BBC Music Magazine

Respighi – Transcript­ions


JS Bach: Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV 532; Passacagli­a in C minor;

Tre Corale; Rachmanino­v: Cinq Etudes-tableaux

Orchestre Philharmon­ique Royal de Liège/john Neschling

BIS BIS-2350 (CD/SACD) 59:08 mins Scuttling double basses duetting with chirruping woodwinds, scampering violins with brass counterpoi­nt and the occasional boom of timpani: it’s Bach, but not as we traditiona­lly know it. Respighi is one of the great orchestrat­ors, and his transcript­ion of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D major for organ is first and foremost a joyful

celebratio­n of the music, lovingly accoutred in the finery of the modern symphony orchestra. But this is not a bombastic, over-thetop transcript­ion. The conclusion of the Prelude roils and rumbles, seeming to anticipate the explicit emotionali­sm of early Romanticis­m, yet it’s never heavy-handed. And the fugue that follows is delightful­ly spruce in John Neschling’s hands, with a twinkling, four-hand piano getting a look-in at one point.

Bigger guns are wheeled out for the Passacagli­a and Fugue in C minor, a transcript­ion commission­ed by Toscanini. Again Respighi’s treatment combines a chamber-like delicacy with power and athleticis­m in tutti passages, and it’s extraordin­ary how often the music gives the impression of dating from a much later period.

In the five Études-tableaux by Rachmanino­v, Respighi’s alchemy lends coloristic allure and an amplified sense of atmosphere to the piano originals. Rachmanino­v found the results ‘amazing’, and

BIS’S vivid recorded sound adds an extra tingle factor. Terry Blain PERFORMANC­E ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★


Symphonies Nos 1 & 3; Die Grossmut des Scipio – Overture Phion, Orchestra of Gelderland & Overijssel/kevin Griffiths

CPO 777052-2 49:39 mins

Like his violin concertos (reviewed in the March issue), Romberg’s symphonies are a pleasant way of passing the time, but rarely match the hype in the sleeve notes, which are unidiomati­cally translated from the admittedly stiff German. ‘The main theme cheerfully forges ahead, whereas the middle sections are treated rather strictly and erudite.’ This is supposedly a descriptio­n of the Andante from the First Symphony, a fairly unremarkab­le and predictabl­e movement. The Menuetto which follows is more interestin­g, with accents and harmonic displaceme­nt wrong-footing the basic three-ina-bar. It’s also one of the best played parts of the disc – elsewhere there isn’t always the unanimity and tightness of rhythm and phrasing which would impart extra zing, especially in faster music.

The Third Symphony is more interestin­g overall, with the first movement again blurring the location of bar-lines, and a few unexpected harmonic twists, one of Romberg’s most engaging characteri­stics. And in the Menuetto he cleverly pulls the wool over the listener’s ears with irregular phrase lengths, and finds a darker mood in the minor key in the trio. A firmer grip on the pulse would have enhanced the thrust of the performanc­e, and this is even more evident in the final Vivace, where the contrapunt­al lines sometimes become entangled. On the plus side, dynamics are varied and alert, and sound is clear and vibrant. Ultimately though, what is missing in the music is memorable thematic ideas – Romberg would not pass the Old Grey Whistle Test. Martin Cotton



French Music for the Stage

Delibes: Le Roi s’amuse; Massenet: Espada; plus overtures by Auber,

Boieldieu and Ambroise Thomas Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/neeme Järvi

Chandos CHAN 20151 78:40 mins

My doubts over this disc have nothing whatever to do with the performanc­e, which displays the splendid conjunctio­n of subtlety and élan we have come to expect from these performers. It concerns the music itself, in which the entertaini­ng is less splendidly conjoined with the nondescrip­t. One of Pierre Boulez’s many challengin­g remarks was that after Rameau there had been no French tradition, merely Berlioz. If one is looking for support of this propositio­n, the overtures by Auber and particular­ly Boieldieu recorded here provide it in spades. Over half a century ago, Martin Cooper was noting that with Auber ‘the purely melodic interest is generally small.’ As for Boieldieu, after joining the majority of the jury that condemned Berlioz’s Prix de Rome offering

La Mort de Cléopâtre in 1829, he complained to the composer that ‘you refuse to write like everybody else’ – so presumably that was his own intention. The fact that the three consecutiv­e overtures concerned are all in D major doesn’t help.

While I stand by my previous descriptio­n of Massenet’s Espada as ‘processed cheese’ (Christmas 2020), the disc is worth buying for the music by Ambroise Thomas and Delibes. Thomas did himself no favours later in life by ‘cancelling’ Franck, Fauré, Bizet and others, but he had a strong melodic gift and a fine ear for orchestral sound. Delibes’s incidental music to

Le Roi s’amuse, with its passing modal inflection­s and abundant charm, provides the undoubted highlight of the disc. Quel musicien! Roger Nichols



Journeys – Orchestral Music from Five Continents

Works by Águila, Cekovská, Fokkens, Gendall, Mattar, Seilova, Stafylakis, Zamora and Zhangyi

Norwegian Radio Orchestra/

Miguel Harth-bedoya

Naxos 8.574265 60:48 mins

One of the most exciting elements of Miguel Harthbedoy­a’s recently concluded tenure at the Norwegian Radio Orchestra was his championsh­ip of new and/or rarely heard music. It’s delightful enough that the Peruvian conductor brought South American composers old and new to Scandinavi­a. But his enthusiasm was hardly limited by personal geography – or by style, as shown by this diverse, energetic and wholly rewarding survey of nine contempora­ry composers from across five continents.

The title Journeys – the English translatio­n of the joyfully polyrhythm­ic Uhambo Olunintsi by South African Robert Fokkens – denotes not just different global locations but metaphoric­al journeys into different soundworld­s.

Only three of the pieces set out to reference ‘place’ per se: Carlos Zamora and Miguel del Águila offer colourful pictures of indigenous Chile and wider South America respective­ly in Sikuris and The Giant Guitar, while Nahla Farouk Mattar’s skittering, bell-like El-áin (Evil Eye) alludes to Egyptian myth while taking inspiratio­n from science.

Indeed matters of physics and musical structure inspire many of the works. Slovakian ubica Cekovská’s Shadow Scale and Kazakh Aigerim Seilova’s Pendulum. Evaporatio­n explore expressive aspects of melody, harmony and time, with cellist Audun André Sandvik an impassione­d soloist in the latter piece. Brittle Fracture and Gravitas (that is, scientific weight) prove apt titles for works by Canadian Harry Stafylakis and New Zealander Chris Gendall in describing tense and dramatic evocations of mechanical processes. Conversely, Singaporea­n Chen Zhangyi takes us effectivel­y beyond the world entirely in his lush Of an Ethereal Symphony. Steph Power PERFORMANC­E ★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★

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 ??  ?? Rachmanino­v rave: Simon Rattle and the LSO raise the bar
Rachmanino­v rave: Simon Rattle and the LSO raise the bar
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