's own label, captured live from the Bridgewater Hall in November 2011 and with Sir Mark Elder conducting the Hallé. There is very little to fault here unless it is that, in places, the strings don't quite have the edge and drive needed. Otherwise, the orchestral textures are well delineated, there is good layering of the sound (particularly in the first movement of the Fifth Symphony), the ensemble is good, and playing is to a consistently very high standard. However, I felt that the recording lacked that extra spark: a good, solid performance, but not one that I will be turning to for inspiration or enlightenment.
msv 77201 Mixed Doubles: Double concertos by John Manduell and Gordon Crosse Manchester Sinfonia
This two-disc set features music by Gordon Crosse on disc one and John Manduell on the second disc. Crosse is represented by his rather mysterious Brief Encounter for oboe d'amore (Richard Simpson), recorder (John Turner) and strings (the Manchester Sinfonia, conducted by Timothy Reynish), the Concerto for Viola and Strings with French Horn (with Matthew Jones as violist), and the inventive and effective Fantasia on Ca' the Yowes for recorder, harp and strings. Although all three works were written in 2009, they combine lyricism with an individual voice, and successfully manage to avoid pastiche. John Manduell's Flutes Concerto for flautist, harp, strings and percussion (including atmospheric use of the rainstick) and Double Concerto for oboe, cor anglais, strings and percussion (with flautist Michael Cox, Richard Simpson as oboist, and Alison Teale on cor anglais) are also individual, interesting and confidently composed works. All are performed with flair and conviction.
MUSIC & MEDIA
MMC103 English Recorder Works Jill Kemp, Aleksander Szram, Brodowski Quartet
This is a collection of works for recorder, focusing on Malcolm Arnold (and including his Sonatina, Solitaire and Fantasy for Recorder and String Quartet). The disc opens with Lennox Berkeley's Sonatina with its exotic first movement, dream-like Adagio and lively and fun Allegro Moderato, and also includes Bowen's Sonata, Rubbra's Meditazioni sopra Coeurs Désolés and Jacob's Suite for Recorder and String Quartet. The playing of the Brodowski Quartet is good, as is Aleksander Szram's sympathetic accompaniment. However, I found the sound of the recorder forced and slightly unfocused. NAXOS
Venables Complete works for Solo Piano Graham Lloyd
Ian Venables is perhaps best known for his beautiful and sensitive English solo song settings; this disc proves that he is equally master of solo piano music. The works on the disc range from Venables's first significant work for piano, the deep, beautiful and intense 1975 Sonata In Memoriam D.S.C.H., through the romantic Stourhead Follies, to the opening, atmospheric Caprice. The pieces are lyrical and accessible, inventive (never pastiche), and full of spirit and soul. Above all, they are immensely listenable, and are beautifully and sympathetically played by Graham Lloyd. An excellent disc and highly recommended.
8.572891 Maurice Greene Spenser's Amoretti Benjamin Hulett, Luke Green, Giangiacomo Pinardi
Spenser's Amoretti (a setting of 25 of the 89 sonnets) was composed in 1738 by Maurice Greene, then Master of the King's Music, and was extremely popular at the time. The verses describe the courtship between the poet and his future wife, and Greene's selection aimed to retain the narrative of the courtship story and bring it to life through musical expression - we thus find plenty of word painting and illustrative techniques. Spenser's Amoretti is here performed by the tenor Benjamin Hulett, accompanied by Luke Green at the harpsichord and Giangiacomo Pinardi on theorbo. The performances are sensitive and accomplished, with the range of emotions depicted by Greene extremely well communicated.
8.573014 Ireland Church Music Lincoln Cathedral Choir
These performances of John Ireland's church music come from Lincoln Cathedral, with the Choir under the direction of Aric Prentice, and Charles Harrison at the organ. The programming intersperses the well-known (such as My Song is Love Unknown, and Greater Love Hath No Man) with the less familiar, including services and other ecumenical works. The mixed children of Lincoln Cathedral Choir are better than the men, who are quite weak (especially in the opening of Love Hath No Man, with rather feeble tenors). The particular sound of the choir, however, is quite breathy and lisp-y and I found it slightly lacking in focus. Neither enunciation nor ensemble is particularly good (the latter especially in terms of the placing of consonants), and I also heard the odd hint of scooping. I was, too, slightly dissatisfied with the balance, which seemed to place the organ too much in the background. Booklet notes (by Jeremy Dibble) are good, and include texts, although there was an interesting typo on the booklet's back page.
NI 6230 Piano Quartets Cappa Ensemble
The very fine Cappa Ensemble comprises Bartosz Woroch on violin, Adam Newman on viola, Brian O'Kane on cello and Michael McHale on piano, and they here impress with energetic and committed performances of important piano quartets. The disc commences with Bridge's Phantasy, which is played idiomatically and with passion and conviction. Bax's Piano Quartet in One Movement follows - a terser and slightly more astringent work which the Ensemble play with a slightly rough, harsh edge to their sound that works well, although they could have done with a little more energy. There is an interesting use of textures and colours in Ian Wilson's following piece Noct (about the constellated sky and gathering darkness of night), and the Cappa Ensemble give a good account of this interesting concept. They seem even more at home with the opulence of the final work, Walton's Quartet in D Minor, than with the other works on the disc and, in particular, offer an excellent sense of drive in the final movement of the piece. On the whole, this is a sound disc all round.
NI 6226 Dowland McLeod, Walton, Wilson, Britten; Ian Watt
Here is a selection of works for guitar, played with sensitivity and understanding by Ian Watts. The disc opens with Dowland's Preludium, hauntingly performed, and Dowland works are then juxtaposed with more modern pieces throughout (Walton's Five Bagatelles is a particular highlight), programming which works extremely well. The disc (which aims to celebrate not just Britten's centenary, but also the 50th anniversary of Britten's Nocturnal, the 450th birthday of Dowland, and the 80th birthday of Julian Bream) concludes, appropriately enough, with the much-loved Nocturnal After John Dowland - an excellent way to finish a strong, and superbly played, programme.
9100967 Purcell Ode for St Cecilia's Day Kalmar Chamber Orchestra of London. Sir Michael Tippett
This is an historic recording made in 1956, with Sir Michael Tippett conducting the Kalmar Chamber Orchestra of London and the Ambrosian Singers, and a cast that stars April Cantelo (whose dark, heavy, mature voice works extremely well, to my ear), Alfred Deller, Peter Salmon, Wilfred Brown, Maurice Bevan and John Frost (with his rich, deep bass). The performance is, of course, very much of its time, and so some may find it too heavy and stodgy, although I would exhort listeners not to be put off by this. The two criticisms to be made of this disc are, firstly, that the strings sound is too big to let the harpsichord through (the perennial problem of using a harpsichord with modern strings), and secondly that the booklet and insert production are very poor indeed, with appallingly bad quality paper and design, rather letting down what would otherwise be an excellent (and important) release..--Em Marshall-Luck