Tchaikovsky & Rimsky-Korsakov: LSO / Noseda (LSO Live CD / SACD) ★★★★
The London Symphony Orchestra’s excellent series of Tchaikovsky symphony recordings, under their principal guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda, continues with a vigorous performance of No.5. The work is dominated by its ‘Fate’ theme, on low clarinet and strings, presented with great clarity in the label’s familiar up-front Barbican recording balance. The symphony contains some of Tchaikovsky’s most luscious music – sample the Andante cantabile second movement’s horn theme or the third movement’s scintillating waltz – but Noseda favours flowing speeds and doesn’t highlight those sweet spots by suddenly slowing-down. In the grandiose finale, with the ‘Fate’ theme hoisted aloft and triumphantly transformed, he avoids indulgence or mere hell-for-leather rapidity. The orchestral suite from Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairytale opera ‘The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh’ is a sparklingly played substantial bonus: an homage to Wagner’s ‘Forest Murmurs’ in the pastoral opening and the orchestra turned into a giant balalaika band for the wedding procession.
‘The Bach Dynasty’: Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / Hans-Christoph Rademann (11 CDs Harmonia Mundi) ★★★★
This box set is an outstanding bargain with eleven generously filled CDs, containing familiar masterpieces and rarities, available online for around £20. It’s not just the price that’s attractive but the undoubted quality of the performances from the first rate original instrument band conducted by one of the world’s leading Bach experts, currently director of the Internationale Bachakademie. We have a feast of music from J.S. Bach; the ‘Brandenburg Concertos’, ‘Orchestral Suites’ and ‘Dialogue Cantatas’. From his most talented son Carl Philip Emmanuel a ‘Magnificat’, concertos and symphonies; a ‘Requiem’, ‘Miserere’, symphonies and concertos by Johann Christian Bach; and symphonies and concertos from Wilhelm Friedemann. There’s also ‘Trauermusik’, requiring two choirs and a huge orchestra, from Johann Sebastian’s distant cousin Johann Ludwig known as ‘Meiningen Bach’. The recordings, made between 1995 and 2018, are top quality. Only French texts are included but English ones can be found on the internet.
Holst & Vaughan Williams: Tippett Quartet (Somm Recordings) ★★★
The Tippett Quartet offer fine performances of Vaughan Williams' two quartets with their violist Lydia Lowndes-Northcott excelling in the second, where the instrument is given pride of place. It was composed at the same time as the fifth symphony and both works have a slow movement – “Romance” in the quartet and “Romanza” in the symphony – but the former is much bleaker. Here I feel the Maggini Quartet’s 2001 recording (Naxos) – with former CBSO leader Laurence Jackson on first violin – shines. They take the movement slower, the tempo marking is Largo, and their playing has a suitably other-world quality. Bother performances of the first quartet are excellent but the Somm disc only adds a transcription of Holst’s very lightweight ‘Phantasy on British Folksongs’ while the Maggini disc has the more substantial and apt Vaughan Williams’ ‘Phantasy Quintet’ where they are joined by violist Garfield Jackson. Both discs have impressive recording quality.