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Highly Reviewed Recordings

November 30 - December 13, 2011



PROKOFIEV, S.: Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 (excerpts) (arr. for viola and piano) (M. Jones, Golani, Hampton)
(Naxos: 8.572318)


PROKOFIEV, S.: Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 (excerpts) (arr. for viola and piano) (M. Jones, Golani, Hampton) Vadim Borisovsky, an acquaintance of Prokofiev and one of the Soviet Union's leading violists and pedagogues, made eight of the transcriptions here with the composer's approval. Later on he fashioned five more, two of them calling for a second violist. This Naxos collection adds an additional three transcriptions fashioned by David Grunes (Masks and Dance of the Lily Maidens) and by the main performers here, Matthew Jones and Michael Hampton (Death of Tybalt). The transcriptions were derived from the three suites which Prokofiev extracted from his masterly ballet. All the arrangements are splendidly realized, with the exception of Dance with the Mandolins, which strikes me as a bit awkward. The order of the numbers has been rearranged to follow the chronology of events in the ballet, a wise decision.

Violist Matthew Jones conveys a fine sense for both Prokofiev's lyrical music and his more acerbic side. He has the good judgment not to rush the love theme in the Balcony Scene, as do many pianists (playing Prokofiev's own piano transcription) and conductors: they often read the "animato" marking as a signal to press down hard on the accelerator. Jones' account of Romeo at Friar Laurence's is delivered beautifully and the Death of Mercutio (which is taken directly from the ballet, not from one of Prokofiev's suites) is also very compellingly rendered. Excitement abounds in the next number, Death of Tybalt, as Jones displays his considerable technical skills, as well as some deliciously nasty sul ponticello playing. Bravo!

Michael Hampton plays his part well throughout the disc, making you wonder that he may well be good choice for recording some of the Prokofiev concertos or sonatas. Rivka Golani performs well in the two numbers requiring a second viola.

Naxos' sound is excellent and their notes informative. Now the question is, would such an offbeat disc appeal to a wide audience? To me, I found these transcriptions utterly refreshing, despite my initial skepticism. In many ways these accounts actually rival the originals. Morning Dance, for example, effervesces delightfully here; Masks has an infectious playful quality; and the tragedy in Parting Scene and Death of Juliet comes through with a powerful sense of loss. In sum, this is a most unusual and worthwhile disc that should appeal to more than just viola mavens.

Robert Cummings, Classical.net




JANACEK, L.: Glagolitic Mass / Sinfonietta (Libor, Marciniec, Bentch, Gierlach, Malanowicz, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Wit)
(Naxos: 8.572639)


JANACEK, L.: Glagolitic Mass / Sinfonietta (Libor, Marciniec, Bentch, Gierlach, Malanowicz, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Wit)

These performances are every bit as fine as the classic recordings by Czech conductors such as Ancerl and Kubelik, never mind the two splendid versions (of the original score, more or less) by Mackerras. Truth be told, there are few organizations better equipped to deliver satisfying performances of large choral works than Antoni Wit and his Warsaw forces. The choir is excellent, top to bottom; likewise, the orchestra. They sing and play in a warm, ample space that lets the sound fill the room naturally, with excellent balances and plenty of clarity even in the most complex textures. Wit almost always chooses a fine lineup of vocal soloists, as here. Soprano Christiane Libor has a Slavic tang to her voice (i.e. vibrato), but excellent pitch and an attractive tone. Tenor Timothy Bentch copes with Janácek's often murderous tessitura very well indeed.

None of this would matter if Wit did not understand Janácek's idiosyncratic style, but he manages to be both faithful to the idiom and refreshingly full of good interpretive ideas. Consider the concluding section of the Gloria, thrillingly fast, but no less precise. Then there is the biting articulation of the lower strings at the start of the Credo, those "speech rhythms" so tellingly rendered that you can almost hear the words. In the same movement, the build-up to the crucifixion is harrowing, the closing pages majestic but still impulsive. It's real Janácek. It's also impossible not to mention Jaroslaw Malanowicz's scorcher of an organ solo, and a conclusion that effectively lets the colorful weirdness of Janácek's brass writing register without exaggeration. It's a wonderful performance, plain and simple.

The brass-led Sinfonietta makes a natural coupling to the Mass, and Wit's reading is just as dazzling. Notice, in the opening fanfare, the effortless (and exciting) transition to the central allegro, and then back again, or the high-speed clarity of the third movement's big climax. In the finale Wit permits the screeching woodwinds to cut through the busy string textures with no loss of intensity. The return of the opening fanfare is handled perfectly, and the closing chords hit you with that physical thrill that always registers in the best performances. This is, by any standard, a major release--a mandatory purchase for anyone who loves this music, or wants to get to know it.

David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com




Vocal Music - BACH, J.S. / CRUGER, J. / PRAETORIUS, M. / GRIEG, E. / CHARPENTIER, M.-A. / SCHEDIT, S. (The Vanishing Nordic Chorale) (Musik Ekklesia)
(Dorian Sono Luminus: DSL-92128)


Vocal Music - BACH, J.S. / CRUGER, J. / PRAETORIUS, M. / GRIEG, E. / CHARPENTIER, M.-A. / SCHEDIT, S. (The Vanishing Nordic Chorale) (Musik Ekklesia)

There is something enchanting about this disc that opens it up to a wider circle of listeners… Philip Spray, music director of the Indianapolis-based Musik Ekklesia, has done a lot of research in tracking the travels of familiar chorale texts and…has resurrected a good many examples of cross-fertilisation that make for a thoroughly appealing sequence.

The American soloists and chorus, drilled by diction coaches, sound like they’re at ease with the languages and sing with fluency and clarity.

This is a disc with intriguing slants on music that we may know from elsewhere and in other manifestations…

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.

Geoffrey Norris, Gramophone




BARTOK, B.: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Viola Concerto (Ehnes, BBC Philharmonic, Noseda)
(Chandos: CHAN10690)


BARTOK, B.: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Viola Concerto (Ehnes, BBC Philharmonic, Noseda)

James Ehnes offers us the most ‘Heifetzian’ recording yet, a vibrant, tender-hearted, boisterously youthful account, bittersweet where needs be and eagerly supported by the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda, who are consistently on the ball. I can’t think of a finer CD version of the First Concerto than this…

Chandos offers a beautifully balanced sound picture, especially effective in the delicate traceries of the Andante tranquillo second movement, which alternates serenity and playfulness as only Bartók could. As to the finale, never before had I been so vividly reminded of an orchestral masterpiece from a few years earlier, Ravel’s La valse (1920).

In the unfinished Viola Concerto… Ehnes fully matches the excellent Lawrence Power. Indeed, his rich, yielding tone makes an even stronger impression, reminiscent of William Primrose in his prime—which, paradoxically, would have been before Primrose commissioned the work. The kernel of the piece is its slow movement and I challenge any reader to name a version that is either more moving or more beautifully played.

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.

Geoffrey Norris, Gramophone









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