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Live Rachmaninov Symphony from Ashkenazy

This month Signum Classics issue the first of a new series of Rachmaninov symphonies, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra with their Conductor Laureate, Vladimir Ashkenazy, recorded live in concert. Volume 1 contains a performance of Sergey Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13 recorded last November in the Royal Festival Hall, London.

Vladimir Ashkenazy is one of the few artists to combine a highly successful career as both a pianist and a conductor. Although nowadays he is mostly to be seen in the conducting role, he first came to prominence in the mid 1950s as a prize-winning young pianist. He has a long history of performing and recording works by Rachmaninov. He has recorded the the complete works for piano by Rachmaninov and two two cycles of the Rachmaninov Piano concerti; one with with André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra and later with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. This is not Ashkenazy’s first recording of this symphony cycle. In the early 1980s he produced a highly acclaimed set of all three Rachmaninov symphonies as conductor of the Royal Concertgeouw Orchestra.

Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 13 was composed when he was just 22 years old. Whilst one cannot claim that this work is on a par with his two later symphonies , in the hands of an experienced performer of Rachmaninov, like Ashkenazy, this piece, that was once feared lost, comes across as a strong, highly individual, and self-assured work. The product of a young talent overflowing with ideas rather a composer who became paralyzed by failure.

Congratulations to the Philharmonia Orchestra, their conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy and staff for producing a vivid record of this concert.

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A first opera for our Collection

Thus far our basic collection includes symphonic music, concertos and sonatas; this week we have chosen to add an opera. Our choice for Week 5 is Puccini’s masterpiece La Bohème in a fine stereo recording, but we have also nominated a DVD for those readers that want to see the opera as well as hear it!

See Building a Collection Week 5.

Clara Schumann anniversary

Today marks the 198th anniversary of the birth of the German musician and composer, Clara Schumann. She was one of the finest pianists of the Romantic era, an underated composer and the wife of the famous composer, Robert Schumann. In an era when women, with the exception of singers, rarely performed in public Clara proved to be an exception.

Unfortunately, Clara Schumann’s own compositions remained largely unknown until the second half of the twentieth century. Many of her works are still unpublished and the scores are owned by private collectors, so it is not possible to appreciate the full extent of her output. Let us hope that for the 200th anniversary in 2019, record producers and performers will see fit to extend the range of her works available on CD. In the meanwhile we can appreciate Lisa Batiashvili performing Clara Schumann’s 3 Romances, Op. 22 in partnership with Alice Sara Ott.

Listen on Spotify or buy it from Amazon.

Stunning debut recording from Gorini

Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, Op. 120 is a far from obvious choice for a first recording but Filippo Gorini has made a great success of it. The performance on this CD is well-prepared and, in his playing, Gorini shows a degree of maturity beyond his years. He shows great confidence in attacking the more powerful variations but equally he exhibits a sublime softness of touch where required. Furthermore this has been captured in excellent sound by the recording engineers at Alpha.

This is a CD not to be missed and I look forward to further offerings from this pianist.

Prior to reviewing this CD I was unfamiliar with Gorini but it transpires that in 2015, he received both the first and audience prizes at the Telekom-Beethoven Competition Bonn. In that competition he performed not only the Diabelli Variations but also works by Schubert, Schönberg, Bartok and Thomas Adès. He is now studying with none other than the great Alfred Brendel. Filippo Gorini is clearly an artist to watch out for in the future.

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Stream on Spotify or buy it from Chandos.

Outstanding performances from Steven Isserlis

Haydn & CPE Bach: Cello Concertos

Steven Isserlis (cello/director), The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen

Hyperion has just released a CD featuring the distinguished British cellist, Steven Isserlis as soloist and director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.

In a programme that includes Haydn’s well known Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major, Hob. VIIb:1 and Cello Concerto No. 2 in D major, Hob. VIIb:2 we also hear C P E Bach’s A major concerto and a fascinating arrangement of Mozart’s Geme la tortorella (from La finta giardiniera) by Stephen Isserlis.

Isserlis has recorded the Haydn cello concertos previously with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Roger Norrington on a Sony disc that also contained Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante in B-Flat Major. That disc won a Radio 3 Building a Library award for the latter work in September 2012. This disc deserves equally high acclaim.

When Haydn wrote his Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major his cellist was Joseph Weigel and he must surely have been a sympathetic musician as well as a skilful player since this work is undoubtedly among the best of Haydn’s concertos; perhaps surpassed only by his Trumpet Concerto in E flat major. In the first movement Isserlis develops a tempo which shows steady poise perfectly complemented by the dotted figuration of the opening theme. Isserlis’ virtuosity is woven into the very heart of this music. In the following adagio his cello almost sings, tenor like, from the outset before he enters into a second cadenza (again his own). In the concluding movement there is suitable contrast between forte and piano and the wide melodic compass of the solo part. This is a good-humoured account with moments of real passion during the occasional visits to the minor key.

Wonderful! This concerto bears repeated listening and the other works combine to form a programme that can enjoyably be listened to in a single sitting thanks to the high quality of the musicianship and the beautifully engineered recording.

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Buy it from Presto Classical or listen to extracts and/or download the music from Hyperion Records and you will not be disappointed.