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Highly Reviewed Recordings

May 16 - May 29, 2012



VASKS, P.: Choral Music - Plainscapes / Our Mother's Names / Silent Songs (Latvian Radio Choir, Klava)
(Ondine: ODE1194-2)


VASKS, P.: Choral Music - Plainscapes / Our Mother's Names / Silent Songs (Latvian Radio Choir, Klava)

(Excerpt)

… the compellingly brilliant Latvian Radio Choir concentrate on [Vasks’s] secular a cappella repertory.

The earliest piece, Summer… soars ecstatically. The miniature Small, Warm Holiday is equally sublime and accomplished.

Intensity and integrity are the hallmarks of Vasks’s style. He writes in a harmonically rich, reassuringly diatonic idiom, clothed in beautifully balanced and largely homophonic textures. Extended vocal techniques are even more to the fore in The Tomtit’s Message

… I do recommend this [Plainscapes] magical piece… performed with consummate perfection by this outstanding body of singers.

© 2012 Gramophone




HALVORSEN, J.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 (Bergen Philharmonic, N. Jarvi)
(Chandos: CHAN10664)


HALVORSEN, J.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 (Bergen Philharmonic, N. Jarvi)

Johan Halvorsen is one of those composers whose music will have you asking why it’s not part of the standard repertoire. It’s that good. His Third Symphony is a pithy, three-movement work lasting a bit less than half an hour, full of good tunes, immaculately crafted and luminously scored.  You can’t dislike it. Black Swan, the Wedding March, and the Wedding of Ravens in the Grove of the Crows are delightful miniatures. Norwegian music seems to be full of bridal marches, wedding processions, and the like, and it’s rather amazing that Halvorsen packs so much variety into what you might think would be an extremely restrictive genre. The incidental suites also have their share of wedding pieces.

Speaking of which, Fossegrimen (another classic Norwegian-themed play featuring trolls and other mythological creatures) contains some marvelous music in the folk style, some real, some invented, including extensive writing for the Hardanger fiddle. This performance includes the Danse visionaire, an independent work dedicated to Halvorsen’s wife (Grieg’s niece) that was part of the original incidental music but was later replaced by a newly composed piece. It’s good to have it here.

Finally, Bergensiana, billed as “Rococo Variations on an Old Melody from Bergen”, offers more than meets the eye, or ear. The tune may be old, but the scoring is fully modern, even radical. There’s a prominent variation featuring xylophone and bassoon, while another is given to the mandolin. Since they happen to be placed next to each other, the sound sample below offers a taste of them both, and they seem to encapsulate the combination of good humor and exquisite craftsmanship characteristic of Halvorsen. As with previous releases in this series, the performances are as good as it gets, and so are the sonics. There is absolutely nothing to criticize about Neeme Järvi’s interpretations, the fine Bergen Philharmonic, or the engineers. It’s just 79 minutes of terrific music.

David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com




BACH, J.S.: Cantatas, Vol. 50 (Suzuki) - BWV 49, 145, 149, 174
(BIS: BIS-SACD-1941)


BACH, J.S.: Cantatas, Vol. 50 (Suzuki) - BWV 49, 145, 149, 174

(Excerpt)

These cantatas abound in that most exquisite of Bachian set-pieces, the duet. Both divulge how Bach imbues a text with irresistible presence…

It is simply one of Bach’s finest hidden treasures. If Christophe Coin’s recording remains special in its organ-loft intimacy, rugged fervour and brilliance spring off the page here. Another memorable release.

© 2012 Gramophone




BRAHMS, J.: Works for Choir and Orchestra (Hallenberg, Collegium Vocale Gent, Orchestre des Champs-Elysees, Herreweghe)
(PHI: LPH003)


BRAHMS, J.: Works for Choir and Orchestra (Hallenberg, Collegium Vocale Gent, Orchestre des Champs-Elysees, Herreweghe)

(Excerpt)

Herreweghe… laid out for us a superbly rich and eloquent example of Brahms’s art at its most sublime. The profound tranquillity of the outer sections is magically countered by the high drama of the central section in a way which is wholly unproblematical. Collegium Vocale Gent deliver… Warum ist das Licht gegeben with great breadth and an…awesome dynamic range which perfectly matches the intensity of the text…

… the choral singing is…lovely, comforting tone supporting, along with a delectably rich Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, Ann Hallenberg’s ravishing performance of the Alto Rhapsody…it is also a performance which stands head and shoulders above much of the competition. It is very much the icing on a mouth-wateringly sumptuous cake of a disc.

© 2012 Gramophone




FALLA, M. de: Sombrero de tres picos (El) / Nights in the Gardens of Spain / Homenajes (Works for Stage and Concert Hall) (Mena)
(Chandos: CHAN10694)


FALLA, M. de: Sombrero de tres picos (El) / Nights in the Gardens of Spain / Homenajes (Works for Stage and Concert Hall) (Mena)

Yes we need more Falla…

There’s always room for another terrific Falla collection, though there’s certainly no shortage of them. Indeed, The Three-Cornered Hat has already been very kind to Chandos: Tortelier’s Philharmonia version is excellent (coupled with Albeniz’s Iberia in the Arbos orchestration). This one is just as fine, maybe even better. Juanjo Mena certainly gets the BBC Philharmonic to wake up from its usual bland, business-as-usual attitude and deliver tangy, idiomatic results. Listen to his perfectly judged rhythmic accents in the Dance of the Miller’s Wife, or his riotously brilliant final Jota. These zesty and energetic sections are more than offset by the poetic stillness of Raquel Lojendio’s lovely offstage soprano solo in Part Two. It’s just an excellent performance, about as good as it gets.

This is just as true of the other works on the disc. Homenajes receives a nicely contrasted interpretation that gives the piece a wider expressive range than usual–the tribute to Debussy is particularly atmospheric. Nights in the Gardens of Spain is marvelous. Bavouzet, as has become clear over the past couple of years, is a very major artist, and his performance has an especially noteworthy vitality and sparkle. So many performance of this work wallow in a sort of droopy, soggy “impressionism.” Certainly Mena and Bavouzet capture the music’s many moods, and they don’t stint on its mysterious, nocturnal tints, but they do it with a welcome rhythmic focus and firmness of outline. For a typical example, consider the vibrant Poco più animato at figure 5 in the first movement (sample below). This is great stuff, and the sonics are as bold and tactile as the interpretations.

David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com









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