Manze’s innovative take on the Jupiter is spot on
The conductor’s surprising approach to Mozart has really made Misha Donat sit up and take notice
Mozart Symphonies Nos 40 & 41
NDR Radiophilharmonie/andrew Manze Pentatone PTC 5186 757 (hybrid CD/SACD) 74:47 mins It’s become quite fashionable to do Mozart’s last two symphonies with all the repeats, making them into imposing edifices lasting nearly 40 minutes apiece. Certainly, in the case of the Jupiter Symphony the finale’s second-half repeat can be justified since its inclusion throws greater weight onto the coda when it eventually arrives, with its famous contrapuntal combination of all five themes. Played in this way the finale becomes the crowning glory not only of this work, but of symphonic thought altogether up to its time.
Andrew Manze’s interpretations justify the repeats elsewhere, too. In his hands, the opening bars of the G minor Symphony No. 40 acquire greater expressive urgency the second time through, as though the drama of the intervening music had rubbed off on them; while, conversely, the slow movement’s second subject is more quiet and mysterious on the repeat, adding a new dimension to the music. One or two of Manze’s other interpretative ideas made me sit up: the way he handles the astonishingly angry start of the central development section in No. 40’s finale, making it sound even more disjointed than it already is (the second time through, once the cat’s been let out of the bag, so to speak, he has the same passage played in tempo); or the long pause he makes before the onset of the coda in the Jupiter ’s finale, stressing the music’s mysterious, otherworldly character.
For someone who had such a long career as a periodinstrument violinist, Manze’s interpretations with the NDR Radiophilharmonie (of which he is now principal conductor) are surprisingly Romantic – and none the worse for that. To make the two most famous among all 18th-century symphonies sound so fresh is no mean feat. I enjoyed these performances immensely.
Hear extracts from this recording and the rest of this month’s choices on the BBC Music Magazine website at www.classical-music.com
Brahms • Parry Brahms (arr. Schoenberg): Piano
Quartet in G minor;
Parry: Elegy for Brahms
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/
Ondine ODE 1314-2 53:13 mins Schoenberg’s 1937 orchestration of Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet continues to divide opinion. For some, it’s a magnificent and imaginative realisation of a work that in its original form already sounds like orchestral music. Others, however, are less sympathetic, claiming that the textures are too thickly drawn, especially in the louder moments of the score, and that Schoenberg’s decision to add E flat clarinet and xylophone to the orchestral fabric distorts Brahms’s intentions, since such instruments were never used by the composer. Perhaps sceptics will change their minds after listening to this beautifully-recorded version.
In utilising the relatively modestsized forces of the Gävle Symphony Orchestra, conductor Jaime Martín succeeds in bringing far greater textural clarity to the orchestration than many other recordings using a fuller complement of strings.
The most obvious advantage comes in passages such as the powerful central section of the slow movement which can so easily sound bloated, but is here projected with lightness and a good sense of forward momentum.
The orchestra masters many of the technical difficulties posed by Schoenberg’s writing in the first three movements and deliver some very expressive playing especially in the lyrical second movement ‘Intermezzo’. ★owever, ensemble is somewhat stretched by the formidable demands of the Finale ‘Rondo alla zingarese’ where the panache and virtuosity of Rattle’s Berliner Philharmoniker (on Warner Classics) outshines all other recorded versions by some distance. Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy here, and the coupling of Parry’s short Elegy for Brahms, written as a heartfelt tribute to the composer in the year of his death, is performed with great eloquence. Erik Levi PERFORMANCE ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★
To make these two symphonies sound so fresh is no mean feat
Bruckner Symphony No. 9
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/mariss Jansons
BR Klassik 900173 57:10 mins
Despite recent attempts to complete and establish Bruckner’s notquite finished draft-sketch of the finale of his Ninth Symphony as a legitimate part of the work, it is no use pretending that, in thematic material, it comes anywhere near the level of the rest. Nor does Mariss Jansons pretend: offering the more traditional view of the first three movements as a complete statement in themselves. This new, live reading is actually his second shot at the work. ★is earlier Concertgebouw recording (RCO label, 2016) divided critics between those who felt it upheld that orchestra’s great Bruckner tradition worthily, and those who complained that its relatively forward-moving tempos lacked ‘mystery’.
