Somervell and Beethoven CD reviews


SOMERVELL: Williams / Allan (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 06150 ★★★★★

Mention Come into the garden, Maud and most music lovers will groan and grimace, with memories of amateur tenors warbling Michael Balfe's cringingly twee setting. Here we have the version by Sir Arthur Somervell in his setting of thirteen lyrics from Lord Tennyson's narrative poem Maud. While Balfe trivialized, and re-wrote, Tennyson's crepuscular verse, Somervell embraces the darker elements. Roderick Williams brings to life the death-devoted narrator with utter conviction, his warm baritone caressing the songs' romantic ardour, but never letting the drama teeter into melodrama. Susie Allan embraces Somervell's full-blooded piano part – no Victorian front parlour tinkling here. Somervell's Maud demands a hearing by anyone interested in English song. Poems from Housman's A Shropshire Lad have been set may times but Somervell's have plenty to offer as in Williams' rueful and reflective When I was one-and-twenty and the ironic insouciance of Think no more, lad, laugh, be jolly.

Norman Stinchcombe

BEETHOVEN: Cyprien Katsaris (Piano 21 P21-060 / 6CD box set) ★★★★★

The 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth will see many celebratory new recordings but few as imaginatively assembled as this one. The pianist Cyprien Katsaris's A Chronological Odyssey follows Beethoven from his Variations on a Theme of Dressler, composed when he was twelve, to the sublime last piano sonata Op.111, with many interesting ports of call in between. As the first pianist to record Liszt's solo keyboard arrangement of Beethoven's nine symphonies Katsaris knows all about transcriptions and many rarities (fourteen world premiere recordings) are included here, by both the well-known – Saint-Saens, Mussorgsky, Wagner – and not so – Blok, Winkler and Kullak, all grappling with Beethoven's prodigious legacy. Katsaris gives solid, sturdy performances of eight of Beethoven's sonatas, including a gripping and fiery Appasssionata and reveals fascinating Beethoven rarities too. Sample the slightly weird Op.39 Two Preludes or the downright bizarre Op.77 Fantasia, a glimpse how a Beethoven improvisation would have sounded.

Norman Stinchcombe

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