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Bargain box of Russian Piano Concertos

Brilliant Classics have released a 15 disc collection of piano concertos by Russian composers. Most of the featured concertos are comparative rarities, both in the concert hall and in recordings, but they are generally well worth further exploration. Readers familiar with Hyperion’s excellent Romantic Piano Concertos series and the earlier sortie into these relatively uncharted waters on the Vox label will have encountered a number of these works. In addition to the somewhat esoteric works we have the three Rachmaninov concertos, both Tchaikovsky concertos, some of Prokofiev’s examples of this genre and both of Shostakovich’s concertos.

Among the lesser known works we find concertos by Lyapunov and Glazunov, performed by Dmitry Yablonsky, and Alexander Mosolov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Steffen Schleiermacher as the soloist. This latter work was new to me as indeed was the composer Mosolov.

A number of the works in this set feature the pianist Michael Ponti who was a stalwart of the aforementioned Vox series. We also find Bortkiewicz’ Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3 performed by Stefan Doniga with the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Porcelijn in a performance recently issued on the Piano Classics label. The two Shostakovich works come from a recent Naxos release featuring Boris Giltburg with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko as the conductor.

As is usually the case with box sets of this type, the standard of both performances and recordings is variable. One might prefer Stephen Coombs performances of the Arensky and Bortkiewicz concertos with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Jerzy Maksymiuk. Hamish Milne’s CD of Lyapunov’s Piano Concertos, another in Hyperion’s fabulous series, is quite beautiful and so I could go on. However to do so would be to miss the point. This set is incredibly good value for money and provides a great introduction to the breadth and depth of Russian piano concertos for those music lovers who have yet to discover the many hidden delights that lie beyond the piano concertos of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify, purchase the box set from Amazon or download lossless files from Chandos at the bargain price of £7.99.¹

¹ Price correct as of Monday 2 July 2018.

Grace Davidson performs sacred works by Vivaldi & Handel

Vivaldi & Handel

Grace Davidson (soprano), Academy of Ancient Music, Bojan Čičić (leader), Joseph Crouch (artistic director)

Prior to receiving this CD for review Grace Davidson was known to me chiefly as a member of The Sixteen. Most recently I enjoyed her singing on Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II on the Coro label. This is Grace Davidson’s first orchestral recording and for it she is joined by the Academy of Ancient Music, whose artistic leader is the cellist, Joseph Crouch.

This disc contains three works by Handel: Gloria in Excelsis DeoSilete venti, HWV242 and Salve Regina, HWV241 and Vivaldi’s Nulla in mundo pax sincera, motet for soprano, strings & continuo, RV630.

Grace Davidson has a most wonderfully pure soprano voice and always displays faultless technique. She seemingly effortlessly performs these sacred motets and the Academy of Ancient Music provide excellent backing. The acoustic of  All Hallows in Gospel Oak, London seems ideal for this type of work and the performances have been captured in very good sound by the recording engineers. Indeed listening to this CD I was swept along by the sheer beauty of Grace Davidson’s singing and found the experience to be thoroughly experience.

However, in the final analysis, I think that something was missing. I would prefer to pick up a greater sense of emotion and drama. For example, reflecting on the first work, Handel’s Gloria, my thoughts turned to the intimacy and flair shown by Sophie Bevan in her recording with Bridget Cunningham’s London Early Opera.

In summary if you are happy to experience these works sung with great beauty and purity of tone then you will be very pleased with this issue. However, if like me, you are looking for a performance that is perhaps more operatic and readily conveys the meaning of the texts then you should probably look elsewhere. Nonetheless it is good to have Grace venturing in to this repertoire and I look forward to her releasing further recordings of this type.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify. Purchase from Amazon.

Beethoven & Mendelssohn from Min-Jung Kym

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 & Mendelssohn: Double Concerto

Min-Jung Kym (piano), Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay (violin), Philharmonia Orchestra, Clemens Schuldt (conductor)

This is the first album that Min-Jung Kym a, British pianist from South Korea, has recorded for Signum records¹. On it she performs my favourite of the Beethoven piano concertos. She is accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Clemens Schuldt, an exciting young conductor from Germany. However, in some ways the most enticing prospect here is Mendelssohn’s seldom-heard Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra in D Minor, MWV O 4, a charming piece written when Felix was just 14 years old.

In the video below you can hear an extract from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 and Min-Jung Kym talks about her relationship with the piece.

Can a pianist introduce themselves with anything better than the G major concerto beginning as it does with a solo piano? Min-Jung Kym plays the opening exquisitely gently and appropriately questioningly. Min-Jung’s poetic approach shows both gentleness and lyricism. This is beautifully balanced by the boldness and vitality of the orchestra whose trumpets and drums assist in making suitably powerful responses to the pianist’s sweeping phrases. The soloist and orchestra combine most effectively in this performance thanks to a mutual understanding of the work shared by Min-Jung and Clemens Schuldt. Although, in a very crowded market place, this would not be my first choice for this great work (that remains Leif Ove Andsnes with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra²) this performance provides a most pleasing introduction to this talented young artist.

For the second work on this recording the performers are joined by Min-Jung’s duo partner, the German-Hungarian violinist Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay. The Double Concerto, like Mendelssohn’s early string symphonies, shows a greater affinity to the music of C P E Bach  than to the early romantics and is thus classical in nature. The work follows the standard three movement structure of fast-slow-fast, with a lengthy orchestral introduction before Min-Jung Kym joins in; although the violinist does begin as part of the orchestra. One cannot claim that this concerto is on a par with Mendelssohn’s later works. However it positively exudes melody and shows an astonishing mastery of orchestral writing for one so young. In particular the slow movement contains some especially fine music. Here Min-Jung Kym and Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay perform with a beautiful sense of togetherness, producing a fine tone and showing a lightness of touch fully in keeping with the classical nature of the work. This performance is a most valuable addition to the available recordings of the double concerto and I shall listen to it frequently.

Both works are well-recorded and the CD comes with an informative booklet containing an introduction from the main soloist, notes on each of the two works, profiles of the main artists and a full listing of all performers.

Overall a splendid debut from Min-Jung Kym on Signum Classics and I look forward to her next release with keen interest.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify or Idagio. Purchase from Amazon.

¹ I am aware of an earlier recording of works for double bass and piano, composed by Josep Cervera-Bret, on the Meridian label that also features Min-Jung Kym.

² Also admired by Min-Jung Kym, I note from the accompanying booklet.

Your chance to vote for Orchestra of the Year

Voting has now opened for the public to vote for the Gramophone Orchestra of the Year 2018. The shortlisted ensembles have been selected based on their recordings of the past year (June 2017-May 2018).

To assist you in making your choice you can listen to specially-curated playlists of these orchestras’ recordings on Spotify, Apple Music and Qobuz by searching ‘Orchestra2018’.

You can vote for one of the following orchestras:

  • Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
  • Chamber Orchestra of Europe
  • Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
  • London Symphony Orchestra
  • Il Pomo d’Oro
  • Les Siècles
  • Seattle Symphony
  • Vienna Symphony Orchestra

You can place your vote here.

Our top CDs for June 2018

This month we have chosen to highlight these three wonderful recordings:

CD of the Month – The Dufay Spectacle (Gothic Voices)

Bargain Choice – Beethoven Unbound (Llŷr Williams (piano))

Collectors’ Choice – Ginastera: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 (Xiayin Wang, BBC Philharmonic, Juanjo Mena)

Previous selections can be found here.