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Superb Vaughan Williams from Hallé

Sir Mark Elder, with his Hallé forces, provides us with two more fine accounts of Vaughan Williams’ symphonies. Here we have the composer’s fourth and sixth symphonies.

After the poetic nature of Vaughan Williams first three symphonies, the audience, at the Queen’s Hall in April 1935, must have been taken aback by the severity of his fourth symphony with its abrasive dissonance. Symphony No. 6 was completed after the second world war in 1947. It quickly became dubbed Vaughan Williams ‘War Symphony’. However the composer rejected the notion of the music having a programme and indeed is reported to have remarked ‘I suppose it never occurs to these people that a man might just want to write a piece of music’. Be that as it may both works come across as being full of mixed emotions; there is anguish and violence aplenty and at times a clear sense of desolation.

Readers unfamiliar with these works should not think that all is loud and violent, even in the fourth symphony there are some comparatively quiet intimate passages of music. As we have come to expect from this team in Vaughan Williams the playing is of a very high standard and Elder builds climaxes most effectively avoiding the all out onslaught favoured by some conductors.

The recording is excellent and captures the dynamic range very well. Five stars for both the performance and the engineering.

iClassical rating: 

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Our Bargain Choice – cello works from Schwabe

SAINT-SAËNS Charles Camille (1835-1921)

Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 etc.

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

Gabriel  recording this CD

Saint-Saëns wrote his Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 in 1872. This justly popular piece is the mainstay of this release. When he composed this work Saint-Saëns had already produced a couple of piano concertos, including the popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 and a violin concerto. In his Op. 33 Saint-Saëns showed a willingness to experiment with form as this work is in a single movement , albeit in three sections. First there is a turbulent opening leading in to a brief, highly original, minuet with muted strings and a cello cadenza. The finale begins with a reconsideration of the opening music.


This recording also includes the fiendishly technical Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 119, the Allegro Appassionato in B minor Op. 43,  the miniature Romance in F major, Op. 36 in a version for cello & orchestra, the five movement Suite in D minor, Op. 16 and The Swan from Le carnaval des animaux. Schwabe takes the demands of Op. 119 in his stride and brings out the sublime melodies in its tranquil central section.

Overall this is a welcome addition to the catalogue and at bargain price it deserves to be snapped up.

It is with much enthusiasm that I look forward to future releases from the 29 year old Gabriel Schwabe, who in 2015, signed an exclusive recording contract with record label Naxos.

Rattle’s Pelléas et Mélisande is our top choice

Not quite the last word on Pelléas et Mélisande but this live recording of the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, with a stellar cast of soloists comes very close. Having enjoyed the concert in the Barbican Hall I have been eagerly anticipating this release and it certainly does not disappoint. *****

The five act opera Pelléas et Mélisande by the French composer Claude Achille Debussy (1862-1918) was premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 30 April 1902. The plot concerns a love triangle between Prince Golaud, who finds Mélisande, a mysterious young woman, lost in a forest and then marries her. Mélisande becomes increasingly attached to Golaud’s younger half-brother Pelléas, arousing her husband’s jealousy. Eventually Pelléas decides to meet Mélisande one last time and the two finally confess their love for one another. Golaud, who has been listening in, springs forth and kills Pelléas. Mélisande dies shortly after, having given birth to a daughter, with her husband still pleading with her to tell him ‘the truth’.

Simon Rattle seems to excel in French music and this fine recording, on the LSO Live label, is no exception. He gives us a clearly thought out and immaculately performed interpretation of the work. The conductor coaxes the London Symphony Orchestra’s strings to play with a silken subtlety and gets a suitable blaze of colours from the wind and brass sections.

Magdalena Kožená is in fine voice as Mélisande and sings the role beautifully and it would probably be churlish to suggest that she comes across as a little too mature for the role. Her Pelléas is the German baritone, Christian Gerhaher and Gerald Finley stands out as a heart-rending Golaud. Listen and enjoy!

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Early Mozart Opera – our Collectors’ Choice

MOZART Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

Il sogno di Scipione, K126

Chiara Skerath (soprano), Soraya Mafi (soprano), Klara Ek (soprano), Stuart Jackson (tenor), Krystian Adam (tenor), Robert Murray (tenor), Classical Opera, Ian Page

Mozart very probably composed Il sogno di Scipione during April and May 1771, whilst he was still only fifteen. Mozart’s early operas, whilst in no way comparable to his later masterpieces of the genre, demonstrate an unerring ability to match the scale
and ambition of the music to the widely differing circumstances for which each work was
written. In this respect Scipione’s dream is no different; showing an extremely formal
and obsequious presentation designed as a homage to the Archbishop of Salzburg.

The story of Scipio’s Dream takes place in c.148 BC, while the celebrated Roman general is a guest in the palace of his ally Massinissa, King of Numidia (in modern day Tunisia). As Scipio falls into a deep sleep, he dreams that the allegorical figures of Fortuna (Fortune) and Costanza (Constancy) appear to him in Elysium and demand that he should choose one of them to follow for the rest of his days.

This recording from Ian Page and his Classical Opera group is part of their continuing complete Mozart opera recording series. Classical Opera play this work on period instruments about a semitone below today’s pitch to very good effect and the quality of their playing is apparent from the outset. The opera contains a nunber of virtuoso arias that enable Stuart Jackson and the other splendid soloists to show off the agilty of their voices.

Perhaps not a recording for those starting up a classical music collection, but a wonderful addition to a larger collection. This performance provides another fascinating insight into the compositional skills of the young Wolfgang and comes up to the high standards we have come to expect from Ian Page and his group.

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