02 Vivaldi String Concertos 3Vivaldi – Concerti per archi III; Concerti per viola d’amore
Accademia Bizantina; Ottavio Dantone; Alessandro Tampieri
Naïve OP 30570 (vivaldiedition.com)

When the Italian National Library in Turin purchased the collection of autograph manuscripts by Antonio Vivaldi in 1930, they acquired nearly 450 works by the great Venetian composer. The creation of the Italian musicologist Alberto Basso, the Vivaldi Edition project, then set out to record the works in their entirety. This beautiful and touching recording is part of that rich project. It contains 13 concertos for string orchestra and five concertos for viola d’amore, relatively unexplored repertoire but one very much worth the attention.

Vivaldi was a master of concertos for string orchestra without soloist and the ones on this recording are exciting and incredibly engaging miniatures. Each one contains a whole array of characters and emotions and is presented with flair and style. But the hidden gems are the viola d’amore concertos. Here we have the exuberant display of the full magnificence of this instrument – 12 strings, unusual timbres, resonant sound, chordal passages and tuning variations depending on the style and the key. Alessandro Tampieri is undeniably the master of his instrument. His playing is virtuosic, his sound heavenly and his execution perfectly precise. I have especially enjoyed the wild rustic cadenza of the third movement of Concerto RV 394 and the sublime Largo of the Concerto RV 393. Led by a fantastic harpsichordist, Ottavio Dantone, Accademia Bizantina’s performance is energetic and passionate, making this recording one of my favourites.

04 Schubert Early SymphoniesSchubert – Early Symphonies and Stage Music
Copenhagen Phil; Lawrence Foster
Pentatone PTC 5186 655 (naxosdirect.com)

In today’s busy society and fragmented music business, it is a true privilege to have the opportunity to listen through a two-disc set of large-scale ambitious symphonic work, particularly when it is performed, recorded and released as expertly and beautifully as has been done so by Pentatone Records on their recent Franz Schubert release: Early Symphonies and Stage Music. Comprised of some of Schubert’s lesser-known work, the Copenhagen Philharmonic, under the watchful direction of longtime Pentatone artist, conductor Lawrence Foster, wrings expressive beauty from Schubert’s masterful classical works, written when the Austrian composer was but a teenager. With the clear time, effort and degree of musical specificity that has gone into the performance and presentation of this music, this is truly a recording worth attention and will be time well spent when immersing yourself in these documented sounds.

Symphonic work truly has the ability to inspire and, to paraphrase a well-known adage, to wash away the banality of everyday life and move the needle forward to something more otherworldly and profound. While such lofty platitudes are most often reserved for the more famous symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, Schubert’s music can be equally inspiring, as evidenced here. Presented alongside his Romantic Italian Overture in D Major and captured in 2017 at the Concert Hall of the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, this 2019 release is a welcome addition to the collections of Schubert fans everywhere wanting to expand their knowledge of his music beyond lieder.

05 DopplerDoppler Discoveries – Flute Compositions by Franz and Carl Doppler
András Adorán; Emmanuel Pahud; Jan Philip Schulze; Arcis Hornquartett
Farao Classics B 108104 (farao-classics.de)

Brothers Franz (1821-1883) and Carl Doppler (1825-1900), their era’s leading flute virtuosi, worked chiefly in the urban centres of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Both were engaged as flutists in major orchestras, toured Europe as soloists, and were successful conductors and composers of recital repertoire, opera and ballet (mostly in Budapest). They hobnobbed with music celebrities of the day like Liszt and Brahms.

Then, sadly, they were all but forgotten. Until well past the mid-20th century the Doppler name was virtually unknown save for classical flute players. Due to research begun in the 1970s by the Hungarian flutist András Adorján however, that neglect has begun to be remedied.

Adorján’s discoveries challenged the long-held misconception that a Doppler flute composition consisted of hackneyed paraphrases and facile variations. But when he found Franz Doppler’s unpublished Double Concerto for two flutes, the work proved so attractive that it immediately became part of the standard repertoire. Seven such Doppler compositions, featuring one or two flutes, played by renowned flutists Adorján and Emmanuel Pahud, grace the Doppler Discoveries album. The works are delightful and the playing aptly brilliant.

The biggest revelation for me is how convincing the three Hungarian-themed works are, reflecting the Dopplers’ deep engagement with Hungarian vernacular music and society of the mid-19th century.

I typically choose a favourite track or two in my CD reviews. On this album that isn’t possible: they’re all terrific. Just try not to smile while listening to two of today’s crack flutists revive long-lost scores by those fascinating Dopplers.

Listen to 'Doppler Discoveries: Flute Compositions by Franz and Carl Doppler' Now in the Listening Room

07 SerenadesTchaikovsky; Dvořák – Serenades
Archi di Santa Cecilia; Luigi Piovano
Arcana A 457 (naxosdirect.com)

Nice surprise, hearing again my two favourite Serenades for strings back to back on a single disc, the Dvořák E Major and the Tchaikovsky C Major. These two are probably the most beautiful of the genre that began with Mozart and later, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. Serenades are light symphonies, with less complex structures, written for entertainment like divertimentos with the emphasis on melody.

