Norman Stinchcombe's latest CD reviews


Peter Donohoe is approaching 70-year-of-age but is busier than ever in the recording studio. Having released the first volume of Mendelssohn's 'Songs Without Words' for Chandos earlier this year now comes an outstanding start to his survey of Grieg's lovely and woefully underrated short piano works, 'Lyric Pieces' Volume 1. ★★★★★ Grieg starting composing these delightfully mercurial works, with myriad shades of emotional and pianistic colour, in 1867 and finished more than thirty years later. There are 66 pieces, gathered in small groups, and Donohoe selects 27 of them. He starts with the pealing bells of 'Klokkenklang' which are alternately joyful, mysterious and sinister – imagine a hybrid of Liszt's 'La Campanella' and Ravel's 'Le Gibet' – and ends a generously-filled disc 83 minutes later with joyously raucous Norwegian folk-dance 'Halling'. There's nothing weak and winsome about these works and Donohoe's sprightly approach is perfect for the whirligig of sprites in 'Fairy Dance' and 'Puck' who, like Shakespeare's character, zips around as if he really could "put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes". Donohoe's playing is without a trace of Grieg's (unfair) Victorian parlour reputation and his tempos feel perfect too: in the pictorial 'Wedding at Troldhaugen' he is exhilarating while Daniel Adni is merely rushed and frenetic. Meanwhile Donohoe's successful survey of Mozart's piano sonatas for Somm reaches Volume 5 with No. 3 in B flat, K281; No. 13 in B flat, K333 and No. 15 in F, K533/494. ★★★★ Somm calls No.15, "an ingenious exercise in compromised creativity" where the perpetually pressed-for-time composer stitched together a Rondo, a showy opera aria and themes from orchestral serenades. Donohoe, forthright and ardently lyrical by turns, makes it so enjoyable that we never see the seams. K.333, tinged with grief at his mother's death, is skilfully handled in this thoroughly enjoyable disc.

Norman Stinchcombe

SCHUBERT '21 Songs': Alice Coote & Julius Drake (Hyperion) ★★★

What an odd decision to give every verse its own track: 21 songs but 50 tracks makes it confusing to select a song and a pain to programme several. That moan aside, there are some enjoyable performances here from mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and that paragon of pianists Julius Drake. The disc is topped-and-tailed by the Goethe setting 'An den Mond', the first a simple, strophic version, the last more complex and artful. Only fours years separate them – what an artistic journey Schubert made in that time. Coote excels in both, never arch or faux naif in the first and really getting to the emotional depths of the later one. The simple joyousness of 'Im Frühling' and the slower, dreamier songs like 'Nacht und Träume' show Coote at her best. Drama, however, is in short supply. Listen to her 'Erlkönig' then switch to Terfel, Fischer-Dieskau or Renee Fleming for harrowing mystery.

Norman Stinchcombe

IRELAND: Sinfonia of London / Wilson (Chandos CD/SACD) ★★★★

John Ireland is best know for his piano concerto and 'Sea Fever', a favourite song for baritones, but this disc concentrates seven works for orchestra both original and in arrangements. His 'Downland Suite' was composed in 1932 for the National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain. The bucolic four-movement work sounds delightful in its orchestral guise, arranged by Ireland and his pupil Geoffrey Bush, with a plaintive Elegy and catchy Minuet. Both the latter, and Ireland's rumbustious 1940 'Epic March', sound like examples of the 'light music' genre and conductor John Wilson, a master in this field, and the Sinfonia despatch them with polish and verve. More interesting are the moody mystical works like the rhapsodic 'Mai Dun' and 'The Forgotten Rite' inspired by the landscapes of Dorset and Jersey rich in folk memories and pagan rituals. Wilson elicits subtle and richly satisfying playing (gorgeous strings) captured in impressively wide-ranging sound.

Norman Stinchcombe

RACHMANINOV: Steven Osborne (Hyperion) ★★★★★

Steven Osborne's Rachmaninov recordings are always very special. Following his dazzling discs of the '24 Preludes', 'Etudes Tableaux', and Sonata No.2, comes a rarity. The Piano Sonata No.1 was inspired by Liszt's 'Faust Symphony', its three movement representing Faust, Gretchen and Mephistopheles. Osborne gradually builds up tension in the opening Allegro moderato before unleashing a cataclysmic thunderstorm followed by eerie calm. Osborne takes the Mephisto movement at a cracking pace making the otherwise excellent Rustem Hayroudinoff (Onyx) sound underpowered. The six charming short 'Moments Musicaux' Op. 16 were written when Rachmaninov needed cash quickly after of his savings were stolen His loss but our gain. The third, incorporating Rachmaninov's calling card 'Dies Irae' motif, is spectrally sad. In the Barcarolle of No.5 Osborne's playing shimmers and glints in the scintillating Venice waterways. Four short works – the Prelude in D minor, 'Fragments', 'Nunc Dimittis' and colourful 'Oriental Sketch' are enjoyable bonuses.

Norman Stinchcombe

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