Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016 Orchestral
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Casella ‘Orchestral Works, Vol 4’ Elegia eroica, Op 29. Symphony No 1, Op 5. Symphonic Fragments from ‘Le couvent sur l’eau’, Op 19a a Gillian Keith sop BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda Chandos F CHAN10880 (77’ • DDD)
Gianandrea Noseda’s Casella reappraisal for Chandos, among his most significant achievements to date, has radically shifted our perspectives on one of the finest if most neglected Italian composers of the postPuccini generation. The fourth instalment, the equal of its predecessors, flanks the Elegia eroica of 1916 with two works from Casella’s Paris period – the First Symphony of 1906 and the Symphonic Fragments from the 1913 ballet Le couvent sur l’eau. Both have slightly curious histories.
Finicky about his own music, Casella dismissed the symphony as juvenile and the ballet – it was offered to Diaghilev, who rejected it – as derivative, though we might now question his judgement in both cases. Le couvent sur l’eau evokes Venice as a place of decaying, sinister beauty, with faded allusions to Baroque suites, a dark, postImpressionist tinge in the scoring and a disembodied soprano voice weaving its way through its textures. The symphony, meanwhile, reveals its influences a bit too obviously in places but shows a powerful dramatic imagination at work. There are echoes of Borodin in the ferocious first movement (Casella’s enthusiasm for Russian music was fostered by his teacher, Fauré) and of Mahler in the Adagio, which Casella, confusingly, also included, in a revised version, in his Second Symphony of 1908. His mature ability to filter his influences through his imagination to create something utterly original, meanwhile, informs the Elegia, which blends Mahlerian anguish with Stravinskian rhythmic violence in a lament for an unknown soldier killed in the First World War. It’s a shattering work, one of his greatest.
As with the series as a whole, the performances are exemplary. Noseda’s familiar combination of rigour and emotional extremism is in evidence throughout. The symphony seethes with tension and excitement, even in the lengthy finale where the material is occasionally repetitive. Elegia eroica, all the more powerful for being so tautly controlled, is even more unnerving here than in Noseda’s performance at the 2014 Proms, while Le couvent sur l’eau is all creepily effective detail and menacing grandeur. Gillian Keith is the aptly glacialsounding soprano, and the playing throughout is terrific in its intensity and panache. Highly recommended. Tim Ashley
Dutilleux Symphony No 2, ‘Le double’a. Métabolesb. Violin Concerto, ‘L’arbre des songes’c c Augustin Hadelich vn Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Ludovic Morlot Seattle Symphony Media F SSM1007 (72’ • DDD) Recorded live at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, aJune 5 & 7, b September 25, 27 & 28, cNovember 4 & 7, 2014 9 REVIEWED WITH
Dutilleux Symphony No 1 . Métaboles. Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassoua a Paul Armin Edelmann bar Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz / Karl‑Heinz Steffens Capriccio F C5242 (54’ • DDD)
I would imagine Ludovic Morlot and Karl-Heinz Steffens are thrilled – in a
Gore Vidal ‘a little part of me dying when a friend succeeds’ sort of a way – that their new recordings of Henri Dutilleux’s 1964 hall-of-mirrors orchestral piece Métaboles have appeared at around the same time. Steffens and his Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz trek to the outlying ritualistic margins of Dutilleux’s score, their witheringly arid orchestral palette and muscular attack positioning the piece somewhere between late-period Stravinsky and any-period Varèse. No surprise perhaps that Morlot, Dutilleux’s fellow Frenchman, while never in denial of the lineage Steffens outlines,
opts for a woollier and more pliant (for which don’t read softcore) mode of attack. Intuition tells me that Dutilleux would have gravitated towards Morlot’s approach. But both recordings are carefully considered and conscientiously realised. With Morlot, veins of orchestral perspective are opened up. The introductory section, ‘Incantatoire’, gives notice of what to expect: intricately balanced woodwind projecting with a dynamic sense of shift between background and foreground, rapid clarinet figurations bubbling over the top like an unexpected swell of laughter. When the brass enter with sustained fanfares, the orchestral topography turns on its axis again as the woodwind are discreetly faded to the peripheries and, contrasting with Steffens’s one-dimensional mapping, Morlot evokes the thrill of ears discovering orchestral vistas and architecture in the moment.
But detail is never privileged over soul and the Seattle SO string sound is something special. Lead cellist Efe Baltacıgil transforms the brief cello solo at the beginning of Métaboles’s second section into a set piece, his cello swanking from the heart of the orchestra with a sexily expressive, reedy tone that sounds like Duke Ellington’s alto saxophone man Johnny Hodges has stood up to take a solo. Dutilleux’s Symphony No 2, Le double (1959), can sound workmanlike, a demonstration of what happens when a smaller chamber group – oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, timpani, harpsichord, celesta, string quartet – is forced into an exchange with the main orchestra, but Morlot’s ear for architectural light and space reveals a dialogue of shadows and instrumental doppelgängers, the Baroque concerto grosso ideal now audibly reinvented in terms of timbre and harmonic colour, not line.
Dutilleux’s Violin Concerto L’arbre des songes (1985) is by far his most-recorded orchestral piece, and this new one stands up very well, Augustin Hadelich finding more intimacy inside the unfolding patterns than Renaud Capucon and Myung-Whun Chung and making Isaac Stern’s premiere recording sound expressively approximate (Sony, 2/85 – nla). Steffens offers an exquisite early piece, Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou, and a solid performance of his Symphony No 1 – one outplayed by the supple account released last year on the first volume of
34 GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2016