Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases
Tchaikovsky: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Chauhan (Chandos CD & SACD) ★★★★
Alpesh Chauhan is a great Birmingham success story – the local boy made good. At Symphony Hall we’ve seen him as a cellist (a pupil of Eduard Vassallo) in the CBSO Youth Orchestra and as an assistant conductor with the CBSO. He’s now music director of the Birmingham Opera Company, will be bringing the Symphony Orchestra of India to Symphony Hall in December and his recording debut disc on Chandos pairs him with the BBC SSO of which he is Associate Conductor. Along the way he’s also collected an OBE for his services to music. This impressive collection of Tchaikovsky tone poems demonstrates Chauhan’s flair for these colourful scores which need to be full-blooded and uninhibited to be successful. The vivid pictorialism of ‘The Tempest’ and the tragic dramatic narrative of ‘The Voyevoda’ benefit from fine playing (terrific bite from the strings) and Chandos engineering which packs a powerful lower-end wallop when required. The Overture and Polonaise from the comic-opera ‘Cherevichki’ provides light relief before the major work here, the Dante-inspired ‘Francesca da Rimini’. This is impressive – the swirling hellish winds well captured – but cannot match the hair-raising cataclysmic performances conducted by Antal Dorati (1958) and Igor Markevitch (1974) which shave minutes off Chauhan’s time and leap from the speakers. The old masters can still teach the talented tyro a trick or two.
Schubert ‘Stimme der Liebe’: Ian Partridge & Jennifer Partridge (Somm Recordings CD) ★★★★
When the tenor Ian Partridge was 14-years-old he came across Volume 1 of the Peters Edition of Schubert’s Songs in the school library. He didn’t know much about Schubert, and had no German, but with the aid of a dictionary came under the spell of these wonderful songs and made them his lifelong passion. Many people got to know ‘Die schöne Müllerin’ through his 1973 Classics for Pleasure recording, accompanied by his sister Jennifer, and their many BBC Radio 3 recitals. Eighteen of those songs broadcast from 1969-1972 are gathered here on disc for the first time (plus two with pianist Ernest Lush) as an 85th birthday tribute to Partridge. They include favourites and rarities like ‘Vor meiner Wiege’. They exhibit Jennifer’s unfussy and supportive playing and Ian’s ardent, intelligent but never over-the-top interpretations – “Some singers won’t leave Schubert alone”, he rightly observes. An excellent tribute which includes text and translations.
Mozart Piano Concertos: Elizabeth Sombart, RPO / Vallet (Rubicon Classics 2 CDs) ★★
The French pianist Elizabeth Sombart is lauded in her native country but little known in the UK although she had made sets of the Beethoven and Chopin piano concertos with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Pierre Vallet. Their latest release is a double CD set of Mozart’s piano concertos 20, 21, 23 and 27. Sombart’s approach is primarily lyrical with tempi leisurely and occasionally somnolent. Their reading of the D Minor concerto lacks the blazing intensity and romantic angst found in Leif Ove Andsnes – directing the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard – who make Sombart and Vallet sound pedestrian. Sombart’s ‘Romanza’ is an indulgent slow-motion 10:46 against Andsnes’ taut 9.10. His choice of cadenzas (Beethoven and Hummel) unsurprisingly outclass contemporary Italian composer Luca Belloni’s. In the C major concerto Sombart is rhythmically flabby and inert compared to Andsnes and his crisply energetic band. Sombart’s set cannot compete with Andsnes, Ashkenazy, Brendel, and many others.
Antheil Violin Sonatas: Tianwa Yang & Nicholas Rimmer (Naxos CD) ★★★★
The American composer George Antheil, self-styled “Bad Boy of Music”, packed a great deal into his 58 years. As a young pianist he studied In Paris and toured in Germany, Vienna and Hungary – where he met his future wife. In between composing ferocious and dissonant music he was also an inventor. In 1941 he and Hedy Lamarr – Viennese-born Hollywood sex-symbol – together invented a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes. You couldn’t make that up. His four violin sonatas – expertly played by Yang (violin) and Rimmer (piano) – are products of a versatile, quizzical and eccentric mind, The first is heavily influenced by ‘Rite of Spring’ era Stravinsky; the second a mad mash-up of serious and comic tunes with Rimmer playing drums at one point; the third is relatively gentle and lyrical; the fourth, the finest, combines an intriguing variation movement and a lively toccata finale. First rate sound and informative notes.