January Editor’s Choices
RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
BEETHOVEN Symphonies Nos 1 & 3 Vienna Symphony Orchestra / Philippe Jordan Wiener Symphoniker An impressive statement of intent from Philippe Jordan as he begins a Beethoven cycle with his Vienna Symphony, on its own label.
ELGAR Falstaff. Songs Roderick Williams bar BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis Chandos A Falstaff full of personality and perceptiveness, Roderick Williams eloquent in orchestral songs … just the highlights from a wonderful Elgar anthology from Sir Andrew Davis.
HAYDN. KRAUS ‘Symphonies, Vol 5’ Basel Chamber Orchestra / Giovanni Antonini Alpha Giovanni Antonini’s
Gramophone Award for his previous Haydn volume set the bar high – and it’s met here, on a worthy addition to his compelling exploration of the composer.
MAHLER Symphony No 4 Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra / Adam Fischer AVI-Music Following his praised recording of the Seventh, Adam Fischer offers us an exploratory Fourth, Mahler’s ideas deeply thought through. This could become a superb cycle.
‘A LUTE BY SIXTUS RAUWOLF’ Jakob Lindberg lute BIS A beautiful programme of Baroque music,
specially compiled to showcase Jakob Lindberg’s rather unique instrument – possibly the oldest lute in playing condition.
SAINT-SAËNS Works for Cello and Orchestra Gabriel Schwabe vc Malmö Symphony Orchestra / Marc Soustrot Naxos
Gabriel Schwabe brings a delightful tone to these concertos: as critic Jeremy Nicholas makes clear, a bargain at Naxos prices, but a brilliant buy regardless.
KANCHELI. SCHNITTKE ‘Light Over Darkness’ Erato Alakiozidou pf Lutosławski Quartet Odradek An excellent disc from the innovative Odradek label, musicianship and sound-quality of very high standard making for a grippingly intense chamber experience.
‘DOLCE DUELLO’ Cecilia Bartoli mez Sol Gabetta vc Cappella Gabetta / Andrés Gabetta Decca Cecilia Bartoli once again delivers a fascinating project, this time in the company of the equally engaging and exploratory musicianship of cellist Sol Gabetta.
R STRAUSS Salome Sols; Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra / Andrés Orozco-Estrada Pentatone ‘A deeply musical account of the score’, writes critic Hugo Shirley of this dramatic telling of Strauss’s opera; Emily Magee is a ‘compellingly real’ Salome, and all in excellent sound.
movement’s climax. When the long-withheld Allegro vivo finally arrives it does so with primeval savagery, as a precursor to the ‘Augurs of spring’ from Stravinsky’s Rite of 20 turbulent years later (a rehearsal aperçu of Bernstein’s, I discovered after observing it in Currentzis). Violas tear into their line like jackals dining at carrion, miked to a point where you can hear the rosin-clouds fly, and there is a calculated claustrophobia to this passage that no live concert-hall ambience could emulate. Hysteria, however, is kept in abeyance by the conductor’s ear: the symphony’s harmonic skeleton gleams with a wan and often unnerving clarity. Having at the movement’s cataclysm engineered an ecstasy of grieving to rival for sustained pathos even Bernstein’s long goodbye in New York, Currentzis displays the refinement of sensibility to bestow a numbed and steadily paced dignity upon the coda.
The inner movements operate at a lower voltage, more sober and Classically contained than you might expect, played in fulfilment of a notably Brahmsian function rather than as interludes vividly contrasted in their own right. Lovely work from the cellos brings no shortage of charm and grace to a properly symphonic waltz. In the accumulating counterpoint of the march is a Pathétique as precursor to Mahler’s Ninth, and the voicing is sundered into discrete forces of contention across the entire sound stage in the manner of 1970s recordings by Karajan or even a Melodiya special: the attendant thrill and prospect of entropy are near at hand, as they are in Ives’s marching bands or indeed the firstact climax of Don Giovanni.
The finale opens with an exhalation from Currentzis, translated by the strings into a memorial of overlapping sighs and then punctuated by what sounds like the bass drum from the march. At this point the Berlin studio acoustic expands to cavernous dimensions to contain and then bury the symphony’s last rites. There is more playing gramophone.co.uk
Click on a CD cover to buy/stream from on the lip of the volcano from col legno strings and snarling, muted horns, more outstanding bassoon solos coloured on a palette from muddy brown to that black again.
It’s early days, but only the most exalted of comparisons suggest themselves: to Bernstein (DG, 5/87), Cantelli (EMI, 6/53), Karajan (take your pick) or Mravinsky (DG, considered afresh in November 2015): all hewn out of different performing traditions while sculpted in relief from them, though none save Mravinsky executed to the present, uncanny degree of controlled ferocity. There is a closer, more pertinent relation with Mikhail Pletnev’s first essay (Virgin Classics, 1/92): a hand‑picked band, moulded in the image of a young, mercurial musician mature beyond his years, working hand in glove with a studio team prepared to do things differently. I remember the storm unleashed by that recording 25 years ago. Will this also upset some applecarts? It is an unsettling experience.
GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2018 5