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Sunday, January 13, 2013
RACHMANINOV, S.: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 (Lugansky)

RACHMANINOV, S.: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2 (Lugansky)
Ambroisie: AM208
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Gramophone Choice

If, like me, you feel that Rachmaninov's First Sonata doesn't quite stack up, Nikolai Lugansky's account may just cause you to have second thoughts. Many of its figurations, rhythmic patterns and other ideas seem to be a rehearsal for (and put to more effective use in) the glorious Third Piano Concerto which followed the composition of the Sonata. Certainly one does not need to be cognisant of the composer's Faust-Gretchen-Mephistopheles programme to appreciate its many arresting passages. As in the Second Sonata, Lugansky's superb performance is endorsed by the rich, full tone of the piano, which he exploits from the fullest fff in the bass to the most ethereal treble pianissimos – captured at Potton Hall by producer/sound recorder Nicolas Bartholomee.

Opinions may vary as to which of the two official version of the Second Sonata is preferable: the original 1913 work or the considerably compressed 1931 alternative. The booklet writer states that Lugansky 'presents his own vision of the work [by making] a number of significant cuts to the [1913 version] by adopting here and there elements... (read more)

- Jeremy Nicholas, Gramophone
FRANCK, C.: Symphony in D minor / Hulda (Liege Philharmonic, Arming)

FRANCK, C.: Symphony in D minor / Hulda (Liege Philharmonic, Arming)
Fuga Libera: FUG596
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10/10 Artistic and Sound Quality

César Franck remains perhaps the most unknown of all the great composers. He wrote operas, oratorios, symphonic poems, and chamber music throughout his life, but except for the few late works virtually all of it languishes in obscurity. Then there are the organ works, the finest of their kind since Bach, which remain the province primarily of organists. I have to confess, I am often no fan of organ music generally, but Franck's music for the instrument really does have the power to cross over and give pleasure even to the most hard core doubters.

This splendid disc features music you probably haven't ever heard. The tone poem Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne (What One Hears on the Mountain) dates from 1947, predating Liszt's first symphonic poem of the same title by two or three years. It may thus be the very first symphonic poem in history, and it's beautiful. The very opening, with its high violins and suspended cymbals, is an astonishing piece of orchestration for its date, far more sophisticated than anything that Liszt or Wagner were doing at the time (the work is contemporary with Tannhäuser). Franck's musical ideas are more striking than Liszt's, his structure more cohesive over virtually the same span... (read more)

- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday
TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 (London Philharmonic, V. Jurowski)

TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 (London Philharmonic, V. Jurowski)
LPO: LPO-0064
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Gramophone Recording of the Month


The moment immediately following the arresting horn and trumpet fanfares at the start of the Fourth Symphony reveals a big and consoling string chord – a complete change of mood and ambience. I don't think I have ever heard it sound so telling, so personal, so heart-easing, as it does in this live Vladmir Jurowski’s performance from the Royal Festival Hall in London. Indeed, both these performances exemplify what makes Jurowski's approach to Tchaikovsky so special.

The playing throughout… both these performances is marked by a oneness with Jurowski's vision and, it goes without saying, a now well-established empathy between the players of the London Philharmonic and their principal conductor. The climactic return of the big sweeping second theme has a glorious 'in the moment' abandon and suddenly you are in the live performance. It's the same with the dramatic spring in to the Allegro vivace of the finale, violins really bearing down with the heels of their bows. The resounding cheers at the close of the Fifth but... (read more)

- Edward Seckerson, Gramophone
HOLST, G.: Symphony, 'The Cotswolds' / Walt Whitman, Overture / Indra / Japanese Suite / A Winter Idyll (Ulster Orchestra, Falletta)

HOLST, G.: Symphony, "The Cotswolds" / Walt Whitman, Overture / Indra / Japanese Suite / A Winter Idyll (Ulster Orchestra, Falletta)
Naxos: 8.572914
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4 Stars

JoAnn Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra present a diverse program of lesser known works by Gustav Holst, the composer of the perennially popular suite The Planets. Holst's music was informed early on by the late Romantics, and traces of Johannes Brahms can be plainly heard in the Walt Whitman Overture, which Holst composed at college when he was still searching for a personal style. The Symphony in F major, "The Cotswolds," was a major step forward in developing a distinctive voice, and though it partakes of conventions in British symphonic writing, it shows a growing awareness of folk music's potential in his work. A Winter Idyll, influenced by Holst's teacher, Charles Villiers Stanford, shows much the same tentative exploration of the Walt Whitman Overture. But there is a pronounced change in flavor and mood in the Japanese Suite and the symphonic poem, Indra, which show Holst's adoption of impressionist harmonies and atmospheric orchestration, as well as a turning away from purely German influences to draw on Asian musical ideas and philosophies. Fans of Holst's music will find the last 25 minutes of the CD will put them on familiar ground, though the first 40 minutes of the album will at least provide context for his career. The orchestra delivers satisfying performances, and Falletta leads with great control and clarity, so all the pieces feel fully realized and exciting to play.

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