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Well crafted collection of violin concertos and partnering pieces

Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvořák & Prokofiev: Violin Concertos Collection

Joseph Swensen (violin & conductor), Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Linn Records are to be congratulated on re-packaging four previous releases of violin concertos featuring Joseph Swensen as soloist and conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Each of these was recorded in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh between 2002 and 2004 when Swensen was the Principal Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

The first CD begins with Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Op. 26 before we get a performance of the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. Finally we get the Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 ‘Scottish’ effectively giving us a very attractive all Mendelssohn concert programme.

In a similar vein, on CD 2, we are presented with about half an hours worth of excerpts from Brahms’ Hungarian Dances following the ever popular Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77. Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 is accompanied by his Czech Suite, Op. 39 together with a nocturne and a waltz. The final disc Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63 is neatly sandwiched between the well known Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25 ‘Classical’ and an orchestrated version of the Five Melodies for Violin and Piano, Op. 35b which showcases Joseph Swensen’s talents as an arranger.

The overall standard of these four discs is uniformly high and shows what an accomplished violinist (and conductor) Swensen was (and still is) in a wide range of repertoire adjusting his style of performance to match the individual work. There are undeniably better performances of each of these works (though I really enjoyed the ‘Scottish’ symphony and the beauty of Swensen’s tone in the favourite concertos from Brahms and Mendelssohn) available but saying that is missing the point. This package is greater than the sum of its parts and can be recommended wholeheartedly to those wishing to become familiar with the orchestral works of Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvořák and Prokofiev. The sound is of the usual high standard that the Linn engineers achieve in the Usher Hall and at a favourable price this can also be recommended to fans of Joseph Swensen and of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra; assuming; of course; that they have not already invested in the single releases!

iClassical rating: 

Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major – Work No. 76 in our collection

Johann Sebastian Bach (21 March 1685, – 28 July 1750) was the greatest composer of the baroque era. He created a vast output of concertos, cantatas, choral, organ and keyboard works; many of which are masterpieces that are still regularly performed in the concert hall and on disk.

Bach’s instrumental output encompasses a wide spectrum, but his six intimate suites for solo cello rank among his finest pieces. All six are well worth getting acquainted with but we have highlighted his G major suite as this is the most popular by some margin. However all of our recommended recordings include all six so do not worry!

Like much of Bach’s instrumental output the cello suites are open to widely different interpretations and therefore it is particularly difficult yo highlight just one. At least, in this age of streaming, you can sample a range of outstanding performances and then purchase one or more versions.

For me the great Pablo Casals interpretation of this work remains unsurpassed to this day but due to its age sound quality isn’t all that it might be. Janos Starker also gives great pleasure when I return to his recording and for many years was my go to listening choice. Among more recent versions I can recommend Yo Ya Ma (listen to all three of his recordings and hear how his interpretations have changed) his recent Six Evolutions reviewed here is particularly fine, David Watkin and Jean-Guihen Queyras (playing a Gioffredo Cappa cello, 1696). However among modern versions that by Steven Isserlis on Hyperion must surely be the top choice.

View the other works in our collection.

Top recommendation for Lyatoshynsky’s Symphony No. 3

Lyatoshynsky: Symphony No. 3

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits (conductor)

This is Kirill Karabits second release on the Chandos label and he continues his exploration of lesser known composers from former Soviet Union countries¹. On this occasion we are treated to music that is very close to the heart of the native Ukrainian Karabits. Boris Lyatoshynsky, who died in 1968, was one of the most distinguished Ukrainian composers of his time, and did much to establish a flourishing musical life in Kiev. Like that other Soviet composer of the time, Shostakovich, Lyatoshynsky’s works were subject to official criticism and subsequent revisions.

On this recording we have, arguably,  two of Lyatoshynsky’s greatest works; namely his third symphony and Grazhyna, written in 1955, based upon a poem, by one of Poland’s greatest poets Adam Mickiewicz that tells the tale of a female Lithuanian chieftain who fought against the Teutonic Knights and was eventually slain. Both of these works were performed in The Lighthouse, Poole; how fortunate are the residents of Dorset to have such adventurous concert programming?

