January Editor’s Choices
RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
CPE BACH Oboe Concertos Xenia Löffler ob Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin / Georg Kallweit Harmonia Mundi
CPE Bach’s orchestral imagination and flair are given full voice here in the symphonies, while Xenia Löffler is exquisite in the oboe concertos.
BRAHMS Piano Concerto No 1 Lars Vogt pf Royal Northern Sinfonia Ondine Leading his Royal
Northern Sinfonia from the piano, Lars Vogt offers a bold and brilliant D minor Concerto, paired with finely detailed solo Brahms.
R STRAUSS Don Juan. Don Quixote. Till Eulenspiegel Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko
LAWO Excellent storytelling from Vasily Petrenko, with Oslo’s Principal Cellist Louisa Tuck earning equal honours as the Knight.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphonies Nos 3 & 4 BBC Symphony Orchestra / Martyn Brabbins Hyperion
Martyn Brabbins’s instinctive sense of the sweep, grace and drama of Vaughan Williams’s orchestral sound-world results here in a very fine release.
‘IN NOMINE II’ Fretwork Signum Album after album from viol consort Fretwork affirm their status as an ensemble of supreme musicianship, whether immersed in the past or playing music of modernity by the likes of Nico Muhly and Gavin Bryars.
JS BACH ‘Opus Bach – Organ Works, Vol 1’ Peter Kofler org Farao A major project by Peter Kofler to record all JS Bach’s organ works begins in style, complete with recorded sound which our critic Marc Rochester describes as ‘genuinely awe-inspiring’.
GESUALDO Madrigals, Book 2 La Compagnia del Madrigale Glossa That Gesualdo madrigals grace these pages two months in a row is testimony both to the music but also to the way different vocal groups can excel in different ways in this repertoire.
WOLFE Fire in my Mouth New York Philharmonic Orchestra / Jaap van Zweden Decca Gold
A modern work from composer Julia Wolfe about a century-old tragedy, but one whose theme – the treatment of the poorer members of society – resonates today.
LULLY Isis Les Talens Lyriques / Christophe Rousset Aparté Christophe Rousset once again strikes gold with a major Lully project of elegance and drama, his understanding of the atmosphere and rhythms of the French Baroque as instinctive as ever.
regretted those words about his Op 117 Intermezzos (if indeed he ever actually said them) had he heard the self-indulgent sentimentality that bedevils so many modern recordings. Hough takes his cue rather from the often ignored moderato and con moto that qualify the Andante markings in the first and third of this set. As well-intentioned as some of the more conventional rival readings may be – Plowright (too plodding), Ohlsson (remarkably flat and two-dimensional) and even, dare I say, Volodos – Hough’s noble and cleansing version (closer to the tempos of Kempff in 1963 than anyone else) makes it hard to go back to hearing these pieces that way.
Take the final Intermezzo of Op 118, for instance. How persuasively it grows out of the resignation of the preceding F major Romance, via its own solitary opening gesture, into a full-blown tragedy,
culminating in an earth-shattering outcry of protest. Remembering this as the last piece I ever heard my own teacher play before her death, I have cried to many interpretations; but for me none has reached the profundity of Hough’s. Naturalness, nobility and simplicity in the face of apparent complexity are his main weapons. Compared to him, Volodos, for all the equal mastery of his pianism, feels theatrical and impersonal. You feel you are somehow sitting beside Hough’s Brahms at the piano, being taken right inside the music; whereas Volodos is on a big stage where you can only marvel from afar.
The steely brightness of Hough’s Yamaha in the more explosive numbers may raise some eyebrows. But hear how he turns it to his advantage in the G minor Ballade of Op 118, for instance, to create a three-dimensional soundscape. And hear how subtly his pedalling works with the acoustics of the room and the resonance of the instrument to make the richest of textures as lean and suggestively meaningful as Hammershøi’s painting. In his natural, unmannered freedom, Hough can be ranged alongside Radu Lupu (though the 1982 Decca recording quality cannot compare). Both join hands with the treasurable few Brahms recordings that have survived from Ilona Eibenschütz, friend of the composer who gave the private premieres of Op 118 and Op 119. Selected comparison – coupled as above: Kempff (1/93) (DG) 437 249-2GGA Opp 116-118 – selected comparison: Ohlsson (1/19) (HYPE) CDA68226 Opp 117 & 118 – selected comparison: Volodos (6/17) (SONY) 88875 13019-2 Opp 117-119 – selected comparison: Lupu (8/87) (DECC) 417 599-2DH
GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2020 5