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Rossini’s Petite Messe solennele joins our collection

Rossini: Petite Messe solennelle

Mirella Freni (soprano), Lucia Valentini-Terrani (mezzo), Luciano Pavarotti (tenor), Ruggero Raimondi (bass), Pilar Lorengar (soprano), Yvonne Minton (mezzo), Hans Sotin (bass), London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, István Kertész (conductor)

This is the 38th piece to join our collection of masterworks and in our view this 1970 recording still remains unsurpassed. Read more here.

Superb live Rachmaninov Symphony 2 from Ashkenazy

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

Philharmonia Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy

Vladimir Ashkenazy is no stranger to the works of Rachmaninov and he has successfully recorded both the piano concertos (as a soloist) and the symphonies in the past. Rachmaninov’s second symphony, running to some 60 minutes, is the most imposing of his three symphonies.

The symphony’s long brooding slow introduction sets the tone for the entire first movement rising from the darkness into a passionate climax and then returning to the gloom. The cor anglais ushers in the large scale second movement. Later a solo clarinet introduces an unmistakably Rachmoninovian tune and there follows a tempestuous development section with ever louder and more dissonant climaxes before a more relaxed recapitulation. The third movement contains a truly glorious clarinet tune that is restated by the violins (as in his second piano concerto). The final movement opens in a buoyant and joyful mood and the work is brought to a triumphant conclusion.

On this CD we have a live performance conducted by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. It was recorded in the South Bank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall on 5 November 2015. From the first notes the music flows with intent and it is clear that we are in for a charged account of this fine work. Mark van de Wiel deserves to be singled out for his most poetic clarinet solo in the adagio. The finally is performed at quite a pace, in keeping with Ashkenazy’s approach to the entire work, bringing the work to a glorious end.

There can be little doubt that Ashkenazy is a fine interpreter of the music of Rachmaninov and couple that with his deep relationship with the orchestra and we have the finest of all of Ashkenazy’s accounts of this work. This is a performance that I shall return to frequently and I cannot recommend it too strongly. It is essential listening for lovers of Rachmaninov’s orchestral music and Ashkenazy fans alike. On balance my top choice remains André Previn’s account with the London Symphony Orchestra on Warner Classics but others might disagree.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify or Idagio or buy from Presto Classical.

Sibelius’ Violin Concerto added to our masterworks

Tap, or click on. cover to read our full article

This superb recording of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto by Jennifer Pike (violin), the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis (conductor) also benefits from the inclusion a number of orchestral favourites.

Stream on Spotify or purchase from Presto Classical.

Highly entertaining recording debut from Lewis Wright

Lewis Wright Duets

Lewis Wright (vibraphone) & Kit Downes (piano)

This is the debut recording of Lewis Wright, an award-winning British vibraphonist, composer and drummer based in London. On this CD Wright is joined by British pianist, Kit Downes with whom he has an obvious rapport. I am not aware of much material written for the combination of vibraphone and piano, but Lewis Wright recognises the potential of this pairing to produce music that is rhythmically interesting and polyphonically grand.

The disc is composed of seven short pieces that contrast in mood and give rise to a truly mesmerising, if all too short, experience that  showcases the incredible technical mastery of both these musicians. It is hard to classify these works: are they chamber jazz? I guess they can best be considered as a meeting point between jazz, improvisation and contemporary classical. The two musicians share a long history dating back to their childhoods in Norfolk and this shared experience no doubt adds to the quality of their interaction in these works.

These new works somehow seem immediately familiar and cover a range of moods: at times thoughtful, at others lively and full of vigour and sometimes oh so serene. The ballads Sati and An Absence of Heart are delightfully romantic pieces without being over sentimental. The album opens with the minimalistic  Fire & Flow. Ono No Komachi is an excellent piece. Upbeat works like Tokyo ’81, which can be sampled on YouTube below, and Fortuna with their changing rhythms hint at Wright’s background as a drummer.

The dazzling closing work Kintamani contains some outstanding improvisatory passages and brings the album to a fitting conclusion that leaves the listener longing for more.

No true lover of music could fail to be moved by this outstanding debut recording that wins our Collectors’ Choice award this month. Don’t let a lack of familiarity with this repertoire, or an aversion to contemporary music, stand in your way. Just seek out the album, sit back and enjoy! I congratulate Signum Classics not only on bringing such wonderful music to a wider audience but also capturing the balance of the instruments and the unique ringing sound of the vibraphone in a demonstration worthy recording. Lewis Wright is clearly a highly talented composer and perform with a big future ahead of him and I await his next release with eager anticipation.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify or purchase from Presto Classical.

Bargain Saint-Saëns from Romain Descharmes

Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos Nos. 4 & 5

Romain Descharmes (piano), Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Marc Soustrot (conductor)

This is the third volume of Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concertos from this team on the Naxos label and it brings the project to a splendid conclusion. Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concertos are frequently under-rated works but all are well worth getting to know and being added to your collection.

Of the five piano concertos composed by Saint-Saëns, Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor, Op. 44 does not get performed as often as it should. This is a pity since the Fourth reveals Saint-Saëns at his most inspired and innovative, not least in its unorthodox form. Eschewing the traditional three movement form, which Saint-Saëns adopted for all his other piano concertos, it bears a structural similarity to his Symphony No. 3 (the ‘Organ Symphony’), written 11 years later in 1886. It comprise two ‘official’ movements, each of which is divided into what might be termed two ‘submovements’.

The Piano Concerto No. 5 in F major, Op. 103 ‘Egyptian’, was composed some two decades after the fourth. It was composed in the Egyptian temple town of Luxor, and displays a rich tapestry of exotic cultural influences from Javanese, Spanish and Middle Eastern music, as well as portrayals of chirping Nile crickets and croaking frogs, and the composer’s representation of ‘the joy of a sea crossing’.

Romain Descharmes, one of the foremost French pianists of his generation, highlights the charm and beauty in these works without being over sentimental. Soustrot and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, who are no strangers to the orchestral works of  Saint-Saëns, accompany with great aplomb. Maybe these forces don’t quite equal those of my go to choice of Saint-Saëns’ complete works for piano and orchestra from: Stephen Hough (piano), the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo (conductor) on Hyperion¹; but at budget price these performances are unmatched. Combine this with the excellently captured sound and this Naxos release has no difficulty in picking up our bargain of the month award.

iClassical rating: 

Stream on Spotify or purchase from Presto Classical.

¹ The Hyperion set (CDA67331/2) contains truly marvelous performances of the concertos and a number of encores all captured in demonstration quality sound ().