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Noteworthy Midsummer Night’s Dream from Iván Fischer

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – incidental music, Op. 61, etc.

Budapest Festival Orchestra & Pro Musica (women’s choir), Iván Fischer

The incidental music from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream has always been a favourite work of Fischer’s and he brings tremendous depth to this work composed by the young composer.¹  The overture is played with perfectly shaped lines and the instrumental colours shine magnificently. Right through to the final wistful string melody the playing is simply beautiful.

The additional movements do not disappoint either. Highlights include a fast, heartfelt Intermezzo, a suitably pastoral scherzo and a rarity in the form of the infrequently performed funeral march. On listening to this recording one gets further affirmation of the reason that the Budapest Festival Orchestra is one of the top 10 ranked orchestras in the world.

As a bonus the purchaser gets three songs penned by Fanny Mendelssohn, sung by Anna Lucia Richter, to conclude the recording.

Overall a fine disc but it does not quite displace our top recommendation for this work from Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Kathleen Battle and Judi Dench, as an outstanding narrator.

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¹ Mendelssohn wrote the overture to the piece when he was only seventeen!

Chopin’s Ballade in A flat major, Op. 47 No. 3 – Work No. 56 in our collection

Frédéric François Chopin (01.03.1810 – 17.10.1849) was a Polish piano virtuoso and composer of the Romantic era. Before his death at the age of 39, Chopin wrote some of the instrument’s most intimate, memorable works. All of his compositions include the piano. Most are for solo piano, though he also wrote two piano concertos, a few chamber pieces, and nineteen songs set to Polish lyrics. His piano writing was technically demanding and took the instrument to new limits. As a performer he played with a high degree of nuance and sensitivity.
Chopin wrote mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes, polonaises, études, impromptus, scherzos, preludes and sonatas for the piano and he is credited with the introduction of the instrumental ballade.

Chopin wrote so much fine music that it is difficult to single out a work for our collection, but we have opted for the intensely romantic Ballade in A flat major, Op. 47 No. 3. We have chosen Murray Perahia’s performance of the four ballades, which is surely his finest recording and these performances of Chopin’s ballades, released in 2001, are unsurpassed to this day.

View the other works in our collection.

Two rarely heard symphonies from Ruth Gipps

Ruth Gipps: Orchestral Works

BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rumon Gamba

Ruth Gipps (20.02.1921 – 23.02.1999) was an English composer, oboist and pianist. She performed her first composition at the age of 8 in one of the numerous music festivals she entered and in 1937 Gipps entered the Royal College of Music. As an instrumentalist she aspired to have lessons from such greats as Solomon (piano) and Leon Goosens (oboe). Indeed she became a highly accomplished pianist and included the Piano Concerto of Sir Arthur Bliss in her repertoire.

This release from Chandos contains two world premiere recordings; namely Symphony No. 4, Op. 61 and Knight in Armour, Op. 8. The fourth symphony is a work that I first heard in 1983, performed by conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir John Pritchard, in a BBC broadcast¹ and this led me to discover more about this talented composer. I believed the Symphony No. 4 to be a truly great work that deserved a wider audience and this new performance has further consolidated my view of the work. Knight in Armour, Op. 8 was conducted by none other than Sir Henry Wood at the last night of the 1943 Proms.

There is a recording of Gipps’ Symphony No. 2 performed by the Munich Symphony Orchestra conducted by Douglas Bostock as part of a 10 CD set entitled The British Symphonic Collection on the Classico label but this performance shows the work in a far better light. The remaining work on this disc is the short lyrical Song for Orchestra, Op. 33 written in 1948. This piece contains a delightful nine-bar oboe song, a solo which Gipps surely intended for herself, that reappears variously from strings, clarinets, and solo horn before a two-bar orchestral climax signals the faster middle section, in which the solo instrument is a bass clarinet.

Rumon Gamba and BBC National Orchestra of Wales seem to revel in this vivid orchestral writing. Throughout these pieces there are hints of Sibelius, Walton, and Vaughan Williams but Gipps’ orchestral music clearly has a voice of its own. Chandos are to be congratulated on bringing these works to the attention of the record buying public and we have no hesitation in making this our Collectors’ Choice. Let us hope that enthusiasts are willing to go out and buy this recording and perhaps then this could become the first in a series of recordings of the orchestral works of this unjustifiably neglected composer.

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¹ And recorded, for personal use, on my treasured Nakamichi cassette recorder!

Outstanding Liszt recital from Goran Filipec

Liszt: Complete Piano Music Volume 49 – Dances

Goran Filipec (piano)

This is issue number 49 of Naxos’ series containing Liszt’s complete piano music and what a treat it is. The CD is excellently programmed with a mix of some of Liszt’s most virtuosic music from the 1830s mixed in with works written half a century later. The CD works well as a single listening session mixing waltzes. polkas and a couple of galops in a most pleasing manner.

The Croatian concert pianist Goran Filipec is clearly a remarkable Lisztian. He has brilliant technique and plays these works most perfectly. The sonority of his Kawai grand piano has been captured remarkably well by the Naxos engineers and this must surely be one of the most successful volumes in this series to date. This CD would come highly recommended at any price; the fact that it is available at bargain price makes it unmissable and you really should seek out this disc. This is self-recommending as our bargain choice for August!

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Terrific set of Bernstein symphonies from Pappano

Bernstein: The 3 Symphonies

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Sir Antonio Pappano

In the Symphony No. 1 ‘Jeremiah’, Pappano is joined by the mezzo-soprano Marie-Nicole Lemieux who puts in a suitably theatrical performance.

Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 ‘The Age of Anxiety’ is a much under-rated work and here receives a terrific performance with Beatrice Rana taking the piano part.

For Symphony No. 3 ‘Kaddish’ the conductor and orchestra are joined by the soprano Nadine Serra and Dame Josephine Barstow who narrates the piece better than anyone else on disc and actually carries this work.

By way of a bonus we get the Prelude, Fugue & Riffs for Solo Clarinet and Jazz Ensemble which was inspired by Benny Goodman. The solo clarinet part is performed by Alessandro Carbonare and brings the offering to an action packed ending in which classical music and jazz improvisation come together in a way that only Bernstein could.

If you only purchase one recording of works by Bernstein as we reach the end of his centenary year then this should be it. This is, without question our CD of the Month!

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