CDs of Delibes, Stanford, Schmitt and a mandolin medley reveiwed


DELIBES, BALLET SUITES: Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Järvi (CD & SACD) ★★★★

At the age of 83 the prolific conductor Neeme Järvi (400 recordings and counting) shows no sign of slowing down. He's been mining yet another musical seam with Chandos – French ballet music. This delightful disc features suites from three ballets by Delibes, Tchaikovsky's favourite ballet composer. His most popular score Coppèlia – the life-like mechanical doll which also featured in Offenbach's opera – gets a sparkling performance from the RSNO with a lively Mazurka and snappy set of Slavic variations. Järvi's brisk tempi will raise eyebrows – as they did in his Tchaikovsky ballet recordings. Could the waltz have a little more rubato and charm? Fans of Richard Bonynge's relaxed approach (Decca) will think so. But Järvi's decision not to linger can pay dividends. He gives La Source a spring by obeying Delibes' repeated demands for "Plus animé" while the hunting music for the nymph in Sylvia has suitable elan. Excellent expansive sound

Norman Stinchcombe

STANFORD: Dante & Endellion Quartets / Benjamin Frith ★★★★

Concert promoters programme conservatively – no doubt more so after Covid – but independent record labels like Somm give us the chance to hear music that seldom makes it to the platform. Sir Charles Villiers Stanford's String Quintet in C minor, gets its premiere recording. Has it ever been heard since its 1904 debut? It was inspired by the great violinist Joseph Joachim – collaborator on Brahms' violin concerto – and possesses suitably Brahmsian nobility and gravitas. The gossamer scherzo lightens the mood temporarily but otherwise its colours are subdued and autumnal. Brahms often leavened his thick textures with gypsy rhythms, likewise Stanford's earlier String Quintet in F major uses Irish folk themes in a similar way, here a keening lament and there a jolly jig, all elements nicely balanced by players from the Dante and Endellion Quartets. Richard Jenkinson (cello) Benjamin Frith (piano) bring sunlight and smiles to the Three Intermezzi Op. 13.

Norman Stinchcombe

ART OF THE MANDOLIN: Avi Avital / Venice Baroque Orchestra ★★★★

Avi Avital has been playing the mandolin since he was eight and his latest album not only shows a brilliant technique, no surprise there, but also the breadth and catholicity of his taste. The seven works include a concerto and chamber pieces from the baroque, modern works by Henze and Avital's fellow Israeli Paul Ben-Haim and contemporary works. David Bruce's Death is a Friend of Ours, where Avital is joined by guitar, harp, theorbo and harpsichord, is replete with Renaissance musical tropes but its simple introspection reveals it to be more than mere chill-out music. The same is true of Giovanni Sollima's Prelude for Solo Mandolin, written for Avital. His peerless technique brings sparkle and wit to Vivaldi's double concerto, where he's paired with Alon Sariel, and Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in D minor. Beethoven's little Adagio for Mandolin and Harp (originally harpsichord) is a delightful rarity. Excellent recording quality too.

Norman Stinchcombe

SCHMITT: Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra / Falletta ★★★★

The sensual music of French composer Florent Schmitt has made a comeback recently after years of neglect. Paul Paray's 1959 recording of Schmitt's ballet La Tragédie de Salomé, which briefly appeared on CD in 1994, was once its sole representative but now there's a veritable profusion. The latest in Naxos's series, conducted by JoAnn Falletta, is an excellent introduction to the heady perfumed world Schmitt's music. Like Nijinsky to Stravinsky, the dancer Ida Rubinstein was Schmitt's inspiration for the ballets Salomé and Oriane et le Prince d'Amour, of which the suite appears here. Falletta's orchestra gives us the revised Salomé as a symphonic poem – less savage and more romantic than Strauss's seductress – in an impressively colourful and dynamic performance, and are equally adept in the the pseudo-orientalism of Oriane. The Légende for violin (Nikki Chooi) and orchestra and miniature Musiqe sur l'eau (with mezzo Susan Platts) complete a deliciously ripe disc.

Norman Stinchcombe

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