Lyatoshynsky’s Symphony No. 3 in B minor, Op. 50 is a substantial work, written in four movements, lasting around three quarters of an hour. It carries carries a subtitle “Peace shall defeat war” and is dedicated to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the October Revolution thus giving the listener some idea as to what they should expect.

The work opens in a foreboding manner prior to the introduction of an allegro (that hints of Miaskovsky perhaps) and we get a mixture of celebration and gloom before being treated to a romantic string melody that leads to a tremendous climax on the horns. The second movement andante is more tranquil, soulful and thoughtful before the sounds of the military take over. The six minute Allegro feroce contains savagery tempered with lyrical moments. Karabits opts wisely for the original final movement, that was dropped due to official criticism², and for me this is the best part of the symphony. In the final minutes the Ukranian song, that was introduced in the opening andante maestoso, returns combined with brass and bells conveying an overwhelming sense of triumph.

Both of these works show that Lyatoshynsky was a highly effective orchestrator and his intentions are superbly realised by the members of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kirill Karabits. All of this has been remarkably well recorded by Andrew Walton and Ben Connellan who are to be congratulated on producing such a good sounding CD in what is undeniably a far from perfect acoustic at The Lighthouse.

If you don’t know these works them I urge you to explore them. This CD represents a good introduction to the orchestral work of Lyatoshynsky and the recording of the symphony, is by some margin, the best available of this work. A wonderful addition to the recorded catalogue and one which can be recommended as our Collectors’ Choice for January.

iClassical rating: 

¹ His first was a highly pleasing set of performances of works by the Azerbaijani composer Kara Karayev who spent time in his beloved city of Baku as well as in Moscow.

² There is room on the CD for the subsequent version to have been included a swell and this would have been useful for comparative purposes.

A disappointing Handel disc from Adrian Butterfield

Handel: Chandos Te Deum and Chandos Anthem No. 8

London Handel Orchestra & Soloists, Adrian Butterfield

I looked forward to receiving this CD with some enthusiasm as Handel’s Chandos Anthem No. 8 ‘O come let us sing unto the Lord’, HWV 253 is a work that I greatly enjoy and his Chandos Te Deum, HWV281 was hitherto unknown to me.

For this recording Adrian Butterfield and the London Handel Orchestra are joined by the soloists Grace Davidson, Charles Daniels, Nicholas Mulroy, Edward Grist and Benedict Hymen¹. The CD is supplied in a double cardboard sleeve which also contains a brief booklet largely taken up with an article entitled Handel at Cannons. The soloists and members of the London Handel Orchestra are listed but there are no artist biographies.

These are small scale Handel performances, as is customary nowadays, and this suits these works. However, on listening I was somewhat disappointed as something is lacking despite both works being well sung, well performed and being pleasing to the ear.

The Chandos Te Deum, HWV281 is quite an attractive piece but is by no means the best of Handel’s settings of the Te Deum. Much to be prefered is his Te Deum in D major ‘Dettingen’, HWV283 – there is a very good 2008 version from Stephen Layton and the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge & Academy of Ancient Music (Hyperion CDA67678).

In the case of the Chandos Anthem No. 8 both Harry Christophers and the Sixteen (Chandos CHAN0505) or, once again, Stephen Layton and the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge & Academy of Ancient Music (Hyperion CDA67926) are to be preferred. The latter uses slightly larger forces and features a stand-out performance from Thomas Hobbs together with two further fine soloists Susan Gritton and Iestyn Davies.

So all in all I can only recommend this release to readers desperate to become acquainted with the Chandos Te Deum, HWV281 since, to the best of my knowledge, there is currently no alternative version.

iClassical rating: 

¹ Benedict Hymen is the third tenor in the Te Deum.