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superb BD-A sound

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match any I’ve heard


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Mythes
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Suite Italienne (1925, 1932) [18:09]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Légende, Op.17 (1860) [7:10]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rhapsody No.1, Sz.86 (1928) [10:33]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Mythes – Three Poems for violin and piano, Op.30 (1921) [20:48]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane (1924) [10:38]
Jiyoon Lee (violin), Henry Kramer (piano)
rec. 25-27 July 2017, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex. DDD.
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD141 [67:27]

This very enjoyable album represents my first encounter with Jiyoon Lee, winner of multiple awards, but I trust that it won’t be my last. She has recently recorded the Korngold and Nielsen Violin Concertos for Orchid Classics (ORC100079) and I intend to listen to that as soon as possible. If the solo playing is as good as here, it should be worth a clear recommendation.

Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, a ‘ballet with song’ signalled a change of style, often dubbed neo-classical. The music is based on the eighteenth century – all by Pergolesi, as Stravinsky thought, though later research has removed that composer’s name from most of the works attributed to him.

Two offshoots came from the complete ballet: an orchestral suite, more often performed than the original, and Suite Italienne for violin and piano. The original complete work has recently been reissued as part of a 2-CD budget-price set from Decca Eloquence entitled Ernest Ansermet and the Ballets Russes (4824989 – review pending). That’s not quite my ideal recording, but the set is very welcome for Ansermet’s recordings of Ravel (Daphnis et Chloé and La Valse) and Debussy (L’après-midi d’un faune and Jeux).

If you can find a copy of Yakov Kreizberg’s recording of Firebird, Petrushka, Rite of Spring and Pulcinella, my Recording of the Month in August 2011, sadly deleted in all formats, go for it (OPMC001, 3 CDs, originally at super-budget price). Amazon UK are showing two used copies as I write. For the Suite, Bernstein’s classic recording comes in various couplings, all download only: probably the best recommendation is for the version with the 1947 Petrushka (Sony 82876787492, available in mp3 and lossless). 7digital.com offer the original coupling with the Concerto for piano and wind instruments for as little as £6.32 (mp3) or £7.12 (lossless).

With so many available orchestral recordings, can a work mainly designed for domestic performance in an age when recorded music was much less readily available still appeal now? When well performed, the answer is yes. Such a performance is available on Chandos with Lydia Mordkovitch (violin) and Julian Milford (piano), an all-Stravinsky affair including the Divertimento and Duo Concertant (CHAN9756 [70:44]). Though it might be more competitive now at mid-price, as several other Mordkovitch recordings are1, it still merits Lewis Foreman’s 5-star review from 2000. Chandos’s only concession to its age is to charge £11.99, £2 less than usual, for the 24-bit download with pdf booklet from chandos.net to which I listened.

A more recent release on (very good) SACD and 24-bit download comes from BIS: the Violin Concerto, from Ilya Gringolts (violin), Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia and Dima Slobodeniouk, and with Peter Laul (piano) in the Suite italienne and Divertimento, etc. (BIS-SACD-2275 [76:24] – reviewed as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com). If I prefer these to the new Champs Hill, it’s mainly for the inclusion, on both, of the Divertimento, another ballet spin-off, this time from The Fairy’s Kiss.

There is marginally more variety in the BIS recording than the Champs Hill and a little more energy in the Chandos than both, but that’s a very subjective view and I could be very happy with any of these recordings.

Wieniawski’s Légende (1860) is the odd one out in a programme of twentieth-century music but, in this performance, it fully justifies its presence. The Bartók also receives a fine performance, but fans of the composer’s violin works may well be tempted by the budget-price Harmonia Mundi Gold twofer on which Isabelle Faust performs both rhapsodies and his Violin Sonatas (HMG598334/5, effectively two-for-one).

Considerations of coupling again incline me to prefer a rival recording of Mythes: on mid-price DG Originals 4775903 it’s coupled with a very fine account of the Franck Violin Sonata in award-winning performances by Kaja Danczowska (violin, later to become something of a Szymanowski specialist – review) and Kristian Zimerman (piano)2. On Champs Hill, pianist Henry Kramer provides a sparkling account of the flow of water in the first of the Mythes, the Fountain of Arethusa, over which Lee’s violin soars effortlessly.

In the other two Mythes, too, both of which are allowed a little more time to develop than on DG, Szymanowski’s sensuous mood-painting is well captured. Just one mark deducted from whoever was responsible for the typo on the CD insert and the slip-case: Trois poèmes turned into Trios poèmes!

I missed the recent Alpha recording Deux on which Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin) and Polina Leschenko (piano) include Ravel’s Tzigane (Alpha387 – review). Faute de mieux, I had to catch up via a press preview in the usual unsatisfactory low-bit-rate which Outhere seem to think adequate for reviewers. Though used to the more immediately appealing orchestral version of this work, I enjoyed both these recordings, each rounding off a very fine album.

At least I didn’t have to tolerate mp3 at 192kbs for the Champs Hill recording, the quality of which has contributed to my overall enjoyment. If the couplings appeal, this is well worth your attention. Now I must listen to Jiyoon Lee in those two concertos.

1 The CD is on sale for £2.50 direct from Chandos as I write, suggesting an imminent deletion – and reissue?

2 Rivalling my favourites in the Franck, including Kyung-Wha Chung and Radu Lupu on mid-price Decca (4211542).

Brian Wilson




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