Latest reviews from Norman Stinchcombe


Sir Malcolm Arnold: Complete Symphonies & Dances (Naxos 6 CD set) ★★

Arnold's nine symphonies exemplify his gifts for brilliant orchestration – as the London Philharmonic's principal trumpet he learned his craft from the inside – rhythmic agility and a fund of good tunes. This medium-priced box set has the symphonies performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and the Orchestral Dances by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, all under Andrew Penny. Playing and recording quality is competent but unexceptional and Penny's direction too often misses Arnold's wit, sparkle and ear-tickling sonorities. Chandos's bargain 4CD set of the symphonies, conducted by Richard Hickox and Rumon Gamba, costs a third less than Naxos but is in another league for sound and playing panache – newcomers should start here. Sir Malcolm's own magnificent CBSO recording of the fifth, scandalously deleted by Warner Classics, is unbeatable – search out a second-hand copy – as are his recordings of the fourth symphony and the Dances, both available on the Lyrita label.

Norman Stinchcombe

Chopin & Rachmaninoff, Cello Sonatas: Queyras & Melnikov (Harmonia Mundi) ★★★★

The French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras is adept at chamber music, big romantic concertos and baroque works. I look forward to his appearance at Birmingham Town Hall next year when he plays C.P.E. Bach's Concerto in A major with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. On this disc he's joined by pianist Alexander Melnikov for Chopin's G minor Cello Sonata Op.65 and Rachmaninoff's G minor Op.19. This is Chopin's most important chamber work but it's complex and lacks the obvious beauty of his solo piano pieces. Queyras plays it with fierce concentration, laying out the opening movement's four main themes and challenging us to stay with Chopin's roller-coaster emotional ride, from meditative inwardness to the swaggering extroversion reminiscent of his Ballades, all with Melnikov's excellent support. The Rachmaninoff too is outstanding, with its brooding sinister scherzo and Queyras and Melnikov's triumphantly blazing finale at the end of an emotional journey.

Norman Stinchcombe

Puccini 'Manon Lescaut': Te Kanawa, Domingo, Royal Opera House (Opus Arte DVD) ★★★★

Puccini put his heroines through hell and gave them nasty ends. French courtesan Manon Lescaut (Kiri Te Kanawa) dies of thirst in an American desert but never quite touches our hearts like Butterfly or attaining tragic status like Tosca. Te Kanawa sings her dying aria 'Sola, perduta, abbandonata' beautifully and makes the flirtatious, flighty Manon as sympathetic as possible. Placido Domingo, as her lover Des Grieux, is in superb voice, his aria 'Donna non vidi mai' ('I have never seen a woman') a luscious outpouring of golden tone. The 1983 Covent Garden production – a reassuringly realistic period one by Götz Friedrich – finds the stars at the height of their powers. There's also an excellent supporting cast led by Thomas Allen as Manon's brother. Italian conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli brings out all the passion and colours of Puccini's score. The DVD offers only basic stereo and 4:3 picture ratio but remains very satisfying.

Norman Stinchcombe

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