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Highly Reviewed Recordings

August 24 - September 6, 2011

BAX, A.: Winter Legends / Morning Song / Saga Fragment (Wass, Bournemouth Symphony, Judd)
(Naxos: 8.572597)

BAX, A.: Winter Legends / Morning Song / Saga Fragment (Wass, Bournemouth Symphony, Judd)

Ashley Wass and James Judd turn in a finely wrought and atmospheric performance of Bax's Winter Legends--a piano concerto in all but name. A Bax specialist, Wass highlights the alternating delicacy and bravura of the composer's piano writing (especially in the alluring solo that opens the Molto moderato third movement), while Judd is equally adept at the orchestral accompaniment, drawing rich, colorful playing from the Bournemouth Symphony. This recording supplants the previous version by Margaret Fingerhut and Bryden Thompson, as Thompson is not as free with the music as Judd, and Chandos' over-reverberant recording makes Bax's already swimmingly chromatic music sound even more so.

The fillers, the delightful Morning Song "Maytime in Sussex" and the dramatic Saga Fragment, balance out the program quite nicely--about an hour of Bax at one sitting is probably all you need anyway. Naxos' recording captures the full range of the music (it's pretty wide), yet maintains clarity even in the tutti passages. Bax fans will find much to enjoy in this release.

Victor Carr Jr,, August 1, 2011

BAX, A.: Spring Fire / DELIUS, F.: Idylle Printemps / The March of the Spring / BRIDGE, F.: Enter Spring (English Spring) (Halle Orchestra, Elder)
(Halle: CDHLL7528)

BAX, A.: Spring Fire / DELIUS, F.: Idylle Printemps / The March of the Spring / BRIDGE, F.: Enter Spring (English Spring) (Halle Orchestra, Elder) Download of the Month

We sometimes complain about miscellany programmes where there is no link or perhaps only a tenuous nexus. There can be no such complaint here with a well-proportioned and rigorously-arranged sequence linked by Spring, the English nationality of the three composers, musical style to some extent and by the origins of the music in the 1910s and 1920s.

The vernal theme is assertively established by the five movement, Swinburne-inspired Spring Fireby Arnold Bax. This is early Bax at his most ecstatically impressionistic. It’s a masterly piece the mood of which is reflected in the words of Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon:-

Come with bows bent and with emptying of quivers,
    Maiden most perfect, lady of light,
With a noise of winds and many rivers,
    With a clamour of waters, and with might;

And Pan by noon and Bacchus by night,
    Fleeter of foot than the fleet-foot kid,
Follows with dancing and fills with delight
    The Maenad and the Bassarid;

This brilliantly orchestrated world, all dewy and luxuriant undergrowth, is first evoked through a memorable drip-tick ostinatos pun with wispy tendrils and birdsong. Not for the last time you might think of Ravel’s Daphnis. The images are in part those of a classical Mediterranean never-never land. Bantock’s much later Pagan Symphony has the same mise-en-scène but Bax’s work is expressed through more diaphanous textures. It’s all greenswards peopled with fauns, nymphs and satyrs. The effects are breathtakingly beautiful with listeners perhaps recalling the Presentation of the Rose (Rosenkavalier) as well as Miaskovsky Symphony 13 and 14 in the fourth movement and Rimsky’s Russian Easter Festival in the finale. The languorous spell cast by this discursive music is full of wood magic but is by no means entirely sleepy. The whooping triton horns of the last movement recall the lusty tidal race of Bax’s own Fourth Symphony with its glittering waves and dazzling amethyst–green combers. Overall though this work leans more towards the sensuous pictorial Bax of the Third Symphony,Tintagel, Nympholept, The Happy Forest and Fand than the Nordic Bax of the Fifth Symphony and Winter Legends.

Elder has known this score for at least a decade. I recall going to the Proms in July 1996 and seeing him give one of his earliest accounts. Before that the performance history of this Henry Wood-dedicated work – in some ways Bax’s Symphony No. 0 (though there is also a 00, I believe) – began in “recent times” with Leslie Head’s Kensington Symphony Orchestra on 8 December 1970. Then, after a long pause, Norman Del Mar and the BBCSO in October 1983 and October 1984 around the Bax Centenary; 1983 was a transformational year though concert performances remain rare birds. Two years later came the only other recording - which still sounds very good – from Handley (Chandos CHAN 8464). Andrew Davis has also conducted the piece. This Halle Spring Fire recording was taken down at a concert and some applause has been included. The other recordings on this disc were made in a studio.

