Étienne Moulinié – Meslanges pour la Chapelle d’un Prince - Ensemble Correspondances; Sébastien Daucé

03 Early 01 MeslangesÉtienne Moulinié – Meslanges pour la Chapelle d’un Prince
Ensemble Correspondances; Sébastien Daucé
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902194

Étienne Moulinié served for 30 years as musician to Louis XIII’s brother the Duke of Orléans; his sacred music is important to the development of mid-seventeenth-century French music. This CD brings together twelve singers in imitation of the original standard configuration, and ten musicians.

The serenity of this arrangement – together with its sometimes excitable stretches – is brought home in the first three pieces by Moulinié. Antoine Boësset’s Jesu nostra redemptio is far more spiritual, introducing parts for higher vocal registers as well as organ and viol. This ethereal quality continues in Cantate Domino (despite the words which exhort the listener to praise God with trumpets, cornets and horns – direct biblical quotations) and the organ playing of director Sébastien Daucé in O bone Jesu. Reflecting the sound choice of pieces on the CD, Boësset’s Populus meus sets words of reproach to yet another celestial arrangement.

Two allemandes by François de Chancy are included in the anthology. They demonstrate the compositions thatMoulinié could incorporate into his repertoire, reinforcing his position with the duke, and also the early stages whereby country dances such as the allemande were adopted by court circles and eventually became staples as baroque movements.

The duke took a second wife in 1632, a pious lady to whom Moulinié dedicated the most inspiring and yearning piece in this compilation. The Litanies de la Vierge comprises a series of entreaties to the Trinity and many other sacred beings. Eleven voices create a moving spirituality, imploring but never despairing.


Lamento (Kapsperger; Rossi; Carissimi; Strozzi; Frescobaldi; Monteverdi; Provenzale) - Romina Basso; Latinitas Nostra

03 Early 02 LamentoLamento (Kapsperger; Rossi; Carissimi; Strozzi; Frescobaldi; Monteverdi; Provenzale)
Romina Basso; Latinitas Nostra
naïve V5390

Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna pioneered the art form known as the lamento, where the death of a famous figure was commemorated by a solo singer accompanied by basso continuo. In addition, techniques such as dissonant chords and melodies with wide leaps would add their own sense of lamentation.

 Latinitas Nostra is a Greek ensemble; their west-looking title refers to the flourishing Greek communities in places such as London and Venice. Soprano Romina Basso begins with Luigi Rossi’s lament by the Queen of Sweden for her husband Gustavus II Adolphus, the brilliant commander killed at Lützen in 1632. The lament combines the Queen’s sense of desperation with an exhortation to kill and strike the Germans, Spaniards and Italians without mercy. Romina Basso rises to this varied emotional challenge with passion, whether one considers this to be a true lament or a plea to crush Sweden’s enemies.

Mary Queen of Scots is the next subject of lament, in this case by Carissimi. Here the tone is again a mix of lamentation and anger: Mary protests her death sentence and expresses resentment against the English regime that created this situation. Vibrato effects enhance the sense of anger. Basso and her continuo admirably meet the demands of the lament.

 Then, one of the most accomplished lady composers of all time, Barbara Strozzi. Lagrime mie lingers over its text and uses pauses to reinforce the emotion. Strozzi’s interpretation makes full use of what one might call surges of melody to reinforce the intended effects of the lament.

And then to Monteverdi with Lamento d’Arianne in its five parts. If ever there was a fine basso continuo accompanying a lamento this was it. All the instruments involved make their presence felt, sometimes supporting and enhancing the plaintive singing, sometimes almost mocking it.

Finally, and to be frank, out of place, is Francesco Provenzale’s “lament” for Gustavus II Adolphus. This is less respectful in its lyrics, almost poking fun at his queen as she learns of his fate. There are exchanges of dialogue which, from the English translation, contain double entendres and undignified comments. In fact, this is not a solo lament; it is accompanied by other voices and the sleeve notes inform us that musicologists have not quite worked out why it was composed. It may just have coincided with Gustavus’ daughter Christina’s spectacular conversion to Catholicism in 1655.

This CD is a fine introduction to a musical form both delicate and forceful.


Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade

Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade
Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Peter Oundjian
Chandos CHSA 5145

Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade
Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra; Sascha Goetzel
Onyx 4124

About half a century ago the question was asked by some aspiring record company person “How do you decide what to record?” The sage answer was “Look in the Schwann catalogue and find the most recorded work and make one more.”

