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ClassicsOnline - Your Classical Music Source Highly Reviewed Newsletter
Sunday, March 11, 2012

Highlighting the latest highly reviewed recordings: Available at ClassicsOnline

HONEGGER, A.: Pastorale d'ete / Symphony No. 4, 'Deliciae basiliensis' / Une cantate de Noel (Maltman, London Philharmonic, V. Jurowski)

HONEGGER, A.: Pastorale d'ete / Symphony No. 4, 'Deliciae basiliensis' / Une cantate de Noel (Maltman, London Philharmonic, V. Jurowski)
LPO: LPO-0058
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SINCE the London Philharmonic Orchestra engaged the Russian maestro Vladimir Jurowski as its principal conductor in 2007, this august institution has reaped consistently strong notices for its dynamic, exacting performances and broad repertory. Yet when Anthony Tommasini reviewed the orchestra in The New York Times during its visit to Carnegie Hall this month, he lamented a curiously pedestrian program that mostly failed to show the players or their conductor in the best possible light.

A new CD featuring three seldom-encountered works by Arthur Honegger, a Swiss composer active during the first half of the 20th century, has the opposite effect. Associated with the Parisian composers' klatch Les Six, Honegger often found himself at odds with the group's anti-Wagnerian modernist cheek. In his best-known work, "Pacific 231," a modern orchestra's heft and might evokes the machine-tooled power of a locomotive.

That work is not included here, but its brawn comes through in parts of "Une Cantate de Noël" ("A Christmas Cantata"), completed by a terminally ill Honegger in 1953. Created partly from themes he composed during World War II, the 22-minute piece for baritone soloist, adult and children's choirs and orchestra opens in a gloomy tone, rising to a haunting plaint. But from there the piece proceeds through a medley of European carols, blazing with joy up to its serene finale.

The baritone Christopher Maltman, though not in his freshest voice, sings with care and passion. Mr. Jurowski maintains a balance among the work’s dense layers, and the orchestra plays brilliantly. Add in lucid accounts of Honegger's sunny Fourth Symphony ("Deliciae Basilienses") and gently bluesy "Pastorale d'Été," and what results is a disc admirable in all seasons.

-- Steve Smith, © The New York Times
 
ROUSSEL, A.: Festin de l'araignee (Le) / Padmavati Suites Nos. 1 and 2 (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Deneve)

ROUSSEL, A.: Festin de l'araignee (Le) / Padmavati Suites Nos. 1 and 2 (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Deneve)
Naxos: 8.572243
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10/10 Artistic and Sound Quality

Stéphane Denève's Roussel recordings for Naxos are far and away the most comprehensively satisfying in the catalog. This final installment provides a worthy and memorable conclusion to the series. In the first place, the two suites from Roussel's magnificent opera-ballet Pâdmavatî are all but unknown, either in concert or on disc. They are wonderful, not least because the obligatory touches of Eastern exoticism are fully integrated into Roussel's personal idiom. All of his music, even the lightest or the most purely tactile and voluptuous, has substance.

This is especially true of his shimmering, impressionist ballet The Spider's Feast (oddly referred to as "The Spider's Banquet" on the CD booklet, which is fine, and as "The Spider's Web" on the tray card, which is just a mistake). Although Roussel prepared a suite in the form of "symphonic fragments", there's no gratuitous musical flab here, and the work always should be performed complete. The scoring is astonishing, given the amazing range of timbres and textures that Roussel conjures from relatively small forces: two flutes (one doubling piccolo), two oboes (one doubling English horn), pairs of clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, timpani, percussion, harp, celeste, and strings.

As already suggested, these performances are as good as they come. Denève has an unerring feel for Roussel's idiom, for that combination of rhythmic drive, precision of accent, and elegant phrasing that somehow seems both personal to this composer as well as quintessentially French. Beyond that, he gets excellent, truly refined playing from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and he's expertly recorded. Essential.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
 
BEETHOVEN, L. van: String Quartets Nos. 12 and 14 (Brentano String Quartet)

BEETHOVEN, L. van: String Quartets Nos. 12 and 14 (Brentano String Quartet)
Aeon: AECD1110
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Gramophone Choice

A coupling of Op 127, the most approachable of Beethoven’s late quartets, with Op 131, the most strikingly radical, could not be more attractive, particularly in performances like these, which in every way are exceptional. What is so satisfying about these performances…is the overall warmth of the playing, with speeds ideally chosen and never forced, with natural rubato and shading, and with wonderfully sustained pianissimos, as in the slow fugue which opens Op 131, leading to a perfectly judged climax.

-- © 2012 Gramophone
Read complete review on Gramophone
 
HORNEMAN, C.F.E.: Orchestral Music (Gustavsson)

HORNEMAN, C.F.E.: Orchestral Music (Gustavsson)
Dacapo: 6.220564
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10/10 Artistic and Sound Quality

Some of this music has been recorded before, by BIS, but the overture and the complete Kalanus Suite aren't otherwise available. Christian Horneman (1840-1906) wrote comparatively little music, most of it for the theater, and all of it (that I've heard anyway) is of high quality. The idiom is late romantic, the melodic invention consistently attractive, the scoring colorful and ear-catching. The music leaves you wanting more. The Gurre-Suite follows the same basic story as Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, except that in this version Tove gets locked in a sauna and steamed to death rather than poisoned by the jealous queen. The four concise movements consist of an overture, a love scene, Tove's funeral procession, and a brief Entr'acte as a finale.

The other major work here is the suite from Kalanus, in five relatively substantial movements--but arguably the most fun comes from the two dances (of satyrs and a bacchanal, respectively) in "Contest with the Muses". Trust me, it's all good, and the performances are absolutely terrific, with Johannes Gustavsson encouraging his players to give their very best. Dacapo's SACD engineering is also excellent. It may be that Horneman's entire life's work can be summed up on a single CD (not necessarily a bad thing in these days of mega-boxed sets), but it's one you won't want to miss.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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