Beethoven, vaughan Williams and others reviewed on CD


BEETHOVEN MISSA SOLEMNIS: Freiburger Barockorchester / Jacobs ★★★

Since converting from counter-tenor to conductor Renè Jacobs has always courted controversy. His recordings can be refreshing, insightful, idiosyncratic and annoyingly wilful – usually a mixture of all these attributes. This original-instrument performance is brisk (72 minutes), bright and devoid of any old-style (i.e. mid twentieth century) gestures hinting at grandeur or gravity. Beethoven's great theistic-humanist musical mansion has been thoroughly de-cluttered. The excellent orchestra's playing is pin-sharp and the hard-stick timpani rattle menacingly if occasionally excessively. The vocal quartet Polina Pastirchak (soprano) Sophia Harmsen (mezzo) Steve Davislim (tenor) Johannes Weisser (bass) are first rate and Jacobs balances the orchestra so that they are seldom strained. If you enjoy the Gardiner-style slimmed down approach there's much to enjoy here. Tastes differ and I find Jacobs' musical edifice is a neat bungalow to the baroque cathedral of, for example, Levine's magisterial live Salzburg Festival recording with its unmatched quartet of stellar soloists.

Norman Stinchcombe

PROUD SONGSTERS – English Solo Songs ★★★★

Apart from the origin of the songs, all nineteen are English, the disc's underlying theme is the origin of the singers. Not their nationalities – there's a Canadian and an American – but their alma mater. The nine are all alumni of The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, here recorded in the more intimate acoustic of All saint's Church, East Finchley with Simon Lepper the ever alert and sensitive pianist. The songs include old favourites from Vaughan Williams (b.1872) to contemporary composers like Iain Bell (b.1980) all chosen by the singers themselves. Listeners will find their own highlights but mine include baritone Gerald Finley in Vaughan Williams Silent Noon, smooth, elegant but never bland, and tenor Andrew Staples' alternately passionate and desolate in Britten's Since she whom I loved from John Donne's Holy Sonnets. All voice types are here and styles too – try counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo's tour-de-force in Bell's Feste (Come away death).

Norman Stinchcombe

ENTENTE MUSICALE: Howick / Callaghan ★★★

The Entente Cordiale has disappeared with Brexit and bureaucracy but this delightful and generous 80-minute disc shows that music knows no boundaries. Clare Howick (violin) and Simon Callaghan (piano) have put together an enjoyable programme of English and French music. I've heard more delicately-shaded performances of Debussy's Violin Sonata in G minor, the central movement needed more of the composer's specified lightness and fantasy, but the lively finale goes with a swing. John Ireland's Violin Sonata in D minor finds Howick and Callaghan at their best both in the lovely central Romance and the concluding Rondo played as very nimbly and lithely (sciolto assai) as one could wish for. The Sonata in B major of Delius, more at home in France than his native Yorkshire, is energetically despatched and the duo's stylishly played lollipops, including Heifetz's arrangements of Bax's colourful Mediterranean and Ravel's Habanera, will please all but chronic miserabilists.

Norman Stinchcombe

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: London Symphony Orchestra / Pappano ★★★★

Antonio Pappano will succeed his fellow knight Simon Rattle as the LSO's chief conductor in 2024 and, if this disc is indicative, Barbican audiences and listeners of the orchestra's live recordings are in for exciting times. Vaughan Williams' fourth symphony has been one of Pappano's personal passions – "it's bewildering audacity knocked me me off my feet when I first heard it," he says. This recording foregrounds the fourth's anger, dynamism and almost malicious bite. Pappano tears into the opening Allegro making Andrew Davis's BBC Symphony Orchestra recording (Warner Classics) sound pedestrian and the concluding Hindemith-style fugato has never sounded so mordant with ferocious attack from the players. The sixth probably worked well in concert but Pappano's very broad approach, especially in the concluding Epilogue, has more languor than mystery, a quality which Davis, aided by the spacious acoustic of St Augustine's Church, Kilburn, captures perfectly. Pappano's fourth though is special.

Norman Stinchcombe

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