Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases

Mystique’: Krzysztof Meisinger (Chandos CD) ★★★★

The Polish guitarist Krzysztof Meisinger’s debut recital disc on Chandos is a cracker – even if the label was in two minds about the title. It’s ‘Mystique’ (for no obvious reason) on the front cover; on the back, more relevantly, it’s ‘Elogia de la guitarra’ (‘In Praise of the Guitar’) after Rodrigo’s 1971 composition which is the disc’s second item. The three-part work is a stunner in Meisinger’s hands its shifting moods, celebratory and sombre, conveyed with a mastery of colour and tone. Rodrigo’s ‘Invocación y danza’ – the composer’s homage to de Falla – has plenty of flamenco swagger but it never topples into vulgarity. That’s also true of Meisinger’s stunning take on Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Paganini inspired ‘Capriccio diabolico’ – devilishly good. After the virtuoso display Piazzolla’s ‘Cinco piezas’ – his only work composed for the guitar – show’s Meisinger in introspective mood. The recording, made in Warsaw’s Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, is first rate.

Vaughan Williams, ‘The First Songs of Travel’: Standen & Stone (Albion Records CD) ★★★★

In 1954 the Westminster label issued the first LP of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Songs of Travel’, or at least the eight that were published in the composer’s lifetime. The songs are performed by bass-baritone Richard Standen and pianist Frederick Stone and the composer thought highly of their version. Standen (1912-87) was in his prime when the album was recorded and gave recitals in Britain and Europe for twenty-five years. Frederick Stone is a sympathetic and vastly experienced accompanist – best known for his partnership with Kathleen Ferrier. Singing styles have changed in seventy years, becoming less declamatory and more conversational, but Standen’s forthright delivery and crisp enunciation is probably what Vaughan Williams had in mind – it’s certainly worth hearing. There are also songs by Stanford, Ireland, Warlock, Michael Head, Albert Mallinson and Malcolm Davidson, while Frederick Keel’s ‘Three Salt Water Ballads’ are the pick of these. Ronald Grames’ remastering is in pleasing full-bodied mono sound.

Schumann, Weber, Strauss: Martin Owen, BBC Philharmonic / Wilson (Chandos CD) ★★★★

The name of Martin Owen may not be as well known as horn virtuosos of the past but this recital shows him to be right up there with the best. He was Principal Horn of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for ten years and now holds that post with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Richard Strauss’s use of the horn was masterly – his father Franz was the Munich Orchestra’s principal – and his two concertos combine scintillating passages, droll humour and twilight romanticism. The first, Strauss, then a teenage prodigy, the second a mellow work by a 60-year-old, are beautifully played by Owen with fine support from Wilson and the orchestra. Owen revels in the catchy tune of Weber’s ‘Concertino’ exhibiting a warmly lyrical tone and unbuttoned energy when required. He is joined by Alec Frank-Gemmill, Christopher Parkes and Sarah Willis for a brilliant performance of Schumann’s ‘Concertstück’, a delightful work seldom heard in the concert hall.

Ravel, ‘L’Heure espagnole’: Les Siecles / Francois Xavier-Roth (Harmonia Mundi CD) ★★

I suspect that this recording of the lesser known of Ravel’s two short operas is a “Marmite” one – some listeners will find it delicious, for others it will be less appetising. The “Spanish Hour” of the title doesn’t refer to a siesta but a time for amorous liaison, with the clockmaker’s randy wife trying to engineer a session with her lover while her husband’s at work. Don’t expect much in the way of catchy tunes or passionate arias for Ravel wanted a down-to-earth conversational style. For French speakers this approach may work but if not then you may find it’s not enticing – there’s little to beguile the ear or tickle the funny bone. The mezzo-soprano Isabelle Druet, perhaps at Roth’s direction, delivers Concepción’s part in a straight-laced (and straight-faced) way. Roth’s literalism – the text and nothing but the text – affects the disc’s bonus, a rhythmically tightly-corseted performance of ‘Bolero’.

Mozart Piano Quartets: Dego, Ridout, van der Heijden, Colli (Chandos CD) ★★★

This disc has a lot going for it: two Mozart masterpieces, four talented young players and the excellent intimate acoustic of Potton Hall. Federico Colli has recorded some fine Scarlatti CDs for Chandos and his keyboard clarity, articulation and fast fingers are again evident. The G minor Quartet’s dramatic opening movement packs a punch while the lighter E flat major Quartet has energy and elan, the final Allegretto surging along. The first movement repeats of both works are observed too, a rare bonus. So what’s missing? Listen to Andre Previn’s 1979 Kingsway Hall recording (Decca) with the Musikverein Quartet – the Vienna Philharmonic’s front desk players – and you’ll hear. Colli plays the E flat major’s opening piano statement absolutely straight while Previn’s subtle rubato has a touching charm. That’s a quality Francesca Dego’s quasi “authentic” violin lacks, with its minimal vibrato, and squeezed astringent tone – compared to Rainer Küchl’s warm, flexible and mellifluous Viennese fiddling.

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