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Academy of St Martin in the Fields touring UK and Ireland

Joshua Bell kicks off 2018 with a tour of UK and Ireland with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields this month.

Following a January 10 concert at the Graf Zeppelin Haus in Friedrichshafen, Germany, Joshua Bell leads the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on a tour of the UK and Ireland.

The tour features a program of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, and the UK premiere of Edgar Meyer’s Overture for Violin and Orchestra. Beginning at Cadogan Hall in London (January 12), the ensemble also performs in Dublin (January 20), Edinburgh (January 21), Manchester (January 22), Birmingham (January 23), Nottingham (January 24), and Bristol (January 25).

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, ‘Romantic’ – No. 22 in our collection

Anton Bruckner (04.09.1824 – 11.10.1896) was an Austrian composer and organist who is best known for his symphonies, masses, and motets. Bruckner’s symphonies are considered emblematic of the final stage of Austro-German Romanticism. They exhibit a rich harmonic language, are strongly polyphonic in character, and were some of the lengthiest symphonies that had been written. His compositions showed the way towards a new musical radicalism, owing to their dissonances, unexpected modulations, and roving harmonies.

Anton Bruckner

Anton Bruckner came from a provincial background and was a man of a devout faith. Thus, he cut an odd figure among the sophisticated Romantic composers who were his contemporaries. Throughout his life he maintained a retained a rural accent, a simplicity of character and style of dress. He displayed a certain social naivete and showed an apparently unquestioning deference to authority.

The story of the last 25 years of Bruckner’s life is essentially that of his symphonies: the creation of new concepts of form, time-span, and unity, and his struggle to achieve success in the face of fierce critical opposition to the boldness and originality of his music. Many of his contemporaries found his works incomprehensible. The greatness that his works have achieved is testimony to his intelligence and musical skill but despite his achievements he remained inwardly insecure. This, together with the adverse criticism, may have led to the frequent revisions of many of his major works.

Although Bruckner’s symphonies are influenced by the music of Palestrina and Bach, as well as the medieval and baroque cathedrals in which he worked as an organist, they are clearly all products of the Romantic era. Thus one wonders why he singled out No. 4 as the ‘Romantic’. It certainly has the ability to evoke moods or mental images as one listens. It begins with one of the most magical symphonic openings with the solo horn calls sounding above shimmering string tremolandi. It is written in four movements, the second of which is not in the usual Brucknerian style seeming more like a funeral march. In the third movement the horns and trumpets hint at some kind of other worldly hunting scene. The last movement is by far the longest and the one with which Bruckner appears to have struggled. It contains some fine musical ideas but at times seems to lose its way. Nonetheless Bruckner does bring the work to a close in in a major key with a blaze of glory. Indeed it is one of Bruckner’s most thrilling endings.

We have chosen to add to our collection a live recording conducted by the great Brucknerian Günter Wand conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance is perfectly paced, the Berlin Philharmonic were on their best form and the recording is excellent.

Listen on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

View the other works in our collection.

Great Cathedral Anthems from Canterbury Cathedral

Great Cathedral Anthems

The Girls & Men of Canterbury Cathedral Choir, Adrain Bawtree & Nicholas Wearne (organ), David Newsholme (Director).

It is highly appropriate to be reviewing a CD by the girls and lay clerks of Canterbury Cathedral as we approach the fourth anniversary of the founding of the girls’ choir in January 2014. For centuries, women were forbidden to sing in church choirs, so that much of what we think of as great classical church music was written for boys and men and for centuries Canterbury Cathedral Choir was an all-male group.

On this CD we have a range of British choral works, presented chronologically, from Tallis and Byrd through to Howells and Leighton. Thus the compositions range from the sixteenth century through to the twentieth century and provide a well-chosen set of works from some of our finest choral composers throughout the last four hundred years.

