John WIlson Strauss and Korngold, Vaughan Williams CD reviews


'Metamorphosen': Sinfonia London / Wilson ★★★★
John Wilson and his players give a sensitively articulated broadly-paced performance of Richard Strauss's 1945 threnody 'Metamorphosen'. His 'Study for 23 solo strings' laments what he called the Nazis' "12 year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture" but also the Allies' retributive justice as bombing flattened the cultural centres of Weimar, Dresden and Munich. The Chandos recording's wonderful transparency allows us to hear the subtle interplay of parts and Strauss's quotation from Beethoven's 'Eroica'. The central section is increasingly agitated as Strauss directs but never attains the intensity and anguish of the Staatskapelle Dresden's '70's recording under supreme Straussian Rudolf Kempe who truly, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." In total contrast Korngold's 'Symphonic Serenade' for strings from 1948, marking his return to Vienna after exile in America, is sheer delight, the infectious opening melody irresistibly charming. Shreker's 'Intermezzo' (1900) is a suitable emollient after the Straussian angst.
Norman Stinchcombe

Vaughan Williams 'Anthology': Various Artists ★★★
New releases, re-releases and repackages of Vaughan Williams' music come thick and fast this year to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. In this hit-and-miss collection Naxos simply takes eight discs from its catalogue, in their original plastic cases, and encloses them in a thin cardboard box. There are good, but not first rate, performances of Symphonies 1, 2, 5 and 9 from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, ditto a 'Lark Ascending' from Jennifer Pike and a very average orchestral music disc from New Zealand. Choral music from Cambridge includes a fine 'Mass in G minor' – premiered in Birmingham in 1922 – and the excellent Roderick Williams in vocal works with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. There's one absolute winner here: String Quartets 1 & 2 with the Maggini Quartet – with former CBSO leader Laurence Jackson on first violin – and the Phantasy Quintet where they are joined by Garfield Jackson on viola.
Norman Stinchcombe

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