Featuring the best reviews from our loyal ClassicsOnline members.
(03 December – 31 December)
Best Russian performance
The Fifth has often been presented as DS's response to "just criticism", complete with a finale that seems triumphant. That was during Soviet times. With the release of Shostakovich's memoirs, an entirely different appraisal is needed. The final movement is forced 'triumph:' as DS wrote, it is as if someone were beating you on the head saying Your Business is Rejoicing, Your Business is Rejoicing. What was often played as a triumphal march is seen to be a funeral march.
Petrenko captures all this well, more than any other contemporary recording. The performance captures all the ironic gallows humor, and my only criticism would be that the playfulness of the second movement (which reminds me of St. Petersburg in Spring) is missing.
Yet another excellent version
A poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman was Elgar's inspiration for his choral work "The Dream of Gerontius," which he completed in 1900. This work is an oddity in that it is religious although Newman's poem itself is not biblical. The poem depicts the journey of a pious man's soul from his deathbed to his judgment before God and settling into Purgatory. The work falls firmly outside the established genres of both the oratorio and the cantata. Elgar disliked use of the term "oratorio" to classify it, although it is frequently referred to as one. The piece is widely deemed to be one of Elgar's finest, and some consider it to be his masterpiece. Elgar realized that this work was something very special. He wrote to a friend: "You will find Gerontius far beyond anything I've yet done... I have written my own heart's blood into the score. This is the best of me." It was poorly performed at its premiere, and the Roman Catholic dogma in Newman's poem caused difficulties in connection with later performances in Anglican cathedrals. The text was subsequently revised for some performances. This 2-CD set also contains Elgar's "Sea Pictures," a song cycle for mezzo-soprano and orchestra.
The combination of soloists, chorus, and orchestra on this recording under the expert guidance of conductor Sir Andrew Davis resulted in excellent interpretations of both works. The recording quality sounds first class on my stereo system. I am surprised that Chandos elected to issue yet another recording of "Gerontius," however, because the competition is substantial. Buyers are confronted with questions they only they can answer: who is my favourite mezzo-soprano? Are other works included on the recording, and if so what are they? This may be the deciding factor for many. Other excellent 2-CD versions of "Gerontius" include those with mezzo-sopranos Felicity Palmer (plus Parry: "Blest Pair of Sirens"; "I was Glad"), Alice Coote (no filler), Anne Sofie von Otter (no filler), Helen Watts (plus Elgar: "The Music Makers" with Dame Janet Baker), Yvonne Minton (plus Delius: "Sea Drift"; Holst: "The Hymn of Jesus"), and Dame Janet Baker (two choices: (a) plus Elgar: "Enigma" Variations; "Grania and Diarmid"; "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4" or (b) no filler).
Since buyers now have so many excellent choices available, I honestly cannot recommend any one version over the others. My recommendation is: unless a version includes performances by your favourite singers, pick one that offers you fillers that you don’t already have.
- Ted Wilks
A Nice Discovery
In my personal research of the authors and rarely performed musical scenarios, I came across this recent recording of music by Mario Pilati, Neapolitan author died in 1938, little more than thirty-five years old. It happens sometimes that the search will lead to fortunate discoveries: an author unfortunately little remembered because of a premature death followed by the tragedy of war, but whose poetry is among the most significant in the history of Italian music of the early twentieth century.
Here you can appreciate the performance of a young pianist, Giovanni Nesi (1986), whose ability, combined with the beauty of his touch, offers a fascinating experience, giving us the pleasure to enjoy music played with heart and intelligence.
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