The Girls and Men of Canterbury Cathedral are ably directed by David Newsholme. Organ duties are shared between assistant organist Adrian Bawtree (in the Gibbons, Croft and Parry works) and Nicholas Wearne, an organ tutor at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, in the works by Greene, Boyce, Howells and Leighton.

We start with Tallis’ Honor, virtus et potestas which is sung so that, despite the long lines and the intensity of the drama, the text emerges above it all. We continue with Byrd’s Ave verum corpus. Since it is widely accepted that Byrd intended his Latin motets for use either in underground Masses or for publication in books for use in homes the music was most likely performed with female sopranos making this a highly appropriate choice of work. We move from the Renaissance period to the Baroque with works by Gibbons, Croft and Greene and on to one of William Boyce’s best known choral works O where shall wisdom be found?

On to the Romantic period to one of Stanford’s finest choral compositions, Three motets, Op.38. Justorum animae is suitably contemplative in the outer parts; Beati quorum via, with its divided sopranos and basses, is most exquisite and there is much dramatic interplay in Coelos ascendit hodie. This is followed by Parry’s second most popular work (after Jerusalem) I was glad when they said unto me – splendidly sung and powerfully accompanied on the organ by Adrian Bawtree.

The CD ends with two fine examples of twentieth century anthems; Howells’ Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks and Leighton’s Let all the world in every corner sing. The joy of all concerned is palpable in this rhythmic and syncopated work, typical of Leighton, which brings this most pleasing CD to a close.

Purists may argue about the appropriateness of using female voices since most of the repertoire of church and cathedral choirs from Tallis onwards was was written with an all-male choir in mind. However when the overall sound of the works is as fine as that produced here I am happy to forego authenticity and simply revel in the quality of the singing of these young women and indeed that of the men.

This is a highly enjoyable, well recorded CD that flows well and contains some wonderful singing. With its broad spread of works, it would serve as an excellent introduction to British church music for those unfamiliar with this genre. Existing lovers of these anthems should also sample this release to hear for themselves the high standard of music-making that David Newsholme is achieving at Canterbury.

A recording that is fit to grace any music collection. Go ahead and buy it!¹

iClassical rating: 

Listen on Spotify nor buy from Presto Classical.

¹ Readers of the BBC Music Magazine should, however, be made aware that this is the same recording as that issued with BBC Music Magazine Vol 25 #7 entitled Great British Cathedral Anthems.


Light orchestral music performed with unique authority

Robert Stolz conducts Waltzes, Marches, Polkas, etc.

Berliner Symphoniker & Wiener Symphoniker, Robert Stolz (conductor)

Costing less than £30 (for 12 CDs) this reissue, from RCA, of of waltzes, marches, polkas and other dances by Johann Strauss I and II, Joseph Lanner, Carl Michael Ziehrer and others is our Bargain Choice for January 2018.

Robert Stolz was an Austrian songwriter and conductor as well as a composer of operettas and film music. Following Hitler’s annexation of Austria Stolz sought refuge in the USA in 1940. Once in America Stolz soon achieved fame with his concerts of Viennese music, starting with A Night in Vienna at Carnegie Hall. He returned to Vienna in 1946, devoting himself to an unflagging schedule of composing, conducting and recording until his death in 1975. Late in his career Stolz used a baton, inherited from Franz Lehár, which had been originally owned by Johann Strauss and contained Strauss’s initials engraved in silver. Thus his credentials in this repertoire are very high!

These recordings date from the 1960s and 70s , some 70 years into Stolz’s career. Nonetheless the sound is good, even by modern standards, and listening to the performances one never feels one is listening to the conducting of an elderly man. Needless to say both orchestras play these works as if the music is in their blood. If you enjoy the New Year’s Day concerts from Vienna you will love this set as it includes all of the favourites and much more besides. Indeed these discs are highly recommended for anyone who enjoys Viennese Light Music.

iClassical rating: 

At this price it is unmissable. Buy it, currently on special offer, at Presto Classical – just don’t pay the exhorbitant £75.32 price of the flac download!

Stream on Qobuz.