Haydn and Britten CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENTHUSES OVER NEW HAYDN AND BRITTEN RELEASES, JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS


HAYDN PIANO SONATAS VOL. III: Leon McCawley ★★★★

Devotees of Haydn's solo keyboard works are spoiled for choice. Complete box sets are available from McCabe (Decca), Jando (Naxos) and Buchbinder (Warner) while Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's much lauded survey (Chandos) has reached Vol.8. Meanwhile the third volume in Leon McCawley's survey on Somm, this one of six sonatas, brings us astute performances and much pleasurable listening. Bavouzet uses a bright-toned Yamaha, which occasionally becomes a little unrelenting, while McCawley's Steinway gives him extra depth and warmer colours – in the adagio central movements of Sonatas No.34 in D major and No.38 in F major, for example. Yet his articulation is excitingly crisp and forthright when required: the Allegro di molto of the two-movement Sonata No.55 in B-flat major fairly bowls along, as does the rumbustious Vivace assai of No.56 in D major. Buchbinder's recordings are ear-piercingly bright but Somm's warm, spacious recording – Siva Oke (producer) Paul Arden-Taylor (engineer) – invites further listening.

Norman Stinchcombe



BRITTEN, A CEREMONY OF CAROLS: Choir of Clare College, Cambridge / Ross ★★★★

There's more to Christmas music from Cambridge than the famous King's College Christmas Eve festive fixture. Clare College, founded in 1326, has an impressive choral tradition and conductor Graham Ross clearly has a group of talented singers at his disposal. The version of Britten's Ceremony of Carols which Ross uses is an arrangement by Julius Harrison for soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices, rather than three-part high voices as in the original, while retaining the harp (the excellent Tanya Houghton). The listener's reaction to That yonge child, for example, will perhaps depend upon how much they enjoy the original's solo treble: I found Harrison's choice of unison sopranos more mellifluous and likewise Helena Mackie's solo soprano in Balulalow. The choir is first class throughout and Ross ensures that both Britten's slighter pieces, and short works by Bridge, Holt and Ireland, are given their full due, captured in airy, spacious sound.

Norman Stinchcombe

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