BBC Music Magazine

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

Brahms • Parry Brahms (arr. Schoenberg): Piano

Quartet in G minor;

Parry: Elegy for Brahms

Gävle Symphony Orchestra/

Jaime Martín

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/

Richard Baker

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.

Terry Blain



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 ★★★★

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