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Saint-Saens, Purcell and Mozart CDs reviewed

A MAMMOTH SAINT-SAENS SET PLUS PURCELL AND MOZART REVIEWED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE SAINT-SAËNS EDITION: Various artists ★★★★ This bumper 34 CD box set includes 600 works and contains many fine recordings with French performers dominating. The five symphonies are in the safe hands of conductor Jean Martinon with soloist Marie-Claire Alan in No.3 the Organ symphony. The five piano concertos are elegantly handled by Jean-Philippe Collard, with the RPO under Previn, in fine EMI digital 1980s sound. The violin concertos are equally good with Renaud Capuçon amongst the soloists. 'Samson et Dalila' appears twice: the magnificent 1963 recording under Prêtre with toweringly heroic Jon Vickers and magisterial Rita Gorr and a 1946 recording under Fourestier, smaller scale but more idiomatically French. Chamber and solos works are catered for and you can hear the composer on a 1919 acoustic recording. N.B. The Piano Quintet (disc 15 track 8) is marred by a mastering error. Purchase

Ex Cathedra review November 21

EX CATHEDRA JOURNEYS BACK TO ITS ROOTS EX CATHEDRA CONSORT Birmingham Town Hall ***** Earlier this week, Ex Cathedra received welcome news that they had been granted an award from the Government's Culture Recovery Fund. On tonight's evidence, I can see why: here was a carefully curated selection of English polyphony performed to the highest of standards by thirteen Ex Cathedra singers, including some current and former members of their choral scholarship programme. Billed as "Our First Love", this was a personal journey by conductor and founder of Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore, through the music of his and the choir's roots: the golden age of the English Renaissance. The concert opener was Thomas Tallis's 'Lamentations of Jeremiah I' – the first item they sang in their inaugural concert of 1969 – its gently poised melodic lines emerging sensitively from the musical tapestry, fluidly paced by Skidmore throughout. Other items by Tallis inc

CBSO Cunning Little Vixen review

HUGE SYMPHONY TO NATURE THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN CBSO at Symphony Hall Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen is a huge symphony to nature in operatic guise, and this utterly absorbing and enchanting semi-staged performance from a wonderfully attuned CBSO made me more aware of the anguished subtext than I ever have been in the many productions I have seen. Written by Janacek towards the end of his life, the opera poignantly sets the eternal cycle of nature's renewal in relief against the human condition's inexorable progress towards regretful decay. Nowhere is this juxtaposition more heartbreakingly obvious than in the very final scene, where the world-weary Forester, warmly and compellingly sung by Roland Wood, recoils at the annoying return of a "clammy little bugger" of a frog. "No, sir," pipes up the frog, "That was my grandfather." The frog was charmingly played by Ben Fletcher, his colleague children from Trinity Boys Choir an

Cello, Prokofiev and Candide CDs reviewed

NEW CDs REVIEWED, INCLUDING A SPARKLING CANDIDE BRITISH SOLO CELLO MUSIC: Isserlis / Momen ★★★★ The lockdown encouraged solo performers to do something slightly different. Steven Isserlis has recorded a personal disc which his entertaining anecdotal notes greatly enrich. His affectionate sketch of the eccentric Frank Merrick – the 17-year-old Isserlis often visited the 90-year-old's home – makes his performance of the Handelian 'Suite in the eighteenth century style' come alive in its first recording What a delightful work it is, the 'Air' and seven dance movements ranging, in Isserlis's words. "from the cheeky to the poignant". Britten's Cello Suite No.3 – written for Rostropovich – is more substantial, tinged with meditations on mortality with Isserlis's' playing particularly trenchant. It's a bonus to hear him in its four Russian folk themes, a helpful listening aid, where he is accompanied by pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen.

Cecil Aranonwitz International Viola Competition

ZOOM IN ON THE ARONQWITZ VIOLA COMPETITION CECIL ARONOWITZ INTERNATIONAL VIOLA COMPETITION Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire **** Music-lovers the world over have been zooming into Royal Birmingham Conservatoire all week, watching the triennial holding of the Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition. Named after the great South African violist who became such a presence in this country, the competition was locked-down last year, and the accumulation of entries for its resuscitation now totalled no fewer than 93 hopefuls. 40 applicants were selected to perform in the competition, but Covid flight precautions prevented 16 from attending, with a total of 24 performing in the preliminary rounds, streamed online. Three contestants made it through to Friday's final, watched by nearly 6000 aficionados worldwide as well as by an enthusiastic live audience here in the Bradshaw Hall: the UK's Edgar Francis, Haneul Park from South Korea, and Noga Shaham f

CBSO Covid Requiem review

A VERY SPECIAL EVENING WITH THE CBSO A COVID REQUIEM CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** There was something almost sacramental about this sensitively-conceived, very special concert created to commemorate those close to the CBSO "family" who have passed away since the Covid pandemic began the best part of two years ago. The programme-book (and how good to have a genuine, properly produced example in one's hand again!) opened with many tributes to loved ones, all greatly moving, and then the hall darkened as an uninterrupted sequence of elegiac string music began. It was striking how music of this nature transports us across the centuries: Thomas Ades' O Albion brought surprising resonances of Elgar's Sospiri, Arvo Part's Fratres (Tomo Keller, director of the whole gamut, the brilliantly cross-stringing violin soloist here) evokes Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia, and Samuel Barber's Adagio is just timeless for those it speaks to. The only exc

Norman Stinchcombe reviews new violin CDs

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS CDS FROM THREE DIFFERENT VIOLINISTS, ONE NOW AN ACCLAIMED CONDUCTOR, ANOTHER... UNCENSORED: Nigel Kennedy & Others ★ Whatever happened to Nigel Kennedy? From child prodigy speaking posh home counties English to foul-mouthed perpetually adolescent 63-year-old using a bizarre street-patois of his own devising. A gifted fiddler who once gave up performing "dead men's music" and then (without irony) played Jimi Hendrix, who was dead before Britten and Shostakovich. Perhaps his autobiography Uncensored will tell us. Apart from a fine recording of Bruch's first concerto, this catchpenny three CD set "tie-in" gives us bleeding chunks. There are two of Vivaldi's four seasons; three movements from two Bach concertos; one movement from Brahms and Karlowicz; two each from Elgar and Beethoven. The third CD has bits of Ellington and Gershwin and jams and improvisations from Kennedy's band. A nice bottle of Beaujolais, inni