Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Soler Complete Sonatas Vol.3 Pieter-Jan Belder

Antonio SOLER (1729-1783)
Complete Harpsichord Sonatas Volume 3
CD1 – Sonatas Nos. 82,83,86,87,89,2,3,5,7,11,12,13
CD2 – Sonatas Nos. 14,15,22-32
Pieter-Jan Belder harpsichord
Recorded 24-26 March and 19-20 May 2009 in Doopsgezinde Kirk Deventer
Brilliant Classics 94025 [67:47+77:14]

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I love the keyboard music of Antonio Soler. It is clear that Peiter-Jan Belder does to, although I suspect for different reasons. To me, Soler was the liberator of the keyboard player's left hand, underpinning his textures with some really heavy bass and making the most of the bottom end of the harpsichord keyboard. When played on the piano, the performer can really emphasise this aspect of the music, laying into the repeated pedals in the bass and taking the textures almost into the realms of industrial minimalism.
That option isn't open to the harpsichordist, but I don't think Belder would indulge in that sort of thing even if he could. His Soler is closer to Scarlatti, it is melodically driven, decorated only with simple ornaments, and above all structurally focussed. Soler has been in the harpsichord, organ and piano repertoire since the early part of the 20th century, and performance practice of his music has kept up with all the various fashions and trends in the presentation of 18th century music. Belder is careful to balance the baroque and Enlightenment sensibilities of this music, adding shades of rubato at structurally significant cadences, for example, but never straying too far from the rigid tempos that characterise performances of music of earlier generations.
The harpsichord sound is wonderful. The instrument was made in 2003 by Cornelius Bom. It has a clean, precise sound, but is never feels underpowered. The liner does not mention the temperament or pitch used, but it sounds quite modern. Not too jarring in other words, so ancient and modern meet in the combination of archaic timbre and more modern pitching. The sound quality is very good too, a very immediate sound from the harpsichord, and with plenty of that essential Soler bass.
The liner contains an essay by Frederick Martin, the scholar responsible for popularising Soler in the years after the war. By the sounds of things, we are very lucky to have this music at all. No original manuscripts of Soler's keyboard survive. The monastery in Monserrat where he spent a great deal of his life turned out to be the most useful source of manuscripts, all in other hands. In fact the number of nationalities involved in transmitting Soler's music to the modern world is astonishing. The composer himself was Catalan, his first editor of modern times was the Cuban composer Joaquin Nin, Frederick Marvin is American, and now here we have a recording of the music from Holland.
The order and numbering of the sonatas in the recording follows the Rubio edition (the work of a Spanish scholar). Dating the works is close to impossible, so the order can be treated as more or less arbitrary. On the other hand, the numerical approach shows a loyalty to the principal of a complete recording cycle. There isn't much variety between the pieces, and to be honest two discs is quite a heavy dose. This is probably a candidate for taking half a dozen tracks and adding them into your iPod playlist.
It is good to see the Brilliant Classics label branching out from their core reissue activities. The number and range of discs they have put on the market – at bargain price – over the last couple of months suggests that they plan to be one of the more optimistic and energetic labels in the classical music market of the future, whatever that looks like. If this recording is anything to go by, they could well be onto a good thing. Heaven knows how they make a profit out of this sort of a release, but here's hoping they do, and that they continue serving classical music's various niche markets to this high standard.
Gavin Dixon

This review first appeared at MusicWeb International:

Friday, 29 October 2010

Mahler Symphony No.7 Neeme Järvi

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.7
Residentie Orchestra the Hague
Neeme Järvi - condutor
Recorded at the Dr Anton Philipszaal, The Hague 5-6 June 2009 Stereo/Surround DDD/DSD
Chandos CHSA 5079 [70:10]

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The first and most important thing to say about this new Mahler 7 is just how much fun it is to listen to. The work was composed in a very short space of time, making it slightly redundant to speculate about what was going round the composer's mind at the time. Even so, listening to a recording like this, where there is so much sheer joy in the playing, you get to thinking whether or not he was thinking of Beethoven's 7th when he wrote all those free-form country dances of the inside movements. And Neeme Järvi really makes the most of all of Mahler's orchestral effects, the mandolin, the cascading harps, the church bells at the end, and the SACD sound brings all of these added extras to the fore. The Symphony is a prime contender for the full SACD treatment, and Järvi makes sure that every orchestral detail makes its way onto the recording.
I have to say, though, that I came to this disc with some trepidation. The previous offering from these forces was a Bruckner 5 that is an utter travesty, it's far too fast, has no nuance, no grandeur, if it wasn't for the superior audio it would have literally nothing going for it at all. This disc is better, but many of the traits of Järvi's Bruckner are also to be found here. Many of the tempi are on the fast side, and Mahler's tempo, rubato and dynamic indications are routinely ignored.
The 7th symphony really requires interpretation, and there are as many Mahler 7s as there are conductors who have tackled it. Generally speaking they fall into two categories, the ones who seek to repair the work's various structural problems and present it as a conventional symphony, and those who are prepared to give up on the overall structure and just enjoy the various disparate sections as they appear. For all his interest in orchestral colour, Järvi is clearly in the former category; he is determined to make the work add up at all costs. The faster tempi are part of his plan, as are the preparations for the many counter-intuitive time changes. You'll quite often find the music drastically slowing down over the course of eight bars or so, but without any such indication in the score. He also makes the most of all the surprises, for example the abrupt tutti outbursts in the midst of quiet woodwind ensembles in the Nachtmusik movements. These are often well ahead of the beat, refreshing the sense of surprise, even for those who know the score.
What other surprises will you find here? Well, the horn solo at the start of the 2nd movement is loud and brash with the dotted semiquaver at the top of the phrase really clipped. This is exactly what is says in the score but I've never heard it played like that before – you can forget all about Castrol GTX. Good horn playing all round actually, the variety of timbres from the section is a real benefit in this superior audio. The rest of the brass struggle, especially the trumpets, who have a lot of notes, many of them very high, but not to the extent of excusing this number of splits. The string section is OK, one effect that Järvi goes easy on is the portamento that litters the string parts. Great playing from the leader, Lucian-Leonard Raiciof, who is pert, nimble and who appears seamlessly out of the tutti texture, then disappears seamlessly back into it.
So what's missing from this recording? The ländler and waltzes of the inside movements don't have the rustic abandon you'd get from a Central European orchestra. A more serious problem is the lack of grandeur in the outer movements. Järvi never lingers at the climaxes, nor does he give the bottom end of the orchestra the space to play those imitative responses that characterise the codas. And while the tempos are fast, there are never any extremes in the speeds. I'd have liked to hear the Scherzo played faster, or at least a bit more lively.
I think I understand Neeme Järvi's approach to Bruckner better for having heard this recording. Do I understand Mahler 7 any better for it? If anything, this recording is radical for the conductor's determination to present the 7th Symphony as a logically structured work. It isn't, but you've got to admire his conviction in trying to persuade us otherwise.
Gavin Dixon

