Norman Stinchcombe's latest CD reviews


CHOPIN THE LEGENDARY 1965 RECORDING: Martha Argerich ★★★★★

On March 23, 1965 a 23-year-old Argentine pianist arrive at Abbey Road studios to record a disc of Chopin featuring the Piano Sonata in B minor, a couple of Mazurkas plus a showpiece Nocturne, Scherzo and Polonaise. EMI producer Suvi Raj Grubb was first struck by Martha Argerich's "dark smouldering looks", but when she started to play his reaction was "Jesus!" followed by normally unflappable engineer Christopher Parker's "Wow!". It's easy to hear why. There are no routine notes here: the Op.53 Polonaise's crescendo pins you to the wall; complex runs are smudge free; and she has the pinpoint accuracy of Pollini without his glacial approach – Argerich burns white hot. The finale of the sonata was recorded in a single take. Argerich's existing Deutsche Grammophon contract meant the tapes stayed in EMI's vaults until 1999. Warner Classics' mid-price re-release, with the tapes impressively remastered at high-resolution, merits the "Legendary" moniker.

Norman Stinchcombe

COATES ORCHESTRAL WORKS VOL.2: BBC Philharmonic / Wilson ★★★

Sir Henry Wood did Eric Coates a great favour when he fired him as a viola payer in the Queen's Hall Orchestra in 1919 for rewarding the audience's applause for his miniature Wood Nymphs by encoring it twice. The sack spurred Coates to pursue a composing career. That charming little waltz is included in John Wilson's second Coates compilation along with his homage to English pastoral music, the suite Summer Days (1919), but the other five are from his heyday, like 1940's Calling All Workers used by the BBC as the theme for Music While You Work until 1967. The four minute serenade For Your Delight is typical: the ideal length for the 78rpm disc and, as Coates described it, "very light, nothing to be afraid of". Which is also the limitation of Coates' music – however handsomely Wilson and the orchestra play it. Short measure (53 minutes) – unusual for Chandos.

Norman Stinchcombe

BEETHOVEN COMPLETE PIANO CONCERTOS: Bavouzet / Swedish Chamber Orchestra ★★★★★

My winter lockdown was illuminated and enlivened by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's complete set of Beethoven sonatas on Chandos. Equally adept with Beethoven's profundity, gruff humour and musical wit it's a cycle for the 21st century. Likewise Bavouzet's three-CD set of the concertos continues to reveal nooks, crannies and overlooked treasures. Despite using a small orchestra however, there's nothing small-scale in these performances – the epic sweep of the Emperor's opening allegro shows that. Bavouzet directs performances from the keyboard – a lightly-pedalled bright-toned Yamaha grand with its lid removed – encircled by the orchestra. The sense of intimacy, of a chamber music style intensity of concentration is palpable. The C major's concluding musical high jinks are a joy while the G major's andante combines drama and balm for the soul. A sparkling Op.16 Quintet, Bavouzet joined by the orchestra's wind players, is a substantial bonus. Both the CD and SACD sound are thrillingly life-like.

Norman Stinchcombe

FARRENC: Insula Orchestra / Equilbey ★★★★

Louise Farrenc (1804-75) grew up in bohemian Paris surrounded by artists and musicians and her pianistic talents attracted the attention of virtuoso-composers Clementi and Hummel and a successful career as a concert pianist followed. In 1842 she became a Professor at the Paris Conservatoire – the only woman to do so in the entire 19th century. But composition was her passion and her chamber music was successful. Her symphonies impressed Berlioz and listening to the first and third, performed by the impressive period instrument Insula Orchestra, conducted by Laurence Equilbey recorded live at a concert in their Paris home, La Seine Musicale, one can understand why – the occasional quirkiness of harmony and orchestration would have appealed to him. No 1 in C minor (1841) fools us into expecting a gentle amble before crashing into sturm und drang style drama and No 3 in G minor (1849) is similarly passionate and exuberant.

Norman Stinchcombe

MOZART: Ferenc Rados & Kirill Gerstein ★★★★

When Russian-American pianist Kirill Gerstein first encountered legendary Hungarian teacher Ferenc Rados it was not love at first sight. It was in 2004 when Rados – whose pupils included András Schiff – was giving a masterclass at Prussia Cove in Cornwall. Rados disliked his playing so much, recalls Gerstein, that those, "three hours seemed like a public dismemberment". But Rados saw something in the young man and took him on as a pupil – and they're a fine team too as side-by-side performances of Mozart's Sonatas for Piano Four Hands K.497 (F major) and K.521 (C major) show. Rados, now 86-years-old, takes the lead in the F major with a delicate Adagio opening unleashing a sprightly and invigorating Allegro di molto which hints at the weighty magisterial reading to come. The C major, sparkling, light and witty is tastefully embellished by Gerstein. Myrios Classics' high-definition 24bit recording offers excellent spaciousness, clarity and definition.

Norman Stinchcombe

Popular posts from this blog

Jacquie Lawson e-card music

Some Enchanted Evenings at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne