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September Editor’s Choices

RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR

SCHUBERT Symphonies Nos 8 & 9 Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra / Herbert Blomstedt DG

Herbert Blomstedt, now 94, draws on a lifetime of Schubertian wisdom, experience and affection in what David Threasher calls ‘a rather special recording’.

STRAVINSKY ‘Jurowski Conducts Stravinsky, Vol 1’ London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski

LPO Magnificent interpretations of The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, just two parts of a generous opening to a three-album series.

‘A CEMBALO CERTATO A VIOLINO SOLO’ Johannes Pramsohler vn Philippe Grisvard hpd Audax

This intelligently programmed set places Bach’s six sonatas for violin and harpsichord in the context of his time with first recordings of many works from the era.

‘CORAZÓN’ John-Henry Crawford vc Victor Santiago Asuncion pf Orchid John-Henry

Crawford’s love affair with Latin American music was sparked by winning First Prize in Mexico’s 2019 Carlos Prieto Competition, and this delightful release is the result.

HAYDN Piano Sonatas, Vol 11 Jean-Efflam Bavouzet pf Chandos A brilliant series ends on a note worthy of all the previous volumes – Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s desire to share his affection for Haydn’s music with us is infectious. A superb survey.

D SCARLATTI Keyboard Sonatas Wolfram SchmittLeonardy pf Piano Classics ‘A deeply fulfilling and beautifully engineered Scarlatti programme,’ writes Jed Distler of this album from Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy. Do listen to it.

BLACKFORD Mirror of Perfection Britten Sinfonia / David Hill Lyrita Two works by

Richard Blackford – one a second recording, and wonderfully done at that, the second a response to Covid – earn admiration from our critic Guy Rickards.

MASSENET ‘Songs with Orchestra’ Sols; Paris Chamber Orchestra / Hervé Niquet Bru Zane

A stylishly performed recital of 25 of Massenet’s songs, only four previously recorded, by a vocal line-up and conductor truly alive to the composer’s sound world.

MOUTON Missa Faulte d’argent The Brabant Ensemble / Stephen Rice Hyperion There’s a vivid sense of excitement in the Brabant Ensemble’s approach to Mouton’s music, the latemedieval works full of variety, character and individuality.

acknowledged but not over-worked) and the clarity of the counterpoint throughout (all those quirky inner woodwinds) keeps the textures open and vibrant.

I love the ‘second childhood’ capriciousness of this first movement, with extreme dynamics and raucous sonorities sprung like naughty pranks. The darkening drama of the central climax is not diminished by Roth’s sense of scale and proportion – if anything the big moments feel bigger, the exaggerations more pronounced in this context.

The mistuned solo violin (a whole tone higher) of the second-movement Ländler is a great example of Mahler violating the wholesomeness of the music he is writing. It lends an ironic, acidic edge to the proceedings – Death, the folkloric fiddler. But then the Trio could hardly be rosier or more Viennese, and in Roth’s performance how effective is the juxtaposition of sentimental portamento (swathes of it but so naturally applied) and pungent woodwinds at the top of their voices.

And so the glorious slow movement doesn’t so much evolve as float at the outset. Becalmed. Peaceful. Mahler spoke of his mother’s smile in this music but the quartet ‘Mir ist so wunderbar’ from Beethoven’s Fidelio was surely the musical recollection that gave it voice. Again a fluid tempo is tailored to the reduced sustaining power of the instruments, and sweep and breadth are achieved in the shapely and emotive phrasing. The variational digression within the movement has a genuinely fantastical improvisatory feel and one genuinely feels Mahler relishing the gamesmanship of this music. In this context the big ‘heaven’s gate’ climax feels huge rather than merely bombastic and the coda is more seraphic for being so pure – or perhaps I should say ‘honest’ – in its projection. The beauty is definitely not skin deep.

So much has been said and written about the choice of a song – ‘Das himmlische Leben’ (‘Heavenly Life’) – as the finale of this symphony. This was Mahlerian innovation and daring writ large. The human voice, from a textural point of view, takes us well and truly into another realm. It is enigmatic, it is subliminal. It removes us from base reality in the most unexpected way. But I agree with Roth that taking the ‘little gospel’ of the text as the summation of what has gone before is a mistake. Just as over-characterising the text is a mistake. I have never been able to get my head around the Bernstein aberration of using a Vienna Choir boy for his later recording of the piece. Great Mahlerian that he was, he should have known better than to take the song’s childlike connotations so literally. Sabine Devieilhe sings it quite gorgeously with a belllike clarity and directness, and the final stanza is truly balm, pure and unaffected, like so much that makes this performance special.

Maybe it’s the piece, of all Mahler’s symphonies, that especially lends itself, but it has opened my ears and my heart and there isn’t a whole lot more that one can ask for, is there?

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