04 Classical 01a Scheherezad TSOThe TSO disc contains a live performance from Roy Thomson Hall recorded in June 2013. The orchestra is in top form and the playing is rock solid with Oundjian conducting an interpretation that does not stray from the usual way in which this popular orchestral showpiece is heard. There are some lovely turns of phrase and the tuttis are thrillingly open and dynamic. The“star of any Scheherazade is the first violin, the voice of the storyteller who must hold the attention of the imperious Sultan Shahryār or lose her head. Concertmaster Jonathan Crow’s engaging charm makes her irresistible.
I would have liked to have the luxurious recorded sound more articulate but this is a slight quibble. The audience is not heard from but I am sure they leapt to their feet in appreciation as Toronto audiences now seem to do no matter what.

Sascha Goetzel is the Austrian music director of the Borusan Instanbul Philharmonic that began as a chamber orchestra in 1993 and was augmented to become the Philharmonic in 1999. This is their third CD. Part of the uniqueness of this Scheherazade is the use of oriental instruments. The opening of the first tale finds her accompanied, not by a harp but a qanun, a plucked zither or dulcimer-like instrument. It is innocently gentle and appropriate. Before the second movement begins there is a mood-setting solo from the oud, a lute-like instrument, and before the final movement we briefly hear the qanun which supports her in the final pages. Throughout, there is an ebullient texture to the orchestral playing, revealing subtle flavours in familiar passages, particularly the quieter episodes. The uncluttered, spacious recording is as vital as the performance. 

04 Classical 01b Scheherezad IstanbulBalakirev’s knuckle-breaking piano spectacular Islamey is heard in the orchestration by Lyapunov and although not a major work in the great scheme of things, it is a dashing showpiece. The two Ippolitov-Ivanov Caucasian Sketches are Procession of the Sardar and a disarmingly tranquil In the Village, featuring the slightly breathy ney flute, a classical Turkish reed instrument. The final piece on this generously filled 77-minute disc, Köçekçe is new to me. It is a dance rhapsody for orchestra. Turkish composer Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906-1972), a member of the “Turkish Five,” studied in Paris with, of course, Nadia Boulanger and Köçekçeis his most popular work.

Bottom line: Not just another Scheherazade but a unique and arresting performance with oriental overtones together with some very tasty encores, recorded to perfection. I know that it’s pedestrian but I would like to hear an all-out Polovtsian Dances from this group.


The Romantic Violin Concerto Vol.16: Busoni; Strauss - Tanja Becker-Bender; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Garry Walker

04 Classical 02 Busoni StraussThe Romantic Violin Concerto Vol.16: Busoni; Strauss
Tanja Becker-Bender; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Garry Walker
Hyperion CDA68044

The 16th instalment of Hyperion’s ongoing survey of Romantic violin concertos is devoted to two early works by Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924). Though Strauss is immensely better known than his near-contemporary, his Violin Concerto is clearly the weaker of the two works. A product of his teenage years, this D minor concerto was composed in1881-2 for his violin teacher Benno Walter. While Strauss would later admit that he found learning the violin unpleasant and physically taxing, it’s quite evident he well understood the bravura aspects of the now-forgotten showpiece concertos by the likes of Ernst, Spohr and Léonard his teacher favoured. The three movements of the concerto are textbook examples of proper academic form and conventional orchestration without a trace of any distinct personality, though the sprightly finale does provide moments of comic relief from the otherwise echt-Deutsch ponderousness of this dismally anodyne work.

Thankfully a distinct voice and a fascinating amalgam of a unique pan-European viewpoint is magnificently evident in Busoni’s D-Major concerto, conceived in 1896-7 for the Dutch violinist Henri Petri (father of the pianist Egon Petri) and championed in the 20th century by Joseph Szigeti, whose still-available 1958 recording is unfortunately compromised by his arthritic condition at the time, but is musically electrifying. Were it not for Szigeti’s advocacy, Busoni might have willingly disavowed this fascinating work which grows more impressive with repeated hearings and clearly deserves a more prominent place in the violin repertoire than that afforded the Strauss concerto.

Tanja Becker-Bender, the Hamburg-based German violinist and champion of both neglected and contemporary works, is the outstanding soloist, drawing a beautiful tone from a loaned 1710 Stradivarius and exhibiting complete technical mastery. Garry Walker and the Scots BBC orchestra provide a crisp and spirited accompaniment in this nicely recorded disc. Come for the Strauss if you must, but stay for the Busoni; you won’t be disappointed.


Stravinsky – Le Sacre du Printemps; Petrouchka - Les Siècles; François-Xavier Roth

04 Classical 03 Stravinsky RiteStravinsky – Le Sacre du Printemps; Petrouchka
Les Siècles; François-Xavier Roth
Actes sud ASM 5

Today the sole authorized performance version of Le Sacre du Printemps is the 1947 revision, edited by Stravinsky in order to maintain the copyright and hence his royalties. His own recordings including the 1940 New York Philharmonic-Symphony (Naxos 8.112070) claim 1913, which they surely are not. Stravinsky’s amanuensis Robert Craft’s 1995 recording with the LSO is designated as the 1947/1967 version… the master’s final thoughts on the subject. But what were his first thoughts?

