Recordings

The best, and sometimes the worst, in recorded music.

A Crop of Recordings VIII

Maurice Ravel

“If only I had known it could be done like this!” So enthused Brahms the first time he heard Dvořák’s Cello Concerto—then as now probably the greatest work for cello and orchestra ever written. “If only Brahms could hear this performance,” I’m tempted to say! Thomas Dausgaard seems to have a musical green thumb. Touch something and it springs to life with unexpected flips of energy and color—Schubert and Schumann Symphonies with his Swedish Chamber Orchestra only among the most recent successes.



A Crop Of Recordings VII: Music of Walton, Zemlinsky, Goldmark and Ibert

Jacques Ibert.

It has taken time for Sir William Walton’s Second Symphony to find a secure place in the repertory. But I think this new CD from Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony fully confirms its place in the canon and right to be there. Walton is the sort of artist, like Oscar Wilde, who interests sociologists, because he hides depth in the shallows.



A Crop Of Recordings VI: Symphonic Works by Strauss, Prokofiev, Mahler and Sibelius

There is nothing more cozy and comfortable in the symphonic canon than the harmless narcissism of Strauss’s “domestic” symphony, originally titled “My home. A symphonic portrait of myself and my family.” Just how tasteful it all is has been a subject of debate ever since 1903, of course. As Peter Ustinov famously said of the composer: “I knew I wouldn’t like his wallpaper.” As it turned out, he didn’t.



A Crop Of Recordings V: French Rarities by Emmanuel, Saint-Saëns, Chausson, Bizet, Magnard, Duparc and Berlioz

Maurice Emmanuel in the 1930s. Photo from Bibliothèque Musicale Mahler, fonds Maurice Emmanuel

Every so often a release comes along which serves to remind listeners that a particular national repertory is not always so well known to us as we think. Not all beloved works cross the pond. This has a lot to do with immediacy and easily recognizable, iconic tunes.



A Crop of Recordings IV: Enescu, Suk, Poulenc, Martinů, Tchaikovsky

George Enescu and violin. From romaniapozitiva.ro

As collectors know, exploring outside the basic repertory is often both frustrating and rewarding.  The search for significant neglected music, one learns early, is not so easy as it appears. Many worthy pieces one falls in love with turn out to be partial works of genius, with uninspired moments we choose to forgive, defects of length and proportion, or performing requirements condemning them to obscurity.



Recordings III: Ives, Copland, and Ginastera

Charles Ives

What does the music of Charles Ives sound like with an Australian orchestra and a British conductor? Different, one is tempted to to say, but not really. We’ve become used to our Ives done New York style, with Broadway snap and brass. No one gets that wrong. But Ives was a New Englander, and the disruptive elements in his music have perhaps been overstressed. He always explained that bits of band marches and Americana in the Second Symphony were present to remind him of his youth, not shock Horatio parker, his music teacher. And the famous razzy “non-chord” at the end was meant to evoke dance bands sending everyone home with a screech–not annoy the professor!



A Crop of Recordings II: Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Strauss, Schmitt, Magnard, and Beethoven

Conductor Ernest Ansermet (1883 Vevey - 1969 Geneva)

About a year ago Sarah Connolly, Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony brought us rich rolling Sea Pictures as part of their Gerontius CD set for Chandos. In that voluptuous traversal Sarah Connolly sings like the golden girl who would be queen. This is grand Elgar in the tradition of Janet Baker, where soft low notes yearn and consecrate. At times the “r”s roll and things veer imperial. But there is another, more intimate way to woo these chords. It struck me immediately. Alice Coote nearly whispers the music to you like a woman in love. It isn’t a question of volume, of course. Coote sings all the dynamics as written. It’s her manner, so personal, so confessional. It matters less that her voice is slightly lighter than Connolly’s or that the orchestra’s pulse is less nautical. This isn’t tourist Elgar. This is three o’clock in the morning Elgar. And at that hour intimate tears are welcome.



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