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MusicWeb Reviewer’s log: December 2008/January 2009 

Reviewer: Patrick C Waller

The death of Vernon Handley earlier in the year was something of a surprise to me but, when Richard Hickox died suddenly on 23 November, it was a considerable shock. Although he had “been around” for a long time, Hickox seemed much younger than his 60 years. Like Handley, he had made a large number of desirable recordings, quite a few of which have found their way into my collection. Both made their names in British music but Hickox’s recordings, most of which were for Chandos, range more widely and include a marvellous set of Haydn Masses made with Collegium Musicum 90 between 1995 and 2000. I have been working my way through these recordings recently – they are available in a budget-price 8CD box (CHAN0734). As well as the major masses, a variety of shorter works are included. I particularly enjoyed the two organ masses and the more extended than usual Missa Cellensis. These recordings are a model of good taste artistically with fine soloists and chorus, and very decently engineered – a fitting memorial to the conductor indeed.

There have been plenty of other boxes around at irresistible prices, for example, Géza Anda’s Mozart Piano Concerto series made for DG with Camerata Academica des Salzburger Mozarteums in the 1960s. Some occasionally thin string tone apart, these still sound very well and Anda’s playing is a consistent delight. His performance of No. 17 in G K453 is a particular favourite that I knew as an LP and hadn’t heard for years. The impressive CPO recordings of the symphonies of Ries made by the Zurich Chamber Orchestra under Howard Griffiths have also been gathered together at a knockdown price. For all the excellent Beethoven cycles of the last few years, we surely need these discs more and they have given me a great deal of pleasure. At last, Ries is finally getting his due on record, mainly thanks to CPO and Naxos.

I shouldn’t leave the topic of bargain boxes without mentioning the Brilliant catalogue which has recently resurfaced in the UK at some very low prices – I paid a total of £22 for the three sets mentioned below. The box of recordings of his own piano music made in 1974 by Mompou seems the most essential. I also picked up a very neatly presented set of the four symphonies of Magnard (93712) conducted by Thomas Sanderling. This composer is probably best known for having been shot by the Germans in 1914. His music is well worth getting to know although I understand that some highly rated competition is just about to appear at bargain price and the Ossonce recordings for Hyperion will not be much more expensive when they are issued as a Dyad. The six cello concertos of early 18th century Neopolitan composer Leonardo Leo played by Julius Berger (93681) are a delight to listen to although the documentation here is not impressive. A foray by Brilliant into a single disc mid-price new recording of Rachmaninov – the so called “5th piano concerto” (8900) is best given a wide berth. This is a cut-down arrangement of the 2nd symphony by Alexander Warenberg which I heard out of curiosity. My generally high level of tolerance for such arrangements doesn’t extend to such cavalier treatment of the score - where is the scherzo? An unsympathetic performance doesn’t help - can this really be an adagio?

By contrast, it was a pleasure to hear pianist and composer Philip Gates play his A Garland for Gatsby. Also on the disc is the Piano Quintet with the marvellous Carducci Quartet and The Lake Isle – a short piece for oboe and piano. A rather different disc of contemporary oboe music by Edwin Roxburgh has recently been issued on Metier (msv28508). This contains some virtuosic playing by Christopher Redgate in music which is often haunting and pushes back the boundaries of the instrument. Also from the Divine Art stable, the Concerti Grossi of Charles Avison (noted for his Scarlatti arrangements) are great fun (dda21211). This disc contains 18 concerti which are original works by the 18th century Newcastle composer in delightful performances by The Avison Ensemble. It is good news that Divine Art are starting to issue Murray McLachlan’s Chisholm piano series at mid-price and I enjoyed Volume 1 (ddv24131), the major item being the 1939 Sonata in A.

I bought all of the discs mentioned in the previous paragraph directly from the label concerned and they arrived very promptly indeed. For some reason I can’t fathom, I ordered the next one from a major internet retailer on 9 October and it only arrived a few days before Christmas. However, it was worth waiting for since Naxos continues to champion the music of Hovhaness most effectively and this release is a particular gem containing the second guitar concerto and Symphony No. 63. The Naxos Music Library continues to expand at a rate that is impossible to keep up with. They have been adding the Capriccio label and one of their discs that caught my ear contains the music of Viktor Ullmann, an interesting composer I hadn’t heard of before. According to Victor Martell in his review for MusicWeb in 2003 he found “a fascinating middle ground between Schoenberg and Zemlinsky”. The major works are two symphonies which date from the war years and are reconstructions of piano sonatas.

I had high expectations of Artur Pizarro’s two discs of Ravel’s piano music for Linn (CKD290 and CKD315) but I am afraid that they didn’t really bowl me over on first hearing despite receiving some very positive notices.

The Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam has been celebrating its 120th anniversary and was also named the world’s greatest orchestra by the Gramophone magazine. Although a great admirer of the band, I was tempted to ask “in what” and “conducted by whom”. But I should get off the magazine’s back for once and applaud their decision to scan their whole archive onto the internet and make it freely available. It is separate from their main website and, curiously, they don’t appear to mention the archive on that [yet]. Coming back to the Concertgebouw Orchestra, free downloads of live performances of ten symphonies have been made available by Dutch Radio 4. When I wrote the brief linked article I hadn’t actually heard the Haitink reading of Bruckner’s Eighth from 2005 although John Quinn has reviewed the same performance. Although well worth hearing it doesn’t displace my favourite versions of this work – Wand, Karajan and Horenstein. Hearing this and a continuing trickle of correspondence about an article I wrote on this work over four years ago prompted me to add an addendum to it. John Quinn and I are also intending to revisit our Bruckner conspectus of 2005 during the coming year.

The end of the year means it is Recordings of Year time and, yet again, there was a good crop to choose from. Dan Morgan’s choice of Fiesta – a disc mainly of South American orchestral works played by the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra under Gustavo Dudamel prompted me to buy it for my wife who was very taken with orchestra when we saw a recent BBC documentary about them. And indeed, the playing is quite marvellous and the music well worth exploring.

It is also the end of the anniversary year of Olivier Messiaen who seems to have done well in terms of recorded collections. I understand that DG’s 32CD complete edition has effectively already sold out but I was fortunate enough to receive this box for Christmas. It will take me a while to listen to it all but so far I have heard about a quarter of the contents and, generally, have been highly impressed. My listening to date includes much of Roger Muraro’s readings of the piano music, a couple of discs of Olivier Latry playing the organ of Notre-Dame in Paris, the magnificent Des canyons aux étoiles given by Myung-Whun Chung (a recording of the month back in February 2003) and the orchestral version of the Poèmes pour Mi sung by Françoise Pollet. The box is strikingly well presented with a chunky booklet containing detailed information on the composers and his works, and texts with translations. Come on DG – if you can sell this out in a just over a month surely you should be running some more copies off.

Finally, an unexpected present I received was the recently issued Opus Arte DVD (OA0999D) of Rameau’s opera Castor et Pollux in a production from about a year ago given in Amsterdam. The cast includes Finnur Bjarnson and Henk Neven as the brothers, and Anna Maria Panzarella and Veronique Gens as Télaire and Phébé respectively. Christophe Rousset directs Les Talens Lyriques and Netherlands Opera Chorus in an all-round excellent production of the 1754 revised version of the work. This proved ideal Boxing Day entertainment for us and is a very useful addition to the catalogue.

Patrick C Waller





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