I first heard the Dvořák at a concert with a very young István Kertész conducting in Budapest around 1954, but not even once ever since, so it comes back as an old friend, opening with a heavenly melody one hears and never forgets. The five movements vary in mood, tempo and dynamics, each bursting with gorgeous, fresh melodies and even a Czech folk tune in the presto Finale, ending in a festive spirit. The Tchaikovsky is a masterwork of the first order with an all-pervasive melancholy and one of Tchaikovsky’s best-loved waltzes as its second movement. The virtuoso strings amazed me particularly in the first movement’s polyphonic intricacy and the third movement Elegy, so heartrending one could cry. The boisterous Russian dance Finale bounces along with energy and excitement.

This superb new recording by Archi di Santa Cecilia, formed from the best string players of Rome’s famous Santa Cecilia Orchestra and led by an equally talented conductor, Luigi Piovano – and how! He delves into the music with body and soul and I imagine the orchestra moves with him and his every gesture. A tremendous rapport, like hypnosis, that only a Gergiev, Ozawa, Solti or the great Karajan could muster. Highly recommended.

08 Bruckner 4Bruckner – Symphony No.4 “Romantic”
Philharmonia Zurich; Fabio Luisi
Philharmonia Records PHR 0110 (opernhaus.ch)

Great Bruckner conductor Sergiu Celibidache once put a question to his conducting class: “Why is the second scherzo different from the first scherzo?” Only one student knew the answer: “Because we already heard the first scherzo.” Well, Fabio Luisi certainly kept this in mind in his new recording of Bruckner’s Fourth as the scherzo repeat brings many surprising, previously unheard details like birdcalls, strange little chirpings on the woodwinds and other bells and whistles.The famous “Hunt” Scherzo, rarely sounded better. The Zurich brass is gorgeous, the Ländler Trio graciously shaped. A real auditory adventure.

I first came across Fabio Luisi as principal conductor of the Met when he bravely took over their revolutionary Ring project in 2011 after James Levine became ill. So it’s not surprising, being also an outstanding interpreter of Italian opera, that his approach to Bruckner is essentially melodic. This becomes immediately apparent in the secondary theme of the first movement which is lovingly handled and sings so beautifully. Right at the outset the emerging horn theme from the near inaudible tremolo of strings creates a mystical atmosphere, and the crescendo at the end of the movement is carefully paced to a resounding Brucknerian brass peroration.

This is a very relaxed reading; the tempo is slow, which helps to uncover all the wonderful details the conductor brings to attention, such as after the tremendous climax in the second movement when everything calms down, all is quiet with only the tympani pounding softly like a heartbeat and the horn quietly answering. It’s pure magic.

Beautifully detailed, gorgeous modern sound, eloquent and gracious Bruckner.

11 Saint SaensCamille Saint-Saëns – Symphony No.2; Danse macabre; Symphony in F
Utah Symphony; Thierry Fischer
Hyperion CDA68212 (hyperion-records.co.uk)

Is Camille Saint-Saëns an undervalued or unjustifiably obscure composer? An answer is proposed in the recording and accompanying liner notes released by the Utah Symphony under Thierry Fischer. The argument presented suggests both are true, with the second being attributed to the fact that his later compatriots such as Fauré (student of the master) and Debussy gathered more attention while his own material was overlooked by conductors and thus by the musical public. His elder, Berlioz, famously summed up the young composer thus: “He knows everything, he lacks inexperience.”

Two symphonies form substantial brackets to a rousing rendition of Danse macabre (with violin soloist Madeline Adkins). Symphony No.2 in A Minor, Op.55 opens the disc. At just under 23 minutes, the work is modest, beautifully structured and completely delightful. The scherzo movement is what Saint-Saëns should be known for, wit and agility.

Saint-Saëns no doubt felt that seriousness and long-windedness were the province of the Germans, or maybe he was atoning for the heavy-handedness of his previous effort: Symphony in F Major “Urbs Roma” (the subtitle was the pseudonym required by the terms of the competition in which it was entered). This is a more ponderous work, nearly double the length of Symphony No.2 and lacking the inspired brevity of the latter. One almost hears the composer ticking the boxes beside all the elements he knew would sway a jury on Bordeaux, and he was right; the piece took the prize, but remains on the shelf today.

12 Sibelius 1Sibelius 1
Orchestre Metropolitain; Yannick Nézet-Séguin
ATMA ACD2 2452 (atmaclassique.com/En)

Jean Sibelius was still under the influence of Tchaikovsky when he wrote his Symphony No.1 in E Minor Op.39, but these Russian overtones coexist with assuredly individualistic orchestral textures and themes. At the very opening, for example, in a highly original stroke, a clarinet over a gentle timpani roll introduces the main theme, which achieves its apotheosis at the climax of the finale.

In the second movement the debt to Tchaikovsky is clearly revealed in the way the languidly mournful opening theme is developed prior to the stormy climax. An emphatically rhythmic Scherzo reveals another influence: Bruckner, a composer whose music Sibelius had first encountered in Vienna in 1890. The finale, marked quasi una fantasia, veers between frenzied agitation and a grandly refulgent big tune in which the strings predominate.

As this disc reveals, in the right hands the First Symphony can be an extremely exciting work. Yannick Nézet-Séguin seems to give notice that he is one of the great Sibelians of the contemporary era, as he finds just the right level of energy. His control of the mood and poetics of the work – its gradations of bleakness and majesty – is affecting. As the symphony unfolds the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal, for its part, responds with a brilliance that is never forced.

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