This review first appeared at MusicWeb International:

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Kancheli Themes from the Songbook

Giya Kancheli
Themes from the Songbook: Music for Stage and Screen
Dino Saluzzi - bandoneon
Andrei Pushkarev - vibraphone
Gidon Kremer – violin
ECM 274 3230
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This disc is such a personal and intimate recording project, it almost feels like voyeurism to be listening to it from outside the close group of friends involved in its creation. The recording was a surprise 75th birthday present for the composer, organised by his son Sandro and producer Manfred Eicher. The musical material is taken from an album of piano arrangements made by the composer of his earlier film music. They are arranged for bandoneon, vibraphone and violin and performed by Dino Saluzzi, Andrei Pushkarev and Gidon Kremer.
The history of the sessions and mixing is equally contrived. Saluzzi and Pushkarev laid down some tracks together in Oslo. Later, Saluzzi and Kremer recorded more tracks in Riga and also overdubbed some of the recordings made in Oslo. Finally, the tapes (do they still use tapes?) were edited together in Munich by the skilled team at ECM.
Given all this globe trotting, the results are surprisingly coherent. The bandoneon forms the basis of most of the textures, and Saluzzi has a wonderfully laid back approach to the music, most of which is similarly atmospheric and relaxed. The notes on the page may of Georgian origin, but this is nevertheless authentic Argentinian bandoneon playing. It is a refreshing change to hear the instrument playing something other than Piazzolla tangos, although like them, these tracks demonstrate the impressive timbral variety that the instrument is capable of.
The vibraphone playing of Andei Pushkarev is stylistically astute and the way the instrument blends with the bandoneon is a real surprise. Given the history of this recording, I suspect that some of the vibraphone playing is overdubbed. Of course, it is not the sort of instrument to create overly dense textures, so even when we are hearing it accompanying itself, the results are always very discreet.
One thing this recording is not is a comprehensive survey of Kancheli's work for film. The selection process, by the composer and possibly by the players too, emphasises the quiet, the relaxed and the atmospheric. Given the range of moods required from the soundtrack to almost any film, Kancheli must have spent a good deal of his time in the past writing more upbeat music than this. We don't associate it with him though, so it would be interesting to know what it sounds like. A project for another album perhaps.
Another thing that this album is not is a Gidon Kremer showcase. He only makes a few appearances, all of which are of course immaculate, but I think his many fans may be disappointed if they buy the disc just to hear him. Having said that, his contribution is both distinctive and impressive. In general, his role is to play high, delicate figures over the steady and continuous bandoneon textures. This obliges him to put more edge onto his tone than usual, simply for the sake of contrast.
Kremer's contribution, like everything else on this disc, is simple but effective. The music is relaxed but not really minimalist as such. The film music origins are clear even if the nationality of the composer is not. I continually found myself thinking back to images from French cinema of the 50s and 60s.
I hope Kancheli enjoys his birthday present. The liner note by his son implies that he still didn't know anything about it, even as the discs were being pressed. This isn't typical Kancheli, by any means, but then the creative contribution of the other musicians involved, and even of the producer, seem to be just as significant in determining the result. I wonder what surprises ECM have up their sleeve for his 80th.
Gavin Dixon

Monday, 25 October 2010

Verdi Requiem CSO Muti

Verdi Requiem CSO Muti 
Barbara Frittoli (soprano)
Olga Borodina (mezzo)
Mario Zeffiri (tenor)
Ildar Abdrazakov (bass)
Chicago Symphony Chorus & Orchestra
Riccardo Muti
CSO Resound CSOR 901 1008 (2 SACDs)

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This recording marks the start of Riccardo Muti's tenure with the Chicago Symphony. It is also his first appearance on the orchestra's own label. Given the reputations of the conductor, the orchestra, and even the label itself, expectations run high are not disappointed. This is as good a Verdi Requiem as you'll find anywhere on disc. It is a distinctive interpretation as well, the work of a conductor who is clearly intent on stamping his identity on his new ensemble.
The Requiem and Kyrie movements are a notch faster than most on record, but there is plenty of ebb and flow here, and the sheer lyricism that Muti draws from the orchestra ensures that the music never sounds rushed. He is keenly aware of the operatic connotations of Verdi's setting, and many of the movements – the Lacrimosa in particular – almost sound as if they have been transplanted straight from an opera house recording.
The soloists are all excellent. Tenor Mario Zeffiri has the edge on his collegues, by virtue of the natural link he makes between the text and the phraing of the music. Ildar Abdrazokov is a steady and powerful bass presence, while Olga Borodina is a surprisingly muscular, almost manly, mezzo. Barbara Frittoli is put through her paces with the soprano part. Her voice has all the support it needs for the louder sections, but comes into its own in the high, quiet music, where an apparent frailty appears in her tone, the result, I think, of a very finely controlled and narrow vibrato. The human dimension of these solos is the ideal counter to the bombast for which the work is better known. There are one or two points where the ensemble between the soloists is slightly awry, but that's a very small grumble for a performance that is otherwise technically spotless.
The orchestra are on top form, good ensemble from the strings and emotive solos from the woodwind. But it is the brass who steal the show, the section showing just why they are held in such esteem around the world. The lower brass has power and clarity, the trumpets are bright and crisp, and the horns can cut through any tutti texture without the volume adversely affecting their tone.
The Chicago Symphony Chorus are appropriately apocalyptic where required. In terms of tuning and ensemble, you can't expect miracles from a choir of this size, but like the orchestra, they prove impressively skilled at maintaining their tone even in the loudest excesses of the Tuba Mirum.
Congratulations to CSO Resound for their recent (and perhaps slightly belated) adoption of SACD. The quality of the recorded sound here ought to persuade any lingering doubters that it is worth the effort. A little of the detail is lost in the full tuttis, but the compensation is an impressive balance right across the orchestra's range. And in the quieter movements on the second disc, the crystal clarity of the sound is excellent, and really does justice to both the soloists and the woodwind section.
Given the number of Verdi Requiems (Requia?) on the market, this could seem like a dangerous gamble by the CSO. Their marketing approach is presumably based on the reputations of the performers involved. I'm happy to report that conductor, soloists and orchestra alike all put in performances to be proud of. This is clearly the beginning of an exciting new era of music making in Chicago. Here's hoping that enough of the CSO/Muti performances make in onto record for us to keep up on this side of the pond.
Gavin Dixon


