Ralph Vaughan Williams The Song of Love Kitty Whatley, Roderick Williams, Willian Vann ALBCD037
This disc of songs by Vaughan Williams is performed by Kitty Whatley and Roderick Williams, with Willian Vann the polished and sympathetic pianist. Given that the disc was recorded at Potton Hall, I was rather surprised by the slightly boxy sound that the engineer has captured, while the piano is also a bit too recessed in the sound picture. Roderick Williams is peerless as always, and especially superb in songs such as Buonaparty; it’s worth purchasing the disc for this performance alone. I was less impressed by Kitty Whatley, however, whose intonation is consistently just a fraction below the note, and whose audible gasps for breath detracted from my enjoyment of the disc.
Ralph Vaughan Williams Viola Fantasia Martin Outram; Julian Rolton; Mark Padmore ALBCD036
This is a good disc all round, with a really lovely programme, informative notes, and a most atmospheric front cover. One drawback is that it is slightly marred by less-than-ideal recorded sound. To my ears, the engineer has too closely miked the performers, so that there are extraneous instrument sounds. The tone of the viola comes over as quite thin, probably due to the engineering rather than to any shortcoming on Martin Outram’s part. The disc opens with the Suite for Viola and Pianoforte, and Outram and Rolton deliver a good sense of exuberance, particularly at the opening of the third and eighth movements. However, there is a slight lack of control in the shifts of the fifth movement, which feel a little cumbersome and not quite agile enough (cold fingers, perhaps?) The Suite is followed by the gorgeous Romance for Viola and Pianoforte, Six Studies in English Folk Song, Fantasia on Greensleves and Fantasia on Sussex Folk Tunes, all well-played by Outram and Rolton, who proves himself a sympathetic and sound accompanist throughout. The disc then finishes with the Four Hymns for Tenor, Viola and Pianoforte with vocalist Mark Padmore, who is very dramatic indeed, although his vibrato is not to my personal taste.
Bliss Mary of Magdala; The Enchantress; Meditations On a Theme By John Blow BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Davis; Sarah Connolly CHSA 5242 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The Enchantress was the stand-out work for me on this disc. It is gripping, dramatic, scintillating music, and excellently performed here. The work was written for Kathleen Ferrier, and Sarah Connolly’s rich, mature voice is just right for it. The text is based on the Second Idyll of Theocritus, and uses the persona of a Syracusan woman who resorts to dark sorcery in order to rekindle the lost love in the breast of her abandoner. This absolutely gorgeous, ravishing work is followed by the Meditations On a Theme By John Blow, which is also given a good performance with clear, incisive playing, before Mary of Magdala closes the disc. This sacred cantata retells the episode after Christ’s crucifixion, when Mary is the first to see Christ risen and mistakes Him for a gardener. This work is slightly let down by bass James Platt, whose singing is not very well-centred and whose enunciation also leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, on the whole this is an excellent disc and highly recommended.
I must confess to having been extremely surprised and disappointed by this disc, from the raw, passionate, unbridled – one might even say histrionic – opening of Elgar’s String Quartet through to the end of the Quintet. The playing is visceral and abrasive, with no refinement or elegance. That would be fine (albeit not to everyone’s taste) if the performances were spot on, but the intonation problems persist throughout the disc. The first violin would seem to be sharper than his companions, and the intonation is therefore dis-unified within the quartet. A possible contributing factor is that the first violinist appears to be vibrating either side of the note, whereas the others vibrate beneath the note. Further issues include the first violin’s performance style, more akin to that of a soloist than a chamber musician, whereas the others play together as colleagues. The attacks are not always together —especially noticeable in the third movement— and the whole group’s playing style includes a fair amount of portamento (which I personally like). There is also an amount of rather intrusive sniffing going on at the very start of the Quartet. The Quintet is, regrettably, not much better. I have no gripes whatsoever with pianist Martin Roscoe, whose playing is absolutely fine, but the quartet are still having intonation difficulties and the ensemble really isn’t together. This is all quite hard to account for, given the Brodsky’s experience and reputation. Are they deliberately trying to capture a raw, edgy performance? Or has the producer simply not noticed the intonation and ensemble issues? (And in that case, why haven’t the artists caught these during playback?) Either way, this release is something of a mystery and a disappointment.
Bax and Cohen Private Passions Mark Bebbington SOMMCD 0193 HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Bax’s monumental Sonata in E flat major is a strong starter for this disc, played here by Mark Bebbington with passion and aplomb. It is followed by the atmospheric In the Night (Passacaglia), and the world première recording of the Four Pieces – quite charming works written in the last decade of Bax’s life, entitled Fantastic March, Romanza, Idyll and Phantasie. Harriet Cohen’s Russian Impressions are most atmospheric and accomplished pieces, and the disc closes with Bax’s Legend. A very good recording of a well-performed, balanced programme, attractively presented.
Composers at the Savile Club Alexander Karpeyev (piano) SOMMCD 0601
This disc features twelve composers who were members of London’s Savile Club, an institution founded in 1868 with the aim of being more relaxed, open-minded and informal than other London clubs of the time. It attracted many leading poets, musicians, writers, and scientists of the day. The recording opens and closes with fanfares composed for the Club’s 150th and 100th anniversaries respectively, played by Sam Pierce and Bradley Jones on trumpets. The opening fanfare is by contemporary composer Julian Anderson, and it leads into Parry’s Prelude from Hands Across the Centuries. Quilter’s following In a Gondola is characteristically attractive, charming, and well-crafted. The piano comes across as extremely harsh-sounding and far too bright in Howells’s Procession (especially in the higher register), and it’s also quite a splashy performance from Alexander Karpeyev. An energetic but short Suite Roumaine by Francis Chagrin follows, before the most substantial work on the disc: Malcolm Arnold’s Variations On a Ukrainian Folk Song. Arthur Benjamin’s Scherzino precedes Alywn’s atmospheric and beautiful Night Thoughts, and then three of Virgil Thompson’s Nineteen Portraits are followed by Walton’s Popular Song, a performance which rather lacks the necessary insouciance, suavity and swing. Then the programme moves on to a piano version of Balfour Gardiners’ Shepherd’s Fennel Dance, Elgar’s In Smyrna and Serenade in G (in which Karpeyev doesn’t quite capture the gossamer delicacy that I would like), and two of Stanford’s Four Irish Dances arranged by Percy Grainger. The disc then closes with the other fanfare, this time by Malcolm Arnold. It’s perhaps a slightly tenuous premise, but the works chosen are all attractive and work well as a programme. Notes by Jeremy Barlow, who also produces the disc, are brief but interesting.--Em Marshall-Luck