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Coke’s intriguing Piano Concertos are our Collectors’ Choice

The Romantic Piano Concerto 73 – Coke

Simon Callaghan (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins (conductor).

Roger Sacheverell Coke was an English composer and pianist who lived between 1912 and 1972. He is a largely. and on this evidence unjustly, forgotten composer. He does merit a small entry in the 1955 edition of The Grove Dictionary and prior to a  couple of recent releases there were few mentions of him online although there was some discussion of him in 2010 on unsungcomposers.com. Apparently upon his death his music papers were given to Derbyshire County Records Office. At that time the County Council was housed in Alfreton Hall. That was sold some years ago and, at that time, the Coke Archive was moved to Chesterfield Library where it languished uncatalogued, because the money was not available to employ anyone to carry out the work.

More recently there has been some interest in his works and prior to this release there were recordings of his Preludes, Op. 33 & 34 and a compilation CD on EM records that contains Coke’s Violin Sonata in D minor. On this release we have Coke’s Piano Concertos No. 3 & 4 toger with a movement from a fifth concerto played by Simon Callaghan with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins. We are indebted to Hyperion and their much praised Romantic Piano Concerto Series for taking a large number of lesser known works to the recording studio. These premiere recordings of the piano concertos of Roger Coke are no exception. Simon Callaghan is a fine advocate for these works and under Martyn Brabbins skilful direction the orchestra accompany him very well. All of this is recorded in fine sound. It is not a mainstream release but it is an essential purchase for those seeking to broaden their collection of romantic piano concertos. We unhesitatingly make it our Collectors’ Choice for December.

iClassical rating: 

As Hyperion Records have a policy of not releasing any of their albums to streaming platforms we have provided a YouTube video about the making of the recording.

Download from Hyperion Records or buy from Presto Classical.

Tianwa Yang performs works by Saint-Saëns in our Bargain Choice

Saint-Saëns: Works for Violin and Orchestra

Tianwa Yang (violin), Gabriel Schwabe (cello), Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Marc Soustrot (conductor)


Read our full review here.

Stream on Qobuz or buy from Presto Classical.

Les Troyens is our December CD of the Month

Berlioz: Les Troyens

Joyce DiDonato (Didon), Michael Spyres (Énée), Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Cassandre), Orchestre et Choeur philharmonique de Strasbourg, Badischer Staatsopernchor, Choeur de l’Opéra du Rhin, John Nelson (conductor).

What a treat to receive a new recording of the French romantic composer Hector Berlioz’ epic opera Les Troyens. Les Troyens is a tour de force of music that includes fiery military marches, intense choruses, passionate soliloquies and lyrical love duets. It is Hector Berlioz’s largest work and he wrote the libretto himself from Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid; the score was composed between 1856 and 1858.

The ‘go to’ recording, since 2001, has been Colin Davis’s live (second) recording of the work – this time with the London Symphony Orchestra. In many ways Colin Davis was the supreme conductor of Berlioz so how will this new release from John Nelson match up?  Nelsons managed to gather together a fine cast for these performances – high profile singers like Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres, Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Stéphane Degout  cannot have come cheaply! Lemieux is suitably desperate as Cassandre, and is to be preferred to Petra Lang (Davis/LSO) and her performance is a highlight of the opening two acts. From there on, in the Carthage acts, Joyce DiDonato as Dido rightly takes over centre stage and puts in a highly dramatic and commited performance. Michael Spyres is renown as a Berlioz tenor and he is an exciting Énée. The Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg are perhaps not quite on a par with the LSO but Nelsons draws some remarkable playing from them and they more than hold their own.

This is an outstanding performance of Berlioz’ most ambitious work. One can argue that this work is the summation of Berlioz’ entire artistic career. He never saw it performed in its entirety but I am confident that the great composer would have approved of the Strasbourg performances from which this recording was made. The recording is superb and there is no hint of it being a live recording apart from the energy of the performers. As a performance it is at least a match for the live Davis version and as a piece of engineering it is far superior to to the Barbican recording with its limited accoustic.

A superb performance and a worthy CD of the month for December.

iClassical rating: 

The video shows Joyce DiDonato recording the air Adieu, fière cité from Act 5 of the opera.

Stream on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

Puccini piano works from Sandro Ivo Bartoli

Puccini: Complete Piano Works & Selected Opera Transcriptions

Sandro Ivo Bartoli (piano).

Piano is not likely to be most music lovers response to the word ‘Puccini’. Many readers will be aware that Puccini composed at the piano and some will recall the piano on stage, in La Rondine, upon which Prunier accompanies Magda. Here we have a CD of piano works by the great opera composer. Well not quite. Actually the CD contains six works written by Puccini for solo piano¹ and the remainder is filled with a selection of opera transcriptions.

This latest release by Sandro Ivo Bartoli is a most welcome addition to the catalogue. My only prior experience of these works was by way of a disc by Marco Sollini on the Bongiovanni label which includes Puccini’s six pieces for piano and combines them with works by Mascagni & Giordano. This present release is an all Puccini affair; combining the solo piano works with opera transcriptions.

The six works for piano are all short, but beautifully crafted, pieces. They range in length from the poignant Pezzo per pianoforte, a mere sixteen bars in length, written in memory of World War 1 victims, to the Piccolo valzer that in Bartoli’s hands lasts for just over four minutes. The collection begins with the earliest work, the Adagio in A major; a simple piece but one which contains moments of great beauty given the sensitive treatment that it gets here. The second track is the truly beautiful Piccolo valzer that Sandro Ivo Bartoli paces perfectly. (The performance of this piece alone is worth the cost of the CD in my view!) There follows a suitably lively account of Scossa Electrica (Electric Shock) – a piece written to mark the 100th anniversary of Volta’s battery. We continue with Foglio D’album and Piccolo Tango which are well written piano pieces which further enhance my wish that Puccini had devoted more time to piano compositions. The first half of the programme ends with the aforementioned, moving Pezzo per pianoforte.

So how does Bartoli compare to Sollini in these six works? Bartoli chooses slower tempi in these works and gives the impression of having immersed himself in this music² to a greater extent than had Sollini. In this new release so much more emotion is apparent, chiefly down to Sandro Ivo Bartoli’s playing but also enhanced by the outstanding quality of the recording which conveys every nuance to perfection. Thus I have no hesitation in recommending the Solaire release in preference to that from Bongiovanni.

The latter portion of the CD is taken up with pieces transcribed from Puccini’s operas. I was totally unfamiliar with these transcriptions prior to this, but was pleasantly surprised. The tunes here will be instantly familiar to fans of Puccini and, whilst they lose something as a result of a lack of orchestral colour, in these fine transcriptions by Carlo Carignani (a childhood friend of Puccini) they serve to show just how superb Puccini’s music is in any guise.

To sum up, this CD contains some unjustly neglected pieces that deserve to be more widely heard and this is just the performance to help them gain wider acknowledgement. Sandro Ivo Bartoli and Solaire records are to be heartily congratulated for commiting these works to disk. Reviewing this album has been an unexpected pleasure and I can see this being a strong contender for our Collectors’ Choice award next month. ***** for musicianship and recording quality.

iClassical rating: 

¹ Two are of dubious authorship and one may not have been intended as a piano piece.

² Sandro Ivo Bartoli had performed these works in concert before the opportunity arose to record this disk.

CD and downloads are available from Solaire Records.