Though scarcely slower than the earlier reading, and recorded in an ambience combining spaciousness with detailed clarity, the opening has mystery enough. But more striking is how Jansons’s ‘long-view’ enables him to project the entire first-subject group as, at once, a single arc and an upbeat to the extended secondsubject group. Though expressive rubatos and meaningful pauses are discreetly deployed, nothing is allowed to impede the cumulative continuity. The Bavarian Radio SO responds with weighty string tone and noble sonorities from the eight horns (four of them doubling Wagner tubas) that colour so much of the score. The only slight qualification is the failure of the trumpets quite to cut through the texture of the Adagio’s awesomely dissonant climax. Because Bruckner’s Ninth is such an extreme and ‘ultimate’ work, its interpretation will always raise partisan passions, but this is a fine one. Bayan Northcott PERFORMANCE ★★★★
The Air, Turning; Elsewhere; Parallel Colour; Between Rain; Four Duets; Shades Lengthen
Mark Simpson (clarinet), Eloisa-fleur Thom, Benjamin Beilman (violin), Víkingur Ólafsson (piano); London Contemporary Orchestra/robert Ames; Britten Sinfonia/andrew Gourley; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/ilan Volkov; Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/
NMC NMC D249 70:39 mins
The music of Edmund Finnis invites rather than demands attention – and the more it is given, the more its gifts unfold.
Born in 1984, Finnis has an almost synaesthetic ability to paint delicate yet robust, translucent sonic worlds that combine broad, brush-stroke gestures with tiny nuances of sound. Each work on this exquisite debut disc is, in effect, a constantly changing prism in which surface and depth are revealed in tactile, mutual oscillation. The opening title track, The Air, Turning – written for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor Ilan Volkov – aptly describes the whole as it does this shimmering score.
Where does Parallel Colour stop and Between Rain begin? The former is cast in seven, beautifully sculpted sections around a central double bass (Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, conductor Richard Baker) while the latter hints at darkness underlying its subtle string tensions (London Contemporary Orchestra, Robert Ames). Shades Lengthen (Britten Sinfonia, Andrew Gourlay, with violinist Benjamin Beilman) completes a beguiling quartet of larger ensemble pieces. Captivating, too, is Four Duets, in which clarinettist Mark Simpson and pianist Víkingur Ólafsson ebb and flow in lovely circles – while Eloisa-fleur Thom’s breathtaking solo violin takes the listener Elsewhere indeed. Steph Power PERFORMANCE ★★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★
Mahler Symphony No. 3
Sara Mingardo (contralto); Women’s choir of Schola Heidelberg; Young singers of Cologne Cathedral; Gürzenich-orchester Köln/françoisxavier Roth
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905314.15
93:29 mins (2 discs) Orchestral standards in Mahler continue to rocket under inspirational conductors, and this month sees two high watermarks in recordings of the symphonies: Iván Fischer’s Budapest Seventh, and Françoisxavier Roth’s Third with the venerable German institution which was partly responsible for the work’s triumphant world premiere in Krefeld, the Gurzenich Orchestra of Cologne. This crack team has already had the advantage of a highly original cycle with its previous chief conductor, Markus Stenz, and while I felt that Roth wasn’t quite at the same level in the Fifth, he goes at the crazy world of the Third with all wind and brass guns blazing. Not for this team the Olympian view of ★aitink and the Bavarians in the BBC Music Magazine Award-winning live recording; Roth isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with the raggle-taggle marchers of the first movement. Even the trombone sounds more like a raw force of nature than a sophisticated funeral master.
Clarinets’ shrilling and fierce trumpet playing compound an outstandingly vivid drama. The recording helps, brilliant in high frequencies and powerful in the bass, though I wish there was just a little more depth and backlighting
Once past a mobile but graceful flower-picture and animal magic in the woods, Roth shows he can do serious, too, with mezzo Sara Mingardo symbolic of the performance as a whole: not an unearthly oracle but a feeling human being, deeply involved in the night-picture around her. The great Adagio never becomes statuesque, but instead remains theatre of unpredictable explosions and exultations. On its own terms, unbeatable. David Nice PERFORMANCE ★★★★★
Respighi Roman Trilogy
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/ Joann Falletta
Naxos 8.574013 62:13 mins
It’s a long way from Buffalo to Rome, but the Buffalo Philharmonic players bridge the gap impressively in their new recording of Respighi’s trilogy of tone-poems based on the history and geography of the Italian city.
The disc opens with Roman Festivals, usually thought the knottiest of the trilogy. The whooping Buffalo brass have fun imitating the ‘howling of wild beasts’ Respighi describes in ‘Circus Maximus,’ but although there is plenty of adrenalin in the playing, Joann Falletta is careful not to press the after-burner button too early. If some of the instrumental solos in ‘Jubilee’ seem a touch subdued, ‘October Festival’ has twinkling buoyancy and colour, and the concluding ‘Epiphany’ is clamorous and dynamic without degenerating into chaos.
In Fountains of Rome Falletta distils a pleasing sense of sprightliness in the ‘Triton Fountain’ section. She builds a surging climax in ‘The Trevi Fountain,’ replete with Wagnerian overtones, and a seductive melancholy pervades nightfall at the ‘Villa Medici.’
The joyful dance rhythms in the ‘Villa Borghese’ movement of Pines of Rome are exuberantly pointed, and the trumpet solo in ‘Catacomb’ is tinglingly evocative. And while the closing ‘Pines of the Appian Way’ is predictably blockbusting, throughout the disc it’s Falletta’s ear for subtleties of orchestration and texture that is particularly striking. Though exciting, these are far from being smash-and-grab performances.
