Who would ever suppose an obscure one-movement piano concerto could produce this sort of triumph? Alexei Volodin simply and unexpectedly swept away his Sydney listeners at this concert to frenzied screams with his performance of the Medtner Piano Concerto No.1. Our audience came to hear The Planets no doubt, but many just as surely emerged, like me, a dazed convert to Medtner, as if taken over by pods in my sleep from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was a stunning experience.
The feature I applaud most in this fine new release from BIS is its pairing of Great Britain’s two most internationally popular orchestral showpieces under one baton. You would think it natural to record them together, but a quick look at Amazon reveals only Sir Adrian Boult’s recordings available that way, and these were originally sold separately, supplemented with other music. You can also find Herbert von Karajan’s The Planets accompanied by Pierre Monteux’s Enigma Variations, both performances many decades old. Even these new Andrew Litton versions were actually laid down in studio four years apart (the Elgar in 2013, Holst in 2017) but were clearly intended for this release by BIS, and both were miked in Bergen’s Grieg Hall.
A number of years ago now-disgraced Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit brought down the house at Davies Hall with Holst's The Planets. I recall that evening well, a grand traditional performance. On a recent Sunday, though, San Francisco's Resident Conductor, 28 year-old German-born Christian Reif, did better than that. He not only delivered a white-hot account of Holst's interplanetary suite which will play well on Jupiter once the sounds get there. He jump-started what I hope will be a major career. As local music patrons are aware, Michael Tilson Thomas will be leaving our orchestra after another season. Under the circumstances, every guest conductor looms large in the institutional gimlet eye. Leonard Bernstein's conducting career, after all, rocketed when Bruno Walter caught a bout of the flu. Christian Reif's renown may well benefit from Charles Dutoit's bout with moral turpitude....
Here is really lovely Dvořák: fresh and natural, gorgeously recorded—and with something new to say. That’s rare for the symphony, which has been captured for presumed immortality by every orchestra on earth—and dutifully miked from nearly every row in every concert house. There’s a New World for every taste in approach and sonic perspective.