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Otello LSO Colin Davis

VERDI: Otello
Sir Colin Davis conductor
Simon O'Neill Otello
Gerald Finley Jago
Allan Clayton Cassio
Ben Johnson Roderigo
Alexander Tsymbalyuk Lodovicio
Matthew Rose Montano
Lukas Jakobski A Herald
Anne Schwanewilms Desdemona
Eufemia Tufano Emilia
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
LSO Live LSO0700 (2 SACDs)
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The LSO label goes from strength to strength. Their 10th anniversary catalogue lists dozens of discs, many, in fact most, of which have met critical acclaim on their release. Despite the number of releases, the label has managed to maintain a strong corporate identity, mainly by recording only a handful of conductors – Gergiev, Davis and a few guests – and by linking almost every release with a long-running theme.
After Gergiev's Mahler cycle, the most interesting of those themes is probably Colin Davis' opera performances. He is not a stranger to the microphone, but even so, these recordings are valuable documents of the work of a fine opera conductor. On the strength of this recording, I'm happy to say that he still has all the energy and insight needed to produce powerful performances, but he can't go on forever, and I suspect we will be looking back at these LSO Live discs in years to come with a sense of fond nostalgia.
For now though, jealousy, doubt and betrayal are the main topics that spring to mind when listening to this Otello. Both the performance and the recording are very fine, and I have no hesitation in recommending the discs highly. But before you run out and buy it, it is probably worth knowing what you are getting. This is a live recording of a concert performance, after all, a concept at least two steps removed from the experience of actually seeing the work on the stage.
If anything is missing, it is a sense of dramatic urgency and focus. From what I can tell, the singers did not move around the stage very much, so the recording environment is essentially static. True, the off-stage brass are clearly off-stage, but otherwise this is a straight presentation of the notes in the score, without any effort to emulate the stage action through the audio.
The balance between orchestra, choir and soloists is not what you expect from an opera house. Predictably, the orchestra are the main winners, but given the standard of the orchestral playing, it seems churlish to complain. The woodwind and brass are on top form, and each of their many appearances is a real joy. The LSO Chorus are certainly a formidable presence in the mix. Using a large amateur choir in the place of a smaller professional ensemble is another distinction between this and an opera house recording. They are perhaps a little less disciplined than an opera chorus, but that isn't really a problem here. They bring a real passion to the music, a turbulence that restores some of the drama to the work.
Simon O'Neill is a real asset to the LSO, as is demonstrated by his repeated appearances with the ensemble. Incredibly, he performs the title role of Otello here as a stand-in for the indisposed Torsten Kerl. O'Neill's projection is phenomenal, and the power he can give to his upper register is staggering. His ideal range is perhaps a little higher than that of this role, and he doesn't quite have the authority of tone in the lower register. And were this a staged performance, he would surely have worked more on the vocal characterisation. But the dramatic deficiencies of this recording are not down to him, and the sheer finesse of his singing more than makes up for any lack of credibility.
No such problems with Gerald Finley as Jago. This one is a rendition for the stage, a real embodiment of the part. Finley has a wide range of timbres to bring to the role. His singing is not always pretty but it is always precise, and always focusses intently on the dramatic situation. Anne Schwanewilms is another singer who has clearly played her role before on the stage. Her Desdemona is an emotional roller-coaster. Technically, she is sometimes a little insecure at the top, but that only adds to her apparent vulnerability.
The SACD sound does justice to all of these great performances. They have managed somehow to get round the deadening effect of the Barbican Hall acoustic, and the sound here is markedly brighter and clearer than in some of their earlier releases. Perhaps some digital alchemy has been invoked, but if so it is fully vindicated by the results. All round this is a great recording. It gives a rendition of Otello that wholly disregards the works stage drama, and you might find that slightly irresponsible. But if you are happy to treat the piece as a self-sufficient musical entity, this recording is well worth hearing.
Gavin Dixon

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Mendelssohn Symphonies Tasmanian SO Lang-Lessing

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
CD 1: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11 [31:09], Symphony No. 5 in D major, Op. 107 Reformation [29:58]
CD 2: Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 52 Lobgesang [67:03]
CD 3:Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 Scottish [39:15], Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 Italian [28:04]
Sara Macliver – soprano
Elena Xanthoudakis – soprano
Jaewoo Kim – tenor
TSO Chorus (Chorusmaster: June Tyzack)
Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Singers (Chorusmaster: Brett Weymark)
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Sebastian Lang-Lessing – conductor
Recorded at the Federation Concert Hall, Hobart 9-10 September 2008 (Symphony 1), 7-10 August 2007 (Symphony 2), 11-14 March 2009 (Symphony 3), 2-3 November 2007 (Symphony 4), 21-23 February 2007 (Symphony 5) Stereo DDD
ABC Classics 476 3623 [61:20 + 67:03 + 67:32]

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Tasmania is unlikely to be the first place that those in the market for a Mendelssohn symphony cycle turn their attentions. However, this release is well worth their consideration, it doesn’t have the polish of some of the central European competitors, but the interpretations are lively and engaging, and for the most part, the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra shows itself to be well up to the challenges of this virtuoso repertoire.

Their secret weapon is an expert (admittedly a young one) imported from the heartland of Mendelssohn interpretation, Sebastian Lang-Lessing. The box set includes a bonus DVD with a documentary about the recording project. It’s all a bit self-congratulatory, but the interviews with Lang-Lessing are very revealing. He is clearly a conductor with a strong vision of how Mendelssohn’s music should sound, and when required he is fully able to justify every interpretive decision. There is also footage of him conducting the orchestra (the documentary is intercut with film of a performance of the Scottish) and he is the kind of conductor who makes very broad, but flowing and continuous movements. Watching him gives rise to a suspicion of control freakery, as if he is unable to let go and allow the orchestra movements of repose, or the woodwind soloists the space they need.

