Latest CD and DVD reviews from Norman Stinchcombe


C.P.E. BACH 'Sonatas & Rondos': Marc-Andre Hamelin (Hyperion 2 CDs) ★★★★★

After recording Haydn and Mozart the Canadian pianist is back exploring more esoteric repertoire – the keyboard works by the most talented of J.S. Bach's prodigious progeny. Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-1788) saw the eclipse of baroque style and rise of the classical. His works encompass the switch from harpsichord and clavichord to fortepiano with its agility (no stops to change) and greater range of colour and dynamics. His short 'Farewell to my Clavier built by Silbermann', written in the style of his father, signals the transition. The amazing 'Freie Fantasie' in F sharp minor (H300) anticipates Romanticism and is dazzling in Hamelin's hands, justifying his use of a Steinway grand's full resources. The works here range from the fiery Sonata in F minor, the elegant E minor – a sonata-cum-suite – and astonishingly quirky miniatures such as the 'Solfeggio in C minor' and 'L'Aly Rupalich'. What a stimulating, adventurous and joyous recital!

ZANDONAI 'Francesca da Rimini': Jakubiak, Tetelman, Deutsche Oper Berlin Chorus & Orchestra / Carlo Rizzi (Naxos DVD) ★★★

Riccardo Zandonai, with his lush orchestral palette and melodramatic plots, was seen as the operatic heir of Puccini. 'Francesca da Rimini', premiered in 1914 is his most popular work. Set in medieval Italy, Francesca (Sara Jakubiak) is tragically involved with the three Malatesta brothers: she loves handsome Paolo (Jonathan Tetelman), marries the crippled Gianciotto in a dastardly subterfuge and is lusted after by Malatestino (Charles Workman). Cue tragedy. Lyric soprano Jakubiak and tenor Jonathan Tetelman are a personable pair of lovers and sing well, while baritone Workman is a scenery-chewing baddie. The opulent over-ripe score – 'Tosca' meets 'Tristan' – is conducted all stops out by Rizzi. The problem is the director. Christof Loy's contemporary setting involves some bizarre changes to the action. The lovers should meet in awestruck stillness – the orchestra expressing their emotions – here Paolo gives Francesca a smacking kiss full on the lips. Other absurdities follow. Excellent picture and sound.

KODÁLY & LIGETI, 'Lux Aeterna': Danish National Vocal Ensemble / Creed (OUR Recordings CD/SACD)★★★★

Zoltán Kodály and György Ligeti, teacher and student, both began composing works rooted in Hungarian folk tradition. Kodály, along with his friend Bartok, was a pioneer in what is now the field of ethnomusicology, avidly collecting and recording folk music. His choral works on this disc were all influenced by his researches, from the early 'Evening' of 1904 to the large-scale 'Mátrai Pictures' of 1931. The Danish National Vocal Ensemble under Marcus Creed, their chief conductor since 2014, sing splendidly. Kodaly's best known choral work 'Evening Song', is captured in ravishing sound by producer Michael Emery, particular so in SACD. Ligeti's early works like the 'Two Acapella Choruses' and 'Four Hungarian Songs from Mátraszentimrei', both 1955, are immediately attractive and clearly from the same tradition. But 'Lux Aeterna' (1966), with its dazzling and dizzying microtonal polyphony brought him avant-garde fame when used on the soundtrack of '2001 – A Space Odyssey'.

Norman Stinchcombe

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