In 1919 Stravinsky was asked to correct the original score of Le Sacre which contained a number of copyists’ errors. He agreed to do just that but could not resist the opportunity to not merely make corrections but to re-think and re-compose passages and by so doing created, in essence, the 1919 version. Musicologists agree that we can never know what exactly was in the original score that the orchestra played, or attempted to play on May 29, 1913. Due in no small fact that as orchestral musicians now move freely between orchestras around the globe, the definable character or sound of a particular area or country has all but evaporated. French orchestras once had a “French sound” and Russian orchestras had their sound and so on. Even the choice of instruments has changed. Stravinsky wrote for the timbre of the instruments in the Ballets Russes orchestra, a far cry from that of today’s stalwart instruments.

This live recording uses a reconstruction of the original score, devotedly researched as a labour of love by a number of scholars. Les Siècles is a group of “outstanding young players pooled from the finest French ensembles.” They have access to and play instruments from every period spanning the Baroque to modern eras. Every collector must acquire a copy of this unique and exciting evocation of the original Le Sacre and the effervescent Petrouchka. The translucent recording is of demonstration quality with true perspectives. So if you already have several recordings… get this one. It will be your first.


Mahler – Symphony No.5 - Budapest Festival Orchestra; Ivan Fischer

723385342137 450Mahler – Symphony No.5
Budapest Festival Orchestra; Ivan Fischer
Channel Classics CCS SA 34213

Slowly building what promises to be a complete survey of Mahler symphonies, Ivan Fischer’s latest release (preceded by Symphonies 1, 2, 4 and 6) is his most impressive achievement so far in this cycle. In some ways it might be considered a middle-of-the-road interpretation; the tragic, funereal profile of the first two movements in particular seems unusually constrained. Consider for example the operatic, borderline vulgarity of the “oom-pah” trombones so tellingly brought to the fore in the classic Bernstein Vienna Philharmonic recording from days of yore; here their barbaric yapping is barely audible. It’s not, as it turns out, a question of misjudged orchestral balances or engineering oversight, for in general the detail of sound is exemplary throughout, spectacularly so in the dynamic layering of the intricate polyphony of the grand fifth movement finale. Rather, Fischer’s’ devil dwells in the details, with the grand histrionics we have come to expect in Mahler subdued to highlight the large-scale architecture of this sprawling work.

The virtuoso Budapest forces respond most elegantly throughout; their accord with their conductor and founder in the famous Adagietto is positively psychic. It’s a pity however that the obbligato horn soloist placed at the front of the stage in the rustically rendered central Scherzo movement is not credited. Splendidly recorded in Budapest, this SACD features a spacious sound stage with the first and second violins divided to the left and right of the stage and exceptionally pristine sound. This is a refreshingly idiosyncratic performance that deserves a place near the top of recent Mahler recordings.


The Romantic Cello Concerto Vol.5: Saint-Saëns

04 Classical 05 Saint-Saens CelloThe Romantic Cello Concerto Vol.5: Saint-Saëns
Natalie Clein; BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Manze
Hyperion CDA68002

Outside musicological circles, the name Auguste Franchomme is probably unknown today, but during his long lifetime, he earned a reputation as a renowned cellist and composer. Not only did he inspire Chopin to write his one and only piece for cello and piano but he also provided the impetus for Camille Saint-Saëns’s first cello concerto in 1872. Saint-Saëns went on to produce two other works for the instrument, all of them included on this fine recording – the fifth in Hyperion’s Romantic Cello Concerto series – featuring cellist Natalie Clein and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Andrew Manze.

British-born Clein studied at the Royal College of Music and later with Heinrich Schiff in Vienna. She attracted world attention at age 16 when she won the BBC Musician of the Year award, and since completing her studies, has appeared in concert halls throughout Europe, North America, Australia and Asia.

Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1 runs the whole gamut of emotions. It opens dark and impassioned, but there are also periods of quiet intimacy and sprightly good humour. Clein’s performance is commanding and technically flawless, her warm and resonant tone particularly suited to this late-Romantic repertoire. Thirty years lapsed before Saint-Saëns completed his second cello concerto in 1902. More serious in tone, it was chosen as a Conservatoire test piece by Gabriel Fauré. Saint-Saëns himself said of it: “It will never be as popular as the first, it’s too difficult.” Challenging is indeed the word, with its virtuosic passagework and frequent double-stopping required of the soloist. Clein meets the difficulties with ease and the orchestra under Manze’s skillful baton provides a solid and sympathetic foundation.

An added bonus is the inclusion of three shorter works, the optimistic La muse et le poète (with violinist Antje Weithaas), the Allegro Appassionato, and as an encore, an arrangement of the familiar The Swan from the Carnival of the Animals, thus rounding out a most satisfying recording.


Back to top