Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases
‘Mozart and the Organ’: Dahl, Engegard, Sponberg, Snerte (LWAO Classics CD) ★★★★
Mozart was the greatest keyboard player of his day; a fiddler accomplished enough to play his own violin concertos; and the viola player in the world’s first “super group”, a string quartet featuring Haydn, Vanhal and Dittersdorf. Less well known is his ability and affection for the organ which he told his father was, “the queen of instruments.” Pressure of work limited his composing time for the organ but here Anders Eidsten Dahl performs 14 of Mozart’s 17 Church Sonatas – on the Margaretekyrkan organ in Oslo – joined by Atle Sponberg (violin) and Embrik Snerte (bassoon). These elegant pieces, some juvenilia, were composed for use in Salzburg and are charming rarities. Dahl adds three late solo pieces, the Adagio and Allegro in F minor K.594, Fantasia in F minor K.608 and the Andante in F major K.616, on the organ of the Bragernes Church, Brammen (Norway). Performances are uniformly excellent and the recording has immense clarity and presence.
Schubert & Purcell: Sakuntala Trio (Resonus CD) ★★★★
Unable to play gigs during the Covid lockdown the London-based Sakuntala Trio – the name comes from a character in the Sanskrit epic ‘Mahabharata’ – put their time to good use. Rebecca Chan (violin), Sascha Bota (viola) and Brian O’Kane (cello) spent five months immersing themselves in Schubert’s two String Trios, The four movement B flat major D.581 (second version) and the B flat major D.471 of which Schubert left only the Allegro first movement complete. They play the Trio’s completion by Brian Newbould, best known for his completions of Schubert’s 7th, 8th and 10th symphonies, which sounds authentic in their hands. They emphasize the music’s drama, embracing “the sound of the raspy gut strings searching for the harmonic tensions and releases,” was their aim. It’s a huge contrast to the Leopold String Trio’s more relaxed and affable approach (Hyperion) but equally convincing. Peter Warlock’s transcription of Purcell’s three ‘Three Part Fantasias’ is a very enjoyable bonus.
Byrd 1589 ‘Songs of Sundrie Natures’: Alamire & Fretwork / Skinner (Inventa 2 CDs) ★★★★
This set is a successor to the outstanding collection of William Byrd’s 1588 set of songs, a dark and shadowy collection described by the composer as ‘Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadnes and pietie’ performed by vocal consort Alamire, the viol consort Fretwork plus lutenists Jacob Heringman and Lynda Sayce. There’s plenty of vocal variety here, with songs for three, four, five and six voices following Byrd’s own groupings and of subject matter too, both sacred and secular. The former, including the ‘Seven Penitential Psalms’ which open the first disc, are performed a cappella while the secular include instrumental accompaniment all directed by David Skinner. Both solo and ensemble singing are first rate and I especially enjoyed contributions by mezzo-soprano Martha MacLorinan – a familiar name to Midland concertgoers from her work with Ex Cathedra – in ‘From Virgin’s womb’ and soprano Rachel Haworth who soars into the stratosphere in ‘The greedy hawk’. A fine contribution to mark the 400th anniversary of Byrd’s death.
‘Mahler Pioneers’: Soloists, Goldsmiths Choral Union, BBC SO, LSO, Scherchen Goehr (Somm Recordings 2 CDs) ★★★
Somm’s uneven, but often fascinating, remasters of bygone live concerts and broadcasts continues with a real rarity: a 1956 Festival Hall concert of what was then a virtually unknown work, Mahler’s cantata ‘Das Klagende Lied’ of 1901. The complete version was unknown until 1969 so this recording with the London Symphony Orchestra under Walter Goehr is of the truncated two-section version. There are unsurprisingly rough edges from the choir but here's a chance to hear three British star singers – Joan Sutherland, Norma Proctor and Peter Pears – not always idiomatic but fascinating nonetheless. The 1960 studio recording of Mahler’s Symphony No.4 – LSO and Goehr again – is rhythmically stiff and soprano Teresa Stich-Randall is miscast as the voice of the child extolling the heavenly life. The 1948 recording of the Adagio of Mahler’s tenth is of historic interest only. The two interviews of Mahler recollections, by Stokowski and New York Philharmonic player Alfred Friese are eccentric and informative but to be treated with caution – memory plays tricks.
J.S. Bach Harpsichord Concertos: Devine & Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Resonus CD) ★★★★
The old folk sayings about ‘make do and mend’ and ‘waste not want not’ – or their German equivalents – were close to Bach’s thrifty Lutheran heart. In his later years at Leipzig he was required to provide keyboard-and-string concertos for the popular Sunday afternoon concert series at Zimmermann’s coffee house. Always busy and pressed for time, Bach reworked liturgical music from his earlier years in Weimar. So brilliant are his transcriptions that one cannot imagine they were once used in cantatas or in one case from his E major Violin Concerto. Steven Devine, directing from the harpsichord, employs just five players from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – a snug fit for the coffee house – in lively and crisply articulated performances of the familiar concertos in D major, D minor and A major. Devine has also reconstructed another D minor concerto which sounds perfectly in place with the other works – an excellent bonus.
Vinders: The Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge / Skinner (Inventa 2 CDs) ★★★★
Not a great deal is known about the 16th century composer Jheronimus Vinders: the date of his death and even his native language – French, Flemish or Dutch – are mysteries. None of his instrumental music has survived. His lament on the death of Josquin Desprez ‘O mors inevitabilis’ suggests he may have been a pupil. An edition of Vinders’ surviving works has recently been published and this two-disc set – with The Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and Andrew Lawrence-King (Renaissance harp and psaltery) directed by David Skinner – is the first recording of these pieces. They are: the secular song ‘Missa Myns liefkens bruyn ooghen; the ‘Missa Fors suelement’; and a ‘Salve regina’. They are quirky, with surprising twists and turns and their dark sonorities are fervently sung by the Choir and captured in a suitably resonant recording. Works by Vinders’ contemporaries put his own works in a historical context.