Thankfully, the recordings dispel any fears. They demonstrate a strength of his hyperactive conducting technique in the sheer energy he draws from the orchestra. The fast movements are, to my ear, the most successful of these recordings, the outer movements of the Italian, for example, and the finale of the Scottish. Lang-Lessing sets fast tempi, and each of these movements opens with an eruption of kinetic energy, which incredibly never seems to dissipate.

The orchestral playing, on the whole, is very good, although they do sometimes struggle to keep up with Lang-Lessing’s pace. The 2nd movement of the Scottish, which admittedly is fiendish, requiring fast, quiet and precise playing, sees the woodwind and horns struggle to maintain the pace of the string accompaniment. There are similar problems in the finale, although here the strings are implicated too, their fast melodies, wide intervals and regular dynamic changes all contributing to some poor ensemble.

In general though, the orchestral playing is good. The TSO is a chamber sized orchestra, and I suspect that they have a great deal of experience of the late classical repertoire, as they are very good at bridging the gap between chamber and symphonic playing. Their sound always has a warmth (listen, for example to the Andante 2nd movement of the 1st Symphony), but that never compromises the identity of the instrumental colours. If I were to be brutally honest, I would have to say that the strings sound superior to the winds, and the biggest difference between this recording and those by German orchestras is the lack of character from the woodwind soloists, none of whom ever seem able to stamp their individual identity onto the orchestral sound in their respective solos. There’s nothing wrong with their ensemble playing though, just listen to their reading of the chorale Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott in the finale of the Reformation: clean and precise, yet expressive and warm, heavenly!

The 2nd Symphony Lobgesang is in many ways the odd one out in the Mendelssohn canon. Its orchestration focuses more heavily on the strings, and perhaps for this reason it is one of the more successful of the cycle. I love the way the strings articulate the phrasing in the 3rd movement through controlled yet emotive dynamic swells. The orchestra also drafts in a highly competent trombone section, who also contribute a warmth to the roundness of the string ensemble. (We are quite a long way from period performance here incidentally, but I doubt that will worry many Mendelssohn fans.)

Competent singing from choir and soloists in the second half of the Lobegesang. The vibrato of the soloists is a little heavy for my taste, especially that of Sara Macliver, but it isn’t out of keeping. The choir have a keen sense for the drama of the music, and as with the orchestra, Lang-Lessing draws a really energetic performance from them. Tuning is not flawless, but is more than acceptable.

One of the interviews in the documentary is with a recording engineer, who explains that most of the recording is from just two microphones in front of the orchestra with ‘highlights’ from closer mics when necessary. On the whole, this is a successful approach and achieves both immediacy and clarity in the orchestral sound. The choir are served less well, and there is a homogeneity to their sound that I suspect is the result of distant micing.

All in all, this recording is a strong contender from an unusual source. On the European market, it may have a tough time up against some strong mid-price competition from the likes of Ashkenazy and Abbado. The sound quality, at least for the orchestra, should set it apart from those reissues, even if there are aspects of the orchestral playing that let it down. But, as I say, the real strength of these recordings is the sheer energy of the fast movements. You’ll often hear performances of the Scottish or the Italian that are reverential to a fault. Not so here, Lang-Lessing knows where to find real excitement in these scores, and more often than not the results are electric.

Gavin Dixon

This review first appeared at MusicWeb International:

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5 Mariss Jansons

Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5
Symphony No.5 in E minor Op.64
Francesca di Rimini Op.32
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Mariss Jansons conductor
BR Klassik 900105 (SACD)

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Is there some sort of Mariss Jansons cult going on in Munich? I only ask because the number of photographs of the conductor on this disc seems extreme to say the least, if you count the duplication on the card sleeve there are seven. He's in a variety of poses and they are all about as cheesy as the one on the front cover.
But listening to this disc, it is easy to hear why the Bavarians value his talents. This is a very impressive Tchaikovsky 5, and every detail of the interpretation speaks of fastidious preparation, as well as of phenomenal talent on the parts of conductor, orchestra and recording team alike.
It's all about atmosphere, which is probably the right way to approach Tchaikovsky, his music has thematic rigour and intellectual structure, but really it lives for the moment, and the greatest performances, at least of his symphonies, are the ones that keep the listener focussed intently on the continuous present. Even the long build-ups are here as impressive for the internal structure of the orchestral sound as they are for their preparation of the climaxes.
The opening chords tell you what kind of a performance we are in for. The clarinets and lower strings play quietly but with absolute focus of tone and ensemble. The acoustic of the Philharmonie am Gasteig imbues each of the chords with a warm aura and the whole thing is picked up with immaculate clarity for the SACD sound. As the symphony progresses, it is these quiet interludes that impress most. Tchaikovsky is always on his way somewhere, so most of them are preparing for something louder, and although Jansons never takes the structural side of things too seriously, nor does he forget all about it. In fact, many of these slow passages are faster than you will hear on other recordings, but they never feel fast; the increase in speed has the effect of increasing the focus, but never disturbs the absorbing atmosphere.
The tuttis and louder sections don't come across quite as well. The audio doesn't distinguish the individual instruments quite as well as it might (by SACD standards I mean, compared to early digital recordings these tuttis are excellent). I'm not too keen on the central European brass sound, although technically I'll concede that the brass playing is virtually flawless, but the trombones in particular can be very nasal and raspy. The bass trombone solos in the second movement can sound sharp, but on closer listening it turns out to just be the timbre. No such complaints about the horn solo however, which is as good as you'll find anywhere, and the piano string chords under it are a real joy on SACD.
Jansons has a slight tendency to lose the momentum at crucial points. The climax of the second movement, for example, or the coda of the finale, after the false ending. A whole generation of conductors have seen it as their obligation to follow Mravinsky in these passages and make them as dramatic as possible, but not Jansons, he's happy to let things flow. Similarly in Francesca di Rimini, a work most conductors would milk for all the inferno imagery it's worth. But again, Jansons is more interested in quieter textures, the woodwind solos and the various accompaniments from the lower strings.
Perhaps Mariss Janssons' god-like status in Munich is based on his refusal to take anything for granted, musically speaking. As his previous recordings on the BR Klassik label have demonstrated, and I'm thinking particularly of his Mahler 7, he is determined to find something new in every repertory score he approaches. That's a laudable aim, and while his priorities with Tchaikovsky are clearly different to those of many conductors, the validity of his interpretation is never in doubt. A beautifully played, expertly recorded and fascinatingly conducted disc. Jansons' Munich fans are in for a treat.
Gavin Dixon

