Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases

Britten: Soloists, London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Rattle (LSO Live SACD / CD) ★★★★★

Simon Rattle has always been an enthusiastic advocate of Benjamin Britten’s music, performing and recording most of the composer’s major concert works with the CBSO – with one important omission. That’s put right on this disc with a sparkling live recording of Britten’s ‘Spring Symphony’, a joyous work celebrating the emergence from winter into a rejuvenated world – very apt for 1949 with Europe recovering after a world war. Britten always showed an acute taste in selecting texts and sets English poets from Spenser and Milton to Auden, finishing off with the medieval round ‘Sumer is icumen in’. The LSO Chorus are joined by the eager young voices of the Tiffin Boys’ Choir, Tiffin Children’s Chorus and The Tiffin Girls’ School Choir for a hugely enjoyable energized performance with a trio of outstanding soloists, Elizabeth Watts (soprano) Alice Coote (mezzo) and Allan Clayton (tenor). Two other works complete the generously filled disc: ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’ and the wartime ‘Sinfonia da Requiem’. The former matches the earlier CBSO recording for colour and vitality but in the Sinfonia, Rattle’s pace is far quicker, the music ratcheted up to high levels of tension and anger, with trenchant playing from the LSO captured in close but vivid sound.

She Composes Like a Man’: Helseth, tenThing Brass Ensemble (Lawo Classics CD) ★★★★

Many years ago I saw the Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth at the start of her career performing Shostakovich’s concerto for piano and trumpet at Symphony Hall. Her solo career has blossomed but she has also founded the all-female tenThing Brass Ensemble. This disc is devoted to the work of women composers and the title – a comic dig at musical paternalism – is a comment made about the redoubtable Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944). It was meant as praise at the time – attitudes have changed a lot since then. The 18 tracks are of short works ranging from the nineteenth century, Fanny Mendelssohn and Smyth, to Lili Boulanger, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Mel Bonis. The arrangements, largely the work of Norwegian composer Jarle Storløkken, are from a variety of sources. Crawford Seeger’s ‘Rissolty Rossolty’ was an orchestral fantasia, her final classical work before she became the matriarch of the American folk-music; Sally Beamish’s ‘In the Stillness’ was a choral work; ‘Share My Yoke’ a hymn by Salvation Army captain Joy Webb who founded the 1960s gospel beat band The Joystrings. The ensemble’s virtuoso playing is impressive – brass enthusiasts will love it.

Dodgson ‘Mirage’: Osman Tack (Somm Recordings CD) ★★★★

The English composer Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013) is probably best known for his guitar music, particularly the Concerto No.1 he wrote for Julian Bream (1956) and the Concerto No.2 for John Williams (1972). His prolific output is much more varied; Somm has issued two discs devoted to his songs, another to his choral music and now comes this one of his piano works. The disc has five works – all premiere recordings – covering nearly fifty years of Dodgson’s long career. Robert Matthew-Walker’s notes describe Dodgson’s music as "urbane and civilised" which is a good summation of its virtues and limitations. Pianist Osman Tack finds plenty of character in the charming ‘Eight Fanciful Preludes’ (1956), I enjoyed the zany ‘Crazy Kate’ and the limping off-kilter ‘Il Zoppo’ (‘The Cripple’). The ‘Four Moods of the Wind Suite’ (1968) is impressionistic, while the ‘Six Bagatelles’ Set 2 (1998-2005) are occasionally dark and disturbing. The ‘Three Impromptus’ (1962, revised 1985) and Piano Sonata No.7 (2003) exhibit Dodgson’s quirky tonal style, the type once called “wrong-note romanticism”. The recording, made at Potton Hall, is clear, spacious and impressively life-like.

Schmidt: Soloists, Graz Cathedral Choir, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra / Lippe, Vienna Symphony Orchestra / Moralt (Somm Recordings 2 CDs) ★★★★

The works of Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) were lauded in their time – compared to Bruckner – but tainted by the Nazis' attempt to appropriate them and fell out of favour. This two-disc set contains the last, and finest, of his four symphonies and the cantata ‘Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln’ (‘The Book with Seven Seals’) generally considered to be his masterpiece. The near two-hour work is based on Luther’s translation of the Book of Revelation when Jesus opens the mystical book precipitating a final victorious battle against Satan and the founding of a new heaven, earth and Jerusalem. It’s on a Wagnerian scale, its musical language influenced by ‘Die Meistersinger’ and mightily impressive given a musical team up to its demands. This 1962 stereo recording – refreshed and remastered by Lani Spahr – is one of the best alongside digital versions by Harnoncourt and Welser-Möst. There’s a fine team of soloists with tenor Julius Patzak (St John), bass Otto Weiner (Voice of the Lord) plus soprano Hanny Steffek and alto Hertha Töpper. Anton Lippe marshals the excellent orchestra and chorus very effectively (no easy task) and the recording is impressively spacious. Schmidt’s Symphony No.4 is beautiful and tender threnody for his daughter and the second movement Adagio features a lament for solo cello, the instrument Schmidt played in Mahler’s Vienna orchestra. Rudolf Moralt’s conducting is solid but the 1954 mono recording is no match for Welser-Möst’s (EMI) in terms of performance, playing or sound quality

Popular posts from this blog

Jacquie Lawson e-card music

Some Enchanted Evenings at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne