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(2 September – 29 September)
Beethoven Egmont Op84; Ah perfido; Marches/NZSO/Judd/Naxos 8.557264 $US6.99 recorded 02/03
It is interesting to listen to Beethoven's complete Egmont. There are some nice compositions here besides the usual Overture - Track 6: Entr'acte #4 Larghetto; Track 7: Act V Scene 3 Death of Clarchen; Track 8: Act V Scene 4 Melodrama (Egmont). However, the 2 marches are just really CD fill up material. Ah Perfido Op65 is serious, emotive music, beautifully played by the NZSO. The music has an excellent choice of tempo, is brilliantly interrupted by Judd, and beautifully played by NZSO - an excellent performance.
The Overture starts with a slow introduction with great feeling; the second subject (faster theme) is lovely, at a controlled tempo. I am building up quite a collection of NZSO/Judd recordings e.g. Elgar Wand of Youth Suites - an excellent orchestra. Madeleine Pierard, mezzo-soprano, displays quite nice singing. The recorded sound is quite good, although I have heard a handful of better recordings. However, this recording is spoilt by the soloist (Madeleine Pierard) being recorded too far forward compared to the orchestra. Although this was recorded a few years back (02/03), Naxos need to be aware of this and update their recording techniques! After many years of frustration, I have experienced some recordings in the last few years where soloist and orchestra are recorded with equal presence, which significantly improves the overall sound. But this is not one of them, and this spoils an otherwise reasonably good recording. Fortunately, the singer only sings in a few tracks, so that this problem only presents itself a few times. Most recordings, with very few exceptions, have many difficulties recording high strings. Over the last 50 years, different recording techniques have been used- too shrill, too much presence, too distant, lacking warmth, too much reverb. High violins in this recording are a bit screechy and detached from their lower harmonics so there is some lack of warmth and some irritating high violin sounds. Compared to the very best recordings, there is a slight lack of warmth in the whole recording, which does appear to be typical Naxos sound. I have scored it 7.7/10, but despite this somewhat modest score, this recording is interesting for the complete Egmont rather than just the usual Overture, with excellent orchestral playing and interpretation by Judd. It is good value at $US6.99.
Bliss orchestral music
As fond as I am of 20th Century English composers I’ve never been able to warm up to the music of Arthur Bliss. I can’t say that there’s anything in his music that puts me off, but there is also nothing in it that moves me as much as Vaughan Williams, Bax, Holst or Britten. But I relish the English music series on Naxos and figured this volume with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd-Jones would present a good case for the composer. It does indeed.
It’s a tidy bit of history that Bliss would be appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 1953, the same year he would encounter John Blow’s setting of Psalm 23, “The Lord is My Shepherd.” Bliss (who had a commission for an orchestral work sitting on his desk) was inspired by one of the tunes in Blow’s setting and composed a set of meditations on the tune.
There are five Meditations, preceded by an Introduction and followed by an Interlude and Finale, each movement illustrates one of the psalm’s verses. The Introduction (“The Lord is my Shepherd – I will fear no evil”) balances brooding dark with softer-hued English pastoral. The third Meditation “Lambs” is scherzo-like, while the fifth “Green Pastures,” is a gorgeous reverie for harp, winds and strings. The violence of the seventh Meditation “Through the valley of the shadow of death” is peppered with edgy percussion. The Finale “In the house of the Lord” is thrilling with Blow’s tune singing out gloriously.
The Metamorphic Variations were written in 1972 in tribute to the artist George Dannatt. Masterfully orchestrated and filled with shifting moods and tones, this is quite an orchestral showpiece. Yet for all the composer’s creativity and superb craftsmanship, the work does have a certain rambling quality and emotional detachment that makes it less than a revelation for me.
The Bournemouth Symphony plays brilliantly. The delicate wind and string writing in the Meditations comes off beautifully, the brass playing is stellar throughout.
A unique interpretation
As always, Mahler’s symphony delivers movements packed full of dances, folk inspiration, soaring melodies, dynamic surprises, and lush harmonies. Neeme Jarvi has led his orchestra to a great recording here. The orchestra plays wonderfully and with great musicality. All sections of the ensemble perform this piece well, but I particularly liked the brass section. Mahler’s orchestration lets each section shine at different moments, but the brass seems ever-present and plays with great sensitivity to the changing moods of this piece. This is a fabulous hour (plus) of the gorgeous music that lets people everywhere fall in love with Mahler. Superb playing and a fine recording overall.
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