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Bartók Violin Concertos Steinbacher

Béla Bartók The 2 Violin Concertos
Arabella Steinbacher violin
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Marek Janowski conductor
Penatone PTC 5186 350 (SACD)

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The Bartók Violin Concertos can be a bit of a balancing act. You've got to balance rustic folk charm with cosmopolitan sophistication, balance between soloist and orchestra is unusually tricky owing to the size and activity of the ensemble, and the most difficult balancing act of all is the continual need to keep all these issues precisely controlled while at the same time making the music sound fresh and spontaneous.
Arabella Steinbacher brings her innate musicality to bear on these problems, and the results are both distinctive and convincing. Her Bartók is at the more cosmopolitan end of the spectrum, and she's not one to launch into folk fiddling episodes on a whim. The sophistication of her playing is at least in part a result of her tone, which is rich and throaty and acts as a magnet to the ear. The beauty and inner complexity of her sound is endlessly fascinating. She has consistency too, of course, and the fact that her upper register is as timbrally rich as her lower is an impressive feat in itself. Her tone isn't particularly lyrical, and she doesn't really float across the top of the orchestra as other soloists might. Instead, she brings a sense of groundedness to the music, not sullen or pedantic, but rather focussed and controlled. And she is happy to move outside the comfort zone, especially with her dynamics, which regularly push both extremes, and without any ill effect to her tone.
The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande play well for Marek Janowski, they have plenty to do here and are rarely found wanting. The ensemble in the strings is occasionally a little lose, but never fatally so. The brass excel, giving some real energy to the often unusually scored tuttis. And the whole issue of balance is excellently handled. I'm tempted to put that down to the SACD technology, but equal praise should go to the recording engineers, and probably the players too. In this quality audio environment, it turns out that Bartók's orchestral textures are not as monolithic or overpowering as they can otherwise seem. The transparency afforded to the orchestral textures by the audio also has the effect of balancing the soloist with the ensemble, or rather of clarifying exactly what the relationship is at any given time. So the duets with an obbligato wind player come through as just that, the more timbrally ambiguous interplay between soloist and string section is given the required definition, yet enough ambiguity remains. And the way in which the percussion is separated from the body of the orchestral sound means that it too avoids explicit competition with the soloist.
Given the relative obscurity of Bartók's 1st Violin Concerto, it is reasonable enough that the 2nd gets top billing. But, while it is not quite in the same league as its successor, the 1st is a great piece, not juvenalia at all and distinctively Bartók in every sense. This is a great CD all round, and by the time you get to the end, you'll find yourself wanting more. Its 61 minutes running time isn't too stingy, although there is space there for at least one more work, one of the Rhapsodies perhaps. Fingers crossed they are saving those for the next disc.
Gavin Dixon

Monday, 18 October 2010

Kopatchinskaja Rapsodia

Music by Enescu, Ligeti, Kurtág, Dinicu, Ravel and Sanchez-Chiong
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Emilia Kopatchinskaja (violin/viola), Viktor Kopatchinsky (cimbalom), Mihaela Ursuleasa (piano), Martin Gjakonovski (bass)
Naïve V5193
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It is a classic recording industry tale: a young soloist signs to a big label, releases a recording of a famous concerto, and when that shows healthy sales she is let lose on a more esoteric pet project. In fact, it wasn't just Particia Kopatchinskaja's Beethoven that sold well for Naïve. She previously recorded a new concerto by Fazil Say, which was also a commercial success, so the label's confidence in their young star is evidently justified.
This project is something different: folk music from Moldova. But it is not the result of an eccentric whim, quite the opposite. For this is the music of Kopatchinskaja's youth. Her parents are both folk musicians, and both feature prominently on the disc, very prominently in the case of her father Viktor, whose cimbalom provides the defining timbre to many of the works. Or perhaps that is just unfamiliarity on my part, the other instruments being the more familiar violin, viola, double bass and piano. The cimbalom has quite a biting timbre, but the sheer variety of colours and textures it can produce in such expert hands fully justifies the quantity of exposure here. More often than not it is cast as accompaniment to the violin, a task Kopatchinsky executes with a level of grace and subtly that you would rarely associate with the instrument.
The repertoire mixes folk tunes with works of classical composers steeped in the musical traditions of the area. The contrast between the two can be quite extreme, and the sheer energy of the genuine folk tunes is rarely matched by the notated works. There is a curiously American feel about many of the tunes, the opening 'ciocârlia', for example sounds a lot like a hoe down – some common ancestry perhaps?
The composers represented are a diverse group. Enescu is the most conservative of them, which is saying something. His 3rd Violin Sonata is about the most civilised of the folk-inspired works on the disc. The Ligeti duo is a very early work, and there is little here for fans of the composer's mature music. The Kurtág, by contrast, is a real masterpiece, one of those collections of tiny, brittle musical fragments for which he is known. Avant-garde cimbalom music is something of a rarity, to say the least, so the idiomatic use of the instrument here is all the more impressive. The subtlety of the cimbalom writing also comes as a surprise, and most of it is in the quieter dynamics where the instrument takes on a round, warm sonority. Kopatchinskaja confesses in the liner notes that Kurtág listened to this recording and didn't like it, too slow apparently. She is unrepentant though, and I'd certainly agree that her interpretation is eminently defencible.
Ravel seems slightly out of place in this programme, but he is another composer whose intentions are liberally interpreted. Specifically, the piano part to his 'Tzigane' which is meant to imitate a cimbalom. No prizes for guessing the twist here, although yet again the subtly of the cimablom playing is the most remarkable part of the result. At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum we have 'Crin' by Jorge Sanchez-Chiong, a work for solo violin with a range of vocal effects from the player. It's good fun, sort of Cathy Berberian mixed with a folk fiddle, and the extended techniques on the violin are as exotic as the vocal sounds.
Particia Kopatchinskaja seems to have found the ideal relationship with her record label Naïve. I can't imagine this will sell as well as her Beethoven Concerto, especially given the near universal praise that previous recording received. But this other side of her musical personality is at least as interesting, and her skill as a musician is just as evident here. It is the sort of disc that only usually gets modest distribution among specialists, so here's hoping that the backing of a reasonably large industry player can find it the audience it deserves.
Gavin Dixon

