September Editor’s Choices
RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
BRAHMS Symphonies Nos 1‑4
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons BSO Classics
The second of this month’s big cycles from big names: on this evidence, the partnership between Nelsons and the Boston SO is very strong indeed.
CARTER ‘Late Works’ BBC Symphony Orchestra / Oliver Knussen Ondine Carter’s late works – he continued to write beyond his
100th birthday – are given vivid, reflective performances here by some of the composer’s leading champions.
MOZART Piano Concertos Nos 25 & 26 Francesco Piemontesi pf Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Andrew Manze Linn
If compelling evidence were needed that Mozart’s K503 concerto is underrated – as Piemontesi asserts in this month’s Musician and the Score – then here it is.
BARTÓK Complete String Quartets The Heath Quartet Harmonia Mundi A year on from their Gramophone Awards success with Tippett, the hugely impressive young ensemble are equally as convincing in Bartók’s works for string quartet.
MOZART Piano Sonatas, Vol 5 William Youn pf Oehms Other Mozart series and pianists may attract more profile, but few attract quite the praise that Youn’s beautiful and engaging approach to this music has. This is really worth hearing.
‘DREAMS & FANCIES’ Sean Shibe gtr Delphian Young guitarist – and like Piemontesi, a former BBC New
Generation Artist – Shibe’s rich approach to tonal colour brings evocative depth to these (mainly) 20th-century works for his instrument.
RACHMANINOV Vespers, ‘All-Night Vigil’ Sols; MDR Radio Choir / Risto Joost Genuin When the author of our recent Collection feature on Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil places this newcomer among ‘the very best available’, admirers of this work need not hesitate.
R STRAUSS ‘Through Life and Love’ Louise Alder sop Joseph Middleton pf Orchid The debut recital album from a very promising singer reveals a wonderful affinity for the songs of Strauss: Alder is very much one to watch.
HANDEL Ottone Sols incl Cencic; Il Pomo d’Oro / George Petrou Decca A strong cast and a standout soloist in countertenor Cencic as Ottone – plus a wellpaced realisation of the score by Petrou – makes for a dramatic listen and an enjoyable operatic experience.
pastoral Trio, and the unsentimental eloquence of the Andante, enhanced by tastefully judged sliding portamentos – another hallmark of these performances – and meticulous observation of Mendelssohn’s detailed dynamic markings. Like Antonello Manacorda in his recent recording (Sony Classical, 6/17), Nézet-Séguin uses the recently published edition of the sympohony by Christopher Hogwood, which, inter alia, restores the woodwind fantasy-cadenza at the start of the finale that Mendelssohn deleted from his autograph. This is one of the most compelling Reformations on disc.
The early C minor – here more suave than fiery – and the two favourite named symphonies are almost as good. Brio and Mendelssohnian grace go hand in hand in the outer movements of the Italian, buoyed by an agile, lissom bass line and, where apt, violinplaying of thistledown delicacy. The development’s gradual surge from tense pianissimo lull to the jubilant return of the main theme is one of many moments in these symphonies that proclaims Nézet-Séguin’s mastery of transition. For my taste the processional second movement, shaped con amore, is too measured for an Andante con moto: Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players (Erato, 11/90) are spot-on here. But for a combination of poise, élan and light, pointed rhythmic articulation (so crucial in Mendelssohn), the final saltarello has rarely been bettered.
True to form, Nézet-Séguin emphasises elegiac lyricism in the flexibly paced opening movement of the Scottish (the Allegro’s main theme is hardly un poco agitato), though he gives full value to the contrapuntal tensions of the development, underpinned by exemplary timpani clarity. The superb (unnamed) COE clarinet – a star player in this symphony – launches one of the most ebullient and brilliantly played Scherzos on disc. While the
Adagio is rather broader than Mendelssohn’s swift metronome marking, the main theme combines luminous purity with expressive, natural-sounding rubato, while Nézet-Séguin’s perfectly graded crescendos enhance the hieratic starkness of the minor-key episodes. The finale is marvellously atmospheric, from the trenchancy of the opening (mindful of Mendelssohn’s original guerriero marking), through the mysterious sense of distancing in the hushed clarinetbassoon duo before the coda, to a bounding, exultant peroration. It’s dangerous, of course, to nominate an outright winner, especially given the competition in the Scottish and Italian symphonies. A pity, too, about the slightly fuzzy recording of the chorus in the Lobgesang. But for anyone wanting a complete set of the symphonies in the lean, lithe modern mould – my kind of Mendelssohn – Nézet-Séguin’s imaginative, fabulously executed performances guarantee abiding pleasure.
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GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017 21