Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases

John Boyden – A Celebration’: Various artistes (Divine Art 2 CDs) ★★★

John Boyden was one of the most colourful characters in British classical music. He was the first managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra but was sacked after six months over his unsuccessful coup against conductor Andre Previn. In 1992 he relaunched the New Queen's Hall Orchestra; only a lunatic would launch another orchestra Boyden said, adding “I was that lunatic.” His greatest achievement was his alliance with entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul Hamlyn with whom he founded the Classics for Pleasure record label in 1970, selecting the repertoire, artists and producing the recording sessions. At the bargain price of 89p they sold 4 million copies in four years, introducing a new audience to the joys of classical music. One of the label’s most revered recordings appears on this retrospective set, Schubert’s song cycle ‘Die Schöne Müllerin’ by tenor Ian Partridge and his pianist sister Jennifer. After fifty years it’s still one of the top recommendations for this work. The pianist John Lill made a notable Beethoven concerto cycle for CfP and when Boyden left the label and set up Enigma Records, Lill followed to record the Beethoven piano sonatas. His noble, spacious ‘Waldstein’ features here showing Lill’s fine technique and self-effacing style. The set is completed by a vivacious account of Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet performed by members of the New Queen's Hall Orchestra including two artists associated with the Birmingham Royal Ballet: pianist Jonathan Higgins, principal pianist for 26 years, and Vera Pereira the Royal Ballet Sinfonia’s principal bass.

Handel: Soloists, RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / Justin Doyle (Harmonia Mundi CD)★★★★

The three works performed here are not by the mature Handel of London fame but by an ambitious 22-year-old composer on his way from Halle, via Hamburg, to Italy. Through one of his patrons in Rome, Cardinal Colonna, he was that Handel was commissioned to compose two psalm settings for Vespers at the Carmelite church, S Maria di Monte Santo, in the summer of 1707; ‘Laudate pueri’ and ‘Nisi Dominus’. ‘Dixit Dominus’, composed a few months before, may also have been performed. All three use a five-part chorus, strings and bass continuo. Although sacred music, Handel imbues each with daring theatricality and contrasts of mood. ‘Dixit Dominus’ adds two viola parts plus five solo singers and is an amazing work for a young composer: there’s a beautiful passage for the two intertwining sopranos, some stinging choral attacks – the superb RIAS Kammerchor – and daring harmonies. ‘Nisi Dominus’ is for chorus and three soloists, in ‘Laudate pueri’ for solo soprano and chorus, Carolyn Sampson sings rapturously. Justin Doyle marshals his forces with skill and energy, making this a very enjoyable and stimulating release.

Bruckner: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Hindoyan (Onyx CD) ★★

This is the bicentenary of Bruckner’s birth so expect to see some new recordings. This one, of Bruckner’s fourth symphony, is a predominantly lyrical and flowing one by the RLPO’s Venezuelan chief conductor Domingo Hindoyan. Anyone wanting the weight, power and grandeur provided by the great German and Austrian orchestras and conductors should look elsewhere. There is some piquant woodwind playing and the Andante second movement is gracefully shaped. With scores of recordings available a new one needs to carve out a niche either for musical insight or audio quality but this new one does neither. It was recorded live in concert and completed with a patch-up session six months later and the recording sounds constricted and airless. Karl’s Böhm’s magisterial 1973 recording, with the Decca engineers at the Sofiensaal, has wonderful bloom. Listen to the rustic dancing lilt of the Trio Böhm gets from the Vienna Philharmonic – players and conductor had this music in their blood.

Mozart Piano Concertos Vol.9: Bavouzet, Manchester Camerata / Takács- Nagy (Chandos CD) ★★★★

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has adopted a predominantly chamber music approach in his survey of Mozart’s piano concertos. Even in large-scale works like D Minor and C Minor concertos he has not used the proto-Romantic virtuoso style. It fits well with his choice of collaborators, the modestly sized Manchester Camerata under Gábor Takács-Nagy but some might have desired a more imposing presence. However their approach is ideal for the three smaller scale concertos played here; Nos 11, 12 and 13 which were composed together in 1782-83 just after Mozart left Salzburg for Vienna. As well as orchestral versions – for strings with wind, horns, trumpets, and timpani – Mozart also offered versions for strings only, effectively piano quintets for domestic performances. Bavouzet’s imaginative, intimate approach, with plenty of witty embellishments to the sparer solo lines, is very enjoyable. There’s a bonus in the Camerata’s zippy performance of the overture to Mozart’s recent operatic triumph ‘Die Entführung aus dem Serail.’

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