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Path – music by Yanov-Yanovsky, Pärt, Medyulyanova, Vrebalov, Tavener and Nadarejishvili

Path – music by Yanov-Yanovsky,  Pärt, Medyulyanova, Vrebalov, Tavener and Nadarejishvili
Performers: The Carducci Quartet, Patricia Rozario, Eamonn Dougan, Joachim Roewer, Malachy Robinson, Deirdre O’Leary. Elizabeth Cooney assisted by Tommaso Perego, Doreen Curran,The Dublin Guitar Quartet, Michael McHale, Vourneen Ryan and Ranjana Ghatak
Louth Contemporary Music Society LCMS1001

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Multiple allusions and meanings are suggested by the title of this new LCMS release. In one sense, the idea of a path, or of progress in a given direction is at odds with the relative stasis of much the music. It is apt in other ways though, in particular in the choice of composers for the project. Two top selling, senior names from the first generation of religious minimalism are represented: Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. But the rest of the music is by younger composers, suggesting perhaps a path towards the future of this kind of music. The term 'path' could also refer to the Silk Road, for much of this music either originates from, or alludes directly to, cultures of central Asia. 
Yanov-Yanovsky's 'Chang Music IV' was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, and its place at the start of this programme sets the tone of the disc, a tone very similar to that of many Kronos releases. It evokes the chang, a string instrument of Uzbekistan that is apparently plays continuous glissandos. Yanov-Yanovsky is himself Uzbek, although that doesn't necessarily make him immune from charges of orientalism when writing to an American commission. But whatever the ethnography here, and elsewhere on the disc, the result is very enjoyable. It is tranquil, but there is always a slight edge to the timbre. 
That edge is a recurring feature in the following works. Most are calm, but not so eventless as to be ambient. The programme strikes an impressive balance between spiritual directness and intellectual engagement. The variety of approaches from the various composers means that that balance is reconfigured and re-evaluated with almost every work. 
The programme works forwards and backwards of Yanovsky, at least in terms of the ages of the composers. The contributions from Pärt and Tavener, while they may help the disc to sell, are not the most interesting works on offer. Pärt's arrangement of (the already oft-arranged) 'Summa' for guitar quartet is a canny reworking, the addition of the plucked strings to the sustained chords giving just enough added interest to justify it. His 'Von Angesicht zu Angesicht' seems to recall the composer's avant-garde days, interspersing as it does sustained vocal textures with almost pointillist interjections from the clarinet and viola.

John Tavener has many followers, who seem curiously accepting of his various eccentricities, but 'Epistle of Love' may stretch even their patience. It is a song cycle for soprano and piano, although you could easily mistake the accompaniment for a harp. It is written in a sort of pseudo-medaevil style, which I have to say, does nothing for me. His 'Sámaveda' is slightly more interesting, including as it does a tampura, which is an Indian drone instrument. Of course, the interaction a composer can have with an instrument that only plays a single note is always going to be limited, but it is an interesting touch.

Much, much more interesting, however, are the three works by the unknown composers, or at least unknown to me. Polina Medyulyanova is another Uzbek composer, but she is more comfortable than Yanovsky with Western idioms. Her work 'Ewige Ruhe' is for soprano, clarinet and string quartet, and stylistically seems to transcend any sense of location. Religious minimalism from Eastern Europe has clearly had an influence, but there are also French and German flavours here, and all woven up in the simplest of textures. Vrebalov's 'The Spell III' for violin and live electronics is that rarest of works, an electro-acoustic piece that makes subtle use of the electronic component. The sound of the violin is manipulated to create almost vocal background sounds, chants and cries. Nadarejshvili's String Quartet no.1, of which only third movement is presented, builds clouds of string textures around themes taken from Georgian chant. It is an effective device, and all the more so for the fact that there is always some definition to the sound. Like all the works on the disc, its ambience is tempered by the always apparent presence of the individual instruments, and by articulations that pinpoint the individual notes in the texture.

The term 'religious minimalism' is clearly becoming obsolete as the composers from the East who specialise in spiritual music increasingly broaden their horizons. The younger composers showcased here are not of a generation who were defined, artistically speaking, through explicit opposition to Soviet aesthetic ideology, and the result seems to be music that engages with a wider cultural context, yet has the same intensity of feeling and emotional focus. 
The performances and recordings here are excellent, and well up to the standards set by the previous LCMS release 'A Place Between'. Unlike that earlier recording, this one was made in four different locations, not all of them churches, yet a consistently ambient acoustic is maintained throughout. Of the performers, soprano Particia Rozario deserves special mention, as does the Carducci Quartet, who prove impressively adept at moving between the styles of the various composers. The packaging design is adventurous, more so than the big labels dare these days, or perhaps more so than the big labels are prepared to pay for. Happily, LCMS is the kind of organisation that is prepared stand out from the crowd. In terms of programming, that's the real strength of this disc. I'm sure many people will buy it to hear the Tavener and Pärt, but I suspect they will find themselves enjoying the works of the younger composers more.