There are plenty of recordings of the Roman Trilogy available, but this one’s combination of budget price and refined, robust musicianship make it a genuine contender.
Shostakovich Symphony No. 5; Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin
James Platt (bass); Hallé/mark Elder Hallé CD HLL 7550 63:08 mins
Late in 1936, the year he was officially lambasted through an unsigned editorial in Pravda, Shostakovich composed Four Pushkin Romances ostensibly for the great poet’s centenary the following year. ★is choices of text are telling: ‘Foreboding’ includes the lines ‘Once again envious fate threatens me with misfortune’, while others reflect upon mortality, with the hope expressed in
‘Rebirth’ – quoted in the finale of his Fifth Symphony written almost immediately afterwards – that despite the vicissitudes of life great art will ultimately endure.
Coupling these works as on this album makes sense; but, given how easy these days it is to compile a playlist from the several excellent recordings already available of either work, the most important element here is the quality of the performances. Mark Elder and the ★allé’s account of the Symphony appears conscientious and well prepared, but rather overplays the work’s despair at the expense of its narrative of defiance against adversity. Though cleanly executed and articulated, the performance fails to ignite into a compelling account – surprising from Elder, who I would normally rate a dynamic conductor – but rather seems to drag itself wearily, lacking a vital inner pulse desirable at such slow tempos.
The Pushkin Romances, presented in Shostakovich’s own orchestration as completed by Gerard Mcburney, are sung by James Platt, an impressively dark-toned bass, though he doesn’t sing the texts with quite the fluency of a native speaker, and lacks the subtle nuance of the Russian baritone Dmitri Kharitonov on Elder’s previous recording of these songs (on Signum). Daniel Jaffé PERFORMANCE ★★★ RECORDING ★★★★
Tchaikovsky • Wagner
Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 South Netherlands Philharmonic/ Dmitri Liss
Fuga Libera FUG 754 58:04 mins
Only now in its fifth season, the South Netherlands Philharmonic typifies the
Dutch orchestral strengths of tonal integration, timbral blend and purring sophistication. The immensely experienced Dmitri Liss, the orchestra’s first chief conductor, has made a fine job of moulding a corporate outfit from this predominately youthful group of players, preferring elegant, long lines and cultured internal balancing to superheated outbursts of sonic amplitude.
Edited from two live performances given on consecutive evenings in Breda and Eindhoven, the orchestra proves more than a match for the technical challenges set by Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. As recorded, the strings (violins particularly) may lack trenchancy, but are immaculately internally balanced, the woodwind segue their various lines with sensitivity, while the brass terrace their sound with thrilling bass extension. Even when the notes start flying – most conspicuously in the finale – there is an overall cohesion and sense of firm control that is undeniably impressive and at times immersive. All that is lacking, compared to the finest versions available – most notably Karajan on film (Unitel/dg) and Mravinsky (DG) – is a visceral sense of sustained emotional thrust, of the music exploding out of the speakers with unrestrained verve and energy.
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde exhibits a different kind of emotionalism, in which the music’s sensual pulsing appears to be sustained under superhuman pressure. Again, one cannot help but admire the Netherlanders’ overall accomplishment in pacing Wagner’s rapt harmonic suspensions with such skill and expertise, even if the darker side of the emotional narrative proves somewhat elusive. Julian Haylock
French Music for Ballet
Ibert: Les Amours de Jupiter;
Massenet: Herodiade – Ballet Suite; Sauguet: Les Forains Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/neeme Järvi
Chandos CHAN 20132 68:19 mins
Paris in 1945 was still picking itself up after the German occupation, as is reflected in the ballets by Sauguet and Ibert given by Roland Petit’s dancers in that and the following year. Those not enamoured of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time and Visions de l’amen may well have been relieved to find the old French style was alive and well, albeit with a few twists here and there.
The scenario of Les Forains, dedicated ‘to the memory of Erik Satie’, looks back to that of Parade, as does Sauguet’s music to the earlier ballet’s lightness of heart and texture, and the tune of the ‘Entrée de Forains’, later recorded in its song version by Piaf, is by some way the best on the disc.
Ibert’s orchestration of Les Amours de Jupiter is, perhaps necessarily, fuller and, to me, less appealing: we have to wait until the 11th of the 19 dances before coming to a wind solo. Choreographers have always liked symmetry (4x4=16 bars), but in bulk this becomes predictable and Ibert’s melodic invention is not as strong as elsewhere in his oeuvre.
The same sadly goes for the Hérodiade ballet suite. In 1881 the 39-year-old Massenet had still not found his true voice, though Manon was just round the corner. Järvi also fails to follow his text, omitting the three chords that should link the second and third dances and ignoring the triple accelerando at the end of the last one. Roger Nichols PERFORMANCE ★★★ RECORDING ★★★★
New Romantic: Andrew Manze recasts Mozart