New CD reviews: Beethoven, Orchestra of the Swan Timelapse abd English Symphony Orchestra Visions of Childhood


BEETHOVEN: Faust, Queyras, Melnikov / Freiburger Barockorchester / Heras-Casado ★★★★★

Beethoven's Triple Concerto is the Cinderella of his concerto works, disparaged as lightweight and merely aiming to please. Jean-Guihen Queyras, the cellist on this new recording from Harmonia Mundi, dismisses this, adding "the beauty and depth of it is overwhelming. There are moments which are just absolutely breathtaking." Those qualities are evident in this fine new recording where he teams up with Isabelle Faust on violin and Alexander Melnikov – her chamber music partner – on keyboard. It's a performance full of fantasy and with a delightfully humorous concluding "Polish" rondo crackling with energy. They use original instruments which helps clarity and balance. Melnikov can really play out on his fortepiano without the risk of overwhelming his partners. Fine support from the orchestra under Pablo Heras-Casado. Beethoven's transcription of his Second Symphony as the Op.36 Piano Trio captures the vitality and elan of the original which this splendid performance has in abundance.

Norman Stinchcombe

TIMELAPSE: Orchestra of the Swan / O'Neil ★

This is a sort mix-tape or, rather, a remix tape, since eight of the fourteen short works are arrangements, mostly by the orchestra's first violinist David Le Page, with the twenty-two players conducted by Bruce O'Neil. There is a nugget of gold that almost justifies the album: Le Page's take on The Smiths' There is a Light that Never Goes Out which slows down Johnny Marr's bouncy melody while Trish Clowes soars and pirouettes above as if channelling Morrissey's spirit through her saxophone. Le Page says he "stays true to the innate vision" of David Bowie in his lugubrious, turgid traduction of Heroes. As someone who saw Bowie performing this most uplifting of songs live in concert several times I beg to differ. Miniatures by Ades, Grieg, Gorecki, Rameau, Reich and Wallen escape untouched but Vivaldi is doodled over. A suitably intimate recording is cheaply packaged – try extracting the CD.

Norman Stinchcombe

VISIONS OF CHILDHOOD: Frederick / English Symphony Orchestra / Woods ★★

This loosely-themed album includes works by Schubert, Wagner, Humperdinck, Mahler and Richard Strauss in arrangements for a sixteen-piece band. It starts bizarrely. Put the CD in, press play and here's the opening of Mahler's fourth symphony. A sudden jolt and here's Wagner's Siegfried Idyll. A faulty copy I thought. No, this is intentional – fifteen seconds of the symphony are used as a "Prologue". Not a bright idea. I'm sure the performances are pleasant enough – and conductor Kenneth Woods' two Schubert mélanges combining songs and the associated chamber music themes are ingenious – but hearing them was difficult. Nimbus's Wyastone Concert Hall's swimmy over-reverberant acoustic muddies both instrumental and vocal lines. The versatile April Frederick sings Mahler's child's view of Heaven, duets with herself as Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel – plus the Sandman! – and essays Strauss's Four Last Songs. Given the recording's sonic shortcomings making a judgement of her singing would be unfair.

Norman Stinchcombe

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