Haydn and Shostakovich CDs reviewed


HAYDN Piano Sonatas Volume 4: Leon McCawley ★★★★

Haydn's quirky and innovative approach to form and style is obvious in his string quartets but less so in the solo piano works. Yet, as Robert Matthew-Walker writes his booklet notes to the latest instalment of Leon McCawley's enjoyable survey, these works, "range over the late-Baroque to early Beethoven," and as the keyboard developed from "clavichord and harpsichord to the fortepiano" so did Haydn's music. McCawley uses a Steinway Grand but plays the miniature No.1 in G (four movements in minutes) with a light and gracious touch suitable for a drawing-room performance. In contrast No.51 in E flat requires the projection of a larger instrument and, in its attention-grabbing opening scales, skills higher than those of a domestic amateur. Haydn's fanciful side can be heard in the rondo finale of No. 35 in A flat which starts deceptively plainly only to get weirder as it progresses. Another winner from SOMM.

Norman Stinchcombe

HAYDN 'The Creation': Le Concerts des Nations / Savall ★★★

This recording of Haydn's great oratorio, in its German form as 'Die Schöpfung', was recording at Jordi Savall's favourite venue, the 11th century church of Saint Vicenç perched high in the Catalonian mountains. Its reverberant acoustic – captured impressively in this SACD two disc set – results in slower tempi than we might expect from Savall but also a compensating weight and grandeur. It allows the twenty-strong La Capella Reial de Catalunya choir to sound much larger while retaining admirable clarity of diction. Soprano Yeree Suh sings both Gabriel and Eve with lightness and fervour as in 'Nun heut die Flur' (With verdure clad). Baritone Matthias Winckhler sings Gabriel and Raphael but the latter part needs the extra bass notes that Dietrich Henschel (for William Christie) has. Tenor Tilman Lichdi's Uriel is pleasant if unmemorable. Savall's period instrument orchestra is excellent, with an impressive opening 'Representation of Chaos' under their 80-year-old conductor.

Norman Stinchcombe

SHOSTAKOVICH 'Leningrad' Symphony: London Symphony Orchestra / Noseda ★★★★

Eighty years after its premiere in a city besieged by the Nazis and then played around the world, via a score smuggled out on microfilm, the seventh symphony can still pack an enormous emotional and musical punch. It certainly does here in the fifth disc of Gianandrea Noseda's impressive cycle of Shostakovich symphonies. He takes around twenty-seven minutes for the opening movement, the same as did Maris Jansons in his valedictory 2019 Bavarian recording. Both were taped live but Noseda's is far more successful. He ratchets up the tension in the madly repetitive metronomic Bolero-style invasion theme aided by the LSO's biting and trenchant playing. In the second movement the wind and brass have solemn splendour – Olivier Stankiewicz's oboe to the fore – and the LSO's rich string playing illuminates the Adagio. The Barbican recording lacks a true pianissimo but adds to the overwhelming power and visceral impact of the finale.

Norman Stinchcombe

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