Classical, July 2020

'Death and the Maiden' Quartet, arr strings
12 ensemble
Sancho Panza Records SPAN0002 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit res)

With a core group of 12 London-based string players, 12 ensemble was formed in 2012. For their second CD they have made their own arrangement of Schubert's Quartet D810, rather than using the completion of Mahler's transcription first heard with the 1986 ECO/Tate EMI LP. The CD also has short, attractive pieces by Tavener (The Lamb), Oliver Leith (Honey Siren, with descriptive titles – 'Like Thick Air', 'Full Like Drips', 'Like Slow Dancing In Honey') and a song by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós. What sets their Schubert apart is that the sound is more akin to a chamber group than a mass of strings. The playing is incisiveness and the engineering outstanding. CB


Dance Suite; Divertimento; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
NHK Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
RCA 19439721812 (downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

Taken live from concerts given in the Suntory Hall in Sep '17, this CD comes with an enthusiastic note by Järvi – he's opted for a big string complement for the Divertimento, which bloats the music (compare the exemplary Barshai/Decca). He stresses so much the 'Hungarian-ness' of these pieces you might wonder how his predominantly Japanese players could cope. Perfectly well of course – like the Ozawa/Saito Kainen MSPC on Decca – and rarely has the first movt of that work sounded so beautiful. A pity then that the opening xylophone taps in (iii) are barely audible. CB


Piano Sonatas Op.31:1-3; Variations Op.34 and Op.35
Andreas Staier
Harmonia Mundi HMM90232728 (two discs)

These works, all published in 1803, come with the cover line 'A New Way', as Beethoven, threatened by deafness, then told a friend he wanted to take a different musical path. Staier plays a Mathias Müller fortepiano (c.1810), wonderful in its timbral colours – still musical with Beethoven's forte chords in Varn.IX from the 'Eroica' set! Here and there in the sonatas Staier arpeggiates a chord but the sheer intelligence and sensitivity of what he does – he's Kempff-like in the meandering Adagio grazioso of Op.31:1 and brings freshness to the well-worn 'Tempest' – makes these two CDs unmissable. CB


Symphonies Nos 4 and 6
Hallé Orchestra/ Sir Mark Elder
Hallé CDHLL7553 (downloads to 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution)

Powerful accounts of the two symphonies needed to complete this Hallé cycle, and recorded in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall in Aug '18/Jan '19. Not the most popular of the seven but arguably the greatest, especially No 4. Here, Sir Mark Elder takes a convincingly contrary view – as in 'different', not 'awkward' – finding positivity where others, Karajan especially, portrayed bleakness. It's doggedly determined right to the end. In No 6 the Hallé Orchestra meets all the required transparency of the scoring ('Cold spring water' was Sibelius's summing-up) and this is the more affecting of these two recordings. CB