Gavin Dixon

Friday, 15 October 2010

Schoenberg Webern Schnittke String Trios

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951) String Trio [20:53]
(Schoenberg spricht – recording of Schoenberg introducing a broadcast of his String Trio May 1949 [3:46])
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945) String Trio [12:04]
Movement for String Trio [2:23]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998) String Trio [26:06]
Goeyvaerts String Trio
Recorded 11-13 August 2009 Partiki-Saal, Düsseldorf Stereo DDD
Challenge Records CC72375 [65:14]
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What a great cover! In these days of bland, inoffensive cover art, it is great to see something that really jumps out at you. The ghoulish face is that of viola player Kris Matthynssens, who is clearly an asset for a group specialising in the more ghoulish of the chamber music repertoire, that of the late Expressionist and early Modernist early 20th century.
In fact, the cover image gives a good idea of the approach that the Goeyvaerts String Trio takes to the music of the Second Viennese School, for these are austere performances, angular and precise, and with the music's expressive capabilities always kept firmly at arm's length. That approach is ideal for the Webern, but both the Schoenberg and the Schnittke suffer, or at least become harder to access as a listener. None of the composers here, not even Webern, was a Modernist to the exclusion of every other musical aesthetic, but listening to this, you could mistake each of them for a fundamentalist.
The Schoenberg Trio is the main work on the disc, or at least it is historically the most significant. It is the great masterpiece of the composer's later years, and as such it deserves wider dissemination. Written during his recovery from a heart attack, the work is multifarious and episodic, darting off in a different direction seemingly every few seconds. This performance captures that sense of nervous, questing energy. What it doesn't do is linger in the strange and diverse musical environments that Schoenberg visits, if only in passing. Like the composer himself, they are always thinking about the next destination. The energy that this approach generates is addictive, and from the listener's perspective a welcome counterweight to the anti-Romantic austerity that otherwise characterises the performance.
There is a delicacy about the playing of the two Webern works that is all too lacking from the Schoenberg and the Schnittke. As I say, these are the most successful of the performances of the disc, the rigour of the players' approach aligning closely with that of Webern's musical outlook. The sheer precision of the playing is palpable, the concentration on detail impressively conveying the composer's conviction that every note matters.
Schnittke's String Trio may seem like the odd one out in the programme, but actually it is a passable surrogate for a contribution from Alban Berg. For many, in Russia at least, Schnittke was the heir to Berg's art, and the String Trio is among his most Bergian creations, consciously so as it turns out, as it was written to commemorate the older composer's 100th anniversary. Having said that, you wouldn’t mistake it for Berg, it is too melodic, too tonal (if only transiently so), and too self-referentially post-modern. That last word evidently does not figure in the Goeyvaerts String Trio's musical vocabulary, and they choose instead to play the piece straight, as if it was by Berg.
The performance is not without nuance, liberal rubato for example is used to shape the phrases, but it lacks warmth. Of all the composer's represented, Schnittke is the one who really requires both a Romantic and a Modern sensibility, and this reading leans almost exclusively towards the latter. On the other hand, Schnittke writes music that demands interpretation, and the broader the range of interpretations available on record, the better it is represented. The Goeyvearts give us Schnittke the Modernist, which makes a refreshing change from the many, many recordings of this and other works from performers who are determined to cast him exclusively as a Romantic.
Like the interpretations, the recorded sound is on the austere side. The miking is close, giving a sense of involvement but little atmosphere. The balance is curiously top-heavy, a problem rarely associated with string trios. But again like the performance, the priorities for the audio appear to be precision and detail. Those weren't the only musical priorities for the composers of the Second Viennese School, but they were towards the top of the list.
Gavin Dixon

This review first appeared at MusicWeb International:

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Bruckner Symphony No.9 Cambreling

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony no.9 in D Minor
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Sylvain Cambreling – conductor
Recorded in the Konzerthaus, Freiburg 12-13 November 2005 Stereo DDD
Glor Classics GC09251 [60:08]
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Focus is the watchword for Sylvain Cambreling’s Bruckner. This 9th is one of three recent Bruckner releases from him and the SWR Baden-Baden und Freiburg forces, the others being of the 4th and 6th Symphonies. Like those, this is a reading that emphasises precision, direction and clarity. And the rigour of his interpretations is served magnificently in each case by the quality of the orchestral playing and the fidelity of the audio.

But as in these other recordings, a lot of magic is lost through the precise tempi and continual insistence on the bigger picture. That’s a big issue in the 4th Symphony, where the ‘Romantic’ opening passage that lends the work its nickname is anything but, and the horns at the start of the scherzo wholly fail to give the required impression of distance.

It’s less of an issue with the 9th. Again the very start of the work could be more mysterious and there is a rigidity about the Adagio that won’t be everybody’s taste. But it is a work that can so easily go too far in the other direction. Focus is an important virtue, especially in the Adagio, and if Cambreling occasionally keeps too tight a control on things, I for one am ready to forgive.

Just looking at the movement timings, and comparing them to the Wand/BPO recording (RCA 82876 623 232 2 – as good a benchmark as any), Cambreling doesn’t take things particularly fast. He is a minute faster on the outer movements and a mere 7 seconds on the scherzo. Nevertheless, the music often feels very brisk, and I think the reason is a combination of these slightly faster speeds and a reluctance to indulge in undue rubato. Cambreling also refrains from holding onto the caesuras between phrases, whether it be the pregnant pauses before the climaxes kick in in the 1st movement or the moments of repose between the long string phrases in the Adagio.

And as I say, this precision of interpretation is well matched by the orchestral playing and the recording technology. Details come through that I’ve never heard before, pizzicato counterthemes in the Scherzo, for example, and the nasal sound of stopped horns in the middle of the texture. The woodwind soloists are a real strength in this orchestra, and I especially like the woody yet resonant sound of the solo clarinet. The brass is of the Central European narrow-bore variety, so the climaxes can occasionally sound abrasive and forced. I’m surprised how often Cambreling gives the brass their heads, because that’s the one aspect of this recording where he seems to lay off his tight control and leave it to the players judgement. The development section of the 1st movement in particular tends towards repeated excess. On the other hand, the balance has been finely engineered to ensure that the brass never swamps the rest of the orchestra, and even the woodwind shine through these fortissimos.

There is plenty of weight from the brass in the Scherzo, although here again the strongest quality of the music is the clarity of the string pizzicatos and the precise but characterfull playing of the woodwind. The Trio doesn’t really sing, and this is perhaps the one section of the symphony that suffers most from Cambreling’s foursquare tempos. It’s a short passage though, and hardly the emotional nucleus of the work.

That accolade goes to the Adagio, and there is a great deal of fine playing in this de facto conclusion. Cambreling finds a warmth of sound in the string section, which suddenly seems to have been missing in the previous movements, at least in retrospect. (This, incidentally, is the categorical difference between the SWR sound and the Berlin Philharmonic of the Günter Wand recording.) Then there are the Wagner tubas, all elegantly in tune and perfectly synchronised for their chorales. And that precision makes the end of this movement a real triumph. The control here is of a piece with the rest of the performance, but here comes into its own as a real strength. Cambreling, of course, is never tempted to dawdle or to draw out these final phases, and the almost devotional fidelity to the letter of the score allows Bruckner’s final utterances to sing with a profundity and almost heartbreaking simplicity. This isn’t the best Bruckner 9 on the market, but it has its moments, and the end of the Adagio is certainly one of them.