Frank Bridge’s music travelled a long way. From the almost Stanfordian Isabella and Piano Quintet to the expressionism and dissonance of the String Quartets 3 and 4 and Piano Trio No. 2.Enter Spring is a work in the midst of a transition but this does not stop it being a confident and towering masterwork of the English Musical Renaissance. A swinging and weighty momentum gradually emerges from whispered intimations. It’s a lucid and succinct construct with a chilly ozone-rich air invigoratingly gusting through its pages. The recording here is of exemplary clarity and the performance is deeply sympathetic.

Am not so sure about ripping the Delius Spring movement from the company of the other North Country Sketches but it is well done and its ‘skirl’ reminded me of the “Scotch snap” in Bax’s Northern Ballad No. 1. The Idylle de Printempsis monothematic but what a theme! We know from Sleigh Ride and Hassan that he could write catchy themes – this is another, superbly treated. It reflects the genius of a young man in sophisticated light music.

The helpful liner-notes are by Lynne Walker and Calum Macdonald.

None of these works is mainstream so although enthusiasts will know many or all of them, others will be able to make impressive discoveries. A great showcase for neglected British rarities from early in the last century. A winner on all counts.

Rob Barnett, MusicWeb-International

GESUALDO, C.: Madrigals, Book 3 (Madrigali libro terzo, 1595) (Delitiae Musicae, Longhini)
(Naxos / Early Music Collection: 8.572136)

GESUALDO, C.: Madrigals, Book 3 (Madrigali libro terzo, 1595) (Delitiae Musicae, Longhini) 4 stars

The annals of artistic sublimity aren't exactly bursting with scandalous tales of murder. In the case of the great and hugely influential painter Caravaggio, there is even a tenuous relationship between the revolutionary art and the tempestuous proletarian life of the artist. In the case of Carlo Gesualdo de Venosa, the extraordinary harmonic daring and beauty of the music might seem the very opposite of the scandalous life of the wealthy prince who had his wife and her lover murdered in their bed after being caught in flagrante delicto. Marco Longhini, who conducted this gorgeous disc of Gesualdo's Madrigals Book 3 writes in the notes that the general view of society at the time was "that a love strong enough to overcome social mores and ultimately to be worth dying for, had greater moral value than did the Gesualdo family honor." Of the dark and violent mood of the second part of Book Three, Longhini says "the music that had formerly made him a happy, charming man was now an outlet for his new state of mind, his genuine suffering and the repressed feelings that had exploded into bloodshed." Is it possible that Gesualdo's revolutionary dissonance and daring and violent life were inseparable? A grim thought, but the music, and the performance here, are exquisite. 

Jeff Simon,

Violin Recital: Morini, Erika - TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. / TARTINI, G. / VIVALDI, A.-RESPIGHI, O. / KREISLER, F. / BRAHMS, J. / WIENIAWSKI, H. (1952)
(audite: Audite95.606)

Violin Recital: Morini, Erika - TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. / TARTINI, G. / VIVALDI, A.-RESPIGHI, O. / KREISLER, F. / BRAHMS, J. / WIENIAWSKI, H. (1952) Born in Vienna in 1904, Erica Morini started her career as a spectacular child violin prodigy. At the age of eight, she became the Vienna Music Academy’s youngest and first female student. Her 1916 Vienna debut in the Paganini Concerto was a sensation; her first American tour in 1920 included an appearance with the New York Philharmonic. Yet, though regarded as one of the finest violinists of her day, she became famous less as an artist than as the first woman violinist with a successful international career, an injustice she deplored and resented. She died in New York in 1995.

As her playing on this live 1952 recording shows, Morini's tone was singularly beautiful: pure and silken, with a focused vibrato, variable in color and intensity, and unfailingly expressive. Her technique was effortless and brilliant, her intonation impeccable—she never let her facility run away with her. An eloquent musician and distinctive personality, she combined a fiery temperament with sophistication, earthy robustness with tenderness and delicacy. The Tchaikovsky is lush, with many juicy slides, and very free: big tempo changes underline shifts of mood and character. Here, the orchestral sound is raucous and loud, and even Morini’s own is scratchy sometimes. Stylistically a child of her time, she makes the Baroque works equally romantic, but gives the virtuoso pieces irresistible charm.

Unfortunately, she made few records, which may explain why she is not as well known as she deserves. But these recordings showcase her many gifts.

Edith Eisler,

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