Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases
Berkeley, Pound, Ravel: Sinfonia of London / John Wilson (Chandos CD & SACD) ★★★★★
A disparate collection at first glance but there’s a musical thread connecting these three works. John Wilson has demonstrated great flair as a conductor of Ravel both on disc and in concert with the super Sinfonia of London – their ‘Bolero’ at Symphony Hall was stupendous. Here the stylish pastiche ‘Le tombeau de Couperin’ is airily elegant and delicate. Lennox Berkeley’s music has a similar Francophone grace and his 1943 ‘Divertimento’ is very amenable and its shifting moods well-captured. The British composer Adam Pounds, in his 70th year, will be a new name to many. He was a pupil of Berkeley - and has conducted the ‘Divertimento’ – but his Symphony No.3, composed during the Covid lockdown and dedicated to the Sinfonia and Wilson, has a spiky lyricism and mordant wit reminiscent of Shostakovich, as in the ironically barbed waltz. When Pounds visited the recording sessions Wilson told him the players would have his symphony “sparkling like a jewel”, and so they did.
‘Prokofiev Milestones’: Trotovšek, Canyigueral, Bizjak (Somm Recordings CD) ★★★★
Here’s a fascinating rarity – a chance to compare the two versions of Prokofiev’s chamber work Op.94, a wartime piece composed when Prokofiev had been evacuated to the safety of rural Georgia in 1941. The original version is a Sonata for Flute and Piano in D major and Slovenian flautist Boris Bizjak evokes the pastoral spirit Prokofiev must have imbibed during his idyllic retreat – evident in the Andante third movement. The Spanish pianist Maria Canyigueral is the excellent collaborator here and in the work’s second incarnation as the Opus 94a Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano where she is joined by Lana Trotovšek. Listeners can choose their preference, but I found the original flute version special. Trotovšek is joined by Bizjak for his transcription for flute and piano of the Sonata for Two Violins Op.56 a much more acerbic work from 1932 with a speedy dancing finale. Trotovšek and Canyigueral also perform a Suite from the ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Canyigueral is joined by her countryman Ramon Bassal for a recording of Beethoven’s Complete Sonatas and Variations for Cello and Piano (Da Vinci Classics 2 CDs) ★★★ There’s plenty to enjoy in this well-recorded set both in the substantial works, as in the Sonata No.2 in G minor, and in Beethoven’s light-hearted homage to Mozart in the two sets of variations from “Die Zauberflöte”, Papageno’s plaintive plea for a wife and his duet with Pamina, ‘Bei Mannern’. Competition is plentiful in this repertoire and I missed the wit, effervescence and transcendental technique of Maisky and Argerich (DG).
‘Natural Connection’: Leon McCawley (Somm Recordings CD) ★★★★
In the 1960s and ‘70s record labels frequently released compilations of piano favourites – I remember buying discs by John Ogden and Maura Lympany. They were a great way for newcomers to sample popular keyboard works but the selections could be rather random – the LP equivalent of the I-Pod shuffle – this new collection brings coherence with the theme of nature. Leon McCawley opens with Sinding’s ‘Rustle of Spring’, which a century ago was subjected to grievous bodily harm by legions of amateur pianists, but here wafts sinuously in a flurry of perfectly placed notes. McCawley is immensely versatile: Liszt’s ‘Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este’ is all sparkling spumante while his ‘Au bord d'une source’ is truly ‘dolce tranquillo’ and Debussy’s ‘The Snow is Dancing’ is magical. Good to see McCawley’s sense of humour at play – only a miserabilist couldn’t raise a smile at Bartok’s buzzing ‘From the Diary of a Fly’. First class recording quality too.