Gavin Dixon

This review first appeared at MusicWeb International:

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Bruckner Symphony No.6 Cambreling

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony no.6 in A Major
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Sylvain Cambreling – conductor
Recorded in the Konzerthaus, Freiburg 16-23 January 1998 Stereo DDD
Glor Classics GC09241 [52:45]

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This is a great Bruckner 6. It is one of three Bruckner recordings from Cambreling and the SWR Baden-Baden und Freiburg Orchester. The others, Symphonies 4 and 9, both have their merits, but this 6th is the best of them. Cambreling is a very solemn Brucknerian, which can lead to excessive dourness elsewhere, but here gives a welcome sense of conviction and purpose. 

The opening is a case in point. Those trumpet fanfares a few pages in give lighter textures than in many of Bruckner’s expositions – still not light as such, but light for Bruckner. Cambreling maintains a clarity of texture throughout all these brass passages, and in the following sections of interplay between the woodwind and the strings. But he also maintains a keen sense of purpose throughout, so the music has all the solemnity of the 8th or 9th Symphonies’ first movements, which combines well with the clearer textures of the 6ths lighter scoring.

My one complaint is with the lack of atmosphere in the quieter sections. That focus on direction and purpose often mean that Cambreling takes an excessively functional approach to the quieter music. This is most apparent in the middle movements. The Adagio is slightly faster than other recordings I’ve heard, but considerably more foursquare. It is a controlled, almost calculated, reading with little very little rubato. And the caesura breathing spaces between the phrases often feel slightly rushed. On the other hand, the conductor’s tight control of the ensemble allows him to create chamber music precision in the woodwind ensemble passages.

The Scherzo also risks being too matter of fact. This is the one movement where Cambreling’s solemnity becomes counterproductive. It is one of the few movements in Bruckner where a sense of humour is required to pull off the extreme contrasts between will-o-the-wisp woodwind and farcically bombastic brass. Cambreling doesn’t see it that way all, and presents the movement as if it were the Scherzo of the 9th, all weight and drive. 

These are small complaints though. Cambreling’s interpretation is both coherent and passionate, essential properties that are all too rare among Bruckner interpreters. He also has a real ear for detail. He, the orchestra and the recording team should all be congratulated for the crispness of the sound and the extent to which details of the score are articulated. Going back to the Scherzo, the interplay of the raindrop descending figures between the flute and the pizzicato strings is excellent, evenly balanced yet timbrally distinct, a delight! I’m also impressed with the bass in the mix, with the lower strings, the lower brass and the timpani coming through with crisp precision, and with the power and weight that Cambreling’s focussed interpretation requires. The orchestra must know this piece like the back of their hands, but they really keep it fresh, and the playing of every section stands up well to the scrutiny of the superior audio. 

So what next for Cambreling and his SWR forces? This recording demonstrates a distinctive and passionate approach to Bruckner’s music, both sensitive to its Romantic expression and keenly aware of its need for architectural structuring. How about a recording of the 5th Symphony, that could be a real triumph.

Gavin Dixon

This review first appeared at MusicWeb International:

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Bruckner Symphony No.4 Cambreling

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony no.4 in Eb Major
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg
Sylvain Cambreling – conductor
Recorded in the Konzerthaus Dortmund 22-26 September 2003 Stereo DDD
Glor Classics GC09231 [62:37]

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What’s this, a Frenchman conducting Bruckner in Germany! Whatever next? Actually, Baden-Baden and Freiburg are very close to the French border, so perhaps their populations are more open-minded than me on the subject.

This 4th Symphony is one of three Bruckner releases from the same forces, the others being the 6th and 9th Symphonies. All are excellent recordings: appropriately architectural interpretations, excellent orchestral playing and fine sound recording. 

And whatever the nationality of the conductor, this is a very German reading. The brass and woodwind give a particularly German colour to the orchestra, especially at the climaxes, where the narrow bore sound of the brass in particular gives a brilliance to the tone, but without ever sounding shrill.

Cambreling himself was formerly a trombone player, and perhaps this has contributed to the versatility and immediacy of tone that he is able to draw from the back of the stage. As I mentioned, he has a firm grasp of the architecture of this music, the interconnected hierarchies of the phrases, the subtle gradation of structurally crucial build ups. 

His one failing though, and it is a big one in the 4th Symphony, is a lack of feeling for the magic of the quieter passages. Precision, order and direction are his priorities, but sometimes in Bruckner you’ve just got to live in the moment. This is most striking in the opening, which is fast, to the point and interpreted as a short introduction to the first tutti. That’s all very well, but there is no atmosphere. Where other conductors would allow the horn soloist the space required to set the mood, Cambreling drives him (her?) on and the moment is lost. Similarly at the opening of the scherzo, where the in der Ferne horn calls fail to evoke atmosphere or distance. And in the opening of the finale, the recording almost becomes a victim of its own high fidelity. The propulsive crotchets in the cellos and basses are more evident than in any recording I have heard, and again the effect is turn a quiet, atmospheric opening into a strictly functional introduction to main business of the movement.

I suspect that Cambreling values immediacy of communication over these issues, which I suppose could easily be dismissed as mere theatrics. And the immediacy is the great strength of this reading. To return to the opening of the scherzo, those horn calls are soon imitated by the trumpets and the clarinet. The accurate balance of the playing and of the recording allows each of these to come through with impressively unsentimental precision.

Tempi also display a feeling for clarity and architecture. The main scherzo theme is fastish, while the trio is much slower, and changes between them are via sudden gear shifts. Thus the structure of the movement is clearly articulated. When gradual tempo changes are indicated, such as the stringendo at figure U in the scherzo (in the Eulenburg score), these are reproduced faithfully but always kept under tight control.

Tight control combined with a keen sense of the dramatic is probably a good summation of this interpretation. The climaxes in the outer movements display this through a combination of unusually fast tempi and unusually loud dynamics. So when Cambreling builds up to a climax, he can energise both with fast, precise tempi, but he also knows the orchestra has something more in reserve is terms of dynamics to allow each of those peaks to really shine. But, as I say, in the quieter passages, the desire for precision and immediacy often seems at odds with the atmosphere of the music. This is a Bruckner 4 for listeners who enjoy the thrill of the climaxes and the emotional logic of the structure. It’s not one to buy if you’re only interested in the first 18 bars.

Gavin Dixon

This review first appeared at MusicWeb International: